Processing "dull", gray-sky images in PhotoLab 5

Hope it’s OK to ask this as a new thread, as it doesn’t fit into the threads I’m already following.

My question is what techniques can I use to get the most out of photos taken on dull non-sunny days, with gray skies, and not much color. It’s pretty much the opposite of the photos I’ve been working with/on for a few years, which almost have too much brightness and color.

I took the following photo a couple of hours ago, standing on the “pool deck” on my building, looking out at a rather drab looking sail boat. Behind it is the city of Miami, with a few small spots of color. I was going to emphasize the clouds by using a control line, but I didn’t get the result I was after, as the buildings changed as well, but then I decided that this was a good thing, so both buildings and sky got emphasized a little more.

My question is both what I “can” do, along with what I “should” do. I noticed the small boat tied up to the large one was a brilliant blue, despite the lack of sunshine, and I started to think I could brighten up the green leaves on the plants, but then I got to thinking it would look “fake”.

Something I learned from @Joanna was to use the level tool to make the buildings look vertical, rather than any horizontal lines. I thought about enhancing the trees and bushes on the island, but that might start to look manipulated. I quit where I was at, unsure if I went too far, or not far enough.

One last thing - some of my cameras have software that “enhances” the photo. I’d like to think that a raw image has no such enhancements included. I’ve also learned that with Adobe, there’s some kind of preset that boosts the “impact” of an image - as far as I know, PhotoLab does none of that. When I opened this image in PhotoLab, it applied the “Default Preset”. Should I have considered using a different preset, that might be more appropriate?

L1004118 | 2022-01-26.dng (29.4 MB)
L1004118 | 2022-01-26.dng.dop (14.4 KB)

@mikemyers, three things are in that short text passage.

  1. “I noticed…” looks like a good starting point: What is the interesting item in this image? Is it a) the city in the background, b) the boat with the black hull or c) the boat in blue? → The answer to these questions can help you with the decision what to do.

  2. “What should I do…” Emphasize the important part? If the boats are the main actors, why emphasize the background? If the city is the main character, why put that boat in the foreground? Why enhance the greens if the blue boat is important?

  3. “What can I do…?” Anything that will make apparent the answers the questions above.


At the moment I was holding the camera up to my eye, the dark blue boat was the purpose of the image, which I expected to have a blurry city as the background. I didn’t pay any attention to the bright blue boat. I guess I did a lousy job of what I was trying to do, as the city wasn’t so blurry, the bright blue boat shows up as if it was a neon light, and the green trees look much, much better than the out-of-focus green area I expected.

So, I opened it in PL5, and got the dark blue boat to look the way I expected, except it’s not a very exciting boat - pretty ugly, in fact, although the guy who is always working on it must feel otherwise. It even has panels on top to turn sunlight into electricity, but that’s not obvious from this view.

I got lost in the processing. Joanna showed me so much about control lines, but when I tried to bring out the clouds, the buildings and cruise ship came along for the ride, and look SO much better than I expected. So, I sort of gave up - why not make every part of the image look as good as I know how? I tried to add some “detail” into the water, like what Joanna did on another photo I posted, but it didn’t work so well on this image.

It would be easy enough to tone down the bright blue boat, but I like the way it looks. In hindsight, I ought to have just fixed up the green plants on the boat the way I started to do. The photo is so “disjointed” as is, that doing so wouldn’t have hurt.

The focus was on the dark blue boat. The city was not as sharp as the way it appears now, until I used the control line, but having done it and seen the results, I had no desire to un-do it.

My teachers back in the photo classes would likely have looked at me and asked “What were you taking the picture of?” What I ended up with is not what I expected to capture in my photo, but having done so, it’s like my dinner plate with all the different foods spread around the plate. I wanted all of it. But having written that, I’m sure @Wolfgang is going to hit me over the head with an electronic club, and tell me to “get with the program”.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel differently about this, and maybe next time I’ll use a larger lens aperture to get the effect I expected to get this time. There’s always tomorrow.

In the meantime, people who look at this photo are free to pick out what they are interested in, and give less attention to the rest. Unfortunately for me, I expect they will look all over the city, and ignore the dark blue boat which is what I was trying to photograph.

As one who in a past life spent 27 years living aboard 2 different sailboats you certainly caught my attention with the dark blue (almost black to me) boat. My eyes zapped right onto it.

I really like the juxtaposition of the very neglected and un-yachty looking Margaritaville and the affluence of the cruise ships and the city buildings. So that is what I see as the ‘subject’ or 'story". Of course I am most likely not the typical viewer.

My immediate reaction is:

  • No obvious subject but a boat that dominates the lower half
  • The boat in the foreground isn’t sharp…

  • The liner in the background is sharper, or at least as sharp (or not)

  • The image is basically one of two halves: the city and the boat. There isn’t sufficient separation and the eye is constantly being drawn from one to the other, with no clear “path” to follow.

  • The pylons on the dock behind the foreground boat are confused with the top of the boat and look like they are part of the boat roof.

  • The sky may be grey but it has plenty of cloud detail and there is obviously sunlight breaking through in places. You could bring out more detail, but that would make it even more confusing.

