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?

Picking a Good Flash Battery for Your Gear

Eneloop Batteries from Sanyo
Eneloop flash battery
Eneloop flash battery

As with anything, photographers perform a natural progression with their flashes.  We start with the built-in flash, then quickly move to an added flash.  Said flash then becomes external, but still tethered to the camera, until finally we liberate the flash from the camera via wireless triggers and remote control.  Through all of it, we need to fire these flashes with some power source.  Inevitably, the question comes up about what flash battery is best for your gear and needs.

There are lots of flash battery options out there with options in every category from type of battery (alkaline, NiMh, and LiOn) to vendor (Sony, Sanyo, Duracell, Energizer, etc.), milliamps (1500 vs 2000 vs 2400), and then of course the never-ending debate over chargeable versus rechargeable.  As always, your mileage may vary, but I've always found some of the best results come from my usage of the Sanyo Eneloop brand.  These are rechargeable batteries and the ones I've used are the 1500 milliamp variety.

They've  been good, but after a couple years of usage and re-usage, it became time to get a whole new set.  So, I set out to look at how the landscape has changed in the battery realm.  Here's a couple things to consider:

1.  Normal versus Rechargeable:  This was almost a no-brainer given the cost per battery...go with rechargeable batteries.  After recharging, you can reduce your cost per charge down to mere pennies instead of even a dollar per battery with regular alkaline flash battery options.  The question is really whether you should choose the Nickel Metal Hydride batteries (NiMh) or the Lithium Ion (LiOn).  The difference lies in your intended usage and needs.  The NiMh flash battery apparently charge much more quickly, but also deplete more quickly, and take fewer charges.  Conversely, LiOn flash battery does last longer, but also take longer to charge.  Additionally, you can also likely get more recharges out of these.  Of course, the downside is that the latter are a tad pricier.

2. Brand Stength:  Here I really think it comes down to personal preference.  Just like the Coke vs Pepsi, Ford vs Chevy, Canon vs Nikon, Mac vs PC debates, if you are strongly inclined by one brand or another, there is a battery out there that will work for you.  Pick your poison for whichever flash battery best suits your needs!

3.  Milliamps:  I liken the milliamps (mA) power of a battery to the Megapixels of a camera.  You can never have enough, and the race for more will never end.  Just a few years ago, a AA battery that had 1500 mA was cooking with gas.  Nowadays, that's pretty much the norm and 2400 or more is desired.  There have been some reports of the higher powered ones overheating and cooking your flash, so I tend to shy away from the onces that are juiced the most.  As always, your mileage may vary.

So, there ya have it - 3 factors to consider when buying flash battery for your gear.  What did I end up going with?  Sanyo Eneloop Pros - the 2000 mA variety:

I got some AA's for my flashes, and some AAA's for my wireless triggers...along with the charger and it was less than $40 after shipping...not too shabby imho.  What are your favorite batteries for your gear?