Landscape Photography Tips: The Importance Of Post-Processing Technique
I haven't been able to go out shooting for several weeks now. To be honest with you, it's driving me crazy! But that has allowed me the opportunity to go back and look at my image library and sift through all my files. Both, RAW, unedited files as well as those who at some point or another have already seen the light of day. A couple of days ago, I ran into an old file from Mount Rainier National Park that I had already processed twice, and that I had already considered to belong in the Delete Forever category as I was not happy with how it looked.
This particular file was one that I liked the composition and all the present elements, but after processing it, it looked garish and not up to my current standards of what an image must have in order to be ready for public sharing. The previous editing attempts had been: 1) 3 bracketed shots processed with Photomatix, 2) 3 bracketed shots manually developed in Photoshop using Luminosity Masks.
After seeing these two versions of the same image, it reminded me that since very early on, I discovered that one click solution software was not for me. And I'd like to invite you to really think about if it's really for anyone. I mean, we've already went out and spent money on camera, lenses, tripods. If you are a landscape photographer like myself, you already spend time and money going out on the field. This means either going somewhere near from home or actually traveling to some location. That means transportation and lodging costs. Time away from family, etc. Once at your destination, it means getting up really early or staying up really late, hike for many miles, etc.
So, after putting in all this effort, why would anyone leave their final creative output to some automated tool is beyond me. When you look at great work from really great artists, you will discover a pattern: they all are very deeply involved in all steps in the creative process.
Say No To The Status Quo!
In the years I've been doing photography and teaching post-processing techniques, I've found two types of folks: those who are eager to improve on their craft and will find a way to learn and polish everything they do and those who hide their laziness or fear of letting go of what they already know, behind attitudes of "it's not about Photoshop", "using Photoshop is cheating" or whatever other variation to that way of thinking. I am in the first group and I hope you are too! If you fall into the second group, then I invite you to look very deep and be very honest about why you feel that way. Trust me, I understand that learning something takes time and money. And above all else, it takes courage to look deeply and honestly at our work and recognize that things are not fixed, and that everything is always evolving. This can be pretty scary because it may makes us feel like we are no longer relevant.
Be willing to be wrong! Be willing to change your mind! That doesn't make you a flip flop. It makes you flexible and open to always improving on anything you do. In this case, your photography chops.
The Evolution Of A Photograph: From Garbage To Gold In 18 Months
Here is the photograph I am talking about. This was shot right outside the south entrance to the Paradise Inn hotel in Mount Rainier National Park. That's on the Paradise side of the park. It's looking at the Tatoosh Range about an hour before sunset.
This is the first attempt. 3 exposures blended with Photomatix. As you can see, there is no control over anything in this image. If I was just interested in documenting the area, without any regard for creativity, I guess this would be passable. Maybe... But my aspiration wasn't to document but to create art. And so, I immediately realized this wasn't going to cut it. The light wasn't this flat and horrible when I was there. There were fantastic warm, rich tones on the cliffs and on the clouds. The air was glowing with the sunset light.
This is attempt #2. At some point I actually thought this was pretty good. I had just learned how to blend exposures with luminosity masks and I felt pretty happy with how everything looked. If you asked me today, why blend 3 exposures on this, if the dynamic range is not that great, I wouldn't be able to answer. I guess, it's the way I did things and that's that.
Having said that, I haven't stopped studying, experimenting and pushing my processing techniques. Even when I was satisfied with the results, I could still see that it wasn't all that I wanted it to be: there were halos along the mountain range, the tips on the trees were blotchy and not uniform and I still couldn't bring out the amazing sunset glow. At one point I decided to take this photograph off of my portfolio and leave it alone.
This brings me to the final, and definitive edition (for now!)
As I mentioned earlier, I've kept studying and pushing my technique, both in camera, as well as in post-processing. I am not afraid to invest in my education, and as much as possible, I put money into lessons with great artists, I invest in videos and books and I try to learn from any possible way I can.
This is a single exposure processed in Photoshop. I am very happy with the warmness and overall image quality. The sunset glow that I witness that day is finally there. These shot has many layers: from the very closest tree on the right of the frame, all the way into the peaks in the background, with that amazing side light in the mid ground. Even though this wasn't shot with a fancy, full frame camera, I know the quality is there to make large format prints without any hesitation.
Tell me what you think and feel free to ask or comment!