Why I Post-Process My Images – Part 3 – Composition

In this final entry, I want to talk a little bit about using post-processing for “composition. Generally, I do not like this idea. I think it detracts from the “mission” of the photographer, to make compelling images with her camera. But sometimes is it a useful part of the process.

Split Rock Light
Two Harbors, MN
Copyright Andy Richards 2010


I don’t generally plan to use post-processing software for composition. But sometimes I do, and sometimes I consider it expedient and maybe even unavoidable. Knowing that post-processing can be done opens up new options while shooting. For example, sometimes I leave a little space in an image, knowing I may well want to crop the image in post-processing. Sometimes you want to rid the image of an unwanted element. Photoshop has an artificially intelligent algorithm these days called “content-aware.” It allows things to be removed and/or moved around in an image without having to make a lot of steps that one would have been necessary. The Split Rock Light, taken in the early morning light, is converted from ACR without any adjustments, and saved as a JPEG.

Split Rock Light
Two Harbors, MN
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

In the next shot, I made some adjustments to brighten up the shadow areas, and “correct” the colors to match my memory of the scene. We were planning to return later that night to photograph the light when it was operational – something that is only done on special occasions.

In fairness, most of these areas are there for all visitors, not just us photographers

Because it was an “event,” you can see the white “event tent” at the bottom left of the lighthouse building in the “out-of-camera” version. This was a pretty simple task for Photoshop’s “content-aware” tool (new in 2010). We all have times when we have something like this to deal with. Perhaps the most often is people in an image where you don’t really want them. Content aware makes it much easier to shoot those scenes (perhaps thinking about how the tool will work and where you position the people in the image). Sometimes at crowded sites, this is unavoidable. I have waited impatiently in the past for them to clear out. These days I may still wait, but if it looks impossible, I think about the post-processing tools available to me. And in fairness, most of these areas are there for all visitors, not just us photographers :-).

Golden Gate Bridge;
San Francisco, CA
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge has to be one of the most photographed bridges in the world. With the unique atmospherics created by the “Golden Gate” (passage from San Francisco Bay into the Pacific Ocean, there are many dramatic photo-opportunities for this bridge. Perhaps unfortunately, on my visit to San Francisco in 2011, we did not get over there during any of the foggy periods. Over a couple different visits, I have taken numerous shots from different perspectives (most probably already take by dozens of other photographers). Shooting from the Marin Headlands one late afternoon above the bridge, I spotted this commercial ship making its way into the Golden Gate. I wanted a shot of the ship, framed by the bridge, with San Francisco in the background. Placement of the ship in the frame was something I thought about and even planned in framing the shot. Obviously a moving target, I made several frames. When I looked back afterward, For one reason or another, I just didn’t like the elements of any of the shot or two placing the ship where I wanted it in the image. So, using Photoshop’s “content aware move tool,” I moved the ship in the frame I like best slightly forward. This is something that skilled Photoshop users have been able to do for years. But there is some skill and experience involved in doing it seamlessly. Content Aware makes it much easier. In many cases there is no other work necessary after the move.

Painted Ladies
San Francisco, CA
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

The “Painted Ladies” are an iconic group of rowhouses in San Francisco. I had seen, and wanted to make this shot, with the city in the background. The scene is fronted by a large park, about a city block in size, that is mostly lawn, sloping down toward the street and the houses. I could not find a vantage point that didn’t include the street in front of the houses. Nothing wrong with that, by my vision was of the row houses and the street was cluttered – mostly with vehicles. So I once again went to work in Photoshop. My first thought was that the photo didn’t lend itself to the camera’s native rectangular aspect (roughly 8 x 12). So I did some serious cropping – mostly of the foreground. This suited my visionl, anyway, as there were lots of people out on the lawn, enjoying the sunny afternoon. The rest was a lot of fiddly cloning, in order to remove the cards and retain some foreground in the image. I am sure a veteran Photoshopper could spot some things I could have done better, but I was pretty satisfied with the resulting image.

Glade Creek Gristmill
Babcock State Park, WV
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

The images of the Grist Mill I have used in this series were taken under perhaps the most challenging conditions I have ever faced. I will probably jinx myself here for saying this, but over the years, I have been fortunate with weather conditions when I have traveled for a shoot. This time – not so much. We arrived in past-peak foliage conditions and in a downpoor. The next day was not much better with periods of drizzle and steady rain and very little look at sun or sky. In spite of these conditions, there were a lot of people at this very popular site during the very popular travel period of October. By the time there was enough light to shoot, there were usually a number of people, including other photographers and just visitors scrambling around the rocks in front of the mill. I knew I was not going to get a clear shot, with the right light without people in it. But I once again relied on Photoshop’s “content aware removal” tool to obtain this result. Now, I am not trying to say you should never just leave people in your photo, but when you do want to do so, you can often plan this element of composition for the post-processing step.

