Saturday, October 1, 2011

Wouldn't It Be Nice If..............

........the weather always cooperated when you wanted to be outdoors taking landscape photos?  Wouldn't that be great!  The chances of that happening, however, are about the same as always being at just the right spot during those golden hours when the light is perfect, or always being able to pick a day to shoot when the sky is a beautiful shade of blue and the clouds look like big cotton balls (see my last post).

Well today was not one of those days.  Today we saw some spectacularly beautiful scenery, but the day was overcast and dull.  I knew any photos I took would even be worse than what I saw, not only because everything was dull, but because of course, cameras can't see everything the human eye sees so there wouldn't be much detail in the shadows or highlights.  Before digital and Photoshop I wouldn't have even bothered taking photos on a day like this.

But I did take a couple of shots to remember what we saw, and thought I'd share one of them.  Several of you have asked how I edit my photos, and what programs and actions I use.  Today I'll show you a SOOTC shot and what I did to turn it into a nice photo, but certainly not a great one.  (Editing can help, but never takes the place of beautiful light, an interesting subject and great composition.) 

Before I start, however, I wish I could give a simple answer as to how I edit, but I can't, because I process each photo differently depending on what it needs, (if anything), the 'look' I am after, my mood, what appeals to me, etc.   

I can say that I always start in Lightroom, and make overall adjustments if needed, such as exposure or a crop, or to straighten a horizon, and I often use the clarify slider, a favorite of mine that adds subtle contrast.  If a photo needs more, I go to Photoshop and work on specific areas.  I have many different actions, plugins, programs to choose from.  (Maybe some time I will try to list all my favorites.)  I'm a big fan of HDR.  When using this technique sparingly, I can edit a photo to look closer to what I actually saw, bringing out shadows while not blowing out highlights.    My camera can't do this with one exposure.  The key to using HDR most of the time is to use sparingly...but not always.  I know many photographers cringe when they see an over the top use of HDR, but, hey it's art, and there are some photos that are show stoppers with a psychedelic look.

O.K.  here is the SOOTC shot....... 

Wouldn't this have been a beautiful scene if the light was beautiful, or there was either a golden sunset or nice puffy clouds, and the clouds didn't change the beautiful aqua colored water to gray?  Sigh, it wasn't going to happen today.  The flowers were colorful and lit fairly well, but the cliffs in the background are dull, and there was no contrast or definition in the sky or the water.  Now look at the post editing version:

Well, the first thing about this photo I would have changed has nothing to do with the editing.  I should have used a smaller aperture (larger number for you beginners), to have the background cliffs in sharper focus.  

This was really a simple edit.  In Lightroom I moved the clarify slider to the right just to give a bit more contrast  The foreground was well exposed so I wanted to leave it as is.  I then used Nik Software's HDR program.  (To make the best HDR image you need to use 3 or more shots of different exposures and then let the program combine them, but sometimes you can get passable results using just one photo, which is what I did.)  There are many sliders and presets to experiment with until you get the look you want.  After a few minutes I was satisfied that the color of the water was about what I saw, not real vivid but still with a muted shade of the color.  I also wanted to show the definition in the clouds and bring out the color and low light in the cliffs that I saw.   When I was satisfied, I brought the original and the edited photos into Photoshop.  I didn't like what the HDR program did to the foreground flowers so I stacked both photos in Photoshop with the edited one on top then 'erased' the flowers in that photo to show the original photo underneath.  Then I merged them both and removed some water drops that were on my lens that showed up on the sky.  And that's about it.  From start to finish only took a couple of minutes.  Not a great photo, but at least I have something to remember what we saw.