Old Oak - A Tutorial

There is an old oak by the south-eastern entrance to the Söderåsen National Park. Rumor has it that this is the oak under which Gandalf sat as he smoked his pipe and penned the famous saga about J.R.R. Tolkien. I don’t know about that, but the valley rabbits sure love it.

I walked by that area many times, and the peaceful beauty of the tree often caught my eye, but I never found the right light for capturing it. Well I was there again today, with the dog, in the summer showers, and it looked just right. Went back home to get my gear, the dog just managed to jump on the couch but back out into the rain it was. Dog wasn’t too happy. The midges were thrilled, though.

I shot it at 50mm f/2.8 just to get the fore- and backgrounds a bit fuzzy, using a circular polarizing filter to remove the shine from the leaves. I took two more shots: one of a color target, and the other a flat-field. Not because I thought it needed either of them, but because I was just curious whether the color profile would make a difference considering it was in the forest, raining, and I was using a polarizing filter, and because @heckflosse asked me to test flat-field code speedups in RawTherapee.

I created a DCP using Anders’ DCamProf. I opened the raw in RawTherapee, made sure I was using my monitor’s color profile, applied the Neutral processing profile, applied the custom DCP, and observed barely a difference. Oh well, 100€ well spent.
No, I joke, it does come in useful, just not in this case. Moving on.

My starting point is a very correct image - the colors are correct, the white balance is correct, the flat-field correction removed vignetting, and everything is just correct, but not aesthetically pleasing. So.

Both tone curves set to “perceptual”, the first one bumped up more in the top-right, the second one bumped down more in the bottom-left. That takes care of interesting tones.

Now colors. I discovered a new trick recently - in Lab* Adjustments, bump the CL curve (chromaticity according to luminance) up, and compensate for this by bumping the CC curve (chromaticity according to chromaticity) down. The effect is difficult to describe - the chromaticity of the image is largely the same (you can control this using the CC curve), but some elements pop more than others in a pleasing way. Pleasing me at least.
The hues are correct, but they need a little touch-up to look better on a computer screen. I want to note that it is important that your white balance is correct. Don’t color-tone your image using the white balance, because certain tools depend on a correct white balance to function correctly. Use the white balance tool for setting a correct white balance, and use the plethora of color tools to tone the colors. HH curve (hue according to hue), I dragged the orange and green tones down a bit to warm the greens up and separate them from the tree bark.

That’s it, mostly done. Now for a little final touches and magic.

Wavelets, 9 levels, I bumped up the highlights of the residual image to make the brighter areas shine. Forests tend to have too much fine detail when viewed on a screen because of all the leaves, so I used the Final Touchup panel’s Final Local Contrast curve to reduce the below- and above-average local contrast, while keeping the average local contrast as-is.

The leaves at the bottom of the photo were illuminated too much, they conflicted with the subject - the tree - so I used a graduated filter to dim them down. I also used a soft vignetting filter to darken the periphery, just a little. See? I told you the flat-field wasn’t necessary in this image.

Lastly, I downscaled the image to a 1920x1080 bounding box using the post-resize sharpening tool to compensate for the softening which downscaling causes.


Watermark image made in Inkscape, scaled down and applied in GIMP.


If you want to follow along, here’s a raw photo of the same tree composed to show the other side, the flat-field, the color target shot + DCP, and a PP3 file (CC-BY-SA):
2016-06-16 oak 02.arw.pp3 (10.6 KB)
Old Oak - A Tutorial (75.7 MB)

If you load the PP3 make sure that it finds the flat-field and the DCP - the image settings depend on them.

Did you find this useful?


I absolutely adore all of the wonderful things the light is doing here (which I think you accentuated nicely with your processing). I often judge some shots by how much I’d like to walk into the frame and just soak in the view I’m being presented with. @Jonas_Wagner did it recently to me with a shot of his in the night fields, and this speaks to me similarly. Of course, living in the southern US, I have a bit of a soft spot for grand ol’ oak trees… :slight_smile:

Wonderful shot and awesome atmosphere![quote=“Morgan_Hardwood, post:1, topic:1627”]
If you want to follow along, here’s a raw photo of the same tree composed to show the other side, the flat-field, the color target shot + DCP, and a PP3 file:

I recently upgraded the hosting plan for the main site to include much more disk space - so I’ll upload them there and update links appropriately - thank you x1000 for sharing your work!