Point Aubarques Lighhouse
Lake Huron, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

I left my house very early one summer morning for an hour and a half drive to photograph a different lighthouse. But once I was on the coast of Lake Huron, I decided to take “the long way” home to see if I could shoot this light. I did make some images, mostly of the entire light and the surrounding landscape. But looking at the images later in post-processing, I began to experiment with some cropping and ultimately liked this very close crop best. It is something I probably should have “seen” in camera, but this was all done post.

In the end, I think post-processing gives me the ability to do much more with my end results than the shots straight out of the camera.


Why I Post-Process My Images – Part 2 – Image Sharpness

Malahide Castle
Dublin, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

In the first part of this series, I considered general image appearance and color. While I am not assigning any particular order of importance, I did that first because I think it is the most “in-your-face” aspect of photography. Color, brightness, contrast, and appearance in general is what first draws the eye. But after some visual inspection, I think the eye becomes more discerning, and almost immediately sees – and critiques – image sharpness. It also think it is important to understand that the first two topics, color and appearance and sharpness, are very much interrelated. As we noted in Part 1, in all of photography, we are dealing with “appearance,” and with the viewers very individual capacity to interpret what they see. But things like saturation, brightness, contrast and exposure can certainly influence the appearance (and importance) of sharpness, both visually and mechanically (overuse of some of the “appearance” algorithms can deteriorate images and reduce apparent sharpness). I am not saying that every image must be in razor sharp focus. Rather, I am saying that awareness of this aspect of photography is important.

Image Sharpness:

Do we really need to sharpen our images? Years ago, on the old AOL photography board, I got into a “discussion” with another photographer. He didn’t believe any sharpening was necessary because his newest name-brand DSLR produced razor sharp images straight out of the camera (they didn’t). Another photographer commented on an image we were “critiquing,” and said: “looks sharp to me.” While unintentional on his part, he made a point I want to underscore here. Much of photography is appearance. And this is perhaps nowhere more true than in the concept of image sharpness.

Sharpness is a significant consideration that is often very misunderstood. Perhaps the most important concept here is that every technical definition I have ever read or heard speaks of “apparent” sharpness. Apparent sharpness is influenced by viewing distance and the size of the image being viewed. But every lens has a focus point where it is at is at its most sharp, and good focusing technique remains critically important for the photographer. For years there were really only about 3-4 factors that influenced apparent sharpness: the quality of the glass, the characteristics of the film, the size of reproduction (usually print), and the ability of the shooter.ย  Glass continues to have a large influence. Indeed, as the digital sensors get larger (in terms of pixels), the difference in lens quality is exacerbated. There is a very real difference in the sharpness of focus of images rendered by a good quality lens and a poor quality lens. Modern manufacturing technology has perhaps made the divide between traditionally lower quality lenses (think, generally, cheaper third-party manufacturers) and high quality lenses generally made by the major camera companies. And even between them, there were even significant quality differences – usually between their less expensive offerings and their “pro-quality” expensive glass. Today some of the third-party lenses are virtually indistinguishable in glass quality (often the differences come down to build quality and re-sale value).

Technique, of course, will, always be a critical factor in all parts of photography. Understanding depth of field, sharp focus and how (and when and when not) to attain it, and what the limits of sharp focus in your particular image are continue to be important. And yes, even if you use auto-focus (AF), which has gotten very, very good over the years, you still need to understand what it is doing and how to use it. In fact, AF can fool even an experienced shooter who is not paying attention. Some years back, I blogged about some differences between my full-frame and APS framed Nikon DSLRs. An astute pro friend and mentor of mine, pointed out that an image I was using to illustrate flowing water was out of focus. The corresponding one wasn’t. I let the AF fool me and didn’t pay attention to the details.

