Make Water Sparkle in Wonky Ambient Light

Community Beginner ,
Jul 27, 2020 Jul 27, 2020

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Thai Kickboxer's Beautiful, Sparkly Spit

Muy Thai Spit Final.jpg

Muy Thai Spit,” Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2017 - Nikon D810, Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 lens.

(200mm, f/2.8, 1/1250sec, ISO5000)


I love freezing action. Our eyes can't even see this level of detail without the camera's aid. What magic! And somehow I nailed it without a flash – only the awful, ambient stadium lights.


Backpacking through Thailand, I paid a couple dollars to watch a Muy Thai match. They let me ringside since I had my giant Nikon full-frame and hence looked official. So often, I've gotten special access just by having a big rig.


This shot was stolen between rounds. The fighter had taken a swig of water, rinsed, and then bam, like an icicle, crouching beside her, I nailed it. Shooting fast in near pitch darkness is the ultimate challenge for me and many others. As much as I enjoy watching a sporting event or concert in the dark, capturing crisp photos of it is a challenge.


Later, in Lightroom, I confess to brushing a bit of Clarity and Sharpness specifically on the water spout. Our secret, okay? And if you look at the original, it stands fine without the edits. Otherwise, as always in these situations, it was a battle against snow since I couldn't lighten the pic too much in camera with any more ISO (it was already high for my taste). I sure couldn't have lowered the shutter speed or the watery diamond would have been a blur. Ever shot a forest waterfall? Same idea. In the end it all worked out and I landed a sweet shot – one of many that night!


I dearly miss sports/travel photo, and hope the pandemic ends very soon so I’m able to do it all again. Not much else pleases me as much as creating shots like this with just the push of a button and some quick post.


❶ Edit Exposure, Shadows, Highlights, Blacks

Here is the image I started with:

Muy Thai Spit Original.jpg

·         First I lifted the Exposure +0.70. I also lifted the Shadows +96. In this instance, not only would making the photo too light bring out snow/grain, but also I just don’t need to show too much outside of the subject herself. This would only lessen the impact. I also lowered the Highlights -57. Would it balance out if I just did the Highs and Lows and not the Exposure? Probably. But that’s my process: Nudge different directions until I’m satisfied.


❷ Add more pop with Dehaze/Contrast/Clarity/Sharpness

·         Is there a good reason I grouped the above here? Maybe not. Just a feeling for this particular photo. I upped the Dehaze +25 and cannot explain why beyond I just like the look here.

·         Next I upped Contrast +44 for the same reason. Makes the image have more depth, I think. Usually, I wouldn’t add Contrast as too much can make a photo look cartoony. More often, I reduce Contrast. Here, the pic felt better with it.

·         I love Clarity and Sharpness. I upped the former +10 and the latter +51. I never use too much of either of those, lest a photo be grainy. Oh, also I added only +4 of Luminance Noise Reduction, to balance it a bit. Subtle.


❸ Edit Color/Vibrance

·         The ambient lighting was awful, as it always is at events. Many different colors were shone on the subject’s skin, making her look alien. I just didn’t like it. So first, I lowered the temp to 5383, making the whole shot more blue, less yellow. I raised the Tint +10.

·         Doubled down and lowered the Saturation slider for the Yellow -22, and also lowered its Hue -29.

·         Lastly, I raised Vibrance +34. I do not follow a formula for coloring. Just always trying to get skin tones natural, or if not, just to where they seem to work in the photo. So much of my editing style is so hard for me to explain because it’s preference. I have a gut feeling if something’s off, and I do my best to eliminate that gut feeling.


❹ Brushing the spit

·         I brushed onto the spit some extra Clarity, Sharpness, and lifted the Whites and lowered the Blacks, to make it pop. I brushed broadly, going outside the lines of the spit, then came back (zoomed in for accuracy) with the negative brush (holding “Alt” in the brush tool on my PC, and painting around the edges, this time from the outside of the spit). This focuses my brush-strokes only on the spit. Not much hurts my eyes more than seeing a professional photo sloppily/obviously brushed in areas. Really ruins a photo for me and I see it often.


❺ Brushing subject’s face

·         I used the same technique as above to brush on to the boxer’s face. Then I lifted Exposure .20, Contrast 33, Highlights 19, Shadows 64, Clarity 21. I wanted her face to be more visible, more rigid, but not fake – as if the ambient light just happened to light it up perfectly, which it certainly did not.


Seems like I did a lot, now that I reflect, but it didn’t take me very long and I really had no plan. As always, I look at a photo and think, “What would make this better?” Then I start sliding the sliders around and making the changes. You can do it, too!


How to, Make It








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