Snow falls in Boise

There are some people who claim the Capture NX is slow, buggy, and don’t ever want to touch the software even though it comes with the new D300 and D3 free. How wrong is that?! There may be some truth about the slowness if you have an old computer or do not have sufficient memory. However the program is a great piece of software that consistently bring out the best from NEF raw images effortlessly. Here I am going to illustrate the unique control point and selection brush features in Capture NX and show you how easy it is to touch up a landscape photo in a couple of simple steps.

The original photo

Below is the original photo I took yesterday after a night fall of snows in Boise Idaho. The clouds were thick and the scene is lack of contrast. I will show you how to enhance the contrast and bring out the blue sky.

Original Photo

Enhance the contrast using black and white control points

To enhance the contrast of this photo, we can do a Levels & Curves adjustment. However we will try something different this time: use the white and black control points. The white and black points are control points that not only set the brightest and darkest points of the photo but also neutralize the light and dark tones of the photo. If there is any imperfection in the white balance, that would help us to get rid of the color cast. In this example, we can make the snow neutral white!

If you are not very familiar with Capture NX yet, the first and second eyedropper icons in the menu bar are for the black and white control points.

Black and white point controls

White points are typically set on the lightest point of the photo and are used to set highlight end of the dynamic range of the image. The black points are for the opposite. To help you find out the brightest and darkest spots in the photo, Capture NX includes a tool called double threshold in the Photo Info window (Window->Photo Info). Check the box next to it to turn on the double threshold tool.

Double threshold

After checking the box, the photo in the edit window will become gray. If you have clipped shadow or blown highlights, you will see those spots show up as black and white pixels.  In this example, none of them exist so it is pure gray. Drag the sliders towards the center until you see pixels of darkest and brightest spots show up as black and white dots in the edit window.

Adjust sliders to show the darkest and brightest spots in the photo

The black and white spots in the edit window.

Black and white spots representing the darkest and brightest points in the photo

Now select and place the black and white control points on the spots. It is recommended that you place the white or black control point at area that contains a cluster of pixels in close proximity, not area with loosely scattered pixels. You can zoom in to make the placement more precise. You can adjust the luminance values (0-15% for black, 85%-100% for white) of the black/white control points by dragging the slider attached to the control point, or entering the value directly in the settings dialog box.

To maximize contrast, you need to set black point luminance to a value close to zero and white point  luminance to a value close to 100% while maintaining the shadow and highlight details.

White point settings

For this example, I used 100% for white point and 0% for black point because I don’t have blown highlights and the no important shadow details will be lost. The following screen capture shows the photo after the black and white point adjustments with the two control points visible.

After black and white point adjustments

Here is the Edit List after placing both white and black control points:

Edit List after BW points

Bring out the blue sky

It is really easy to bring out the blue sky in Capture NX. Add a color control point where you see the most blue in the sky. Lowering the brightness, increasing the contrast and saturation are the typical adjustments you will need to get a nice blue sky.

Color Control Point

Color control point affect only areas with similar colors within certain radius (the size setting). To see exactly what areas of the photo have been affected, go to View->Show Selection. The affected areas will be represented by a gray-scale image: the white areas are affect most while black areas are least affected by the control point.

Show selection

You can drag the size slider to enlarge or shrink the size of the affected areas. To get the blue out of most sky, we want to have a large size but we don’t want to affect the foreground. What can we do?

We can do this by removing the effect of color control point from areas below the sky using selection brush. To do so, simply select the minus mode selection brush and start painting in areas below the sky.

Minus mode selection brush

As you paint, the minus mode selection brush reveals the brighter photo before you apply the color control point. Use “[” or “]” to reduce or enlarge the size of the brush. To see where you have painted, go to View->Show Selection again. The painted areas will be in red color.

Painted area

The final result

Remember, you can go back to the previous steps to change the settings of each editing step, including the settings of the control points in the Edit List.  All the edits are non-destructive. You can overwrite the original NEF file without loosing the original photo data.

Below is the final Edit List.

Final Edit List

The final photo:

Snow falls in Boise

The final words

I hope you enjoy reading this tutorial and can appreciate the nice features of Capture NX. To read more Capture NX tutorials and tips on this site, click here. If you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to use the comment box below.

Posted in: Photo Editing, Tutorials on December 9th, 2007. Trackback URI
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