nearly every image made from a digital camera could benefit from some sharpening

Most of us no longer deal with film characteristics. But digital imagery has added a new factor to replace the film consideration. Sharpness in film was mostly determined by its grain structure. Digital sharpness is mostly a matter of pixel size, number and configuration. A digital photograph is comprized of many (thousands) of tiny pixels, represented by computing’s most basic “1’s” and “0”‘s, stacked around each other. Imagine a Lego creation. Each one of those little lego blocks represents a pixel, for our purposes. If you step away from the object, the further away you get, the less obvious the indvidual legos, and the more the object looks like its intended form. Also, smaller blocks, more densely packed will take on the form sooner than larger ones as you pull away. Our “lego” pixels, however are tiny. You generally cannot distinguish individual “blocks” without substantial magnification. Take any image and increase its on-screen size, and you will eventually begin to see the individual pixels, and how the stack around each other to make the image. Note that they are rectangular. The border between each pixel creates a line, and generally, depending on the width of that line and the difference in contrast or color between the pixels, you can get a kind of “jaggy” look from the square corners (sometimes referred to as “stair-stepping). Known as “aliasing,” this latter effect can look cartoonish, to downright unpleasant, and is the common result from raw “sampled” images from a camera sensor. Most currently sold camera sensors have an anti-aliasing filter in front of the sensor, which has the effect of slightly blurring those “aliased” pixel borders. Of course is a lot more complicated than my elementary explanation, but hopefully it is enough to understand why sharpening is “a thing.”

Adding proverbial “insult to injury,” when converting an image to digital “1’s” and “0’s,” an image processor engages in interpolation, from the fixed grid of pixels on the sensor, in order to complete the entirety of the image. Interpolation turns nature’s continous tones into discrete pixels, and the process itself often results in some softeness, regardless of the quality of the sensor and lens. And finally, the process of re-converting the pixels to media (especially print media) can result in significant softening of an image. This is why sharpening – at differing stages of the processing, and for different end purposes, is so important.

Given all this, it stands to reason that nearly every image made from a digital camera could benefit from some sharpening. I am hedging here on purpose. Recall my earlier reference to “apparent” sharpness. The anti-aliasing process will vary, based on color, lighting conditions, the presence (or not) of contrast in the image, etc. I almost always run some sharpening on an image at some point during my post-processing. If you “capture” your images only as JPEG (or in a few cameras that have the capability: TIFF), the software in the camera will sharpen the image and in more sophisticated DSLR cameras, you have some ability to “adjust” the sharpening. In most cases, I recommend you capture raw images. They will not be sharpened until post-processing, because it takes raw conversion software to do that. There are a couple “high-end” cameras out there (Nikon, Sony and Canon have them for sure – I would guess so do other major manufacturers) that do not have the anti-aliasing filter. That seems to be an important item especially for landscape shooters. It has its own set of problems. But the beauty is that in post-processing, you can generally fix all these issues.

All this stuff seems like a lot of work … but the good news is that all this complicated stuff has already been done for you!

Every photo software program has some manner of sharpening capability. Some are better than others. Many (Photoshop’s sharpening tools come to mind) are complex and difficult to learn and require a lot trial and error. Most authors and power users recommend sharpening in steps. Generally, they suggest a “pre-sharpen” designed to counteract the effect of the sensor anti-aliasing filter; case-by-case “targeted sharpening” on specific parts of an image (euphemistically called “creative” sharpening), and finally, a sharpening step designed for the type of output (generally print or monitor) and size of image being rendered. The Orange lily below is an example of an unsharpened raw conversion on top, a “pre-sharpened” image in the middle, and a fully sharpened for monitor image on the bottom. All 3 were rendered from raw using Photoshop’s Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) engine. I set the sharpening settings to no sharpening in the ACR conversion (more on that later). Both stages of sharpeing were pushed to their “100%” adjustment. It may be difficult to see the difference between the first two images. Part of this will be variances between monitors and part of it that “perception” thing I mentioned at the beginning. I am basically trying to illustrate the process here. The final image, for example, might be considered by some to be oversharpened. Oversharpening can yield a “crunchy” artificial look. Sharpening (like most aspects of photography) will often be a matter of taste. Of course, it is important that you get the desired sharpness when making the image with the camera. No software (yet) can “fix” or sharpen an image that is blurry because the shooter didn’t get it right in the camera. Here we are mainly talking about working with the limitations of digital presentation.

