A Cozumel Seascape, Before and After

I thought this would be interesting to some folks. Especially those who have yet to plunge into the wide and wacky world of post-processing their images.

What comes out of the camera is really just the first step in photography, as you will see in my example.

Caveat: If you are just shooting JPEGs and you have your menu selections dialed in on your camera, it is possible to get good images straight out o’ the camera without doing any further work. For example, setting your White Balance to, say, “Warm” instead of “Auto” will generally give things a warmer look. You may also have something like a “Creative Style” setting in which you can select, say, “Vivid” which will enhance contrast and saturation.

The problem is, you don’t have any control over the process as it is all done automatically in the camera. To ALL your photos.

Recommendation: Shoot RAW and do your own post-processing if you really want to tweak a photograph to your personal taste.

To wit:

Here is an example of what my raw file looked like straight out of the camera with no manipulation. And here I must insert an important comment on exposure: I have my LCD display set to show me the histogram (which is based on your JPEG picture selections, by the way). When I look at the LCD, I check two things…first, basic composition. But, more importantly, I look at the histogram to make sure I haven’t totally blown important highlights and, ideally, the shadows aren’t smashed against the left wall either.

In this case, the darker tones in the histogram were just a hair’s width off of the left wall. On the right, I did have a tiny collection of highlights climbing the right wall–but only that area you see around the Sun and the Sun’s disc, which I thought was fine:

El Mirador, #15 (Original file). Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
El Mirador, #15 (Original file). Cozumel, Mexico, 2017


Pretty blah, eh? Now, if you had selected some fired up JPEG camera settings in your machine (mine are set at neutral) you might get a JPEG to come out a bit better, but this is difficult light. Note the dark shadows. Other problems…note the lack of contrast and the very minimal saturation of colors. And, yes, there is the slightly crooked horizon and the trash in the algae beds.

This, of course, is not what I was “seeing” in my mind’s hairy eyeball, so I took it into Lightroom, then Photoshop, for various adjustments…to make it match my “personal vision” as they say.

Here is the result:

El Mirador, #15. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
El Mirador, #15. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017


What did I do? In brief…

–Some basic sharpening, and I clicked on the boxes to improve chromatic aberration and to make the standard lens corrections

–Used the Shadows slider to bring out detail in the dark areas of the foreground

–Straightened the horizon

–Cloned out the trash and the many dust spots from my dirty sensor

–Added a bit of contrast and saturation

–Ran it through one of my Tonal Contrast filters from Google Color Efex Pro

–Did a slight bit of burning and dodging here and there

That is a very condensed summary of what I did–all in about 15 minutes–to make the picture look much better.

Finally, know that I don’t particularly like post-processing and don’t consider myself very good at it. A true Photoshop guru would say my methods are sloppy and incomplete–in fact, they are just plain awful.

Point being, if I can do this, so can you. (And, yes, I plan on constantly improving my skills as time goes on!)

Google Nik Photo Editing Collection Now FREE!

Texting Trio. Santiago, Chile, 2016
Texting Trio. Santiago, Chile, 2016 (I thought they might all have been downloading the Google Nik Collection, but there is no mobile device version. So, maybe they were downloading Google-Nik’s Snapseed instead, eh?)


Yep, FREE. Gratis. At no cost to you.

So, what you had to pay $149.00 for just last month is now being passed out to all comers at no charge. This unusual move makes me wonder if Google is really going to invest any effort into future upgrades and improvements. Time will tell, I propose.

If you are interested–and you might as well be at the current price point–just go to the Google Nik Collection website to check it out.

The Collection includes the following applications:

Analog Efex Pro (for old classic camera, lens, and film imitation effects)

Dfine (for noise reduction)

Silver Efex Pro (for B&W conversions)

Color Efex Pro (many different color effects, styles, adjustments)

Viveza (to adjust color and tonality)

Sharpener Pro (for input and output sharpening)

HDR Efex Pro (for, you guessed it, various HDR effects, from the good, to the bad, to the ugly)

Some additional Google Nik observations…

–This suite can apparently be used in stand-alone mode but is not really designed that way. You’ll have to spend some private time with Ms. Google to work out this option–I can’t help you as I use these applications via Photoshop as host.

