Lightroom Workflow: Mundane to Beautiful

Making better pictures comes in three forms - better setup, better composition, and better post production.  You will make your best shots if you improve in each of these areas.  So, today, I'm going to share a technique I've used in my Lightroom workflow to take boring and bad photos to make them beautiful in post production.  Here's where we're going to go:

The Final Product from my Lightroom Workflow!

So, the final product looks pretty good here, right?  It means we must have had a keeper to begin with, right?  Well, not necessarily - the first shot looked like it was under-exposed, and could easily have been thrown out.  Take a look:

The Beginning before my Lightroom workflow!

Yeah, it looks pretty bland - there's no pop, the shadows are too dark, the blues in the sky are bland, and it's something that we might just blow past as an under-exposed shot.  The truth is though - we've gotta trust the histogram when using our Lightroom workflow.  Take a look:

Histogram in my Lightroom Workflow

What we have to remember is that there are no blown highlight details or shadow details lost according to our histogram.  We've got detail on both ends.  What the histogram is telling us though, is that more of our photo is in shadow than in highlights.  We do have some of both, but we need to bring some balance to it.  So, let's get started!

Step One in my Lightroom Workflow

Step 1

In getting started, we need to bring out the shadow detail more, but I also want to bring some of those highlights down a little too, because it just looks a little too harsh.  Here's the default scene inside of Lightroom.  Let's see what happens when we bring the highlights down - and when I say "down", I mean way down!

Step Two in my Lightroom Workflow

See how the harshness of the sky on the right has been pulled back?  Much better, but we still need to bring out some of that shadow detail on the next step in the Lightroom workflow, so, let's take a look:

Step 2

Step Three in my Lightroom Workflow

Now we're talking!  We can see the details in the red rocks.  It's still kind of bland though, without a lot of pop to it.  This is where the Clarity, Vibrance, and Saturation sliders for my Lightroom workflow come into play.  Here, it's a matter of personal tastes, and any one persons preferences are so subjective, I don't want to say "Do it this way".  But, for my taste, I like my pictures to pop, so here's my results from adjusting the CVS sliders:

Step 3

Step Four in my Lightroom Workflow

Remember, it's just my personal tastes, but I like the settings of 50-15-15 through to really get some eye-dropping pop in my photos.  It's pretty nice, but if I push these sliders much further, it will start to look garish.  This means I need to dabble a little with the tone curve in my Lightroom workflow to get the pop that I am looking for.  So, in remembering the histogram, I am wanting a bit more detail from the dark and the bright areas need to pop a little more too without getting lighter.  Here's where I made some tone curve adjustments:

Step 4

Step Five in my Lightroom Workflow

The pop is really starting to take shape here...but the red still need a little more brightness to them to really keep the look and feel consistent wit what I want the image to look like once all is said and done.  To do that, I dive into the color palette, grab the red luminosity slider in my Lightroom workflow and crank it up all the way.  The results are pretty nice!

Step 5

Step Six in my Lightroom Workflow

With the develop panel moving down toward the bottom, I am revealing the details of what I did wrong during capture...my ISO settings were too high given the exposure levels!  I was shooting at 1/800th of a second, and my ISO was at 800 as well!  It's an "oops" for sure, but thankfully, we can compensate for it thanks to the benefits of our Lightroom workflow and it's noise reduction feature.  We'll also take care of our post production sharpening here too.  Remember, less is more (over-sharpening leads to halos, and over-application of the noise reduction tends to cause a buttery fake look to images).  But, we still need to take care of the details:

Step 6

Step Seven in my Lightroom Workflow

It's at this point when I noticed a dust bunny from my lens (see near the top of the sky).  So, I headed back up to the top of the Develop Module to take care of business:

Step 7

Step Eight in my Lightroom Workflow

Now that I've fixed the dust bunny, it's time to move onto my final step..my lens correction!  No matter how good your lens is, there are imperfections, from chromatic aberrations to edge distortions.  The general rule of thumb is that the wider the lens, the more edge distortion there is.  Since I shot this with my 10-22 which is an ultra-wide, there's some substantial distortion to fix.  So, let's take a look:

Step 8

Step Nine in my Lightroom Workflow

At this point, I've pretty much done all the edits I need.  The image went from mundane to beautiful, and is something worth sharing with the world!  What do you think?  Any developing techniques you've learned about my Lightroom workflow that you'd like to share?  Sound off in the comments with what you like and what you'd change in this 8 step Lightroom post process!

