Bamboo Forest
Before and After

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This photo was taken in one of the most iconic locations of Kyoto – Bamboo Grove (also known as Bamboo Forest and Bamboo Path) in Arashiyama district. I wanted to take it ever since I saw Bamboo Grove in the image by Trey Ratcliff many many years ago. Through the years it almost became my obsession.

My idea for the photo was clear and simple – I wanted to show empty path going through the forest. I also wanted warm light on the bamboos what should make them very saturated.

As you see the idea was plain simple. But it turned out it wouldn’t be very easy to achieve such shot. You see, the place is very popular tourist spot and also is very popular location for wedding photo sessions. So I had to make several attempts to have the conditions I envisioned. Being early in the morning doesn’t guarantee the place will be deserted. You also need a bit of luck apparently.

Taking the photo

As it was very early in the morning I faced another challenge. Whole bamboo grove was very dark apart from a few light patches here and there on the path and the bamboos which in turn were very bright. Although this light & shadows play was very beautiful, it also made dynamic range of the scene very wide. Capturing all details in a single frame was not on an option as I would end up either with blown out highlights or clipped shadows. So I decided to use HDR.

I took 7 exposures in total with 1 stop spacing. Although it’s quite a lot, so many frames were needed to properly cover dynamic range of this scene.

Here are the settings I used:

  • Focal length: 35 mm
  • Aperture: f/8
  • Shutter speed: 1/3 s (for median image)
  • ISO: 100
  • Tripod: YES

Developing RAWs

As I shot my images in RAW I first had to develop them. I used Capture One 9 for this and applied only some basic edits like distortion correction and chromatic aberration reduction.

Creating HDR image & tone-mapping

After taking my images, I first loaded them into Photomatix Pro 5.1. While loading my images I used option to remove ghosts (there was light wind so the bamboos were swaying) and also to align the images – even though I used a tripod sometimes there are 1 – 2 pixels shifts which really irritate me and I prefer to fix them in Photomatix.

Once my images were loaded I used Contrast Optimizer tone mapper to get the look I wanted. Exact settings are shown below:

  • Strength: 50
  • Tone Compression: 0
  • Lighting Effect: 65
  • White Clip: 3.5
  • Black Clip: 0
  • Midtone: 4.5
  • Color Saturation: 2.2
  • Color Temperature: 0.0

Such settings helped me in restoring details in highlights and also to lighten up the shadows to restore some nice details and colors in them.

Here’s how the image looked directly out of Photomatix:

Bamboo Forest by Wojciech Toman

After using Photomatix Pro my image usually looks a bit dull and boring and this is the key to my post-processing as this way I have a lot of flexibility in editing my images in Photoshop. If you make the image look more less the way you want directly in Photomatix, or other HDR software, you will have much less options to fine tune it later.

By such approach, I give myself a lot of space for further editing. The main thing I use Photomatix for isn’t to get colors right – I use it mainly to make sure no highlights are overblown and no shadows are clipped to black (i.e. dynamic range and exposure of the scene is correct). Also I enhance details a little bit.

For more details on my HDR processing you can read my HDR tutorial:

Finishing the image

Anyway after working on my image in Photomatix I went directly to Photoshop, where I opened ON1 Effects 10 plug-in, chose my favorite Magic Ocean preset from Landscape category, fine-tuned it to my liking and applied it to my image.

Very last step was to add some contrast using curves adjustments layer and do some sharpening.

Video tutorial

If you’re interested, you can also view video tutorial below showing how I exactly post-processed this image.

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