–Downloading the bunch is worth it just to get the most excellent Silver Efex Pro. I use this for my black and white conversions almost exclusively (as I did in the above image) and many photogs agree it is one of the best. (You can certainly come close with Photoshop, Lightroom, or Elements, but it is more difficult to do.)

Color Effects Pro has a “Tonal Contrast” preset (with several sub options) that I use quite often for my color images.

–The only other applications I use are Analog Efex (only occasionally for messing around with wet plate and retro camera simulations) and HDR Efex (on a very, very rare instance).

–All of these applications allow an almost infinite number of alternative adjustments and options once you have selected a preset as a starting point.

–All of these applications are fairly intuitive and are easy to learn by simply playing around with presets and sliders. The Google Nik website linked above (as well as YouTube) is full of help videos if you need further assistance.

Profile of a Climber

From the Second Flatiron, there was just a short moment when there was a perfect profile alignment with a climber on the Third Flatiron as he or she finished leading the last pitch to the summit. Three other climbers can be seen on the belay ledge below.

This image was processed in Silver Efex Pro starting with the “Silhouette” preset. There is actually detail in the cloudy sky as well as in the rock, so I do have a more standard version of this picture–but this is the one I prefer.


Third Flatiron. Boulder, Colorado, 2015
Third Flatiron. Boulder, Colorado, 2015

The Effect versus Content

Church Corner Abstract. Boulder, Colorado, 2015
Church Corner Abstract. Boulder, Colorado, 2015

These days it is quite easy to pass your image through a filter or two from any one of several popular plug-ins or post-processing applications and–voilà–you have an interesting and original piece of photographic art. As in the above example.

Or do you?

The next time you see an image that is oozing with super-saturated colors, or radioactive with U-235-grade HDR, or covered with Van Gogh-style toothpaste-thick paint strokes, ask yourself…Is it the effect that attracts my eye, or is there actually some sort of significant content here?

It may be that the effect works well with the content–it can happen, and there are some artists who have a knack for it.

Then there are the rest…who get enamored with the power of the filter-slider magic on their computer and just go ass-over-tincups overboard, forgetting that the original photograph ought to have some redeeming value from the very start.

It’s kind of like those movies that lay on the special effects as thick as Tammy Faye’s makeup, but totally ignore any kind of serious plot or character development. They generally belly flop like a chubby Charlie.

Now, think of all those classic films in black and white with NO special effects that are timeless creations with power, emotion, and depth. (Try Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Vertigo, It’s a Wonderful Life, To Kill a Mockingbird, or Psycho, for some examples.)

Just something to think about…

A Color Subject in Monochrome!?

A puffed up peacock, strutting around to impress the female…you would think COLOR, most definitely, right?

Like this:

Peacock, Puttin' On the Ritz. Denver Zoo, Colorado, 2015
Peacock, Puttin’ On the Ritz. Denver Zoo, Colorado, 2015

But, check out the monochrome version–it is quite attractive as well (at least to my eyeball):

Peacock, Puttin' On the Ritz. Denver Zoo, Colorado, 2015
Peacock, Puttin’ On the Ritz. Denver Zoo, Colorado, 2015

The lesson: Even in cases where color seems like an obvious and extremely important compositional element, be willing to experiment. Maybe it will work. Maybe it won’t.

Billy, the Carpenter (Revisited)

I really like this portrait, so I keep revisiting it to see if another way of post-processing it might strike a chord with me.

Here is a new color version–probably a good candidate for “Likes” if I were to post it on Facebook due to the over-the-top slider madness I applied to it:

Carpenter Billy, HDR Version. Boulder, Colorado, 2015
Carpenter Billy, HDR Version. Boulder, Colorado, 2015

And a new, similarly over-the-top, black and white version:

Carpenter Billy, Grunge Version. Boulder, Colorado, 2015
Carpenter Billy, Grunge Version. Boulder, Colorado, 2015

Hmmm…still need to think about it.

New Year’s Pseudo-Resolutions

Fiery Sunrise, First Flatiron. Boulder, Colorado, 2014
Fiery Sunrise, First Flatiron. Boulder, Colorado, 2014

While I am here at the computer monitoring the backup of the last of this year’s images onto two separate portable hard drives, I thought I’d make a list of goals for the coming year.