For those of you that prefer audio/video tutorials, I've done a short YouTube video walking through my Lightroom Workflow. It's a lot faster than the read, but some details are lost if you tend to go after minutia:

Color Mechanics and Your Camera

Flower

When it comes to photography, one of the most important things to consider outside of composition is color mechanics.  Color mechanics and how your camera interprets color is always a topic that makes for great discussion.  In fact,  I've touched on the topic of color and your camera/monitor as it relates to photography in the past.  Here are some articles I've written that speak to color and your camera:

Color and It's Impact on File Size

The Power of Color

5 Elements of Control #2 - Color

Hot and Cold Lighting

Each of these speaks to how color mechanics can be so powerful in your imagery, whether it's file size, the power of it in composition, or even it's impact on lighting.  What I came across yesterday, just added another element to the larger discussion...editing and post production!  The video came through my email via Digg on Sunday. If you're interested in the mechanics, math, and such of how color is calculated for digital displays, specifically when editing - this is a must see!

Clearly, the concept of color mechanics really can be discussed and evaluated to the Nth degree. That said, some content does better than others at demonstrating and explaining it clearly and in an understandable format.  I've tried on the occasions referenced above, but the video was such a cool way to explain it, figured it would be worth sharing.

Conclusion

All that said, what are your thoughts on color in photography?  Are you in agreement that color is a fundamental topic of importance that needs understanding?  Or do you think that color mechanics is not as important in the grand scheme of things?  What other topics or talking points would you consider "fundamental" to understanding photography?

The Ten Most Iconic Photographs of All Time!

The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17

I am being absolutely arbitrary and subjective here.  These are my thoughts on the history of photography.  Some of these photos were even taken before I was born.  Nevertheless, in my own studies, and in always looking for inspiration, I've either seen or stumbled across some of the most iconic photographs of all time.  Some of these are pretty shocking.  Others are just amazing for the serendipitous moment in time that they captured.  Yet all of them as photographs make a statement.  They tell a story, capture a moment in time, and most importantly, grab your attention!

This is just my opinion - others may have different ones (and you are welcome to them).  I've tried to make selections that touch on all facets of life, including sports, journalism, and exploration.  After all, photography is about sharing a vision you have with the world.  Here, in no particular order, are ten of the most powerful visions I've ever seen.

Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima

1.  Raising of the Flag at Iwo Jima (as displayed from the Wikipedia page)

Why I think this image deserves to be in the Top Ten:  First off, I am biased.  The patriotic nature of this image at suggesting the indomitable nature of American spirit and pride is definitely present.  Second, I believe this image shows that soldiers in the face of almost insurmountable odds were able to accomplish their goal.  Third, the photograph is both topical for the time, and really amazes you when you think about what the photographer also must have gone through to capture the image.  Finally, the composition is also one that really draws your eye to one and only one thing in the image - the flag.

 Challenger_Explosion

2.  Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster (from the Wikipedia Page)

I lived through this.  I remember the sickening feeling, and the absolute horror I felt when this happened.  At what was probably the peak of space exploration, the Challenger Explosion shocked not only the U.S.A., but the entire world.  In the aftermath of the ordeal, it seems like every country on the planet reached out to us in our time of sorrow.  That being said, the story it told was pretty compelling.  It was clear there were no survivors.  It was pretty clear what had happened.  Yet look at this photograph again.  Will you ever see anything like this again in your lifetime?  I hope not.  The plumage of smoke and debris is definitely iconic.  No one will ever forget, and space exploration has changed forever as a result of this.  That is iconic.

Marilyn Monroe

3. Marilyn Monroe - Pose from "The Seven Year Itch" 

Marilyn Monroe defined an era.  Her role in "The Seven year Itch" really was an incredible one in how photography and video changed the roles of women.  The idea of sex was now out in the open, and (I think) it is largely thankful to this photograph.  Men wanted her, and women wanted to be her.  Heck, I've seen photographers re-create this scene in tribute to her and the era.  It brought the idea out that women can be sexy and beautiful, and still maintain the admiration of the country, if not the world.  The pose is now known as the Marilyn Pose, and the dress is equally imitated.  I don't know how else to define iconic, but this works for me.

I Have a Dream

4. Martin Luther King - "I Have a Dream" from Wikipedia

Martin Luther King represents so much to so many people.  He was a visionary, a man who spoke of principles and whose actions followed his guiding principles.  At a time of serious change in society, his vision captured the essence of changes in society, which was no better exemplified than in this image showing the millions who turned out on the Washington Mall to hear him speak.  The photograph speaks volumes, speaks to so many, and really sparked a major change in societal views in the United States.  That's iconic!

