I recently edited the below image to print to 60 inches and hang on my living room wall. I realised it was a good showcase of my workflow and thought processes. This is intended as a general look at what I get up to with my images and the ideas behind my edits, rather than a processing tutorial per se. However, beginners may find this helpful particularly from a thought process perspective – the hardest thing to learn is not HOW to process your images, but WHY.
I try to create visually successful, realistic images. I also bring creative aspects to my processing, particularly in trying to recapture a sense of wonder or beauty, but ultimately reality takes precedence over pure aesthetics.
You can break my editing process down into 2 major parts – RAW edits in Lightroom and final edits in Photoshop. These days Lightroom does most of the ‘heavy lifting’. I try to get my images 90% of the way there with RAW edits in Lightroom, but still leave enough editing headroom for final corrections in Photoshop (so for example I only set white and black points in Photoshop).
Lightroom is used for the following:
- Combining the images into HDR DNGs
- Combining the HDR DNGs into HDR DNG Panoramas!
- White Balance, Exposure, Shadows, Highlights and Contrast changes (also saturation, but unusually this image required none).
Photoshop is used for:
- Cloning sensor dust (in this case none required)
- White points, Black points
- Flare corrections
- Local adjustments – some of these are corrections, some are creative
- Final brightness adjustments
- Output sharpening
Original RAW images
These are the original RAW images exported directly from Lightroom with no adjustments. I shot 2 bracketed sets at 1.5 stop intervals. These sets can be combined to capture the full tonal range of the scene before then being stitched into a panorama. The brightest frames on the right are closest to what I am aiming for ultimately, but the sky is completely blown and there are some serious flare issues that I will have to address. The left frames retain some detail in the sun but will be used for the blue sky portion of the image. The middle frame is necessary for the computer to combine the images in a realistic way without major fringing issues.
Lightroom HDR DNG Panoramas!
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The before image show the result if you take the RAW images into Lightroom, combine them to form an HDR DNG, then stitch them to form a panorama. I have also lifted the shadows and crushed the highlights to give an idea of what a ‘flat’ edit of this file looks like. The advantage of working with these High Dynamic Range panoramas is the level of editability available when working in RAW.
The after image shows the edited HDR DNG Pano with a mixture of global and local adjustments (including use of grads and the paintbrush tool. To me this is already pretty close to where I want to finish, but there is still some work to do in Photoshop.
It is worth mentioning that the stitching process very cleverly eliminated the most problematic flare that you can see quite clearly in the original RAW files. More often than not the software does an outstanding job.
Global Corrections and Adjustments
Lens flare, whilst sometimes desirable, is usually something that you want to avoid in landscape images. With good optics most flares can be removed in Photoshop by manipulating the red channel of a curves layer and locally masking to reduce or remove flare in the affected areas. Along with these early adjustments I also look to set white points and sometimes black points to the image. If I have edited the RAW correctly in Lightroom these changes are generally very small. As you can see from the after image, we are pretty much there already! There are just a few more changes to make…
This edit is aimed at making a few changes locally to the trees in the image, which in my opinion are the main focus. The changes can be broken into two halves – corrections and creative edits.
There is a fair amount of ‘shadow boosting’ involved in the edits I made to the HDR DNG. Mostly this is done to a very high standard, but in some cases the background is undesirably brightened along with the tree. I introduced a darkening curve to correct this affect in those local areas (look at the background between the branches of the left hand tree).
One of the things that drew me to shoot this scene in the first place (aside from the obviously spectacular scene in general!) was the backlight and sidelight on the trees, particularly in the prominent “Mountain Cabbage Tree” which I placed centrally in the image. A series of curves adjustments were used to locally target the highlights in the sunlit portion of the trees to make the light more of a feature in the image.
In the comparison image above you see the effects of curves layers on the brightness of the sun. When creating HDR DNGs in Lightroom there is a tendency of the program to recover as much highlight detail as possible. In the case of the sun you really want it to end up considerably bright to achieve a more realistic rendition. These edits are aimed at undoing the ‘corrections’ that Lightroom itself introduced!
Finally I make last brightness and contrast changes to the image. These are usually subtle tweaks. I often return to this step repeatedly.
Before and After
A final comparison showing all of the changes I made in Photoshop.