Pretty well anyone who views digital photos nowadays understands just how powerful a program Adobe Photoshop is. In the hands of a person who knows how to use it, the software can dramatically transform a photo. In fact, the transformation can be so dramatic that one has to wonder how much of professional photography revolves around how well one can develop photos using this or similar technology. I would go so far as to say that post-processing is close to 50% of the finished product.
I am hardly a master at Photoshop. To see a true master at work, visit the Youtube Channel of Phlearn and watch Aaron Nace transform good photos into outstanding photos. I've learned a few tricks from his tutorials and a few others. I'd be happy to share what I've learned, but you'd be far better just to get it from the horse's mouth, as it were. Instead, I intend to show you how I used Photoshop (and Lightroom) to transform a commercial photo I took from rather dreary to quite beautiful. I'll start with the before picture.
This was late in the day, shooting into a cloudy sunset. To the eye, the sky was really quite striking in a subtle way, but the gentle beauty of the sun on the clouds just didn't make its way onto the sensor. This is because the contrast was just too high. I tried to expose for the sky, but to bring out the subtleties, I would have had to grossly underexpose the subject, namely Cheers Bar&Grill, which is what the shot is all about. So, I decided to use brushes in Lightroom to paint in the sky.
That made a difference, but it was just the beginning. I did all the standard processing in Lightroom, straightening the vertical lines, bringing out all the colors, enhancing the highlights and just making everything "pop," but the photo wasn't what I'd want to show my client. Before that, I had to fix a couple of things in Photoshop. First, I used the clone stamp tool and the healing brush to remove the security camera, then painted in the clouds where it was. Note that I didn't remove the utility box on the post the camera was attached to. I could have. If this photo were about the streetlamp, I might have, but I didn't, because I thought the very tiny imperfection gave it a bit of authenticity. Finally, I painted in the frosting on the glass of the foremost lamp, and enhanced the brightness of the lights, to give the effect you see in the finished photo
The effect I wanted was that of a building pained by the sun at the tail end of Golden Hour, just as the street lights were coming on. The natural highlights in the palm leaves sell the presence of the sun and the enhanced brightness of the lamps suggest that twilight is slowly approaching.
Is this cheating? Yes. But cheating in post-processing is what photographers have done since the first camera was invented. How much of the beauty of this shot was added in post? Like I said, better than 50%. The original, even after Lightroom, is not something I'd put in a portfolio, much less submit to a client. But the finished result, after Photoshop, is something I can be proud to put my name on. Photoshop doesn't help a photographer frame an image (except via cropping), it doesn't choose what lens to use, it doesn't tell you what stop to shoot on or what ISO setting. It doesn't select which of the dozens of photos you take of a subject to work on and it doesn't know how to process them. All it gives the photographer is a digital toolbox, which, like a carpenter's toolbox doesn't finish the job all on it's own. Artistry is in the mind and the hands of the artist.
Thanks for reading!
My simple blog about the art and science of photography.