How I edit this photo – Okunoin Cemetery

This photo took me hours to edit this photo and even scrapped the first edited PSD file to redo the photo. I kept finetuning the photo again and again until I got the result that I wanted.

Why is this photo so challenging?

Or I should say it is “FUN” instead of “CHALLENGING“. 😃

It is something that I never captured and edited before. The photo is about a beautiful cemetery, and I wanted to create a dark, mysterious and yet appealing photo. I was so excited about trying that out.

Before I explain the Post-processing part. Let’s briefly talk about the shooting location, to give you a better idea of how I took the photo and how the environment affected the photo.

🗺 The Location

The shooting location is at Okunoin Cemetery in Mount Koya. It is the largest cemetery in Japan, with more than 200,000 mossy gravestones and memorials under a thick green canopy of cedar trees. Many famous historical figures included Daimyo (Feudal Lord) Oda Nobunaga, and other great samurai are resting here.

Entering the cemetery gave an illusion of being in one of the Miyazaki Hayao’s animated film. I love the mystical, mossy look of the place. (If you don’t know who is Miyazaki Hayao, he is the producer of “Spirited Away” film)

It is such an eye-opener to see so many graves packed densely in an area, and the place was so cleaned and well maintained that you will feel a sense of peacefulness instead of spookiness here.

To photograph the place, I spent lots more time than I thought to find the composition. I kept going back and forth, to look for a curvy road with stone lanterns align on both sides symmetrical. Also, I wanted something that is best representing the place. Because of that, I included the tombstones and the stone torii gate in my photo.

Then, I tried out different focal length from 14mm to 70mm and settled at 55mm. Because I wanted to compress the scene, making the stone lanterns and the tombstones closer to each other to emphasize how packed the place is. At the same time, wide enough to include the lanterns on both sides of the road.

It was 5:43 p.m., and it was dark, especially in a forest. I bumped my ISO to 800 to get the exposure that I want. The lights from the lanterns and streetlamps were getting more and more intense, which created a strong contrast between the lights and the shadow. To ensure that I was able to capture every detail, I did bracketing, captured five photos with different exposure.

📷 Camera Setting

Nikon Z7 + Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 Lens 55mm Focal Length ISO 800, f/6.3 Aperture 2~30 Seconds Shutter Speed for 5 Exposure Bracketed shots

💻 Post-processing

Regarding the post-processing part, here’s the unedited Raw file that I captured.

The photo itself is not that bad, with good composition and interesting subjects in the frame.

But here’re the issues.

The highlights are overexposed; the light at the bottom of the frame is way too bright, which is quite distracting. On the other hand, the Torii Gate is not so obvious from the photo. Also, the photo contains yellow, green and blue colours, lit up by different light sources. Overall, It looked messy to me. Oh yes, it is distorted too because I tilted my camera when doing the shooting.

Here’s what I did on the photo.

I started by fixing the distortion and recovering the overexposed highlight.

Then, I play around with the colours. I wanted to enhance and emphasize the lights that are glowing from the stone lanterns.

With that in mind, I reduce the yellow colours of the photo but keeping the colour only in the areas that I wanted.

Also, I reduced the green colour in the photo and removed the blue colour, to keep the photo “cleaner”.

After that, I darkened the bottom of the frame. Then, I brightened the tombstone and the torii gate at the centre of the photo. To keep viewers focus more on there.

To create a mood of a dark, mysterious forest, I soften the shadow by adding more white to it. This is also how people add the Matte look effect to the photo. Also, I added a lot of vignette around the edges.

Before & After comparison

That’s all for this blog post, and I hope that by sharing what I thought and how I did the editing would help in giving you a better idea in doing your one. 🙂 See you!

Please feel free to share this post if you enjoy reading it! :)


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