Friday Foto Talk: Post-Processing – Part IV   10 comments

The aptly-named Blue Lake in Washington's North Cascade Mtns.

Aptly-named Blue Lake in Washington’s North Cascade Mtns.

This continues my mini-series on post-processing.  Check out Parts I through III here.  The goal is to get you started, not to give blow-by-blow instruction on specific post-processing techniques.  For one thing I don’t consider myself qualified to go into detail on any computer-based skill.  For another, I don’t think I’d like the way my blog would look with screen shots of software instead of pictures.

Once you’re more or less proficient in Lightroom, and have managed not to lose too many images (remember after importing any image into LR, never ever do anything with that image outside of LR!), you may want to explore extra software programs.  You don’t have to of course.  Lightroom is great as a start to finish solution.  But it can be a nice option for select shots.

I hesitate to recommend some of what I’m about to say.  There is, I think, entirely too much following going on in popular photography.  Has it always been this way or is it just the internet?  Choice of subject is only one way we ape one another (sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands, for e.g.).  The way we edit our photos is a minefield as well.

A recent shot from Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico.

A recent shot from Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico.

I’m not saying you should avoid using a technique you picked up from a fellow photographer, one that is enjoying popularity at the moment.  But I am saying you should only use it if it helps the image reflect your own aims and style.  As with life in general, I think the easiest way to pursue your own style and not follow someone else’s is to keep things as simple as possible.

That said, for a few select images, you may want to…


Depending on the image, you can try other editing techniques (let’s call them “extras”) to get the specific look you want.  All depends on the mood you want to create.  Oftentimes you’ll need to apply one or more extras just to get an image to look like what you saw and experienced.  With many images this can be accomplished with standard editing in Lightroom or Photoshop.  But with others extra treatment may be called for.

Many people think the more you work with an image the further from reality it gets.  That’s not necessarily true.  If you’re not careful and thoughtful about your approach, you can certainly “overcook” any image.  But you can do that with very little work as well.  Also, as mentioned in Part I of this series, images often come out of the camera looking more dull and flat than the scene appeared at the time.

I'm so pretty: impala in the Luangwa Valley, Zambia.

I’m so pretty: impala in the Luangwa Valley, Zambia.

And so editing is needed simply to bring life back into a digital image.  This applies much more with digital than with film, which is one reason some still think film yields a more natural look than digital.  But this doesn’t have to be true.  All it takes to avoid the lifeless and flat look of digital is to use a purposeful approach.  Lightroom can get you there in many cases.  But if you find yourself, at least with some shots, spending an inordinate amount of time in Lightroom’s Develop module, trying a variety of presets, banging your head against the wall, and still not getting the results you’re after, it’s time to look at other programs.

I thought I'd throw in a photo to prove it's not all about nature with me.  I call this one, "take that tough boy"

I thought I’d throw in a photo to prove it’s not all about nature with me. I call this one, “take that tough boy”

Close in to Tumalo Falls, Oregon.

Close in to Tumalo Falls, Oregon.


I recommend taking an image into Photoshop (or Photoshop Elements to save $) if there is complex cloning to do: taking out people or power poles and lines, for example.  Also use Photoshop to merge two or more images into a composite.  A composite is when, for example, you take that great portrait you got and then move just the person into a beautiful natural scene you shot last summer.  Or when you want to add a dramatic sky to a more interesting foreground.

Photoshop can do a whole lot more than this of course.  But it takes real time to learn how to become both proficient and time-efficient with Photoshop.  By the way, if you’re wondering whether or not to go for Photoshop or PS Elements, it depends on how serious you are, especially about printing.  The full version of Photoshop CS works in 16 bit color while Elements is in 8 bit.

In other words when you go from Lightroom into Elements you are cutting the color depth of your image in half.  The fuller color depth can yield slightly smoother color transitions in some images, noticeable by discerning viewers on large, high quality prints.  But you almost certainly won’t see any differences, especially on digital displays.

A tree, by itself, that I liked.

A tree, by itself, that I liked.

There are other differences between PS CS and PS Elements, but you might be surprised at how many advanced functions are shared between the two programs.  One more factor to consider:  Elements is still available as a stand-alone program, whereas Photoshop CS is only available as a cloud-based program, where you pay monthly.

Only you can decide how deeply you want to get into Photoshop.  I will say that many (or most) pros have made the transition to Lightroom for the lion’s share of their post-processing.   A lot of people still love Photoshop, and it is certainly powerful.  But if you aren’t already proficient, and of course if you don’t want to become a graphic designer or digital artist, Photoshop is a bit like using a full complement of tractors, plows and other farming equipment to work your little backyard garden.

That’s it for now.  Next week (I promise!) we’ll go into the wonderful world of plug-ins.  Have a wonderful weekend, and keep up that holiday spirit!


Good night!

Good night!


10 responses to “Friday Foto Talk: Post-Processing – Part IV

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  1. Beautiful reflections and colors in your first photo. And the last good-night-photo – is brilliant!

  2. ❤ the "take that, tough boy" 🙂

  3. I can see that huge tractor heading for the garden now. Perfect example.

  4. Thanks so much Mike, for all the wonderful tips you so generously share with your readers. And those stunning images…I cannot tell you how much your nature shots speak to me. 🙂

  5. This is a lovely well considered post, and very helpful. I love your analogy to gardens and fields! I currently do a lot of my post processing…..and I try to do as little as possible… apps on my ipad!! They are just so quick and easy to use….I am however still looking for a good app which will let me play with layering and merging 🙂

    • Thank you very much Mackenzie! I’m thinking their must be options out there by now for that. But I do know any time you start messing with layers it takes up memory in a hurry.

  6. Most photographers, including natural landscape photographers, are not trying to depict scenes as they see it, but how they believe their audience wants to see it. That’s why we see so many over sharpened and over saturated pictures on calendars and in wildlife magazines. Post processing allows it, and there is nothing wrong with doing it. But it’s not entirely true. The best photographs are like leaves or cedar boughs plucked beside the creek. They never are as perfect once you get them home. Sometimes you may only be able to bring back a shape or a small piece of color. I sure like your image of the crescent moon. It made me scan the ridge for Venus coming up or going down.

    • And I am just as guilty as anyone in terms of many of the images I show people. But you picked one of the shots I wouldn’t normally post (especially on FB, where it would die a quick death). Being fairly well lost, I have no idea where I got that one. It was after driving off paved roads all night across central Nevada, before I had a GPS (the good days). It was cold and when I saw this 1st sign of sunrise I realized how much I was looking forward to it No Venus in the a.m. though. I like that analogy, it applies also to rocks and crystals, much prettier in the field. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

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