A peek into how I edit.
I've always wanted to embed a rad before/after slider into my site. Welp, now I have an excuse. For this post, I'd like to explain the thought process in bringing a photo to life from start to finish more so than the technicalities behind it. If you want to hear more in-depth nerd talk (I could go on and on), let me know in the comments section! Here is the first example from Mammoth a week back.
85mm | ISO 100| f/11 | 1/10 sec
Straight away, it's pretty obvious I favor shooting dark and bring up the exposure later. I like to get as much information in the highlights as possible, especially when there is a colorful sky. I'll admit this image was a bit dark even for my taste. But, if you haven't noticed already, there is a deer toward the bottom of the frame. I had a longer exposure going before spotting the deer crossing the river. The fastest adjustment I could make to capture the deer was increasing the shutter speed to freeze it without getting any motion blur. As far as focus goes, I was already manual focused to the mountains in back and, at f/11, most everything in the foreground is nice and sharp as well. So, now that getting the shot itself is out of the way, let's get into the thoughts behind editing.
First off, I had to bump up the exposure and get the color and contrast where I liked it. The result of increasing the exposure left me with a blown out sky. I tried reducing the highlights in Lightroom, but I wasn't very happy with the result. I decided it would need to go into Photoshop for some fine tuned corrections. I used a levels adjustment to bring down the overall exposure of the highlights and increased the mid tones to create a bit more contrast while I was at it. I added a layer mask to this levels adjustment and brushed it into the sky and mountains only, leaving the foreground unedited so far. Next I wanted to emphasize the water leading the viewer through the frame, so I did a similar levels adjustment and brushed the adjustment into the water only. Next, I recalled the sky being a bit more pink, playing off the white snow in the mountains. So, I sampled a color from the sky, increased the saturation and brightness of the sampled color, and brushed it in very subtly (about 10% opacity) over the clouds and the mountains to emphasize what I saw in the moment. Lastly, and you may have already noticed, I cleaned up some distractions with the healing brush. There were some patches of dirt that took a lot of attention away from the deer, almost making the deer look like just another patch. The end result was a nice, natural photo that looked pretty darn close to how it looked in the moment.
If you follow me on Instagram, my editing style is quite different and I rarely bring my Instagram edits into Photoshop. When editing with the intention of selling an image as a print or putting it on my website, I prefer to go for the more timeless and natural look.