My photo organization is OK but, hells bells, I have Lightroom 5.7 on my computer and I am not yet using it, so my method has been basically manual up to this point (using Windows Explorer).

Utterly shameful, I know.

Even worse, if you were to look over my shoulder at my Camera Raw-to-Photoshop work flow, you would almost certainly roll your eyes into the rear of your cranium. I do know how to use Photoshop layers but, once I am done with an image, it has been my bad habit to leave it as a flattened TIFF–I figured my post-processing skills  were changing so quickly (not true, as this year they mostly plateaued) that I could and should just rework the original RAW file if I wanted a better version.

Yep. Yet another shameful admission.

So here is what I plan to put into practice in 2015:

1) Use Lightroom. And really use it as it was intended, with smart collections, keywords, sorting, labeling, flagging, and so on. Furthermore, it has basically the same “Develop” module motor as Adobe Camera Raw but with a couple of useful extra tools I really like (the brush, for instance).

2) Keep my worked images as PSD files, with all the relevant layers, and only convert to other formats when ready to print or put on the web.

3) Really use the layers in Photoshop–including, for example, more sophisticated ways of controlling local brightness and contrast using channel selections and the various blending modes.

4) Really be selective about what I consider to be images worth working and keeping (the “flagged” files in Lightroom). I am a lot more experienced now in judging what constitutes a decent image, so it’s time to get with the program and cut the wheat from the chaff much more aggressively.

5) Create images with more of an eye for how they might fit into a specific project or portfolio.

I think that is plenty to munch on for now. For #1 and #3, I am already working my way through some pretty good videos that are starting to torque my little gray cells uncomfortably–meaning the learning curve should start back uphill again after almost a year cruising along the Colorado “Plateau”.

Happy New Year, everyone!

P.S. As a farewell to 2014, check out these 29 images from NASA: the Best of 2014. They are absolutely spectacular and might very well provoke within your heart some philosophical meanderings as to the meaning of it all…ah, the eternal question.

Reattack the Post-Processing

I don’t know about you, but I find it revealing to come back to an image I have previously post-processed to see if it can be improved. It usually can. Sometimes, I even wonder, “What was I thinking!”, when I look back at these photographs. Other times, the changes required to improve it might be more subtle.

Here, for example, is a picture as I originally post-processed it. My own eye, supported by feedback from others, said the fore to mid-ground lacked depth and interest–half of the image was too flat despite the obvious interest in the upper part of the photo.

Fall Sunset, Chicago Basin, #1. Needle Mountains, Colorado, 2014 (First post-processing attempt.)
Fall Sunset, Chicago Basin, #1. Needle Mountains, Colorado, 2014 (First post-processing attempt.)

Now, compare the above image with the one below. Can you see the difference? In this version, I tried to bring out more depth by improving the color in the mid-ground bushes, selectively brightening up the foreground, and working with selective clarity/detail in the trees.

I will surely continue to revisit the image in the future as my post-processing skills evolve. I would guess that we all have a huge library of old images that could be reworked to a much higher standard–perhaps a good activity for a cold, rainy or snowy winter day.

Fall Sunset, Chicago Basin, #1. Needle Mountains, Colorado, 2014 (Third post-processing attempt.)
Fall Sunset, Chicago Basin, #1. Needle Mountains, Colorado, 2014 (Third post-processing attempt.)

3D Manipulation of Objects

Street Abstract. Barcelona, 2014
Street Abstract. Barcelona, 2014

Yep, it is coming vewwy, vewwy soon!

Imagine being able to select an object in your photograph, then lift it up, turn it any which way, and set it down wherever you want within the image. All the while, the object retains its texture, color and characteristics, and the lighting and shadows adjust as they should.

This could open up a whole new world of creative possibilities. (Not that we don’t already have a near-infinite universe of possibilities with our current version of Photoshop, but still.) In the above image, for example, maybe I could pick up one of those giant balls and stick it in the middle of the road!

Here is an interesting video (4:51) that will show you where we are with this idea of 3D manipulation. No need to fully understand some of the techno-geek terms she uses to get the point.