How to process night images with colorful reflections on water

In a previous discussion regarding ClearView, and how much to use, we got to discussing night photos. The quick uploads I did were horrible, Tonight I set up my camera (Leica M10) on a tripod with the 90mm f/2 lens mounted, and an hour or so after sunset (8pm) I took a series of photos looking across Biscayne Bay at the city of Miami. I will copy the ‘dng’ file for my selected image below, before I open PL4 with the file in place, so there should be no ‘dop’ file to copy here - yet. I guess there will be by the time anyone else comes to look for it.

I have seen some really beautiful night-time shots here, with colorful reflections. Viewing this file in PhotoMechanic Plus made it look very promising. If anyone wants to work with it, and see what you can do, that would be great. What I’m hoping to learn here is what things to do, and more importantly in what order, to process night-time photos. I imagine the last step will be noise reduction.

As soon as I open this file in PL4, I know it will change because of my preset, but that should be Optical Corrections Only for camera and lens. There are six images - the one I like most is L1001690.dng .

L1001690 | 2020-12-04 | Miami Night Skyline.dng (26.7 MB)

Well, I must be doing something wrong already - there are no ‘dop’ files, not even for the image that is selected??

Even more confused. I closed PL4 and re-opened, and I see there now is a “dop” file, but all the correction tools in the right pane are missing, and there is a message “No matching corrections”. The tools at the top of the window, such as ‘crop’ work fine, but they don’t show up in the pane at the right?? Under Workspaces, it says I’m in “DxO Advanced”.

…grrr, disregard the above problem. At the very top of the search box at the top of the right panel, somehow “noise” was selected. I cleared that, and all the “missing” tools re-appeared. My fault. I can’t remember doing that, and I also can’t believe it was still on when I restarted PL4.

I didn’t change it that much from “in camera” settings. White Balance was still on “5600”, so I adjusted that. Some of the lights are over-powering, but I have no idea how to correct that, or for that matter if I even should do so. Viewed at 1:1 resolution, I highly doubt that my Nikon lens would have, or could have, gotten the details this sharp. I look at the windows in the buildings, and I’m amazed. The top of the sky may or may not be too dark - to my eyes, it was very dark. All that’s missing is a moon setting behind the buildings, but that won’t be until 11am tomorrow. The island is so very dark, but that’s the way it looks with my bare eyes…

There are a number of ways to work with this image. I just experimented with a few things so I could give you something quickly. This version took me under 5 minutes and included some control points but no ClearView Plus. If I tried again I would likely do things differently. I didn’t find the lights overpowering, but maybe that’s just me.,


I like your view more than what I did - it’s lightened up and I can even see the island. The color is prettier, but not “real”. But it looks nice with that color. If I was hanging one on my wall, I would pick what you did, not what I did. There is so much more to see!

I’m glad you liked it. No photograph is real or accurate although they occasionally come close. They are all approximations at best. And, an accurate image is not necessarily exciting or pleasing to look at. My version was just an interpretation based on how I was seeing things when I processed it.

My goal wasn’t to make the image an exact replica of what you saw. Since I wasn’t there I can’t do that anyway. I wanted to show the life, excitement and vibrancy of the city and the harbor. As a result I decided on more of a Christmas tree effect.

There is nothing wrong with your version but I felt that it was too dark and somber and lacked excitement. In addition, the harbor details were hidden in the darkness, and the colors didn’t glow, If I worked on this image again tomorrow the end results would probably be very different. Although I generally like my images to look “real” whatever that is, I don’t necessarily use post processing to make an image look exactly like the original scene unless it meats my vision.

By the way, since I did this quickly I didn’t bother to clean up all the dirt on the sensor that was discussed in a previous thread.


Re-thinking this, and to keep my brain screwed on correctly, I will consider what I just posted a “photograph”, and I will also create another one that I would call a “photo illustration”. I’ve got a pretty clear definition of the terms - the people on were pretty clear on what is or is not allowed, before one goes over the line.

