January 15, 2015

PPP {Post Processing Perfection} – Week 1

As photographers, we live in an age when we are afforded amazing technologies to take the most beautiful images. The cameras we own are better than they’ve ever been and the software available for editing these images lets us to translate our creative ideas into reality. However, there are times when our ambition exceeds our capabilities. Ideally, we want to get everything as close to right as possible in camera but there can be technical limitations or time constraints that just don’t allow that to happen. This new series of blog posts, PPP {Post Processing Perfection} will share some of my experiences taking good images and hopefully post processing them to be just that little better! While I obviously don’t advocate or encourage outrageous amounts of editing on all images, there’s always a photo that can use a little digital polish to take it to that next level and these fortnightly posts will show the process taken from start to finish on one particular image.

People that know me will attest that I am a firm believer in the availability of free education and knowledge to allow us to move ahead in life. I know that us photographers can sometimes be a little secretive about the way we do things and while I do have my own little tricks, there are things that I am happy to share and this is one of them. I don’t think that we should all take images that look the same nor do I think anyone should aspire to take images like mine but I do sincerely believe that inspiration is everywhere and we can find ideas wherever we may look. I hope this project gives you a few ideas and helps you in your adventures as a photographer. As always, I’m happy to help in whatever way I can so get in touch via the comments on this post or by emailing me if you have any other questions.

So before we start, a few technical points:
All images are shot in RAW on a Canon 5D Mk3
Edited in Lightroom, Photoshop
Additional colour processing and grain added using Alien Skin Exposure

Week 1 – Jenny and Sean

The starting image is intentionally underexposed in the area at the bottom of the frame. I wanted to keep the drama in the sky  but with the limitations in the dynamic range of the camera, you get one or the other! I decided it was better to underexpose the foreground so I wouldn’t blow out any of the highlight details in the sky. This image is shot on a Canon 24mm f1.4L at 1/1600th, ISO50 (to minimise grain) and f1.4 (to incorporate the beautiful natural vignette of the lens). The white balance is really off in this image, the real sky was much more yellow but shooting RAW means I don’t need to worry about colour fidelity as it can be easily adjusted in post.

Start off with the image in Lightroom.

Post Processing and Editing in Lightroom and Photoshop to create the perfect image

Reduce highlights in the image to make the brighter parts of the sky a little less bright

Post Processing and Editing in Lightroom and Photoshop to create the perfect image

Adjust white balance to make the image look warmer and less blue

Post Processing and Editing in Lightroom and Photoshop to create the perfect image

Added graduated filter starting with greatest effect at top and stopping at the horizon

Post Processing and Editing in Lightroom and Photoshop to create the perfect image

Decrease highlights and increase clarity in the graduated filter adjustment to create more drama in clouds

Post Processing and Editing in Lightroom and Photoshop to create the perfect image

Boost shadows in image to increase brightness of the area at the bottom of the frame

Post Processing and Editing in Lightroom and Photoshop to create the perfect image

Selectively increase exposure by painting over required areas with brush adjustment (eg. shed on the right hand side, entire bottom area with Jenny and Sean)

Post Processing and Editing in Lightroom and Photoshop to create the perfect image

Vertical perspective correction (to straighten up the shed – shooting with such a wide angle with the camera pointed upwards creates convergent and non-parallel verticals)

Post Processing and Editing in Lightroom and Photoshop to create the perfect image

Crop image to ensure all empty space in the corners is removed following perspective correction (see previous image)

Post Processing and Editing in Lightroom and Photoshop to create the perfect image

More selective brightening of bottom area of frame

Post Processing and Editing in Lightroom and Photoshop to create the perfect image

Increase orange saturation level to make sky more golden, reduce green saturation level to make grass more even coloured

Post Processing and Editing in Lightroom and Photoshop to create the perfect image

Time to take the image into Photoshop – clone out/content aware fill the ugly bush to the left of Jenny and Sean and to clean up a few other small things around the place (fence posts, rocks, etc).

Post Processing and Editing in Lightroom and Photoshop to create the perfect image

The colour felt a little flat here so after a little playing around, Alien Skin Exposure did the trick!

Post Processing and Editing in Lightroom and Photoshop to create the perfect image

I had a shot later with a beautiful flock of birds flying past so they were masked into the top half of the image.

Post Processing and Editing in Lightroom and Photoshop to create the perfect image

I felt the image needed to be slightly centred so another small amount cropped from the bottom of the frame and from the left. And this is the final product!

Post Processing and Editing in Lightroom and Photoshop to create the perfect image

Finally, we’ll finish off with an animation showing the entire process to the finished image!

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    12 Comments

  • Lakshal January 19, 2015

    Hi Sophie! Thank you for your very well thought out and polite question! You haven’t offended me at all – this is an important thing to talk about so appreciate the conversation you’ve started!

    So my reply will address a few things which I immediately thought about reading your comment – firstly, the idea of reality and cameras. I guess that I believe our cameras are simply vessels to interpret reality. They rarely accurately show the reality – limitations in dynamic range, colour fidelity and lens aberrations always mean that what our camera “sees” is only its own interpretation. The idea of reality in an image is only a tenuous one and the image from my camera might be different to the image from another photographer (especially if we’re shooting with different cameras/lenses/focal length and aperture settings)! As such, I think that every photo each one of us takes is simply an artistic representation. The line that you choose to draw in the sand at which it “goes too far”, varies with each one of us! Some people prefer no editing at all while others prefer a highly stylised image. The truth is, neither image is actually real, they’re both simply different levels at which we’ve accepted that our camera captured what we wanted! For the most part, I believe that my images capture the days I want them to be remembered – through the bright colours and emotions seen in each image. My editing is part of that finished product and the vibrancy they show hopefully translates to a similar emotional response in the people viewing them! And I must admit, every time we convert an image to B&W, is that a real representation of what was happening? I believe that it’s simply an artistic and stylistic choice we make and for me, this choice (or in instance limitation even if we’re using B&W film) elicits a different response.

