In the last part of my tutorial, I showed you how research helps me with creating a mental checklist of what I will be doing when I’m at the location of my photoshoot. I also gave you an in-depth walk-through of how I’m working the scene. Today, I will talk about my workflow in post-production.
Post-production starts with a thorough selection process
When I come home from one of my photo trips, I literally sift through hundreds of photos. That’s an integral part of my post-production workflow and it’s possibly the most important. I use Adobe Lightroom’s library module to view, compare and mark the photos and delete instantly what I think are shots that went wrong.
I started using Lightroom in 2012 and for me, it’s the most convenient and easiest tool for every step I do in post processing. Moreover, it’s relatively cheap (compared to Photoshop) and I rarely encounter a situation where Lightroom is insufficient for what I need to do. However, there are other great software solutions on the market and I’m not making a specific case for Adobe products. It’s just that I find Lightroom very easy to use and that I’ve gotten really used to how it works.
After firing up the software and importing my photos, I start in the library module. You’ll see a screenshot of what this looks like on the right hand side of this blog post and you’ll also notice that I use the German version of Lightroom. That’s just for my convenience and everything in the English version looks very much the same. You’ll also notice that I only keep a comparably low number of images on my harddrive. Every now I and then, I need to make some space and delete images that I consider not worth keeping. Some people keep all their stuff – and that’s ok as well. I’ve even found some “keepers” among my old photos after months, but that’s the exception.
Now, here are a few remarks on how I select photos in the library module:
- I start with keeping a close eye on composition and lighting. If any of these is insufficient in-camera, there’s not much you can do.
- On the upper right hand side of Lightroom’s library module, you’ll find some basic information about the ISO settings, lens and aperture for each specific shot, including the histogram. I always keep an eye on this information, as I experiment a lot with different settings while I’m at the scene. While the histogram gives me information about the dynamic range of my RAW file (I never shoot in JPEG-mode, as this limits my options during post processing), the aperture settings tell me at a glance, what depth-of-field I have to expect.
- In my last step, I mark the most outstanding shots with the P-key on my keyboard. The P-key toggles the small flag on the bottom of your Lightroom window and I find it more convenient than using different colors or stars to mark my shots. Either an image is a keeper or not.
Ask for a second opinion
After doing the first run-through, I almost always end up with 3–4 images that I consider the strongest. That’s where my wife comes into play. Don’t laugh! Photographers tend to develop a tunnel vision as they still have all the sensations in their brain that they brought home with them from the trip. That’s at least what happens to me. I’m a visual person and what I remember about a specific shot is so much more than what an outside viewer will see on the computer screen. Even weeks after the shot, I’ll remember details about what the environment of the scene looked like, what the weather was like and how I felt during that specific moment of pressing the shutter. That’s why some photographers recommend to wait with post processing until months after the shooting date. I’m in the lucky position that my wife is very much into arts and has a well developed aesthetic sense. If she likes a particular photo, that’s always a good sign. Now, what if you’re not married and you don’t know anyone whose advice you trust? Upload a couple of your shots to Flickr or some other photography website that lets people rate your photos. You’ll find out very quickly what people like and what they don’t like.
Basic improvements in Lightroom
Let’s get back to the photo of Point Cabrillo Lighthouse. As I told you in the last part of my tutorial, we’re using it here as an example. Here’s what the image looked like before and after I improved it in Lightroom:
In the second screenshot you’ll see that the image looks much fresher and more colorful. My workflow in Lightroom usually follows the same pattern:
- First, I adjust the horizon line. The photographers on Wikimedia Commons are very strict when it comes to tilted images and you should pay greatest attention to a straight horizon if you want to go through the nomination process smoothly.
- Afterwards, I adjust the whitebalance and play with the clarity and tonal control sliders in Lightroom. During that process I make sure that the colors keep looking natural. So, be careful when you adjust luminance and dynamic of the colors. Nothing is worse than a picture that looks overprocessed.
- In some cases, I do some local dodging and burning in Lightroom. It depends on the image – some areas might be blown out and others might look too dark. That’s the most time consuming step in my workflow and I always ensure that I work around the edges of objects in my image as meticulously as possible.
- Then, I look for dust spots in the sky and make sure that I control the noise. Some of the folks on Commons identified birds as dust spots in my images. So, when in doubt, better remove everything that looks like dust on your sensor or your lens. Noise control is also important. People on Commons will immediately reject photos that have a too high level of noise in the sky or other parts of your image.
- Finally, I crop the picture, let it sit for a few hours and control the result again.
Final touches in Viveza
After I’m done with my post-processing in Lightroom, I decide whether to give the image some finishing touches. Most often, I use Viveza for local color adjustments. That’s also what I did in the case of the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse image. I highlighted the glowing light of the fresnel lens and gave it a little bit more warmth. That step gave my lighthouse photo a lot more punch. Actually, now the image also looked more like what I saw the morning I took the photo.
Highlighting some parts of your photo provides the viewer of your images with some hints on which areas to focus (remember: the human eye tends to focus on brighter areas of your image first; by highlighting some areas of your photo you’ll be able to draw the viewer’s attention to specific parts of your picture). Take a look at the screenshot on the right hand side to see how I made some final adjustments in Viveza.
Ok, and now we’re getting ready to upload the final result to Commons. But that’s what I’ll explain in the next part of my tutorial.