1 - Introduction
In this essay I describe the processing workflow that I use to convert and optimize these images. This workflow is specific to this type of image since their needs are somewhat different than “non-blurred” images.
The final version of the image I work on in this essay.
2 - Processing workflow
First, I learned that setting the black, white and the grey points precisely is crucial to the success, or failure, of these images. As I said these images are very responsive to the quality of light. This continues in raw processing where color balancing the light properly is the continuation of selecting a specific type of light to photograph under.
Very often I find that I get the finest colors if I can find a neutral area in the scene and click on it with the color balancing eyedropper in Lightroom. This area does not have to be middle grey necessarily. It can also be white or black. It can also be a light or dark grey. All that is needed is an area that, once color balanced, is neutral in color. That is, an area that should not have color in it, no matter how light or dark this area might be.
Color balancing on a neutral area usually reveals the true colors in the scene and makes the photograph come to life. When that is found I usually copy the color balance settings for this image then paste them to all the other images captured in the same light. This helps make the process more effective.
I also found that making presets for the setting combination used for specific images is also very helpful. The specific settings used for each image can get very complex, and remembering them is not easy. Saving them under a specific name (I usually use the name of the photograph as the name of the preset) makes reusing them a breeze. It also allows you to build a library of presets that you can later reuse with other images. This gives you a good start to converting images for which you may not be sure which settings to use. It also helps give a feeling of consistency to the work since the same settings are used from one shoot to the next, even if these settings are only a starting point and are modified later on.
Finally, I use Lightroom to convert my images and I complete the optimization process in Photoshop through the use of adjustment layers. I could not complete this process working in Lightroom alone.
My first step is converting the image from Raw to Tiff format. I currently use Lightroom for this part of my workflow, but other converters can work just as well. In fact I use different raw converters for the conversion of other types of photographs. My choice of raw converter is based on the needs of each photograph.
Below are screenshots of the adjustment settings I made to the image. For each setting I provide a before and an after screenshot. The image these settings were applied to is the one presented at the beginning of this essay: Saguaros Blur.
A- Histogram, color balance and exposure adjustments
As shot After adjustments
B-All the other adjustments I make in Lightroom:
Tone curve HSL Sharpening and noise reduction
4 – Image optimization in Photoshop
Selective color on the other hand allows you to modify color and contrast separately by affecting the density of a specific color. Increasing the density of blacks will add contrast to the image (contrast is largely defined by the black and white points settings) just like increasing or decreasing the level of whites will either lower or raise the contrast of the image.
Often you need a true black point for an image (most images do) but you do not want to either darken the entire image, or increase the contrast and the saturation of the entire image. Increasing contrast substantially results in increasing saturation as well. Often, you may want just one or the other, but if you steepen the entire curve you will get both).
Using a sudden black curve is the solution to excessive contrast and/or saturation maladies. How to create a sudden black curve is explained in the tutorial movie.
Sudden black is the key to creating images that are delicate and yet have a true black point. You no longer have to have chalky images in order to get a true black point.
And again increasing what is there through sharpening only takes us so far since there is little detail to start with.
In the end it makes the image look a little bit less blurry and a little bit more defined. It helps strengthen it visually so that it stands out more as a complete image worthy of a lengthy visual examination. It helps increase the sophistication of the image by adding the impression of detail in an image where, at first glance, it would appear that we would find none.
I also find that increasing the opacity of the High Pass Contrast layer to 35% or 40% instead of the customary 20% is often necessary to get the maximum effect from this filter. A higher opacity can be used here since the effect of the filter is far less than on a normal-detail-level image.
Before high pass filter After High Pass Filter
These areas have to be corrected otherwise they will create a visual deterrent to the enjoyment of the image. In other words, they won’t look good and will create a visual distraction.
The simplest way to get rid of these problems is simply by smoothing them out with the smudge tool. Simply going over these areas with the tool, set at a small to medium diameter, or setting the diameter to the size of the problem area, will allow you to smooth them over quickly and effectively.
The nicest part is that the effect of the smudge tool when used in a dragging motion is to stretch an area. This stretching effect is very similar in look to the effect created by moving the camera up and down, sideways, etc. Therefore, by using the smudge tool to perfect some areas by reworking them, you will be continuing the visual effect created by moving the camera. In the end, the result is a smooth and seamless blend of in-camera and in-Photoshop effects that all go in the same direction and blend together perfectly well.
Before smudge tool After Smudge tool
E-Shadow- Highlights adjustments
Vibrance is a type of saturation increase. In fact, since these two adjustments are somewhat similar, they are offered in the same layer adjustment palette. However, Vibrance is preferable to Saturation, or best used in combination with saturation. The reason being that Vibrance provides more subtle results than saturation.
Basically, Vibrance saturates low saturation colors more than high saturation colors. In other words, it is a “smart” saturation adjustment. Saturation on the opposite saturates all colors evenly, resulting in images that are often oversaturated, either globally or locally. However, the nice thing about the Saturation adjustment layer is that it gives access to individual colors (red, green, blue, yellow, etc.) while Vibrance does not.
The Vibrance adjustment applied to Saguaros Blur.
Single Saguaro Sunset Blur Triple Saguaro Sunset Blur
Two other photographs created during the same shoot as the image discussed in this essay.
5 – Conclusion
Feel free to experiment with this workflow by changing the settings to make them fit the specific needs of your images and of your inspiration. You can’t hurt anything by trying as long as you back up your work so that you can return to a previous version if the need arises.
About Alain Briot
Alain welcomes your comments on this essay as well as on his other essays available. You can reach Alain directly by emailing Alain at firstname.lastname@example.org
An online portfolio of Alain’s Landscape Blurs is available at this link:
Essay and photographs Copyright © Alain Briot 2011