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Do You Photoshop Your Images?

Photoshop as tool in Landscape Photography

“Do you PhotoShop your images?” This is sometimes asked in a way that sounds a little like, “Do you beat your kids?" Or, in a single word, “PhotoShop?” The implication being that I created the image primarily with Photoshop. While it's true that some photographers spend more time in Photoshop than behind the viewfinder, I use post-processing techniques to enhance my photos while still keeping them authentic.

PhotoShop? Sunrise on the Boardwalk, post-processing, Lightroom

There are many ways to use Photoshop to create photographic images, including compositing, painterly effects, and cut-and-paste techniques. But I take a more subtle approach to post-processing. My goal is to reflect what I saw with my eyes and my mind’s eye when I took the shot. Cameras can only record about 70% to 80% of what the human eye can see, so I make adjustments to bring those limitations back into line.

Here are some of the post-processing techniques I typically use on my prints:

  • HDR: If I shot using High Dynamic Range, I will first combine the bracketed shots into a single image to capture a more complete tonal range. I always blend HDR images with an eye to capturing natural realism, avoiding the overly dramatic, grainy, or burnt look that some photographers go for.
  • Tone Adjustment: By nudging shadows and highlights up or down, I can gain a better tonal balance across an image.
  • Cropping: Through judicious cropping, I bring focus to natural lines occurring in the image which lead the eye to important focal points, without reducing image size and quality.
  • Color adjustments: Through subtle color adjustment, I can increase or decrease drama in the image. Sometimes I even desaturate a bit, as I find color can detract from the tonal contrasts of the shot.
  • De-hazing: I will lessen any haze which might distract the eye from the image.
  • Decluttering: I remove any distracting elements that might ruin a great sunset, and occasionally even remove individuals or animals who might be in the shot.
  • Print preparation: Colors may look great on the monitor, but files need to be prepared for the printer, which generally tends to darken images. I match the color profile of the target printer to ensure natural colors.

While post-processing is an important part of my workflow, my real work as a landscape photographer is finding a great scene and capturing it in flattering light. This second part, often called “chasing the light", takes most of the work and time. I often return to a shot many times or over several months before catching the effect I am looking for.

How do you use Photoshop or Lightroom to enhance your images? Do you use presets or composite images? Share your techniques with me in the comments below. And if you want to know more about my post-processing methods, let me know and I'll write a more detailed description.




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