The X-Equals RAW Challenge – And the winner is …

Wed, Apr 21, 2010

Wow … just Wow!

When we launched our RAW Challenge a few weeks ago we weren’t sure what to expect, and boy were we surprised!

Over 50 of you sent in some great interpretations of what this image would like when given some intelligent post-processing in Lightroom. We were astounded by the quality of work we received. Equally impressive were the workflow descriptions that followed along with the submission. It took some work to narrow this great field of submissions down to a top 3.

Before we start presenting the winners, let’s take another look at what they had to work with. The file was distributed as a DNG converted straight from a Canon 50D RAW file. No adjustments were embedded in the DNG prior to its release for the contest.

Here is the original sample image processed in Lightroom 2 with default settings.

Ok enough babbling, here are the Winners

1st Place – Ben Washburn

Brandon’s Take

I love the contrasty-ness of this image and the old school Ghost Busters feel of the sky. I love that Ben started with the Summer Holiday Preset and from there made it his own. Nothing wrong with that – the image looks nothing like the Preset in its final form.

Michael’s Take

What I really like about Ben’s entry is the graphic nature of the image. The tones in the image are amazing for the subject. Stark black contrasted with soothing gold tones pull together an image with a richness that I did not envision in the original RAW file. Even missing the stray sensor dust spots in the frame did not hurt this interpretation. I look at this image and it makes me think of a well toned black and white print, fresh from the darkroom.

Post-processing Breakdown

  • Started with preset: x=summer+holiday
  • Boosted blacks to get grungy look from shadows
  • Slightly boosted fill light and light tones to bring back some global detail in the midtones and highlights
  • Dropped blue saturation and tweaked saturation of other color channels to achieve the look I had in mind
  • Added split toning to add an aged aesthetic
  • Dropped overall saturation to accentuate the aged/grungy feel
  • Increased global exposure
  • Increased global clarity
  • Used adjustment brush tool extensively, set to exposure to selectively dodge/burn the sky and buildings
  • Used adjustment brush to selectively desaturate, add contrast, and add clarity to the sky

For 1st place, Ben walks away with the following prizes

2nd Place – Ugo Cei – Zaphgod

Brandon’s Take

I’m a sucker for a classic S-shaped Tone Curve which I can tell this image has without having to see it. The blacks are black and the whites pop in just the right spots. Paralleling Michael’s comments “Beyond the black and white conversion, the contrast in the image is dead perfect in my opinion.

Michael’s Take

As a fan of purely black and white images, this image really spoke to me. Ugo’s fine manipulation of the Grayscale Mixer created a monochrome mix that was perfectly suited for this image, creating a wonderfully smooth tonality across the image. Many photographers neglect to coax smooth tonal transitions in monochrome images and it requires smart and subtle color manipulations. Beyond the black and white conversion, the contrast in the image is dead perfect in my opinion.

Post-processing Breakdown

  • Increased exposure (+1.0), blacks (17) and contrast (+55) to enhance contrast
  • Increased clarity (+35)
  • Tweaked curves a bit to lighten shadows (darks  +57)
  • Converted to grayscale
  • Used the grayscale mixer to darken blues (-38) and aquas (-17) in the sky.
  • Used the grayscale mixer to lighten reds, yellows, green and orages (between +50 and +60) to make buildings and trees stand out
  • Added a gradient to the top with -0.60 exposure to darken the sky
  • Added a -58 vignette
  • 27 luminance and 71 color noise reduction

2nd place bags Ugo the following

3rd Place: Adrian St. Onge – Adrian Takes Fauxtoes

Brandon’s Take

This image reminds me of a print from the old Kodak 100 film (any style will do) that was left on a windowsill in the sun for a few seasons – a reminder of days gone past. The black clipping and contrast really bring this image together and keeps the tonal tension in perfect balance.

Michael’s Take

Adrian presents us with an amazingly retro spin on the image. I can just imaging fining this shot in an old photo album, shot on some Polaroid 669 and peeled apart just a tad early. The lightness of the image conveys a nice aged feel, and the colors divert just enough from the original to give a unique feel. I spend a lot of time attempting to recreate vintage effects on images in Lightroom and this is one of the best I have seen in a while.

Post-processing Breakdown

  • A little color processing with some split toning
  • Adjust brightness..
  • Upped the blacks a bit
  • Four corner burn!
  • Bring up that black clipping (thanks to x=equals)
  • Spice it all up with a some contrast.

Taking 3rd gets Adrian the following

This wasn’t just about picking cool images

We requested entries to include an e-mail detailing their processing of the image. This would important to the contest so we could share with everyone exactly what the winners did to mold the RAW file into their final images. The willingness of every entrant to disclose their processing is valuable to the community, so we can share and learn together.

Hopefully seeing the winning examples and how they were created will inspire and motivate all of you to apply some of the winning techniques to your own images.

We would like to thank each and every one who entered the contest. There was a lot of stellar work and it was a shame we could only choose three winners. So, just to make sure everyone gets a chance to see every entry, here is a link to all the entrants on Flickr.

If you are more in the mood for a slideshow, click here. Take some time to peruse all the different interpretations of the same image. The different directions that individuals take in their processing of the image is amazingly varied, just showing the levels of creativity in the X-Equals community.

Until next time, keep on rocking!


6 Comments For This Post

  1. Michelle Moore Says:

    I like the winning edit a LOT!

  2. Matt Donders Says:

    Congratulations to all the winners. Some great shots in there!

  3. Julie McLeod Says:

    Congrats to the winners! I like all three interpretations.

    I hope this will be a recurring feature on x=equals. Its very helpful to be able to read the steps taken to get the results and also to read the judges comments. Thanks!

  4. Ryan Klos Says:

    Congrats to all the winners, and all the entrants! What a great learning tool to see how everyone interprets the same image. Great work everyone!

  5. Brandon Oelling Says:

    We do plan on having another contest later in the year.

    Based on the success of this one, we’re thinking hard about how to take the next one up a notch!

    Ideas anyone … ?

  6. G.E. Masana New York Wedding Photographer Says:

    What I’d like to know from the contestants is the “why?”: the reasons they decided on why they wished the image to appear as it does in its final incarnation. What was it about the image that spoke to them that said “make me look this way”? Was there an intent, a purpose? What was inherent in the image that specifically made them interpret it the way they did? Did they envision the final version from inception or were there other twists and turns along the way?

    Because otherwise, it’s just people tweaking settings around without rhyme or reason. That’s great for experimenting and sometimes ‘happy accidents’ do occur that way, but was there more to this process than just that? I’d like to know what it was.