The processing and light here are wonderful. I might consider a square crop to eliminate the very out of focus branch in the upper right.

I have been a lurker on this site from the beginning, but this article deserves a reply.

I truly enjoy reading gems like this. Both informative, very well written and funny to boot! :slight_smile: (Regardless of me beeing a Darktable user :wink: )

A big “Thank you” to all of you wonderful people sharing your knowledge here on Pixls.us :smiley:

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This is my take at the RAW file, processed with darktable.


I also played with the trick you mentioned in Rawtherapee and indeed I really like the effect it does to the image; I’m wondering if there is a module in darktable that can achieve similar results. Perhaps emulating the CL and CC curves using the good old saturation module with parametric masks should be close enough? I definitely should give it a try later today.


[quote=“PkmX, post:5, topic:1627”]
I’m wondering if there is a module in darktable that can achieve similar results. … … … I definitely should give it a try later today.[/quote]

If you do (or did), please share your discoveries :slight_smile:

I’m thinking this might be a great blog post, or at least a bigger mention on the main page. Do you mind if I either include it or showcase it?

I really like this image. So much depth. It’s almos like being there. Great job! :slight_smile:

Thank you everyone for the comments! They encourage me to write more. Even if it is at 3 in the morning.

@patdavid I don’t mind, that sounds like a good idea :slight_smile:

Speaking of 3AM. I decided that if I didn’t write this post straight away, then I never would. I considered including screenshots but as it was starting to get light outside I figured I’d just let you have the PP3 and if you want to know exactly what I mean by “the first one bumped up more in the top-right” then you can just load the PP3 and see.


What license can I attach to the finished result you showed in the first post, and your files?

A licence to kill. Or CC-BY-SA.

Absolutely useful!

In most of the cases, we look at beautiful images and we just wonder how the final result was achieved: was it a matter of light conditions when the shot was taken, or skilful post-processing, or… the question remains almost always unanswered.

Here not only we are shown a beautiful image, but also given the description of the steps to achieve the final result and all the material needed to do our own experiments.

For me, this is invaluable.


And in fact is one of the main reasons for this community, which I am failing at providing material for becuase I suck. So thank you x1000 @Morgan_Hardwood for picking up the slack and providing such a great post! :slight_smile: (Also, you @Carmelo_DrRaw for your awesome post back in the day! :slight_smile: ).


This is a stereogram of the old oak. Look beyond the image at an imaginary point infinitely far away to see it in 3D (parallel viewing, not cross-eye viewing).


This makes my brain very upset. :slight_smile: I’m guessing the “cha-cha” method of capturing?

Also, if you get a chance to check out the user -ytf on Flickr for some awesome HDR cross-eyed stereograms:


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I see a very nice stereogram with parallel viewing here. With the cross-eyed method it makes my brain also upset.

If you change the right picture for the left picture (and the left picture for the right), the stereogram will probably make our brains less upset, with cross-eyed viewing. (see answer Morgan Hardwood)

Wikipedia freeviewing:

You can’t mix the two methods. Only one method works for a given stereogram arrangement. I arranged it the way I did because I find parallel viewing easier than cross-eyed.

I updated the description in my previous comment to reflect that.

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@patdavid thanks! Its interesting how much more realistic and great the lighting in the photo becomes when you view it in 3D… then you pop back into 2D and the lighting looks almost bland.

You are right. In GIMP I changed right and left. Then it still made no sense with cross eyed viewing. That’s the fun with this forum. I learn every time something new, thank you.

The photos from -ytf- in the link by Pat David are with cross eyed viewing.

Swapped L&R in Gimp and it works for me since my eyes only go cross freeviewing. I like how the out of focus branches in the very foreground in the bottom part pop out of the image with a good structure.