Friday, February 24, 2012

Post Processing

Mastering sunrise and sunset lighting can be challenging. Personally, I love it. I'd go so far as to say I'm addicted to it. When I'm on the west side of the state I just can't resist photographing a Lake Michigan sunset... summer, winter, spring or fall. But sometimes I just can't get the camera to see things the way I do. I'll play with different settings, change my position, heck, I've even been known to use my manual setting and a grey card the way real photographers do. ;-) It can be especially challenging at this time of year when the sun is low on the horizon all day... once it starts to set it seems to go down so fast. That means you don't have a lot of time to capture that beautiful soft evening light. Add to that the very cold brisk wind off the lake and the finger digits freeze up right quick. Trying to capture the light just right often gets sacrificed to get a nice composition and get back to the warm car! I'm sure you know what I mean.

Thank heavens for post processing options, because that's where I can compensate for my haste to get a picture on the frozen lakeshore... while in my comfy desk chair in my 70F house. When it comes to post processing, there are a lot of options. You can do a little, or a lot. You can even buy filters to do most of the work for you. I'm not going to do an in depth analysis of photo editing software here. My aim is just to show you how I can get a pretty darn good pic out of a sow's ear.

The photo above was taken last weekend at sunset. This photo is what the JPG version looked like right out of the camera. I liked all the textures in the sand, snow, waves, dune grass, and trees but they are all too dark and too hot. That's not the way I saw the sunset at the time. Fortunately, I shoot RAW and JPG images at the same time. Here's what the RAW image looked like.

This image has much better color. It's less red and closer to the way I remember the sunset. But it's still dark and flat and the warm evening light just isn't coming across with the vibrancy I remember.

I opened the photo in Picasa and hit auto contrast, increased the fill light, decreased the saturation, and sharpened it. It's definitely looking better, much closer to the natural lighting. But that's about as far as I can take it in Picasa. I really like Picasa and use it often for pictures that just need a bit of cropping or straightening, or maybe just need to be made a tad brighter. But when you have serious color issues, you really need something with a bit more horsepower.

When I need software with more editing features my go-to program is Photoshop Elements, current version, PSE10. I know, I know, you're wondering why I don't use the full version of Photoshop. I actually have the current version of Photoshop (CS5) and I know how use it well (3 college semesters of it will do that for you ;-) . However, it's a time suck to do everything manually. PSE has all the tools I need and is much more user-friendly. And, you can add filters, brushes, fonts, etc. to it just like you can for the full version of Photoshop. (This is not a sales pitch. I'm not getting paid to promote products from Adobe, Picasa, or anyone else.)

Anyway, so I opened this photo in PSE, played with a bunch of settings and filters which I didn't write down because I was just playing at the time... and this is what I came up with.
I wish I'd paid attention to how much time it took me to play with this pic to get it to this stage but unfortunately I didn't. It took a while though. But I can honestly say that this is much closer to my perception of the sunset at that point in the evening. The camera didn't come close to capturing it, no fault of the camera's though. I just couldn't stand the cold temps long enough to get the settings right. But thanks to post processing, I was able to come close to recreating the soft natural light of that early evening sunset. (Click the image to view it larger and see the soft colors and details.)

How much post processing do you do to your photos? What software do you use? Got any great photos you were able to "save" with post processing?


  1. After listening to a webinar today abt. PS Elements, I find your post much more interesting (since I don't have it). Thanks for the detailed information...I'm learning.

  2. Hello! I'd like to possibly use this photo as the partial basis for a drawing. But I am curious where it was taken!