Dirt on sensor isn’t going anywhere until either I learn how to do it myself, or the virus becomes less vicious so I can get to the camera shop. A friend sent me a broken Nikon D750 with full size sensor, that I can practice on. Maybe in the next few days I’ll feel good enough about this to at least use the rocket blower.

Back on track, your photo shows things I know were there, but when I stood on my balcony taking the photo, everything was very dark. Your photo brings out all the things I couldn’t see. I still consider your version to be a photograph. The “brown” tint is because my camera was still set for sunlight white balance. The brown color bothers me, but at the same time, it’s beautiful. …too confusing, and it’s after midnight. Time for sleep.

Remember this is not photojournalism. There is almost no limit to what you can do to meet your vision and make an image pleasing to you and others. I don’t care for the term Photo Illustration since it implies significant alteration of the original image. The edits I applied to get the results I posted were relatively modest and I don’t believe they altered the integrity of the original.


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Or was it? I see light pollution, a lot of which could be Sodium vapour lamps, which are yellow.

White balance with this kind of shot is very much down to what you, as a photographer, want to portray.

I used the WB pipette on one of the lights on the dock in the foreground :

Capture d’écran 2020-12-05 à 08.42.24

If I were stood on that dock, I would have perceived the light as being white. But was it tungsten or LED?

Anyhow, this is what I get with that as a reference point.

This is the beauty of a RAW file - you can set the WB, after the fact, to suit your artistic intent. But don’t interpret “artistic” to mean “making it up”.

Mark’s rendition is warmer, yours is in between his and mine. Which one is “right”? The answer is that they are all right, depending on the “feeling” that you want to convey.

Or, if you are not sure whether you like your colours warm or cool, try using a graduated local adjustment to change the WB on just the other side of the bay?



You can also throw caution to the wind and experiment with things you might never have considered. I just threw this together based on a similar idea I just happened to see elsewhere a few minutes ago. You may or may not like it, but its is certainly a different approach. Experimenting also helps you to understand what a tool can do.


Which inspires me, Mark, to mention that, before colour film, reality always came in black and white :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


Very nice!!

I think perhaps Mike is being too cautious. Hopefully once he’s more comfortable with the tool he will be more willing to experiment and take chances.

Normally I wouldn’t have posted my latest version in response to this thread but in my opinion, Mike’s processed files, which he has posted in a couple of topics, don’t look significantly different or better than his unprocessed DNGs, and I wanted to shake him up a bit. .


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hi nice shot!
this is much more “interesting” as view. take me more time in watching before i am done with it.

my aproach:
first check the raw bounderies:

Yep we have blown spots

(edit:deepdark)Shadow will crack when lifted , see the light polution arch need to keep that in mind not to show to much.

used the auto lift to see details in shadow most is there.

see minor overexposure in the lights no problem

nice in focus so no problem

detail filter shows NOISE! arghhh :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: red dots on sky and water shows hard spikkels aka noise.

searching base WB shows as Joanna(edit sorry i keep writing your name as in dutch with a “H”) wrote sodium vaporlights (yellow)

this is my master, bit to greenisch but as base good enough. just little smart lighting not more
from here i try to find my “look and feel” of the image.
clean up spots and deleted that mushy plaine right top of the building.

by little steps on WB sliders i changed the tint and color to a point i liked the balance between cool blue night and warm sodium light wile avoiding to much polution in the sky. some “spray” allowed.

L1001690 2020-12-04 Miami Night Skyline.dng.dop (21,4 KB)

note i did 40% (default) deep prime because the poles right lower corner didn’t need more.
you could use this final and go with local adjustment further in details but i like the skyline reflecting some of the building lights like a aura. the place of light left lower corner white boat wile to the left it’s start’s to creep in the dark fading the details. my eye is starting right lower corner redirect from that dark boat to right colorfull water and skyline and then al the way to the left… and then finally down in the dark following the reflection of that bright building to those sailboats.

(at least my take of it :grinning:)


A ode to your work! (click on photo to view.)
video of all presets i have in the preview vensterL1001690 2020-12-04 Miami Night Skylinenightshot bw_2
i like this one as oldy goldy look:

only changed HQ to deep prime (i know noise is structure in old film :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:)

Side issue

Can I just ask @mikemyers what you used to give the image a 2-star rating and keywords?

I tried to reset the rating to 0 and couldn’t, until I used ExifTool to change the metadata in the file and deleted the PL database. This is not your fault Mike, it appears there is an inconsistency in how PL handles such ratings.

@StevenL this might need investigation. I will send you a direct message with further details.

Not if you use Fuji Neopan Acros 100 :sunglasses:

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This is where we split into two different camps. My cap (if I were to wear one) would say “Photojournalist”, not “Artist”. I try to capture what I see, as best as I can (meaning I mostly ignore what I can’t see). To me, there is a dividing line between “photograph” and “photo illustration”, and any photo I work with has to go in at least one of those two groups. The dividing line comes from “what did I see?”

Regarding this specific image, what I “saw” was the bright lights of Miami over a very dark Biscayne Bay, with a few things showing up in that “darkness”. When I looked at my raw images, shown in PL4, I was thinking - “Wow, where did all that come from!!!???” I very much did NOT visibly see all the details my camera captured in those “technically overexposed” images. I was fascinated by it though. And I love the way some of these images look, but to me, they’ve crossed over MY dividing line between photographs and photo illustrations.

I guess this all starts with me wearing my “photojournalist” hat, which means I follow the following “rules”
When it gets to rule #6, once I go beyond what I feel this rule allows, my hat comes off and I put on a hat with “Photo Illustration” on it - at which time I can be MUCH less cautious, and experiment with a lot of things. Many of the versions of my photo posted here I consider “photo impressions”, in which case anything goes - up to and beyond the current limits of “art”.

The photo that I edited still fits into my definition of “photojournalist”; I was aware of anything clearly visible in this photo, which I captured the image. Being aware of them is one thing - the altered version here show these details completely, and beautifully, and while many of them are beautiful images to me, they include things I couldn’t/didn’t “see” with my own eyes. I thought I saw the bright lights of the city, the reflections in the water, the dark sky, the dark water, and a few things such as the land near the bottom right. If I noticed any detail in the water, I wasn’t aware of it - until I put my memory card in my computer.

I took lots of different exposures, trying different settings. Next time I’ll set the camera for bracketing, and take five images at different shutter speeds for bracketing. I did it in these photos too, and then selected the image that had the most visible detail.

The words I highlighted in bold face (to me) are the dividing line between “reality” and “illusion”. Both are “real”, but your explanation of my version is what I thought I saw’. Your version shows things that my image didn’t, and as a photograph to hang on my wall, I like yours better.

My “solution” to this, is that from now on, at least for a while, I’ll edit more freely, even if it shows things that my eye was unaware of, and just consider it as a “photo illustration”, meaning I’m free to do whatever I think would make it a better image visually. Problem solved. For this forum, I’ll post my versions of both. :slight_smile: …and also, I very much appreciate all the technical feedback I’m getting here. I will apply what I’ve learned to my future postings. Thanks!!!

Interesting - I tried to find a place to set the white balance, but nothing worked. You found one, and your photo is the closest I have seen in this discussion to what my eyes saw as I took the photo. As an accurate photograph, I think yours is perfect.

To be honest though, I think the other versions that show so much more detail in the water are more interesting. To me, your version is a “photograph”, and the others, to me, become “photo illustrations”, and I enjoy those illustrations more than I enjoy the photograph. Something for me to think about. Both have their place. Sadly, this “near perfect” representation of what I saw while standing on my balcony, no longer seems so “exciting” - I miss all the additional things that others brought out of hiding. :slight_smile: