Trying to Make Images in Relatively Low Light Look Natural

I often struggle to make pictures in low light look natural as well as interesting in my edits. They somehow look a bit cartoonish with blocks of colour rather than subtle gradations when I try. I think I may be trying too hard to reduce the dynamic range with the tone equalizer.

Maybe in this case it’s also I just shot it too dark, or a focusing or blurry shot issue.

Any suggestions welcome. Thanks

20240624_0170.DNG (27.5 MB)
20240624_0170_02.DNG.xmp (108.7 KB)

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Nice shot, but I couldn’t quite decide on an approach…

This is what I did. I feel it’s not really changing the natural lighting that much, as far as I could judge from the embedded preview.


20240624_0170.DNG.xmp (18.6 KB)

went off-piste, started brightening things but liked the evening style look of the clouds…


These are closer to my first edit but then wondered if it was too much and discarded…

I mean closer, but better


I gave it too much contrast and I like it. dt 4.8.0

BTW, I love the thunderstorm.

20240624_0170.DNG.xmp (8.0 KB)


It’s fun to see how far it can go

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This was the other side of the bridge


I swear I didn’t want to make it too dramatic :joy:

Somewhere I picked up a LUT named Canon Footage and used it here. It boosts contrast and saturation. Then some inner voice forced me to add a bit of Haze Removal …

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Haha. Hellfire



A very simple, unsophisticated and probably incomplete edit in ART, foregoing a number of touches I would probably add if it was my image and I was “going for the max”. For example, what I didn’t do:

  • Vignette and gradient(s) for drama

  • Color grading / Color correction

  • Reining in the color and tonal impact of the bluish glass hi-rise windows

  • Crop

…and so forth. Since you asked about something that felt more fundamental (a natural look), I didn’t think such edits really applied here. Maybe I’m wrong?

All the same I have no real frame of reference for whether I know what I’m doing at all or if I’m just pushing sliders… know what I mean? I’m certain many of my edits probably contradict other edits in the same image. Anyway, what I did (and I realize this won’t be a one-to-one mapping to darktable):

  • EV+ 0.66 stop exposure

  • Raised the left of the histogram with the Tone Equalizer (fairly smooth curve)

  • A bit of Capture Sharpening just to firm it up a bit

  • Bumped L*a*b* chromaticity +40

  • Bumped L*a*b* contrast +15 to recover a little contrast after what I did with the Tone Equalizer

  • Raised the entire image an additional EV+ 0.5 stop using the Log Tone Mapping gain, since it still looked too dark

  • Resize for posting here

That’s it. The scene’s color palette is dominated by the sunlight reflecting off the clouds, so I didn’t try to “correct” that away. Yes, it’s reflecting everywhere and permeates the shot, but IME that’s how post-thunderstorm sunlight tends to work.

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Hi, my version

20240624_0170.DNG.xmp (8,9 KB)


Well trying this on a pic like that would be a shame. Welcome the surreal look of this photo with wide open arms. It’s hell of a shot and doesn’t deserve to suffer from a natural look. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

20240624_0170.DNG.xmp (17,9 KB)


You asked for a natural looking version, so it would be impolite to just deliver what I delivered.
So less drama, more natural:

20240624_0170_01.DNG.xmp (19,6 KB)


I though originally the cyclist was blurred due to motion; it was on downloading that I discovered that the focus field starts on the far side of the bridge. This does make things somewhat more difficult.

I ended up with three different takes on your RAW … none purport to be the answer:

20240624_0170.DNG.xmp (7.9 KB)

20240624_0170_01.DNG.xmp (6.8 KB)

20240624_0170_02.DNG.xmp (8.6 KB)


20240624_0170.DNG.xmp (12.2 KB)


Apocalypse now… :slightly_smiling_face:

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Edit: Zoomed
20240624_0170.DNG.xmp (17.1 KB)


Even being there, when the lighting is quite mixed and extreme, I think our eyes adjust and so it’s hard to remember exactly the colours. My feeling is that it was also a little bit purple from the combination of the cloud cover and the late sun but that may be false memory.

I think this is one of my biggest failings taking pictures and I really need to figure out some basic rules of thumb for depth of field rather than just winging it.


Thank you for the play. With ART:

20240624_0170.jpg.out.arp (14.2 KB)