Omayra Sanchez

5. Omayra Sanchez, captured mere minutes before her death - from Wikipedia

This image personified the notion of photographers as journalists, and while many more have come before and even after, the human condition here was so powerful, for a photographer to have the fortitude to document the story really amazes me.  The backstory here is that a volcano erupted in Colombia, and international criticism resulted from the lack of a response from the government, as well as backlash at the photographer for even daring to take the photo (this happened in 1985).  The girls bravery, courage, and dignity speaks to the truest sense of what we all should aspire to be even in the face of the grimmest fears imaginable.  I am not sure I could do that.  Definitely iconic.

6.  Kennedy Salute - from his Wikipedia page entry

JFK Jr. was a mere baby when his father was shot in 1963 - he was 3 years old!  While the assassination of JFK is probably one of the most sobering moments in recent U.S. history, the image, captured by Stan Stearns, showing a child's symbolic gesture truly touched the hearts of everyone worldwide.  His own untimely passing some 36 years later was also met with the sadness of a nation.  The photograph itself though, remains as a symbol of both those who have gone before us, and of potential for future promise.  Now granted, my own bias toward U.S. history is evident, I've not seen image from other countries that span generations as powerful as this.  Iconic, for sure!

7. The Earth from Times Square (source: Wikipedia)

Possibly one of my ow favorites, because it really proves the whole idea of changing perspectives.  Before this shot, taken from Apollo 17, the whole idea of capturing our entire world in a single photograph was one of science fiction, not science.  It also changed the perception we as humans have of our planet.  We are no longer bound by its gravity!  It speaks to the whole idea of exploration, and changing your vision.  How more visionary can one get than this?  To me, this is nothing but iconic!

 

8.  Tank Man - Tianamen Square: (source: Wikipedia)

Staring down the barrel of a canon's gun in Tianamen Square in China, a still unknown protestor literally stood alone against the oppressive forces of the government.  And it wasn't just one tank,not even two, or three,  it was four tanks!  Yeah, if this were me, I would have yielded!  Heck, I yield in my car to an 18-wheeler... And to think of what was going through the mind of the photographer who captured this image, both when he took it, and how he was still able to get out of China to share the image with the AP to share with the world.  Pretty darn amazing!  It told the story of what was going on inside the border of China better than anything else.  The truest juxtaposition of all - human spirit standing up in a non-violent protest against the tyranny of its government.  Reports after this are inconclusive both to the identity of the man, his whereabouts or what happened, but the photographer defintely captured an iconic moment in world history!

V J Day in Times Square

9.  VJ Day in Time Square (source: Wikipedia)

Photographs, more than anything else, tell stories of the human condition.  This spontaneous kiss in NYC, came shortly after WWII was over, when the announcement was made by then-President Truman. I think this stands as one of the most iconic photographs ever, and also typifies the spontanaity that is the essence of photo-journalism.  Many kisses and photographs since have been done in homage to this scene.  It also expresses the virtue of "love" over "war".  Talk about iconic...

Phantom Punch

10. Phantom Punch: Clay vs. Liston (source: PTLDME)

As a sports fan, I had to include a photograph from the Sports World, but with so many to choose from, this was probably one of the most difficut for me to choose.  Buckner's error? Willie Mays over-the-shoulder catch? I could go on and on.  Many are iconic.  I chose this one because of the story.

Normally in a boxing match, when an opponent is knocked to the ground, the standing person retreats to their corner.  Clay did no such thing, as shown in the photo.  He stood over Liston shouting at him to "Get Up and Fight".  There were accusations of a phantom punch, Liston taking a fall because he was in debt to the Mob, and many other rumors.  Nevertheless, the image is pretty incredible.  A thundering man, apparently having knocked another down, and still showing the fury, and challenging him to continue was an incredible moment in Sports History. To me, this is iconic!

My opinions are just that - mine.  This is not authoritative. In fact, the comments are there for you to share your own thoughts on the most iconic images of all time.

Think about it...find the images yourselves, and if they are open to share (think Wikipedia or other GNU applicable sources), feel free to share them.  Ultimately the goal is to find photographs that are compelling, inspiring, and define the human condition.  As someone once said (I think it was Joe McNally), emotion trumps everything.  If you find images that bring out an emotional response, it has accomplished its goal.  The most emotional images are likely the most inspiring...and the most iconic.  The above photos I believe are all emotional and iconic!

****