Certainly a longer lens, wide open, would have helped focus on the boat and put the background more out of focus, but that would have to be very carefully controlled to separate the boat from the down pylons.

Sorry Mike, to my mind this image is the opposite of “dull”, it has at least three points of interest, sky, cruise liner and buildings, foreground boat. No amount of processing in PL is going to improve it significantly. As @platypus says, you need to take your pick.

Wrong vantage point, wrong focus, wrong framing. But that is just my personal POV.

My take for what it’s worth…


That describes my first thought pretty closely… You could now use local adjustments to blur the background and make the water less choppy as an example.

I can relate to what you wrote. Miami is a showcase of beautiful high-rise buildings, and the huge, incredibly tall, cruise ships fit right into that. I intended to make the sky look better, but the control line did even more to make the buildings stand out more. I liked what I saw, although it had nothing to do with my original intent. As to the Margaritaville, it has been anchored in this spot for as long as I can remember. The owner is out there working on it several times a week. I watched as he installed the solar panels, which now sort of blend in, but I guess they really look out of place if this was supposed to be a beautiful sail boat. I guess the boat is more of a second home to the owner, who spends a good bit of time working on the boat quite often. Yes, neglected and certainly un-yachty looking!! While I didn’t see it that way in my conscious thinking, it certainly fits my thoughts about this scene.

I shot the Margaritaville from above, as before, during, and after the owner put in the solar panels. In those photos, the background was only the water of Biscayne Bay. Yesterday I wanted to take a photo of this boat, and a few others, with bright sunlight lighting them up. Then in the afternoon, I decided to shoot from “ground level”, meaning along the deck of my building’s swimming pool. I could walk back and forth, to select what I wanted for a background behind the boat, and of all my trial photos, this one looked best to me - but it was no longer bright and sunny, and the sun was lighting up the boat from the side of the photo, not from “behind me”. Maybe I’ll try again later today, but it’s all hazy and foggy outside, and there is no direct sunlight to be seen.

Sometimes I plan out photos ahead of time, and work on them until I capture just what I want. This time was different, as I didn’t know what I wanted, other than a clear view of the Margaritaville with a less sharp image of Miami as the background. Obviously I failed. I was walking around, and shooting by “feel”, trying different ideas. I was not really aware of what I was doing, more like in a “dream world” trying to compose everything into a nice image.

You may not be “the typical viewer”, but I appreciate your feedback. Since the photo is of a boat, someone who “knows boats” would be the perfect person to get feedback from. Nobody mentioned it, but to me, the flower pots on the boats made a big impact on me, and I guess I should go ahead and boost the color more - but I think I will re-take the image completely based on all the feedback.

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My intent was to focus on the boat, and assume the background (city) would be less sharp. Obviously setting the aperture at f/11 was a mistake, based on my original intent. If you noticed, the control line made the city stand out even more, which improved that part of the photo, but in hindsight I should have done this to the Margaritaville too. I thought the shutter was fast enough to “freeze” the boat, which was rocking back and forth. Also, my rangefinder is more or less useless with a 135mm lens, focusing on something so far away. The simple fix would be to get my D750. My next attempt will be to mount the Visoflex on the M10, and be sure the focus is exactly on the boat, and open up the lens to maybe f/5.6 or f/4 (that’s as wide as the lens will go).

Agreed completely, and the only fix I can think of is to open up the aperture, and see of the background becomes noticeably less sharp. That’s what I expected when I took the photo, but setting the lens to f/11 killed that. I’ll try again.

I’m limited as to where I can shoot from. I have some ideas that might improve this, such as going to the street in front of my building, so I’d be more to the “right” and the background behind the Margaritaville would be the city, not the the boat dock. That, along with the reduced depth of focus, might correct this.

Yep, my idea to use the control line made this even worse. I will try again, and maybe I’ll get a better “sky”.

Yep, the word “dull” is not what I was trying to express. Not sure what word does convey my thoughts, maybe “hyper-active”? So many things all at once, competing for attention.

The image can’t be improved by processing - it needs to be improved as I’m capturing it in the camera.

As a photo of the Margaritaville, your concept works. My concept is too confusing.

So, if I get a chance this morning, and the sun comes out from behind the fog and mist, I’ll take a similar photo but from further to the right, with the lens set to either f/4 or f/5.6, exposed for the blue hull of the Margaritaville. If things are working nicely, maybe I’ll then try with the D750, with the 80-200 lens zoomed in enough to fill the image with “boat”, so no need for cropping.

I figure this is good for a learning experience, even if I can’t capture the photo I have in my mind. :slight_smile: Thank you once again. You always help me focus my thoughts in a constructive way.

Right! I’m guessing from the perspective that the small boat is around 20 metres (65ft). With the 135mm lens at an aperture of f/4, the DOF at 20m is about 6m (20ft) front to back. This should be more than enough to get the whole beam of the boat sharp but not much more. You can focus on halfway across the boat to get it all sharp but, with 10ft of DoF behind the point of focus, you could get away with focusing on the side nearest you and still get the entire beam sharp.

