This photo was actually taken months ago… But that being said, few of my shots see the light of day immediately after they are taken. It’s becoming common for some to sit in the “~Processing Directory” for an extended period of time. I revisit them several times, making subtle adjustments before finally arriving at a publishable result.
It’s also becoming common for me to be genuinely surprised by initial editing results following the shoot. Just goes to show you can’t rely on the LCD screen to give you a realistic representation when out in the field!
This weeks photo was taken from Bobs Cove in Queenstown, but looking across the lake towards Mount Nicolas… In late September I was at this wonderful bay celebrating the 30th birthday of a good friend. Photography was the secondary adjective, but towards the end of the evening I was treated to some spectacular cloud formations and wonderful light interacting with the landscape. So, I set aside my drink and got to work!
Occasionally I’ll go into a little more detail as to how I arrive at a final result… I’m not sure if will become a regular thing, or if people even read what I write below, but I enjoy doing it. I’m really making this up as I go along – so if you like it, please let me know!
One of the most frequent questions I get when I show people my work is this:
“Do you use Photoshop?”
Every photographer (well, every decent one) uses Photoshop. It is a necessary tool when shooting in RAW. Even if you only make subtle adjustments within Lightroom or Aperture, you are still using the core components that Photoshop, and image editing in general, is based on. With that in mind, its still down to the user to manipulate the image to be more aesthetically pleasing and not overdo it with psychedelic adjustments.
I’d immagine most people reading this would be familiar with the above concept… But to summarize it for those who aren’t, think of Photoshop as a digital replacement for old-school imaging solutions. Certain lens filters have been made redundant by the move to digital, as have various developing techniques.
My thoughts on post processing are evolving constantly, and what I consider good practice now may not be in six months time. But one thing that has remained a solid rule for me is this:
Never add anything to the image that wasn’t there originally!
My core editing process is about reducing image defects and enhancing certain areas to arrive at a result that fits my consistent style. Take a look at this layers snapshot and how I’ve laid this document out.
There are usually 3 specific phases to my post processing workflow after the initial HDR merge and subsequent export to Photoshop:
- Basic Corrections; These include sharpening, selective noise reduction and chromatic aberration elimination (notice I reduce noise but eliminate CA – That should tell you a little about how I think of those two elements!)
- Color/Contrast Enhancements; Here I’ll refer to one of my favorite pieces of software, Nik Color Efex Pro, and play with some sliders. This has replaced the old methodology of a simple S-curve or Levels layer – I just find the result much more pleasing.
- Final Adjustments; This task usually occupies the top half of the layers stack, as in the screenshot to the left. Here I will reintroduce components from original brackets, recover blown out areas, fix overly saturated areas, apply selective masking and generally do anything I damn well please until the thing looks right!
In this specific case, the latter of these three phases involved little more than warming up the mountains (they have a tendency to go blue down here in NZ, I’m not sure why…) and desaturating the yellows in the sky.
As you can see from the ‘Clouds’ layer, I also brought in one of the original brackets to correct the exposure up there – HDR has a tendency to turn clouds dark due to the contrast in the scene.
All the other layers with obscure names are masked in or out according to where I need the adjustment to take place. You’ll notice I’m reusing the same mask over and over (inverted in some cases), and while I would normally deem this bad practice, in this case the photo is composed in a want hat allows me to do this and save a considerable amount of post processing time.
Normally I’d apply these masks manually, but this is one of those rare cases where I can get away with cheating!
To wrap up this ‘editing breakdown/rant’ I’ll give you a rare look at the 3 distinct stops an image takes on the way to being released… Please let me know if you enjoyed this photo by leaving a comment. If you have any specific questions regarding post processing or photography in general, drop me a line – I’m happy to give you my two cents worth!