Before & After Post-Processing

As a photographer, I enjoy capturing moments and scenes, but often the scene I capture is simply a canvas for what I end up doing for in the “digital darkroom” for my final photo I share with others. Lately I have been combing through Flickr and other sites to find photos with post-processing I really like and trying to create similar effects myself. I am also consuming as many online tutorials as I can find for good techniques. I feel like I have a lot to learn, but also that I can share some of what I have learned.

With this in mind, I am starting up a new Flickr Group called “How I Did It: What I Did in Post.” I still need to finish writing up all the rules and coming up with some good examples, but that will be a evolving process in itself.

My thought with this group is not to expect people to write up lengthy tutorials with plenty of screen shots and extended examples. Though I love those kind of tutorials for their detail and ease of following each specific step, an essay like those are very involved in creating. For me I am more interested in the summary of what was done, basic steps that give me an insight into what the artist did to create their final image. Though I may need to learn more to understand what is meant by specific steps, the more wonderful examples I see with some hints as to the post-processing steps, the better I will get at having a variety of ideas in my pool of techniques I can use when bringing a photo to life.

Here is an example of what I am talking about. This is a recent photo I posted to Flickr and included in this blog:

This particular photo is one that I took a few years ago on a wonderful trip to the United Kingdom. I was astounded at the intricacy and beauty of this building, but also by the dramatic clouds looming over it. The final image I posted was much better (in my humble opinion) than the original:

I have covered previously my thoughts on whether a photo is “tainted” by the involvement of Photoshop in the development process. I strongly feel that if the final image is your artistic expression of the scene and improves on the photo, all the better.

My idea for rules & requirements for this new group are to ask any photo invited and added to the photo pool would need to add in a general listing/description of their steps they used in to post-process their photo. As most people will likely be thinking back to what they did rather than taking notes along the way, I would expect fairly a general list of tips. That said, those general tips can be very insightful.

Here are my steps I did in developing this photo:

  1. Opened two copies of the file, each initially exposed differently in Adobe Camera Raw. Often I do this in Adobe Lightroom, but with this particular image I went straight into ACR/Photoshop. The first was exposed for the sky (darker), and the second for the building (lighter).
  2. In Photoshop, I duplicated the building exposure file as a layer in the sky exposure file and closed the extra file.
  3. A layer mask was added to the building file, hiding the sky portion of that exposure so I ended up with a dark sky and a brighter building in the same view.
  4. I used a Curves adjustment layer on the sky to add contrast
  5. Another Curves adjustment layer on the building for brightness/contrast for drama and detail
  6. Saturation adjustment layer on the building to adjust and amp colors for drama as well
  7. An Overlay layer filled with neutral gray and then 5% large/soft brush for dodging and burning along with some slight vignetting to emphasize the building and mute the sky as it was further from the building.
  8. Stamped out some distracting elements (people) in the foreground.
  9. Downsized for upload, then Smart Sharpening, at roughly 60%, radius of 0.3 and threshold of 0.

That’s it (sarcasm intended). The process is really subjective along the way as I tweak to what seems to be best for the individual photo. Now that is an example of a fairly detailed list of steps. Here is a shorter version that would also be acceptable:

  1. 2 exposures of same file, one for sky one for building
  2. Combined in one file with masked layers
  3. Curve to sky for contrast
  4. Curve to building for contrast & brightness
  5. Saturation adjustments to building
  6. Dodged, burned & slight vignette
  7. Stamped out people
  8. Downsize & sharpening

Obviously a little more detail is nice, but even from this more concise version there is a lot to learn!

Most photographers I know enjoy sharing their tips on creating great photos, probably because most of us have learned this way from others as well. My hope is this group can be very informative and one that photographers will be happy to share their insights rather than shy away from revealing their “secrets.”

I would enjoy any feedback here or in the group as to if you think this idea is worthwhile and how it could be improved upon and pulled off in a beneficial way. Thanks!