It’s Just a Little Bit Hazy

By Mark

Digital Photography can do some amazing things in post processing.  This past Saturday, I got to go flying again with my friend Jeff.  We decided that it would be cool to fly up to New York City and then home again.  It gives him some good cross country time and would allow me to hopefully get a few interesting shots.   Last fall we went to Baltimore and the Eastern Shore and it was a blast.  We took off from Leesburg with an eye on the weather.  Thunderstorms and small airplanes do not mix.  Things looked pretty good, but there was definitely the early summer light haziness in the air.  The further north and closer to the coast we got, the more the haze thickened.  We had good visibility for flying, but details on the ground were just seemingly slightly out of focus.  It helps to understand what components make up haze.  Thanks to all of the wonderful trees breathing there is a lot of moisture in the air.  Plus we have had quite a bit of good old rain so the air is saturated with tiny water particles.  Mix in a healthy bit of human exhaust from cars, buildings and the like and voila-haze.

As we approached the city, this is pretty much what we could see.  

Pretty sure there is a city there somewhere??

Pretty sure there is a city there somewhere??

Not good picture taking conditions.   When you look at the histogram, you can see that it is pretty condensed.  I wasn’t certain how much information I would be able to recover, but I knew I had to try.  

That narrow range from the histogram and the very powerful Clarity slider were what gave me hope.   There are a few plug-ins which claim to help, but honestly you don’t really need them. 

Switch over to the Develop Module. To start with I find that reducing the exposure slightly-around a half stop or so; -.5, really helps.  The water reflects the light and makes the camera believe it is brighter than it really is.   The next step is pretty universal and is one you should be doing for almost all of your images anyway-setting the black and white points for your image.  In reality you are deciding where you want the darkest and lightest points to be without driving them out of printable range.   If you hold down the ALT Key as you move the black or white sliders an amazing thing happens.    For the Blacks slider, the screen turns all white.  Drag the arrow to the left and watch the histogram as it expands to the left.  When you start seeing little black pixels appear and before the little arrows at the top of the histogram turn solid white, let go and your image will have transformed.  For the Whites slider, drag the arrow to the right.  You can see how much more range you have created. 

You can then move down into the Presence panel and make some additional adjustments.  For inanimate objects like cities and landscapes you can crank up the Clarity all the way to 100.  I find that if you do that, you probably need to add a little Vibrance as well to bring back those mid-tone colors. Finally you get to this.  Still not “great”, but much better. 

Anyway, most of the shots started out needing a lot of work, but that didn't make the experience any less interesting.  Not many people get the privilege of angles like this, starting as we flew right over the Verrazano-Narrow Bridge.