02 Starting from scratch
I wanted the Selective tone tools to start from a level playing field, so I’ve reset the Exposure Compensation and Smart Lighting Intensity sliders to zero. The statue is almost a silhouette, and the sky is borderline overexposed, so it’s a tough ask.
03 Highlight recovery
The first thing I wanted to find out was whether the Highlights slider recovers extra RAW data or just uses what was left over from the Exposure Compensation and Smart Lighting processes. Based on this test (and others), it seems clear to me that it does.
I’ve dragged the Highlights slider all the way down to zero to bring back colour and tone to the sky, and it’s worked very well.
04 Shadow recovery
Now I need to open up those shadows, so I’ve pushed the Shadows slider way over to the right – DxO Optics Pro has recovered an amazing amount of information from what looked like a near-silhouette, and you can see as well that the shadow area of the histogram has really closed up with the rest – before, there was a huge gap.
This degree of tonal compression inevitably flattens out the overall contrast, though, and the image now looks very flat… but there is a solution.
05 Boosting the blacks
You might think it’s the overall contrast that needs fixing in cases like these, but often it’s just the shadow contrast. It’s the tonal compression in these darker tones that’s making this picture look unnatural. But if I push the Blacks slider slightly to the left (it doesn’t need much), that restores the density of the very darkest areas and increases the contrast in the darker tones generally. This is getting much closer to an effective result.