    Secondly, I really do believe that, especially as wedding photographers, we have an obligation to represent people as they are. I’ve long said that our industry focuses too much on the conventional notion of beauty creating exclusion for people who don’t necessarily fit into the box. As such, I try my hardest to represent people as they are and to be inclusive and diverse in the way I do this. Basically, the main thing I take from this is that I don’t change the way people look in my images – I might clone out a pimple or a cold sore here and there but they’re all non-permanent features. I can count on one hand the number of times that I’ve used the liquify tool inPphotoshop to alter a person and that has generally happened because I’ve made a mistake with my positioning in the image and captured something unflatteringly or because the person in the image has been an a strange position which has made them appear to be something they are not! Perhaps this is a little bit of a tangent to your original question but I think it’s important when we talk at any time about falsifying a scene! We can take liberties on some fronts in terms of our artistic intent but I don’t believe we can do it all the time.

    Finally, as I suggested in the post, I don’t think every image should have this amount of work done to it. Nearly 99.99% of the time, it’s simply tonal/WB/lens corrections that I make but every now and then, an image pops out which is really special. This is one of those images. I could see the image in my mind before I even took it and for it to look like that, I needed to remove the ugly bush. I love “clean” photos and spend a lot of energy framing my images in a way that does it naturally – sometimes, like in this image, it’s just not possible and you need to match your artistic vision with a little digital help. And at the risk of speaking for Jenny and Sean in the image here, I think they would remember their day and also this image fondly – the presence of that bush probably made very little different to their experience! And I think that connects back in with my 2nd point, if you capture peoples’ day as it is and represent them as they are and allow them to enjoy your presence, that has a much greater impact than perhaps a small amount of cloning in one image elsewhere.

    I hope that all makes sense and thank you again for taking the time out to write such a great comment. Let me know what you think if you have time! :)

  • Lakshal January 19, 2015

    Cheers Justin! :)

  • Lakshal January 19, 2015

    Thanks Serena. I think that shooting ISO 50 is a real benefit here – there was a little luminance noise but in terms of chrominance noise, there wasn’t too much. I think our cameras are just so much more powerful than we actually realise sometimes. :)

  • Sophie Timothy January 17, 2015

    Thanks for sharing Lakshal! Amazing end result. I’ve often wondered about the “ethics” of altering images too much, particularly if it doesn’t reflect how the scene actually was in reality. I always feel like how I edit the photo should end up not too far from how the couple would’ve experienced it. The other way to look at things is that we are artists and we should create art for our couples. What are your thoughts on that whole question! I love this photo, but things like adding in the birds and getting rid of the haystack surprised me. Perhaps it felt a bit like falsifying the scene? I’m not sure. Thanks so much for sharing, I hope my thoughts make sense and don’t offend you :) Keen to explore this more.

  • Justin January 17, 2015

    Thanks for taking the time to share this Lakshal. Really valuable and useful walkthrough here. Looking forward to the next installment!

    Justin

  • Serena January 16, 2015

    I love this! I can’t wait to see more “behind the scenes” work :)

    How did you manage to save so much detail in the bottom of the photo, yet with so little grain and noise? The before / after is absolutely amazing! I loved how clean the end image was, especially given that the ugly parts of the photo were cloned out. The flock of birds really put the icing on the cake :D

  • Lakshal January 16, 2015

    Lightroom is great Colleen, and it’s totally non-destructive so you can undo/redo as many steps of the edit as you like, even after quitting the application. Plus you never damage your original files so if you change your mind down the track, you can start all over again. :)

    In reality, it’s not always good to underexpose so much – our cameras have more bits of the dynamic range allocated to the highlights and as such, the shadows don’t contain as much information. I’ve heard photographers say “expose for the highlights” meaning push your exposure as high as you can possibly go without clipping your highlights (if you’re shooting Canon, there’s a great “flashing highlights” feature you can use to show you blowouts). This exposing for the highlights means you can reduce your exposure afterwards while also maximising your camera’s dynamic range. But you’ll also need to make sure you shoot RAW rather than JPEG.

    But in saying all of that, the above image WAS metered for the highlights, I went as high as I could without blowing out the sky. It just unfortunately meant the foreground was so underexposed! Anyways, the best thing I can suggest is to take your camera out and try to shoot something with a high dynamic range to see how much information is hiding in your shadows/highlights! Good luck! :)

  • Lakshal January 16, 2015

    No where NEAR this long Lan. Typically, I’ll spend anywhere from 5 seconds to 1 minute – when you have 500-800 images to edit, there’s no time to dawdle! I use an import preset to do most of the heavy lifting in terms of the “look” of the image and then use VSCO Keys for a bunch of presets to do the things that I most often do (perspective correction, vignette removal, etc) and use keyboard shortcuts for nearly everything else (selective brightening, radial/gradient filter adjustments). I think once you get into the groove of it (and have an import preset that makes most images look “ok” in your eyes), you can fly through it.

  • Lakshal January 16, 2015

    Thanks Helen, I’m pleased it was helpful. :)

  • Colleen January 16, 2015

    Wow that is very impressive, I didn’t realise you could do so much in light room. I have never underexposed that much because I don’t have the ability/confidence in post production as yet, so much to learn! Thank you for sharing.

  • Lan | morestomach January 16, 2015

    it really is amazing all the work that goes into this! how long does it usually take you to process ONE pic?

  • Helen schryvrr January 15, 2015

    Brilliant – thanks so much for this! So kind of you to share x

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