Photography 101: Another Exercise in Photo Editing

Stephen F. Dennstedt

I am NOT God’s gift to photo editing. But in my defense I’ve never claimed to be. When I switched from film to digital technology in 2009 it presented me with a HUGE learning curve. In the days of film my images (except for some very basic B&W) went to the lab for processing and editing.

I would write my editing notes (cropping, burning & dodging) on a contact print and hope that the lab-weenies would follow my directions. Sometimes they did but oftentimes they did not—and that was frustrating. Now I am in complete control with  my digital editing and I take full responsibility for the outcome.

Today I spend about 25% of my time capturing images in RAW and 75% of my time editing those RAW files. I love having complete creative control over my work and being totally responsible for the good, the bad and the ugly. And make no mistake about I am still fully capable of producing some truly ugly work. But the process is mine with no lab-weenies involved. Photography is an ongoing learning process, to stop learning is to die creatively.

Before – Unprocessed RAW File

We are now in Newcastle, England after spending six months trekking through Iceland, the Irish Republic (Southern Ireland), Northern Ireland and Scotland in the dead of winter. Spring has finally arrived in the UK and all is right with the world—just days ago we were still wearing five layers of winter clothing and now we’re walking around in our shirtsleeves and working on our tans (or sunburns). During our morning walkabout we strolled (yep—old guys stroll, saunter and even sashay on occasion) down the quay on the River Tyne. The ultra modern building in this photo is Sage Gateshead College of musical studies.

After – Processed Final Image

Newcastle is very good at blending the new with the old—if you look closely you will see Saint Mary’s Church originally built in the 13th-Century (the 1200s to be precise) to the right of the college. Juxtaposed new and old architecture can be quite striking sometimes. Unprocessed RAW files usually look pretty lacklustre and it’s up to the photographer to bring the image to life. I was shooting into the sun and the left part of the sky flared badly (Image #1) and the rest washed out. I cropped the in-camera 4:6 aspect ratio to 16:9 (panorama) and worked on the sky. I won’t bore you with the other edit details.

Before – Unprocessed RAW File

My goal with photo editing is to bring out the full potential of the image to closely represent what my eyes actually saw when I snapped the shutter button. I am not a graphic artist, I am a photographer who likes to keep things real. I have no philosophical qualms against heavy photo manipulation it’s just not my style. I like to think of myself as a documentarian with an artistic flare. If I’m shooting as a paid photojournalist for a newspaper or magazine I play it straight down the line in keeping with editorial norms; if I’m shooting for myself I will add in the artistic flare I spoke about.

After – Processed Final Image

Field Notes: I always shoot RAW files—I apply my first edits and convert my RAW files using ACR (Adobe Camera RAW) and upload to PSE15 (Photoshop Elements 15) for more edits. I strive to keep my editing natural and believable and not to over-bake the image—a brittle, crunchy and over saturated image doesn’t appeal to me. I am not trying to create an image I am trying to subtly enhance an image. As a photojournalist I am ethically bound to keep it honest (no cloning, composites or other over the top manipulation). As a recreational photographer I will sometimes take a walk on the dark side. SFD


5 responses to “Photography 101: Another Exercise in Photo Editing

  1. Hats off to you on your Photoshop Elements skills — you’ve made an incredible improvement in both images while still keeping them natural and believable. And isn’t it nice that it’s now a 100% lab-weeine-free process? It’s clear that photography really is an ongoing learning process for you, so I don’t think there’s any risk of your dying creatively. Or me either, for that matter, as long as I keep reading and being inspired by your posts!

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