In party 3 of my series I will tell you about my approach to post processing. This is my personal approach and there are many different approaches, some of them more sophisticated than mine, but I found that it works quite well for me this way.
In case you haven’t read part 1 and 2 yet, here are the links:
How I create Images – Part 1: looking for motifs and light
How I create Images – Part 2: working with the Sony a7
I will talk about this image later, but it makes a nice intro
I am completely self-taught, so it might be that I do things rather different than other people, or that I don’t know about an important feature of LR,
Software – Adobe Lightroom
I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 for my archiving and image processing.
What I like about LR is that I can do everything with it, I don’t need any other software and it is tailored for photographers. And since LR 4 it offers superior control over highlights and shadows, you won’t get this level of control over your image with Photoshop.
I used to use Photoshop for my processing and my archive consisted of many folders. This was super inefficient and cost me a lot of time, processing took me 2 or 3 times as long as it does today and the results weren’t as good.
The biggest downside of Lightroom is, that older version won’t support new cameras, you can’t for example open raw files from the a7 in LR 4, you have to upgrade to LR 5.
If you are thinking about buying LR (or anything else) please use one of my Amazon links, it won’t cost you anything and I will earn a small commission. Most people will sell you an E-book for$25 to tell you about their LR workflow, I do it for free.
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Import and Image selection
The first step is to import my images to LR, this is a strange concept for anyone who hasn’t used it before. LR will store you images somewhere on your hard drive and it will generate previews of your Raw files (I haven’t mentioned it before but I am shooting raw only). It will always keep your originals and never touch them. To get a processed image from LR you have to export it. This concept is strange at the beginning but after I got used to it I realized the benefits of this system.
Okay, now let’s select the images. I usually do this in 3 rounds.
I have read about much more sophisticated LR workflows, mine is rather basic but it works well for my needs.
Round one: rejecting and selecting
After the import has finished I start looking through my images. In this first round an image will either get rejected (shift + x on the keyboard), be marked with one star (1) or I won’t do anything with it.
I reject those pictures which are clearly not worth to keep because they are bad pictures or because they aren’t sharp enough because I messed something up.
I mark those pictures with a 1 which have some potential, but I don’t process them yet and always stay in library mode. Sometimes there are images were it is clear that they have potential, those will be marked with two stars.
Most images are neither rejected nor rated as 1 star.
this is how my library usually looks after round 1
Round two: processing and further selection
Then I switch to Develop mode and start my post processing(pp) usually by applying a preset.
If I see, that an image looks good after pp I will rate it as a 2. If it doesn’t it will either be downgraded to 0 stars or not.
I usually spend less than a minute processing a single image; most often I do nothing more than applying a preset.
Round three: final selection and export
Now I change back to library mode and apply a two stars and higher filter, so only pictures which are rated two stars or higher are displayed.
It often happens that I have 2 similar pictures, usually I will downgrade the worse one of them to 1 star.
I will also rate truly exceptional images with 3 or more stars, but this happens really rarely.
The final step is to export my pictures. The export settings depend on what I want to do with the images, most often I just want them for web display.
I am not a fan of LR’s sharpening, it works okay on most images but it isn’t good at preserving small details, so I use a technique called step sharpening to resize my images to a width of 1280px. I will talk about resizing in depth in part 4 of this series.
A helpful German guy wrote a tool which reads the exif data and writes it onto a frame which it also creates plus it will resize my images with the step-sharpening-technique. So all I have to do is to select the images I want to resize to web resolution and click export. Now I upload them to flickr and I am done.
export: the final step
Okay, I have written 850 words and I haven’t talked about the actual post processing yet, lets start.
Over the years I have developed my own style and people often tell me that they can recognize my images just by the look of them. I can tell you how I achieve my look, and I can tell you some basic techniques, but to really learn how to create good images with an individual look, you will have to process many hundred pictures before you get a good feeling for the tools provided by LR (or any other image processing program).
All images are different, but there are images which need rather little attention and there are those which need quite a lot of it. I will start with an easy one.
Usually I would apply my standard preset and be done with it. 10 seconds. But I will walk you through it so you can understand what I am doing.
Sample 1: My standard preset
This is an important slider! When you look at the histogram you can see, that the snow in the image isn’t white but grey. But I want it to be bright, so I use the slider to brighten my highlights.
I could also have used the exposure slider to brighten my highlights, but it would have lifted the mid tones as well and I like to keep them rather dark.
With the White slider I am pushing it a little too far on purpose, some snowy areas are pure white now, I have blown the highlights.
I use the highlights slider in almost any picture because in my eyes it results in a much nicer highlights roll off. And because I have lifted the highlights a little too far with the White slider I can pull them down just a little bit now. It also affects the sky a little bit.
The great thing about LR’s shadows slider is that it only affects the shadows and not the mid tones as it used to in Version 3. When I increased the contrast the shadows got a little dark, now I will lift them just enough to have no more pure black.
I took this image at f/1.8 with a Zeiss 1.8/135 so there is already some natural vignetting, but in almost any of my images I add some vignetting because it helps to draw the viewer’s attention to the center of the image and away from the corners.
That’s it for this image. The result isn’t that different from the starting point, but that’s the case for most of my images, I want the processing to be subtle and realistic.
Sample 2: Managing a high contrast scene
This is my favorite image of 2013, the scene hat a really high contrast and I have slightly overexposed it, so that some highlight detail is lost. With the A7 and its higher Dynamic Range an Zebra this wouldn’t have happened.
The image was taken only a few moments after sunrise and my default daylight white balance doesn’t do this justice, so I select a warmer white balance. Cloudy is often a good starting point. The image has a much warmer feeling to it now which suits the scene well.
I raised the shadows to high on purpose to show you how what not to do. The darker parts of the image are lifted too much and they don’t look natural to me.
So I reduced the slider to +52 which brings some detail into the shadows, but they are still dark
Because I used the Whites slider to excessively I try to recover my highlight detail with a very high highlights setting, but I have to dial back the Whites slider a little bit as well to recovery nearly the full highlight detail.
I have used the highlights slider too excessively and lost the light mood because of it, so I change it to a much lower value. This results in a better overall mood and a upper right corner which is too bright in my eyes.