More than Luck

To make a stunning photo most people think all you need to do is click the shutter and the camera will do all of the work for you. You can, with a little luck, get that stunning image but I can’t count on luck. I need to create a great image every time I shoot and the only way to achieve that is through post processing. I mostly use Adobe Lightroom 5 for this and I’d like to share some of my workflow.There are many ways to do the same thing in any image processing program like Lightroom so what I’m going to share is not the only way or even the best way to work. It’s my way to work and the way I work is constantly evolving as it should.Not getting an image right in the camera is not enough of a reason to throw an image away. During the heat of battle – a photo session – there’s a barrage of creative influences coming at me in the viewfinder.  My task is to instinctively capture an image and quickly move on to the next influence. Sometimes I will miss a few things.figure 1In this at the Alameda Naval Base I saw the relationship of the biker and his bike centered between the two ships in the background. I captured it quickly and moved on to the next visual impulse. I later realized that I should have centered the main subject between the ships in the background. I also should have adjusted my exposure to lighten the foreground.
 
figure 2I always start out by setting the white balance to be as correct to the original light as possible. I’m looking to correct for skin tones but in this case I was mostly concerned with the light in the background.  I wanted to balance the warm and cool tones in the image.
 
figure 3Next, I needed to crop the image with a centered main subject. Centering the main subject is not always desirable but for an iconic image like this, it works for me.  Technically the figure is not perfectly centered, but the mass of the figure and the bike feels centered. I also placed the upper edge of the curb in the lower one third. This creates a balance with the sea and sky in the upper portion of the image.
 
figure 4Now it’s time to set the exposure and lighten up the foreground to reveal the details in the main subject. I’m looking at the entire frame as I adjust these values to get an overall balance of light in the frame.  I’ll start shaping the tonalities later in the workflow but at this point I just need a good starting point.
 
figure 5This photo is about balance and symmetry so it was important to adjust the lens correction values to remove any distortions. I wanted make the horizontal line of the curb as perfectly horizontal as possible. This line separates the foreground from the background and is a major compositional element in this image! This horizontal line needed to be spot on!
 
figure 6Once I had the image tonality balanced, I adjusted the color to create a tension between the warms and the cools. I tinted the yellow towards the orange and then added some blue to the shadows in the split tone panel.
 
figure 7Sharpening and Clarity are interrelated so I adjust them in unison. I’m looking to bring out important details and add overall richness to the image. Adjusting these parameters can have an effect on the contrast so there’s always a need to go back and make adjustments to the contrast.
 
figure 8Time to do some tone shaping or as they used to call it, “Burn and Dodging”. I adding a graduated exposure adjustment to the foreground. I want the bottom of the frame to move from dark to light which helps bring the viewer into the frame and leads them to the focal point.
 
figure 9I do the same thing from the top to bottom adding a more prominent graduation in the sky. After I added the graduated adjustment to the sky, I discovered the horizontally tonality was not balanced. I had to add a series of graduations to correct this. You can see my adjustments in the flowing images. As an aside, everything I’m adjusting or adding at this point is in support of the main subject.
 
figure 10Darkening the right corner.
 
figure 11Lightening the left corner.
 
figure 12Lightening the sky above the carrier.
 
figure 13Using an adjustment brush, I’m lightening up the details in the head and arms of the main subject. I like the contrast of the light skin against the dark shirt and I’m reinforcing that. I’m using a very broad brush and a light touch. As I lighten up the skin tones, the areas are starting to show more noise. I have to adjust the noise slider in the brush which brings it back to a smooth tone. Post processing is a constant balance of tone and adjustments.
 
figure 14I’m making the same lightening adjustments to the bike as I did for the figure. I kept the bike adjustments separate from the figure so I can always go back and balance the two later if I needed to.
 
figure 15The silhouette of the main subject is always very important so to emphasize the edges of the main character, I brushed in some clarity.
 
figure 16The shadow on the right side was drawing too much attention from the main subject and had to be lightened.
 
figure 17At this point, the background had too much contrast and was competing with the foreground for attention. I isolated the background to reduce the contrast thereby giving more attention to the foreground and main character.  Reducing the contrast slider wasn’t enough to make a difference. I had to reduce the highlights and raise the shadows. Then I had to reduce the exposure to keep the background from coming forward.
 
figure 18As a final touch I removed the distracting details in the foreground and fixed the damaged curb.
 
figure 19The before and after.
 
figure 20The final image.

About the author

Terry Schmidbauer: