This post is the first of a series where I intend to give a peek into how I post process my images. Now this is not meant to be a step by step tutorial. Instead, it's a general snapshot of what I do. Many of these adjustments can be made with any processing software, but not all. If you have specific questions on what I've done, I'd be glad to help. Go to the Contact Page and shoot me off your question.
Also, this might not be so interesting to the average reader, so stop here if you don’t know what post processing is, or don’t care to know. Go and have a coffee, read a more interesting article, or take a little nap maybe? I won’t be upset. In fact, I'll probably be having a nap too. But if you are curious about the ‘digital developing’ side of my images, read on!
In my last post I wrote about finding your style through a project of sorts. Some way to motivate you to shoot every day, or nearly every day. Well, this is about the other side of the shot, the post processing.
Do you like to add colour tones to your highlights? Maybe you like bright high-keyed illustration style imagery. Or maybe you want to learn how to mimic the look of a certain ‘filter’ from Instagram. Whatever your taste is, your post processing technique is how you achieve that look, and having a plan will ensure that you get consistent and cohesive results.
Creating a picture can be broken down into three primary tasks. First you have to capture the image, then you have to process the image, and finally you print the image (I hope you print your images, at least some images). All these steps are equally important to creating a great image, and knowing what you want your print to look like, will guide you on how to take the picture, and how to further process it.
A quick glance through my Instagram feed or webpage galleries and you should notice that I like my pictures dark. Sometimes really dark! One image I posted not long ago was of an old barber chair in a dimly lit prison cell. Lots of folks commented to me how creepy the picture was. I can't be sure they were actually complimenting me, but I took those as compliments because that was the feeling I was going for.
So I thought I would share a bit of how I took the picture, what it looked like in RAW form (straight out of camera) and what it looked like when I was done with the processing.
I have for years now, used Adobe Lightroom Classic to import and catalogue all my images. In that time I've grown into a self proclaimed expert with Lightroom processing. I’d estimate that I use it as the ONLY editor for 95% of my images, and the rest is a mix of Photoshop, On1, and lately Luminar 3 has been growing on me. But like I mentioned before, this is not a tutorial, so I'll show the steps, but not really too much detail on the specifics.
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, Philadelphia, PA
When it was completed in 1829, Eastern State Penitentiary was the largest and most expensive public structure in the United States. Considered the worlds first true penitentiary it housed many infamous criminals including Al Capone, and "Slick Willie" Sutton before closing 1971. I'm not sure I'd appreciate being nicknamed Slick Willie...
To be allowed to bring in a tripod they have an equipment permit that you need to buy for a whopping additional $10 on top of the $14 entry fee. You get this very fashionable button to wear as ID, and it's good for the whole calendar year. (Hint, hint Kingston Pen) In the details of that permit agreement is a statement that I must mention the location as "Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, Philadelphia, PA" on any and all posts of images from there.
Now that I have taken care of that... I went to this place with a couple of other photographers, high on our list of things to shoot was this cell with a barber's chair in it.
As soon as I saw it, and I had trouble finding the location actually, I knew what I wanted my final image to look like. I shot this from a very low angle, with a super wide 12-24mm lens. I wanted the light to act as a spotlight of sorts, and I wanted it as a black and white. Oh and I wanted it to be slightly unsettling to look at.
This is the image as imported into Lightroom from my memory card. I shoot in RAW format so that the camera doesn’t put any sort of sharpening, saturation, contrast boosts etc. I want control over all of that, and the RAW image file is best suited to allow for that.
- I always start by balancing the exposure to get as much detail as I can out of the image. I do this by first reducing the Highlights, then increasing the Shadows.
- I then adjust the Whites and Shadows to get the overall contrast set.
- This is when I will tweak the Exposure to brighten everything up.
- In the case of this image I also made some adjustments to the Texture and Clarity sliders help to bring out details in the mid tones.
- Now that I have what I consider a good starting image, I convert it to black and white in Lightroom with the Black and White button.
- You can see below, the image is rather flat at this point. No real contrast and the subject is sort of lost in the scene.
- I want to liven this up a bit so I kick the image into Luminar 3 to punch up the texture even more. Luminar is fairly new in my arsenal of software, but I am growing to use it more and more lately.
- The adjustment panels in Luminar are called Filters, and the ones I use the most are Accent AI Filter, Structure, and Advanced Contrast.
- Structure AI Filter is like a magic wand of sorts! You slide it and the image looks instantly better. It really feels like cheating to be honest, but I'll take it!
- The Structure and Contrast filters I use to punch up the texture in the peeling paint and bricks.
- Now you can see the image has a bit more depth to it. There are some nice bright whites, and dark inky blacks. But I want to push this some more.
- I click the Apply button, and the image reloads into Lightroom.
This is where I start to Fleurify the picture. Yeah that's a real word, look it up.
- I lower the overall exposure by 1 full stop, to make the whole image a bit darker than I want it.
- With the brush tool, I now brush exposure back into the image where I want to draw your eye.
- The red areas show the parts of the image where I used the brush tool.
Back in the days of darkroom developing this technique was called Dodging, and it was a helluva lot harder and infinitely more expensive in wasted paper than it is today. In Lightroom this technique is called Dodging, and it is a helluva lot easier and way cheaper that wasting paper if the effect didn't work.
When comparing the captured image, vs my processed image you can see they aren't too different, other than the colour. But the finished image really pulls your eye to the chair more, and the dark room it's in offers just enough details to make you look around and get all creeped out.
The software I use allows for very fine control of the image, and there are lots of other steps that I did to get here. Of course there is a learning curve to any piece of software, and not all of them do the same things equally well, but even if you don't have these applications, there are plenty of free apps that have basic adjustments like exposure, contrast, shadow and highlight recovery.
Play around with these on some of your images and see what happens. Maybe you'll find a look that you like and can Fleurify in your own unique way!
Now, time for that nap! Later.