“Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.”
“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.
If I said these words to many people, including (the 'PURIST Photographers'), they would say I was cheating, that my images were not 'honest'. They might have that opinion of me BUT I didn't say these words. The great Ansel Adams, the man most photographers consider the best landscape photographer of all time, did say them. Ansel is considered by most photography scholars to be a great photographer and a Master Printer. He would spend the whole day in the darkroom working on a single image. He would dodge and burn all his prints and would use an enlarger to crop around the edges of his prints. Am I saying that I feel any image manipulation is alright? Nope, at least not for me. I will extract something out of my images but would not, as an example, add a elephant to a beautiful river scene. Do I object anyone else doing that? Yes, unless they tell the viewer upfront. Is this me doing one thing but saying another? I do not think so. You may but that's okay.
RAW shooters: The RAW format is actually what your camera sees. It creates a big file with all the required raw information, untouched, and delivers it to you for your processing pleasure. I would guess that almost all professional photographers shoot in RAW.
A RAW image is seriously an ugly image. The colors are bland and lack contrast and saturation.
A RAW image is equivalent to a negative. It needs to be processed to make the true picture appear. The difference is that the darkroom has been replaced by a software on a computer. It takes less space and does the same thing without the chemical fumes.
I will now try and walk you through my Post Processing Steps for one image. It could and most likely would change for another image.
The picture above is a RAW file that I have imported into Lightroom 5. You can see it is not a very attractive image.
This next picture, made from a Raw file, has been processed it in Lightroom's Develop module. You can see some of the adjustments I have made in the right panel and also on the left in the history section. I am not going over each adjustment individually because quite frankly, it wouldn't be much help to you unless you were working on this same image. You can see that I adjusted almost every slider in the basic section on the right including cropping to a 8X10 size image. By doing so, I eliminated the twig in the bottom of the picture (not the only way I could have taken it out). In the history section, you can see that I adjusted the Camera Profile Section. I always adjust that section for every image.
To get a more JPEG-like starting place for your raw image, here's what to do; Go to the develop module and scroll down to the Camera Calibration panel. There's a Profile pop-up menu near the top of this panel where you'll find a number of profiles based on your camera's make and model (It reads the image file's embedded EXIF data to find this). Not all camera brands or models are supported but most recent Nikon and Canon DSLRs are along with some Pentax, Sony, Olympus, Leica and Kodak models. (Lightroom is adding more each year) These profiles mimic camera profiles you could have applied in-camera (but are ignored when you shoot in RAW). The default profile is Adobe Standard which looks pretty average, if you ask me. (THIS LAST PARAGRAPH IS TAKEN FROM SCOTT KELBY's LIGHTROOM 4 BOOK) Scott's books are a must read for new Lightroom users, in my opinion)
I use one of the profiles in this image called the Camera Landscape profile. When I am photographing nature or landscapes, I always use this profile. Try it once and I think you will make it a 'must do' adjustment. You can see a major improvement in the image already but I am not through.
By the way, a little suggestion from me when your using LR 4 or 5. The Noise Reduction Section is fantastic. I no longer use a third party program to reduce noise because that's how good it is. The Sharpening Section though really improved over previous editions of LR is not my first choice for most images. I feel that Photoshop's Smart Sharpening is far superior.
If you look in the basic section, you can see a Highlight slider and a Shadow slider which is basically a way to dodge or burn your images. Ansel would have loved these sliders, to a point. The sliders Dodge and Burn globally, which means they address the whole image not just a part. With some other tools in LR , PS and third party products, you can do spot adjustments. I'll mention one of these coming up. But now onto Photoshop, which I travel to by right clicking my mouse and picking export to Photoshop.
We are now in the Photoshop editor. I will extract some small things that bother me using a combination of the spot healing brush and content aware tool. In this image, it was some of the dark spots of dirt. From here, I will then export the image into a third party filter named Color Efex Pro 4 by Nik Filters (this is my go to digital filter).
The filter I use the most is the Tonal Contrast Filter which has four settings. The Fine Setting or Standard Setting are my usual choices depending on the image. The other filter that I use in almost every image is the Darken/Lighten Center filter. With this, I have more control over which small sections I want to burn or dodge. It's a great tool. I think Ansel would be using it today.
After I am finished in Nik, I travel back to PS where usually all I have left is sharpening in the Smart Sharpen Tool. In this Screen Shot, you can see my settings for this and most landscape or nature images. I am not saying this is the only setting or the best one. It's just mine.
I would like to make a few final points. The title of this post includes the words 'MY Post Processing Steps'. In NO way am I stating that this is the best or the singular method and you need to follow from point to point. I am just saying it's my way and it's an answer to questions people have asked about how I post process and what tools I use.
If you follow my post, you may have noticed that I do not call my images, pictures. The reason for this is that I feel what comes out of the camera is indeed a picture. But it's not until I work on it, making it the best I can, that produces the final product. In my mind, then, it's an image!!