Processing Evolution

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This photo was taken in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I liked the pairing of the enormous boulder and the small cascade.

At workshops I frequently demonstrate image processing techniques either as part of a software demo/workflow discussion, and during photo critiques. I've been asked what processing adjustments should be used. And I must say there's never an easy answer to that. Well I take that back. The easy answer is "it depends". But that's not too helpful.

I can offer up guidelines for what adjustments I tend to use and for what purpose. However, there is never a guaranteed formula. It's important to learn what the adjustments do, then you know what tools you have to work with. At that point you work on learning when to use the tools. Some of it is trial and error; you can also learn from photographer's blogs, books, videos, etc. This all builds to making experience the key to improving your image processing skills.

At first you just make sure the exposure is OK then tweak the brightness and add a bit of contrast, saturation and vibrance. Then you learn about being able to make adjustments to the tone curve and targeting individual colors so you add that knowledge to your processing toolbox. Later on you learn about applying selective adjustments with a brush. And so it continues. You build up your skills little by little. It's similar to learning to use your camera. You didn't learn every function and feature right away. You work with the core adjustments first and then expand. Don't expect to be come a wizard in post-processing overnight, or even over the weekend.

I was reminded of this when clicking through some old photos and I came across this one from six years ago. I had processed it and can only assume I was happy with it at that time. But now when it popped up on my screen my reaction was "I can do better than that." It was dull, flat and lacked punch. Other than that it was fine.

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I turned to Color Efex Pro in the Nik Collection and used the following filters:

  • Dynamic Contrast within Pro Contrast: one of my "go to" filters, adds an amazing contrast pop that does nothing but good things for an image.
  • Brilliance/Warmth: Added a little warmth (Saturation is great too, but this image didn't need an intensity boost)
  • Foliage: the green leaves had too much yellow in the them, this filter gets them back to true green (always go with Method 3 then significantly reduce the Enhance Foliage amount so your greens don't look otherworldly)
  • Levels and Curves: adjusted the curve to darken the image then used Control Points to selectively apply the darkening effect to parts of the rocks that were too light and washed out.

If you see something I've posted recently, don't assume that's what it would have looked like a few years ago. And I know there's still more I can learn.