Get yourself TrueDoF-Pro ‎TrueDoF-Pro DoF Calculator on the App Store for your iPhone or iPad. If you’re planning on limiting DoF, it’s worth every penny.

And, if you say it might be foggy, all the better. You can use that to lose the background even more.

See this beautiful image of a yacht a friend of mine took on a foggy day…


Ah! cool. Apart from the pylons on the roof of the boat, a much better idea. PL or Lr?


Lr’s local adjustments for “sky” and “subject”, together with inverting the selections, made it really easy… I used several gradients to remove colour and detail in the background and the colour saturation sliders to only allow red, green and blue on Margaritaville.

Of course, you know the next challenge is - can you do the same in PL5? :wink: :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: :sunglasses:

OK. I couldn’t resist. Using the repair tool to “clone” sky onto the buildings with partial opacity…

Plus a bit of blur with the brush local adjustment…

check for → VC2

L1004118 2022-01-26.dng.dop (266,9 KB)

M = untouched
VC1 = Mike
VC2 = Wolfgang → the shown jpg (taking up the original idea to focus/center on the boat)
VC3 = Wolfgang → freeing the boat from the jetty with a very coarse cloning (to get the idea)

There is a lot said – and I like the story, contrast the ‘house boat’ with the clean, almost sterile city atmosphere, whose only ‘life’ is the green in front of it – “mirrored” by the flowerpots. :slight_smile:

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Purchased ($10) and installed.

Hey, this is awesome!!!
At the left, I set it to 135mm
At the right, I set it to f/4
In the middle it says my DoF is from 19" 3" to 20’ 9".

Do you have an app for your iPhone to measure the distance to something or is just guesswork or looking at the camera?

I love your friend’s image. I guess my brain needs re-grooving. I ought to look for the possibilities become available on a foggy day, and not the limitations.

It’s amazing the things that an iPhone can do to assist in photography!!!

Now, when you take your D750, you even see what you are doing. :slight_smile:

Second Time

I wanted to take a similar photo, but the lighting changed, along with the tide, so now the Margaritaville was pointing less towards the left, meaning the tide was also coming in. I took photos from a few places, but this angle sort of kept the boat away from most of the other things in the photo. Focus was on the closest side of the boat, which at f/4 I hoped would throw the background a little out of focus. The DoF calculator tool implied this should work, but I didn’t know how obvious it would be.

PL5 was set for optical corrections only, but I need to find a way to manually set the lens in the camera settings, so the EXIF data knows which lens it is, and perhaps PL5 will correct accordingly, although this is a very old lens, 1960’s or so. The lens was focused more precisely with the Visoflex using the fine focusing tools, and the camera was resting on a railing. I bumped the ISO up to 1600 which allowed me to shoot at 1/3000th shutter speed, which I hoped would prevent movement, even with the telephoto lens.

First time I ever used, the HSL tool, but I think I remembered enough so I could boost the color in the plants, without messing up anything else.

My 135 lens isn’t long enough to take a photo of this boat, so I had to crop quite a bit. Learning my lesson from last time, I cropped off the tops of the buildings. The other boats were too close - no way to crop them out of the photo, but because of the Margaritaaville being in the center, surrounded by water, I hoped that this would make it the center of attention.

Finally, I used a control point to light up the interior of the boat, after which I used a small amount of vignetting to help direct people’s eyes to the center of the image.

I learned my lesson from last time, and left the city buildings and cruise ship alone. It may or may not be obvious, but they’re all out of focus - noticeably.

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L1004124 | 2022-01-27.dng.dop (16.6 KB)

@mikemyers thank you for your image at the head of this post it caused both PL5.1.2 and PL5.1.3 to halt with Internal Error () on Win 10. Loading the original folder worked and PL5 went off to load the camera and lens profile before halting with an “Internal error()” again @sgospodarenko !?

It appears to start rendering the picture for display and then displays “Internal error()” again and the photo thumbnail is marked as “No DxO Optics module available for this image”! Removing the DOP does not change the problem!

I had no idea this would create problems - DxO doesn’t know anything about my old Leica lenses. It thinks I’m using a "Elmarit-M 1:2.8/21 lens, when I’m actually using a Tele-Elmar 135mm f/4 lens, which I’m pretty sure is also unknown to PhotoLab. So yeah, there isn’t any “optics module”, and maybe I better not use “DxO Standard” for yet another reason… None of this should crash PhotoLab as I see it. Someone here who knows more about PL5 than I do can help us.

Apparently DxO does understand my Leica M10, which is what I’ve been using. So what settings are safe for me to use, that won’t create problems when using Windows?

I’m not sure if you’re being sarcastic or not with the “Thank You”, but I do suggest you post all the relevant information, complete with screen shots, in a message to DxO, so they can download that image and try it on their computers. When did PL5 crash? When you viewed the image? When you clicked on “Customize”? When you tried to open the image in PhotoLab? When you tried to edit it? The more that you can say, the easier it will be for DxO to correct the issue.

Long ago, I had help in creating a new Preset which I named “Optical Corrections only - non Leica lenses”. I can start using that Preset for my M10 photos.

Did you have the identical problem in opening the latest version of this image that I posted earlier this morning?

Sorry for your problems -