After Photoshop

There are shots that are created as God intended. Where the conditions, the subject, the technical elements and the composition all line up to create perfection at the moment of capture. Anyone who is an accomplished photographer has experienced this synergetic beauty, and strives to recreate the magic as often as possible.

I’m no exception to this aspiration. I like to think that I’m just as likely as the next pro to make it happen on a regular basis. On the other hand, there are plenty of times when most of the elements line up, but there’s something missing. Maybe it’s a blown exposure, perhaps the subject is making a goofy face when they’re supposed to be stoic, or perhaps, as in this case, the composition is safe but far from captivating.

When I get a shot that’s almost super but not quite, I’ve found a happy solution; throw out the rules and play. Tweak the exposure, add some noise, go grayscale, blow some highlights, block some shadows, rotate, crop and otherwise hammer on the composition.

There are two things that can happen after a bit of playing. One, I’ll look at a bunch of convoluted versions of an average image and still declare that it’s less than stellar and move on to the next image. Or, two, I’ll fall in love with a couple of elements in the image and find a way to highlight these elements while removing distractions.

Before Photoshop
Before Photoshop

In this case, I knew that there was good movement in the foot drag and that the light was fantastic, but I wasn’t in love with the composition, and didn’t find myself overly attached to the colors.

When I cropped into a tight horizontal, so many of the distracting elements were eliminated that the eye now automatically goes to the dragging foot and the dynamic rock and dust explosion. A crop this significant definitely begins to generate potential image quality issues as it takes the 16MP of the Nikon D4s and reduces it to a 6MP file. To combat this, I threw the idea of a technically perfect image out the window and embraced grit. I also generated a black and white conversion that creates a filmic look, therein reducing the expectation of digital perfection. I even added some grain to prove that I’m not messing around. I wanted this image to be dirty.

Whether or not you dig the end result, the primary point stands. You only get a millisecond to capture an image, but you’ve got all of the time in the world to experiment with the results. Why not have some fun and see if you can create something better than before. The creative process for imagery doesn’t end until someone hits print or publish. It’s good to keep playing.

How do you feel about using Photoshop as a creative tool?

5 thoughts on “Photoshop is a Great Place to Play

  1. There is nothing wrong with being creative. As photographers and creative artists the RAW is our canvas and we may decide to leave it empty (i.e. unchanged), work as planned before shooting or simply have fun and play with Photoshop and plug ins and some times even with art filters and other effects offered by our cameras.
    People asking for optimum image quality and then insisting that it has to come straight out of the cam are hypocrites. They probably also like to look at lovely girls but complain about smoothed skin in images. And people telling me all of their images are unchanged and straight out of the camera or out of their RAW converter are relying on the taste of whoever programmed the JPG engine of their cam or the profile they used to convert the RAW.

    Your photos are stunning and i really do not care what you did to make them look the way they do. 🙂 Sabine

    1. Sabine, thanks so much for the comments. Very interesting point about how much control is taken behind the scenes by the cameras and software automatically processing the files before we even touch them. Glad you dig the work. Cheers!

  2. Great example! Love the final image–the composition is much more engaging, and I think that image is much more about the rim light and the dust being illuminated than the colors, so I really enjoy the black and white version. If the colors don’t add anything, then why not get rid of them? There is so much power and creative freedom these days in post, and so much similarity in the physical gear that most photographers have, that I think it’s a missed opportunity and an incomplete process if you don’t continue to create after you’ve released the shutter.

    1. Thanks for the comment! Glad you liked the example, and great point about the similarity of the gear vs. the creative freedom in post, I totally agree that a lot of the individuality we enjoy in imagery these days is created after capture. That said, it’s amazing when you hand the same scene and the same camera to 10 good photographers how you’ll get 10 completely different results. We can just be thankful that the tools on both side of the equation are as good as they are!

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