What experience has done to my photography workflow

Published on by Anton Dahlström

I spent quite some time today editing SOME of the photographs that I have taken between the beginning of March and now – here is a link to the Facebook album. There is a lot to go through, and each photo takes quite a bit of time to edit. I think I spend about 5-10 minutes per image in editing before I upload them to Facebook or other places, although quite a bit of time is first required to select which images that I consider good enough to bother with. In the end, I think only about 15-25% of all photographs that I take gets all the way through and gets posted, the rest I put in my ever-growing collection of unused images.

A white fence with two tacks and some overgrowth

A quiet driveway on Rainbow Street

When I first got my camera, I was much less picky of a) what I took a photo of and b) which images that I uploaded. I think that is quite common among photographers; as you get more experienced, you get more aware of the flaws in your own images – for good and for worse. Personally, this causes me to be prone to find flaws in many of the images that I have shared earlier, some of which I now consider to be technically flawed and sometimes outright bad. I guess that this is part of the learning process.

I am also a lot more picky about when I take the photo in the first place. Here is fairly good comparison: during the first weekend that I had my camera, I took about 2000 images in two days. Last Summer, when I was in San Francisco for about ten weeks, I took 1600 images in total. The keeping-rate of the images in the first instance was less than 5%, in the latter instance I believe it is about 20%. This is also something that comes from experience; I now have more knowledge about which scenes will become good photographs, as well as how to use the equipment to capture each scene in a better way.

Tips for editing images

Before I upload anything, I have also become much more meticulous in during post-processing. I use Adobe Lightroom for the bulk of the editing, which is think is absolutely necessary for anyone interested in photography on any level. My general workflow is as follows:

  1. Adjust white-balance and tint to get the general colours as I like them. When I first started using Lightroom, I did not correct Tint often, but I have found that this is almost more important than correcting the yellow/blue balance. Tip #1: there is no such thing as a correct white-balance, it all depends on which look you aim to achieve. Tip #2: When correcting WB/Tint, it helps if you “overshoot” and compare extremes. By exploring and exaggerating, you can avoid getting biased towards any particular colour. It also helps to go through all images one final time to adjust any mistakes that are obvious.
  2. Adjust exposure, contrast and clarity to get the desired look. Tip #1: Start by adjusting the general exposure slider to fix any misses before going into the detailed settings. Tip #2: Turn on black and white clipping and adjust the histogram so that the black and white both begin to be blown out. This is usually a good place to start in finding a nice contrast setting for an image.
  3. Adjust colour. There are several tools available here. I usually set my camera to save my images so that the natural colours tends to be a bit under-saturated, which is a good thing to do in order to avoid blow-out reds and yellows in your images. If I am in a hurry, I will only adjust the colour/vibrance settings, but the HSL-toolset is very valuable for more precise adjustments.
  4. Local adjustments. Using the brush- and gradient tools are a great way to fine-tune certain parts of the image. You can also remove some blemished and distractions with the heal/clone tools, but for more complex situations, you will need an external photo editor. I believe the newest version of Lightroom (v.5) has improved these tools.
  5. Cropping. Can be one of the most important steps in creating a good composition. Most cameras shoot with a 3:2 aspect ratio, which is fine for the most part, but you can often find more harmonious composition if you try different crop ratios. There are a lot of different rules that can be used, such as the golden rectangle/spiral rule and the rule of thirds. There are merits to using any of these rules for your composition, but the main thing is that you actually take time to reflect on it to improve the image. Tip: You can activate these guides directly from the cropping tool in Lightroom.
  6. The devil is in the details. The final thing that I do is often to adjust the sharpening and noise reduction. Once again, I have set my camera to save the images in a way that removes as little information as possible, so I have eliminated all built-in noise reduction and decreased the sharpening settings somewhat. The tools in Lightroom provides a lot more precise control and gives a much better result compared to the “one-size-fits-all” camera settings. I recommend this guide for a comprehensive but easy-to-follow guide on how to use the tools provided in the software: there is a lot of power available if used properly! For the noise reduction, you will almost never have to use the detailed settings; simply use the general slider to adjust to the required amount. Tip #1: I have found that colour noise is often present and can disrupt look of the image severely – set the reduction to about 25 (does not damage the image in a major way). Tip #2: In order to see the effects of the detail adjustments, you should be zoomed in to a 100% zoom level or more.
  7. Occasionally, I also add post-crop vignetting and a number of other adjustments, although it is quite rare that I actually go that far in my editing process.

Closing remarks

This is usually what I do with each of my images before uploading them. I believe I am much more picky about which images that I choose to work on today; the images that get chosen are often already quite acceptable from the onset, but the extra effort gives a much more immediate effect when the basic material is better to begin with. My work-flow for editing images has changed quite a bit since I first started taking photos: today, I spend a lot more time editing each image. I think that I have learnt a lot from viewing images taken by other photographers and trying to replicate visual styles. There can be large difference between photographers’ visual preferences, so finding a photographer that you like and follow is a good idea. The key is to experiment and keep using the tools at your disposal until you can create your own style.

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