I often receive supportive feedback on my photography, as well as questions on how I get my results. Since I’m “in this for the photography” I tend to prioritize photography over writing. So my answers to questions provide a great opportunity to address common questions in a blog post. This time, I’ll just have it all be the blog post, illustrated with photos that I’ve post-processed in the past month, fall 2017…
On 9 Nov 17, 5.52PM PST ———- said:
I see a dramatic change in your fall images….much improved, even though the old ones were great to start with. What software are you using to develop your images? It looks like you are using focus stacking for the landscapes as well. Is this so?
Nice job, ————
I’ll answer in two parts, first regarding post-processing.
I honestly don’t know if I can narrow it down to one or two factors and answer the question completely, but here goes…Everyone’s looking for ways to improve their photography, and the questions often assume that a new camera or post-processing software must be the key. To be sure, cameras and applications do evolve, so there are benefits to new versions, but there’s a lot to be said for the influence of experience and personal stylistic choices.
It would be really easy to simply provide “the answer” and point to one new product that will provide the magic bullet. You find that all over the Internet with people paid to promote products, and they often do not follow FTC guidelines to properly identify their social media and blog “reviews” of their sponsors’ products as paid ads. I’m unencumbered by product/manufacturer relationships, so I can take a more comprehensive and less biased approach.
I do find Adobe Lightroom 5 and lately 6 to be meter than older versions of the software, and I do often re-process results as recent as two years ago and get better results. But here’s the catch: I also notice that I’m using a different approach and settings than I did even as recently as two years ago. So I can’t really attribute the improvements to solely or even mainly to newer Lightroom software.
— Jeff Sullivan Photo (@JeffSullPhoto) October 16, 2017
I’ve been using Photomatix from HDRsoft for many years, and I remember as early as 2009 I was occasionally layering my best edit of the original photo on top of the HDR result to make the result more realistic. Unfortunately that required exporting the files to Photoshop for the layering. I prefer the photography side of the process over the computer/graphics arts options, so I often just settled for an average of the three exposures in Photomatix, and touched that up on Lightroom instead. The new version Photomatix 6 that I started using in beta last spring includes the layering of any of the original files on the HDR output, and enables blending using a slider from 0 to 100%. So in addition to being to select from more preset HDR results, it’s little extra effort to blend in the best straight photographic result that you were able to produce in Lightroom.
That would certainly account for many of the files that I post-processed in Photomatix, but I try to tag all of them with HDR and Photomatix, so you can see for yourself that it’s not a huge percentage of my overall fall results.
So what’s left is some combination of experience and what I choose to do with it. I think that I’ve become more demanding with my results, which forces me to take a more critical look at them. I often say that I prefer to spend five minutes or less post-processing a photo on my computer, but to get better results, at a minimum it is necessary to take the lead of Ansel Adams and at least invest some time in dodging and burning.
Stylistically, while I always preferred to produce more or less realistic images, sometimes digital cameras simply didn’t have the dynamic range to capture an entire natural scene well, so I’ve decided to accept the compromise of visibly manipulated results. As cameras get better in subtle ways and I continue to master my skill with the various techniques and tools available, including the software tools, I can shift my focus to stylistic choices instead of fighting the tools to get an acceptable result.
I recall that I decided to get a little more assertive with contrast and blacks about a year ago. At some point earlier this year I decided to produce some more colorful results, although I still don’t want the first impression people get to be “manipulated”. I may not always succeed, but I’m exploring a wider range of results, and reining myself in when I can detect that the photo is crossing some invisible line. I guess that you could boil it down to developing my own effects, range and style, mainly within the bounds of what Lightroom can do, but occasionally using Photomatix if/when the dynamic range of the scene warrants it.