The Power of Proper Processing

Morkel Erasmus All Authors, Morkel 9 Comments

Post-processing is a big part of the digital photography milieu. Love it or hate it – your photo is pretty much 50% done after capturing a RAW file on your camera in the field. The rest of the work is bringing your vision to fruition – whether that is rendering the image as close to reality as possible, or whether processing to accentuate the mood and emotions you felt as you took the photo, or going for something in between.

Many people struggle with the finer details of post-processing, and our aim at Wild Eye is to make those intricacies and daunting workflow steps a little easier to grasp and to incorporate into your own craft. If you have been following the blog for some time, you would have seen some nice tutorials posted already…however, many of those only cover the use of Adobe Lightroom. That’s not a bad thing – as Lightroom is fast becoming the most used photo processing platform and it’s also the most intuitive and it’s not too hard to deliver decent results from it.

As far as I can recall, there are only 2 tutorials on the blog thus far that cover steps you can take in Photoshop. Photoshop is to many an Achilles’ Heel because of its inherent complexity and the difficulty to know what to do in order to properly process a photo. I use both Lightroom and Photoshop in my workflow – some may say I’m old-school and some may say that I make too much work, but I just love the power of Photoshop. Lightroom is great for detail RAW conversion and catalogue management, but I rarely, if ever, output a photo from Lightroom and feel like I’m done processing it.

Let me show you what I mean by going in-depth into the various stages of an image as I take it through my workflow, starting in Lightroom and ending in Photoshop.

This photo was taken on one of our Great Migration safari’s to the Mara Triangle in September 2013. These 3 majestic elephant bulls were walking along the plains under some brooding clouds (it started to rain shortly after this was taken). I knew immediately that I wanted to show the intense contrasts of the open plains, the elephants and the stormy clouds…but upon looking at my photos I realised I was losing a lot of detail in the elephants in trying to capture the darker tones of the sky (the light was very low at this stage, around sunset with cloud cover all around).

I deliberately overexposed the photo, you will see here, to capture as much detail in the shadows and dark tones as possible, being careful not to blow out the highlights (using my histogram to check on the camera LCD).

1. Original RAW capture

Nothing done. Just as you see it on the back of the camera.

2. Crop and minor RAW adjustments in Lightroom

Here I applied a slight crop for better impact, adjusted the exposure slightly and made sure I adjusted the tonal and sharpening and contrast sliders to taste. You won’t see a big difference here, especially at this small resolution.


3. Create a 2nd exposure from the RAW file in Lightroom

Here I used the same shot as in (2), but adjusted the exposure down to get the best detail and tone for the storm clouds in the background. I brought this 2nd version into Photoshop and layered it on top of the brighter version above.


4. Blend the 2 versions/exposures together via a luminosity mask

This sounds very fancy and it requires  few blog posts separately to explain – but suffice it to say you use the brightness of tone to blend the images together, in order to get the sky looking true to what you saw and to get optimal detail/exposure in the foreground/elephants. I can do this using only one exposure, via a somewhat similar method, but by working up 2 separate versions of the RAW file you ensure the best possible file quality.

After this, I applied a variety of techniques specific in my workflow to get to the final “colour” version of my image. This would include levels adjustments, selective dodging and burning and also adding some “Local Contrast Enhancement” to specific areas of the photo.


5. Lastly, I get to my original intent with the image – a moody monochrome rendition

This shot was one of those that I knew in the field would end up like this. Not all successful monochrome images start out that way, but I’ve found out the ones that worked out best for me usually do. In conversion I pay careful attention on how I filter/convert certain colour spectrums in order to get the desired look and feel I am after, and then further enhance that with careful dodging, burning and other selective adjustments.


There you have it.

I’m not saying you can’t get the exposure balanced nicely if you work only in Lightroom, and you certainly can convert to monochrome in Lightroom, but there’s just a level of control possible in Photoshop that I can’t replicate in Lightroom. Lightroom is an awesome tool for an all-round catalogue-processing-package and it’s got its place in my workflow, but Photoshop is where my images come into their own and reach the potential I see in them.

I will be hosting 4 one-day processing workshops (Photoshop based) at the Wild Eye office in Fourways, Johannesburg, throughout 2014. You can see all the details (dates, cost, etc) HERE. Attending these is obviously only really feasible if you live in the greater Gauteng area (or close to it) or if you will coincidentally be in the area at the right time. We are working on a plan to make this workshop available to international participants soon. This is feasible for a dial-in/Skype type session only if you live in more-or-less the same timezone as South Africa, so we might have to look at other alternatives as well. Keep your eye on the blog for details on this as it becomes available.

I hope I have at least inspired you to develop your own processing skills and expand your workflow some more!


Morkel Erasmus

* * *

Morkel’s links:

Comments 9

  1. Nancy Moon

    Morkel, I have read through this email maybe 7 times now, I’m so impressed with how this image evolved. The end result is so gorgeous and dramatic, very inspirational. If you end up teaching LR so New Yorkers can participate, please let me know. Thank you.

    1. Post
  2. L'aura

    Thanks for the recap of your process! I’ve been playing with this idea – photos that I just loved when I took them not having the impact of being there so I turn them monochrome. So far I’ve done all my work in Lightroom, but I’ll try your blending suggestion in photoshop now! Thanks!

    1. Post
  3. Chris

    Thanks Dude. I am only working in light room at the moment but will consider a photo shop workshop to maximise the potential of the image. Thanks for your “sharing” approach to nature photography. Most won’t share. Regards Chris

    1. Post
  4. Jacqueline Deely

    Hello Morkel,

    I really appreciate your explanation of how to transformed this image in your post-processing. I too use LR and PS, but have never considered blending images to achieve these type of amazing results. I am excited to give it a go myself! Thank you!

    1. Post
  5. Nancy Moon

    Hi Morkel, I’m reading this blog again. Yes I’m the gal who already read this a lot (7 times, see above). I’m joining you in a week for the Safari in Masai Mara. I know we discuss goals. OK. Here you have it, Moody. Dramatic. Monochromatic. I keep coming back to this image you took. I know I’ll find my own style and can’t wait to see what that might be. Thank you for all of the smart posts. Nancy Moon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *