Highlight recovery challenge on yet another Cologne Cathedral shot

Yet another instance of me not excelling at blown highlight recovery (tried it both in RawTherapee and darktable). There are two problematic spots: the one on the bridge pier, and the one on the red light reflection below the boat to the left.

My edit (for screens):

JPG out of cam for reference:

DSC_3751.NEF (27.8 MB)
DSC_3751 Ebene5.png.out.pp3 (14.7 KB)

This file is licensed Creative Commons, By-Attribution, Share-Alike.


Hello, why are those spots problematic in the first place?

Second, I suggest with shots like these to underexpose a bit, like -0.3 EV or -0.6EV. That helps to keep the details in brightly lit areas.

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My attempt with dt 4.2.2. The photo is very good to start with. Thanks

DSC_3751.NEF.xmp (6.0 KB)


I mean, they don’t look very good in the JPG out of cam or in any of my recovery attempts. For some reason, my camera often blows out artificial lights such that there is a more or less sharply defined completely blown-out area (as opposed to e.g. gradually getting brighter and brighter with a blown-out center). Unrecovered, those areas stick out like sore thumbs to me.

I’ll try to keep that in mind for next time :slight_smile:

Thank you, and I like the natural look in your edit!

For the screen edit I posted above I slightly raised contrast levels, giving the whole image a more dramatic, unrealistic look. The thing is, whenever I’m editing, “getting creative” with an image’s look often feels like a stopgap in lieu of achieving an appealing natural look (unfortunately, with low-light/twilight/mixed-light situations, the JPGs out of cam which my Z5 gives me are generally not a good guidance for a natural look).


Nice shot :slight_smile:

  • In RT, if you check the raw histogram, you’ll see you have some clipping indeed; so yes, next time, under such conditions, do make use of exposure compensation in camera. Ideally, set up a custom WB based on UniWB (refs: uniwb multipliers question, and Guillermo Luijk)
  • I’ve done an edit in RT and used the Z5 DCP “neutral” flavour from Camera Raw — I don’t think I’ve reached the smoothest gradients ever, but oh well…

DSC_3751.NEF.pp3 (14.1 KB)

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DSC_3751-3.jpg.out.pp3 (15,3 KB)


Thanks for the pointers! I read through the uniwb post, and I’m definitely setting that up for my camera! (Unfortunately as a Nikon owner, it seems I can’t do the quick method mentioned at the bottom of the post.)

The issue is not so much about highlights being blown in the raw data (for the most part they’re not) - rather, the handling of bright, saturated lights is challenging.

Here’s my take using a modified version of darktable’s sigmoid module. Far from perfect, but at least it gets rid of the flat blotches in the lights.


DSC_3751.NEF.xmp (10.4 KB)


First off: amazing image! I usually don’t mess with smaller clipped highlights as dealing excessively with those tends to degrade the rest of the image during raw conversion with DT.

I take care of the smaller stuff afterwards with Gimp and the resynthesizer plugin (Heal Selection) selecting all clipped spots, increasing selection by 10 pixels, feathering by 5 and then doing Heal Selection with random filling and a 50 pixel radius.

I’m a big fan of the KISS way of doing things and using each software for what it is really good at, the right tool for the right job so to say.


Very nice image. I can imagine sitting at a table, sipping a glass of wine, enjoying the perfect temperature of that evening, and taking in this view.

Here’s my effort.

DSC_3751_03.NEF.xmp (24.8 KB)


I decided to try a pure RawTherapee edit of the image. Usually, I play around in GIMP a lot after developing a picture in RT, but I’ve found that doing too much in GIMP can lead to an overprocessed look (at least in my well-meaning hands). Instead of GIMPing around, I’ve used local area adjustments in RT to produce a hopefully more natural look, trying to match some of the impressive results I see in this thread.

DSC_3751 Ebene9g HD.jpg.out.pp3 (39.8 KB)

And yet another refinement:

DSC_3751 Ebene9p HD.jpg.out.pp3 (53.2 KB)


Thanks for posting
darktable 4.4.2

DSC_3751.NEF.xmp (30.7 KB)


Thanks for sharing the image.
Darktable 4.4.2

My attempt using a combination of:

  • highlight reconstruction to save some highlight detail.
  • layered colour zones to darken and notch the blue & red.
  • layered filmic rgb to merge & tame the intensity.

DSC_3751.NEF.xmp (21.3 KB)


Little late to the party and also I did pass on the challenge for this nice picture by providing a B/W rendition…

DSC_3751.NEF.xmp (17.9 KB)

…btw have been several times on the towers of the cathedral, as cologne is my city of birth.