Featured,  Process

Revisit: Panama, July 2011

Revisiting old photographs for the purposes of processing (or reprocessing) can be more than a trip down memory lane. For me, there’s a lot of “oof, that is terrible” and “I knew to shoot in RAW, why didn’t I shoot in RAW?!” and the occasional “maybe I can do something with this shot.” As technology has continued its forward march, I have changed my editing methods and improved upon my editing. Sure, there are plateaus and maybe some (I hope shallow?) valleys, but revisiting old photos helps me see my progress, as well as areas where I can improve.

Below, I go through three photos I took in July 2011 on a trip to Panama. At the time, I was using a Canon Rebel XS with a EF-S 17-85mm lens.

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After a couple of days in Panama City, I had the chance to spend some time in Embera Drua, a small village on the Upper Chagres River. This particular Embera community had moved across Panama from the Darien region due to increasing drug trafficking issues.  The village center comprised a clay square, with basketball hoops on either end. I like that kind of commitment to basketball. Eventually, a couple started to take shots at the far end of the court. I really wanted to play, so I snapped a couple of photos before putting the camera down. In hindsight, I should have spent more time thinking about taking a better picture and less time dreaming of an international basketball career.

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While this photo is interesting from a purely documentary perspective (the only landline phone in the village is in the background), it is lacking in other ways. The horizontal alignment of the camera is askew of the end of the court. It’s hazy, noisy (ISO 1600), and overexposed. There is heavy vignetting. Everything is crooked.


ISO 1600, 35 mm, f/5.0, 1/1000 s
Miromel Shoots [unedited]; ISO 1600, 35 mm, f/5.0, 1/1000 s
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Miromel Shoots [edited]; ISO 1600, 35 mm, f/5.0, 1/1000 s


Trees grow upwards, mostly. Basketball hoops should be level. Proper phone booths have right angles. Knowing these things, I adjusted the horizontal alignment a tad to align the end of the court with a horizon. Then, I adjusted both rotation and vertical alignment slightly. I tweaked horizontal alignment again to make sure things looked okay, then I cropped enough to keep the stairs of the building on the left in the picture. The major concern here is how over-editing these features can make for some very strange perspective changes. Often, these sorts of edits, when done sparingly, are not really noticeable.

I also adjusted vignetting by letting Lightroom’s automatic adjustment do the work. Then, I de-hazed the photo, increased contrast, darkened highlights and lightened shadows, and increased saturation. For good measure, I increased clarity to bring out a bit of contrast in the jungle background. These sorts of fixes can be made independent of any shaping or shifting or cropping, since the basic composition or focus of the scene was not going to change.

Despite my efforts to reduce haze and cut down on the harsh lighting, I felt that the color did not look right. Therefore, I went with monochrome via Silver Efex Pro 2, part of the NIK Collection. Finally, I reduced the noise a bit and increased the contrast a little more. While the photo isn’t perfect, it’s substantially better and something I’d be willing to print.

This picture is of Jinco on the return trip down the Upper Chagres River to Puerto Corotu. It’s slightly overexposed, tilted, and I’d like to bring out some detail in the spray and the space between me and Jinco.

ISO 400, 17 mm, f/5.0, 1/400 s
Jinco [unedited]; ISO 400, 17 mm, f/5.0, 1/400 s
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ISO 400, 17 mm, f/5.0, 1/400 s
Jinco [edited]; ISO 400, 17 mm, f/5.0, 1/400 s

Using Lightroom, I rotated the photo to have a more useful horizon. I then dropped the exposure by .05 to counter the overexposure. For the same reason, I reduced highlights, shadows, and blacks. Then, I increased clarity and decreased temperature to 5,600, despite 5,600 probably being a bit warmer than need be. To bring out the river spray and detail, I created a mask that covers most of the water and all of the canoe, but not Jinco and the life jacket. While this could be a photo I revisit later, any future tweaks are likely to be minimal.

I remember coming upon this scene in Panama City along a wall above Plaza de Francia in the old French quarter:  a few kids skateboarding at sunset, next to a French-donated monument with a rooster on top of an obelisk, backed by sunset, mountains, and the Pacific Ocean. Having only a general idea of manual mode, I snapped this at f/4, 1/125, ISO 200, and, with my wide-angle zoom, at 17 mm. The first flaw that pops up to me is vignetting. As noted above, this was a recurring issue for me. The second is color – there is not enough pizzazz or pop. Finally, the lower quarter of the photo and the obelisk is mostly in shadow.

f/4, ISO 200, 17 mm, f/4, 1/125 s
Sunset Skaters [unedited]; f/4, ISO 200, 17 mm, f/4, 1/125 s
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f/4, ISO 200, 17 mm, f/4, 1/125 s
Sunset Skaters [edited]; f/4, ISO 200, 17 mm, f/4, 1/125 s

I addressed these flaws by doing the following. First, I used Lightroom’s lens correction tool to de-vignette the scene. Since Lightroom detected the EF-S 17-85mm lens, this was the easy part. Second, I worked on brightening the bottom quarter and foreground. I decided that I should have everything exposed the way I would like before I adjust color. I warmed the picture up a bit using saturation and temperature. Finally, in a final effort to add some “pop,” I increased “clarity” (it’s basically the same as structure, as far as I can tell) and decreased noise, by increasing luminance. Why increase structure and decrease noise simultaneously?  Because I wanted to bring out major definition while keeping the grainy look at bay.

If you have any specific go-to techniques or would have edited some of these pictures differently, please let me know!  I’m always up for trying something new.

All images ©  2011, 2016 Beau Finley. You can see more of his work on his flickr page.  If you’d like, you can contact him: beaufinley at google’s email service. 

Beau is a photographer and musician from Washington, D.C.