Warning: this is all about photo processing; if not interested, just look at the photos or watch this slideshow:
Slideshow of Photo Processing Tools (40 photos)
Readers occasionally comment favorably on my photos . . . and I typically downplay any thoughts that my skills as a photographer are of any note. This is especially true when I look at what some people do with their photos.
At the center of it all is the postprocessing of photos. There are numerous classes and countless free videos dealing with processing photos of all manner of subjects . . . animals, pets, architecture, landscape, macro, and the list goes on and on.
What you see in many of these tutorials are tools employed to process not the photo as a whole, but individual adjustments — shadows, darks, light, highlights, midrange, hue, tonality, white balance, vibrance, saturation, clarity, texture, etc. — applied in different amounts on different parts of the photo (through masking).
That’s a photo taken 18 years ago with the Nikon D100 camera. In the past 18 years, the capability of photo processing software has greatly increased. I could be wrong, but I attribute it in part to the continuing hardware and software advances of digital cameras; there’s just much more information to work with than what you had with film.
This is where someone will call me out as not knowing what the heck I’m talking about. They could be right, but my statement is in part referencing the limitations of what I could do. I don’t have an example of the original processing of this photo, but I have an example from 2013 . . .
Compare that to this version that I just processed . . .
I cropped it a bit more, and it’s sharper, perhaps too much so if you look at it at 100% magnification (the other is perhaps too soft). Here’s the monochrome version I just processed . . .
Monochrome photos, just like color photos, have a lot of options and ‘looks’ . . . if you like the above look, great; if not, I have hundreds of other looks I could offer up (but won’t).
Those are examples of global adjustments and the nine years difference doesn’t produce drastically different results. Global adjustments act on the whole photo, and as such, there’s a limit to what you can achieve even now, especially on photos with wide dynamic ranges (the difference between the darkest areas and the lightest areas).
True, some adjustments affect only shadows, or only highlights, or only one color, and so on, but they act globally as opposed to adjusting only one area of a photo and excluding a different area.
This next photo is another example of global adjustments, albeit these are directed by AI software. That means the software guesses what the photo is supposed to look like based on having ‘learned’ from having scanned many other similar photos, and makes adjustments based on what it has learned.
That’s literally a couple of clicks. I got a similar result years ago by moving a number of sliders around, but it took more effort.
In these next two pairs of photos, I masked the sky and treated it differently than the rest of the photo. So, it’s no longer global adjustments because I make different adjustments for different parts of the photo. Still, they’re not refined adjustments because within each of the areas (sky and ground) I apply adjustments to the entires masked area. You can see that the very peak of the mountain in the first pair gets a bit blown out.
That’s one of my favorite shots from the site, and the above is the best that I’ve been able to do with a photo that had a fair amount of issues. Below is a previous attempt using strictly global sliders and manually adjusting levels of shadows, highlights, etc.
It’s a matter of preference as to which photo you like best, but for me, the current processing is much better. (keep in mind WP doesn’t flatter photos; to see how they look, click on each of them)
Some photos can pass with very minor adjustments, and global processing is sufficient. Here are three pairs of photos where the AI and global tweaks produce decent results without resorting to localized adjustments (except for the puma’s eye).
Here’s an example where I used multiple masks because global adjustments weren’t cutting it.
There are a number of ways one can create a mask; by subject, color, luminance, manual selection, and so on. I’m not saying that’s the best result for that photo, but it shows how you can apply different adjustments to different areas of the photo.
Sometimes the photo might just need a bit of noise reduction and sharpening . . .
Here is another example where you can’t just brighten everything and where selective adjustments can bring out details in the shadows without blowing away the highlights or messing with the bright areas.
Again, one could argue about tinting or white balance, but the point is that localized adjustments give a more balanced look to the photo.
Sometimes the photo is just ‘soft’ and needs a bit of punch. This is true for most of my photos because I shoot with little to no on-camera processing. This is another case where it was beneficial to process the sky separately.
The most difficult scenes to process (for me) are those with red rocks . . .
When it comes to red rocks, there is a fine line between too little and too much . . . and also to get the saturation and contrast right. In this shot, the distant hills were processed separately.
This next shot is an example of first using a global approach and then using multiple masks and trying to balance the scene without making it unrealistic. The big problem in this photo is the dynamic range; a very bright horizon and sky and a very dark (from a passing cloud) foreground. I should have bracketed the photo and then merged them . . . or waited for the cloud to pass.
I think I (maybe) managed to overcome the challenge. This is the first time I processed this photo and was happy enough with the results to share them, and that goes both for the global and the masked versions . . .
I think I used four or five masks . . . I like the results from using masks a bit more than the global adjustments version, but — as always — it’s subjective.
How about the monochrome version of it?
The fact that I normally process multiple photos for a given post is why — when comparing the results of the global adjustment version (which took minimal time) to the results from using masks (which took considerably longer) — I’m not moved to put the effort into masking and local adjustments.
That’s especially true when the photos are just going into a blog post that — on a good day — maybe 15 people will see. More importantly, of those 15, probably only 2 or 3 will give the photos more than a passing glance.
So, yes . . . adjusting the scene using masks yields (marginally) better results, and that would matter if I printed the photo to either sell or hang on my wall.
Here are a few recent photos processed a bit more carefully and using masks. Not that different from what I’ve shared, but if compared side-by-side, one could discern subtle differences.
This last photo is an old one (2004) . . . and I should have masked and tweaked more components, but there’s something else I consider when processing photos . . . the amount of time spent versus the expected payoff. In this case, I deemed it good enough.
I also ran the above in Topaz Sharpen AI and DeNoise AI, and it may be a bit overdone, but I was rushing because my interest in the effort was waning. What I should have done is make hue/tint/color adjustments for each of the masks, which I did not do.
Maybe something like this . . .
. . . but who’s got the time?
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