Modern Creativity

You don't take a photograph, you make it.

Ansel Adams

If Ansel doesn't have you convinced, I'll expend a few more words. Then, when you're trying to explain to your "artsy" friends why you went over to the dark side and are post processing your images instead of being some hipster magician "artist" who gets it perfect in camera, you can simply quote the world's greatest landscape photographer and watch as they back pedal and attempt to dismiss his words.

Post Processing
Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.

Ansel Adams

Post processing is where the magic happens. It's where snapshots turn into fine art photographs. Maybe when you were first getting started, you thought some of your shots were perfect as is (maybe you still do), but go back and look at them in six months after developing your post processing skills and I promise you'll see something you want to change. As you improve you'll begin to wonder how you ever thought your older work looked good. You don't need to drop $1,000+ on the most expensive version of Photoshop or pay Adobe $50 a month of the rest of your life to rent the latest copy. There is cheaper software out there. I don't use Photoshop. I use Lightroom and an assortment of plugins to achieve the effects I get, all of which are now free. The images I create simply can not be captured in camera.

Taking a beautiful picture just doesn't seem to be enough anymore. Any where you look, it's a sea of great shots that all start to look the same after a while. Being in the right place at the right time may be hard enough as it is, but if your picture looks "the same" as the last guy who was standing in or near that spot who also happened to be there at a good time, you've done as next to nothing as you can get without actually forgetting to trigger the shutter. You now have to differentiate your work. There is a growing body of great work out there and if you're only good enough to reproduce it, you'll never stand out. This is where modern creativity comes in. This is where post processing comes in.

Anyone can stand in the right place at the right time and take a well composed, technically correct shot that looks stunning (that just takes a certain amount of dedication, education, and practice). Making something unique that didn't look like the same duplication of that shoot you saw last week on Instagram requires being an artist. It entails making something people have never seen before. It requires post processing.

Now, I'm not talking about going into Photoshop and creating stuff that wasn't already there, e.g. pasting clouds into a blank sky because you weren't lucky enough to have any the day you went out to shoot. That is a genre all unto itself which could never fairly be considered photography. It is not something I practice or encourage, and nor will it ever be. What I am talking about is working with the pixels you have, transforming their particular color values into something completely new. Lost yet? For starters, play with the contrast, adjust the white balance, see what's hiding in the shadows (I'll get into HDR later), see what it looks like in black & white. Programs like Lightroom have a lot of sliders. Go figure out what they all do. Don't make small adjustments, drag each slider back and forth between 0 and 100 (or -100 and +100 as the case may be) to really get a sense for what it's doing. Just experiment. Developing your own look and style takes time. Enjoy the journey. I've been doing this for many years and I'm still developing mine.

Nth Step Process

If you've already bought into post processing and are well versed in the ways of Lightroom, that's excellent. If, however, that's all you're using, then you're cutting the process short. Post processing doesn't end in Lightroom, it begins there. There's an entire world of plugins that can do amazing things that Lightroom simply isn't capable of. The two big plugin collections are Nik and Topaz. Choosing between the two can appear to be an arduous task. Googling "Nik vs Topaz" will bring up an endless list of flame wars, with a third of the audience voting for Nik, another third saying Topaz, and the last third not understanding why anyone needs anything more than Photoshop/Film/other luddite quality arguments. Near as I can tell, Nik and Topaz are roughly comparable in capabilities and mostly redundant with each other. I went with Nik because I liked their interface better. Nik is now completely free, while Topaz offers a free evaluation version for you to decide. If you'd like to follow along with the procedures and advice found later in this book, I'm going to have to recommend you go with Nik, since I have next to no experience with Topaz and won't be covering it.

The reason this section is titled "Nth Step Process" instead of "Two Step Process" is because the process isn't limited to Lightroom and a single plugin. It's very common for me to run a single image through Lightroom, HDR Efex Pro, and Color Efex Pro, doing some touchup in Photoshop, with final adjustments being made back in Lightroom before exporting the completed image. The point I'm making here is that effects can and should be stacked. The further you can get your image from the bland boring original without losing the spirit of what you saw when you first took the picture, the better. Do something crazy with your images. Don't be afraid of extreme color shifts. Pull out every detail you can. And certainly don't be afraid to run it through another plugin to get the exact look you're going for.






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