Raw; Presharpen and Final Sharpen Examples
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

If this stuff really excites you (you may want to seek counseling ๐Ÿ™‚ ). There are some good explanations out there on the internet, and some really good print references. I recommend “The Digital Negative,” by Jeff Schewe. If you are a real masochist, you might want to pick up and read “Real World Image Sharpening,” by the late Bruce Fraser and Jeff Schewe. In Photoshop, there was a “sharpen” algorithm that was, frankly, a pretty blunt instrument, and there was “Unsharp Mask” (a term that actually comes from the old “wet” darkroom). Years back USM was the best tool and it was – for me at least – a mind-boggling math problem, involving 3 settings known as radius, threshold and amount. I know, right? ๐Ÿ™‚ . This all seems like a lot of work. But it is worth the effort in many cases.

And there is good news. All this complicated stuff has already been done for you. Starting a number of versions back, a group comprised of pro-users and some of the actual Photoshop Team set up a collaboration known as Pixel Genius (Martin Evening, Seth Resnick, Andrew Rodney, Mike Skurski, Jeff Schewe, and Bruce Fraser). They created a Photoshop “plug-in” known as Photokit Sharpener. I used Photokit for a few years as it incorporated the 3-step sharpening mentioned above, and was much easier to use (if less versatile) than Photoshop’s native “unsharp mask” algorithm. They mightย have been the first ones to do it on a commercial scale, I don’t know. But over the years, a goodly number of competitors have emerged, and now there are a plethora of programs which are either Photoshop “Plug-ins,” stand-alone, incorporated into their own suite (OnOne, DxO and Topaz are examples). Recently, Pixel Genius announced that it would close, and their final gift to us was a freeware, freely downloadable, most current version of their product (I haven’t tried it yet, but just downloaded it and will for sure play with it).

By “consistent,” I do not mean use the same settings every time, by the way

It really doesn’t matter which on you use, in my opinion. Many, if not most, of them are good. They all work differently. The point is, you should probably obtain one of them and use it – preferably one you are comfortable with and incorporates reasonable ease of use. Just search for “image-sharpening software” and you will find lots of information. When I made the move to NIK software (formerly NIK, then Google, and now owned by DxO), I eventually started to used its Raw Presharpener and Sharpener Pro modules. I did so mostly because I was using the other NIK modules and I liked the ease and familiarity I gained from its interface. The 3 examples above were made using NIK.

Another thing that is worth noting is that most raw conversion software today (at least the integrated programs like Photoshop, OnOne, etc.) generally have sharpness settings in the conversion process, which may very adequately handle the first stage of sharpening. Because I routinely use NIK pre-sharpener, I have my raw converter sliders set to zero for sharpening. I think it is important, once again, to have a good idea what is going on underneath the hood. I think having sharpening set up in the raw converter and then doing an additional “pre-sharpening” would not only be redundant, but would result in unintended results, defeating the purpose of sharpening the image. I am not certain which of these are better (though my intuition tells me it may be the plugin programs), but I think the important thing is to think about it, have it as part of your routine and be consistent about it. By “consistent,” I do not mean use the same settings every time, by the way. To me, this is one of the risks of the raw conversion settings. They are often hidden in the interface from your view. I just downloaded the free version of Photokit and will try to do some comparisons for my own interest soon. One of those things to play around with during the winter ( oh yeah. I forgot. I live in Florida now. We dont’ have “winter” ๐Ÿ™‚ ).

Overuse of any of these global adjustments will often defeat the purpose of all of this

There are other post-processing issues that will have an affect on apparent sharpness. One of the most important is the contrast adjustments most software offers. For years, “contrast” was basically the only adjustment available. It operates globally on the image and basically works with the blacks and whites. In order to use it effectively one often had to do some complex masking of an image in order to achieve the intended result only on the parts of the image that needed it. Currently, there is another pretty sophisticated global adjustment. It has different names in different softwares, but Photoshop calls it “clarity.” This adjustment attempts (rather successfully, I think) to adjust contrast just in the mid-tones which are generally not visually effected by the more global “contrast” adjustment (or at least you cannot see them because the highs and lows are so dramatic). Even more recently Photoshop and other have added another adjustment (called “dehaze” in Photoshop), which has the same effect of targeting just certain tones in an image. While not truly “sharpening,” these adjustments often make the image “appear” sharper to the eye.

A final word of caution. Overuse of any of these global adjustments will often defeat the purpose of all of this. As we mentioned above, it is possible to “oversharpen” an image for its purpose, and it can result in an ugly or unrealistic look. Creatively you might want to play with this. Note that I said “for its purpose.” When making inkjet prints on my Epson home printer, I often had to sharpen an image to the point that on-screen it looked overdone, but turned out a very sharp and pleasing print. Conversely, there are adjustments that do not really have anything to do with sharpening – directly (recall the comment that everything is interrelated). One of the best examples is the much overused “saturation” slider tool. I recently ranted about what is see as abusive overuse of “saturation “(especially – for some reason – with fall foliage images – sometimes by shooters who really should “know better”). To see the effect of this tool, open an image in your favorite image processing software and magnify it enough so you can at least begin to see the pixels. Then move the slider to its upper limit and back down again slowly. Observe what happens to the definition around the saturated colors. These days I only very rarely use the “saturation” tool on an image – partly for this very reason.


Next up:ย  In the final instalment, I will cover compositional considerations of post-processing . . .

Why I Post-Process My Images

My LightCentric Logo open in Adobe Camera Raw Converter (ACR)
[Copyright Andy Richards 2020]
For the most part, as a photographer for some 45 years I have made images with a “photorealistic” look. I freely and unabashedly admit that I “enhance” my shots using post-processing software. Lately, as I have gotten older (or perhaps bored?), I have begun doing more alternative presentation with my photography. That is certainly a reason to use digital software on my images. But it is not the reason. I am a firm believer that no matter how “natural” one thinks an image should look, nearly all digital images need to be “worked” with in post-processing, including the “photorealistic” ones.

I know photographers, at all different skill ranges who are very content with shooting images and presenting them, as-shot. Many shoot in JPEG mode in the camera and never really give a lot of thought about post-processing their images. This was even more common before programs like Adobe Lightroom, OnOne, Topaz, DxO, and others began offering”user-friendly” software interfaces, with “preset” post-processing. Today there are hundreds of “presets” available, many of them free, and many more at a relatively low cost, all designed to create a “look” (or occasionally, to correct problems). I will take a whimsical look at some of these presets in a blog post coming soon. There may come a day (indeed some may say it has already arrived) when these presets will essentially eliminate the need for manual post-processing entirely. Given this, there is really no reason today not to do some post-work, even if it is entirely confined to these presets.

there is really no reason today not to do some post-work, even if it is entirely confined to presets

Some of us; largely because it is what we learned and are comfortable with, will no doubt remain “old school.” I am always looking at new software and have embraced some of it. But mostly, I still post-process in Adobe Photoshop. Adobe has a lot of competition these days, but when I jumped in, Photoshop was really the only option. I learned it and have stayed with it. If I were starting new, I probably wouldn’t, as the learning curve is steep and there are programs which may be more photographer specific out there.

“Arty” effects and alternative presentation is certainly a reason to use digital software on my images. But it is not the reason

While you might be content with your photos right out of the camera, I hope as your skills and interests develop, you will consider the significant advantages of raw capture, and the ability to make your presentation better even with just some simple post-processing. As I wrote this, it got long (well, longer than usual ๐Ÿ™‚ ) and I realized that perhaps it would be more palatable as a 3-part series. I hope you will read on, as the additional “parts” contain some good information. For starters, though, I will begin with general image appearance and – perhaps most importantly – color.

Glade Creek Gristmill on a cloudy, dreary day; unprocessed; straight out of camera
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Digital photography is kind of like cooking (an analogy I am sure I “borrowed” from someone else years back, and continue to use, because I think it is apt). Many foods must be cooked to enjoy them at their best, and this means combining ingredients. It also means knowing how to cook things. A lot of the raw materials used in cooking just aren’t very appealing in their raw stage. In fact, some of them are just downright un-palatable.

“Raw is not an acronym

Perhaps appropriately, the format of images digitally captured, are referred to in their native format, as “raw.” I have pointed out previously, that “raw” means just that: raw; as in “uncooked.” Raw (unlike most other formats, such as JPEG, TIFF, etc.) is not an acronym. It is possible to cook anything from “scratch,” using only raw ingredients. It is also possible to purchase food in a pre-cooked, or partially prepared, stage. I am not suggesting that this cannot be done very well. Stauffer makes a pretty good Lasagna, pre-done with only baking required. ๐Ÿ™‚ But most will appreciate a meal fully cooked from scratch, by a skilled chef. In most cases, I suspect, there is a combination of ingredients, some of them acquired in various stages of pre-preparation (perhaps analagous to the “presets” mentioned earlier).

Most of the “new” photographers I have the occasion to counsel shoot the same general subjects that I do. I do very little sports photography, and no photo-journalism. I strongly (and perhaps pedantically) recommend to these new photographers that they shoot in raw format (assuming their gear supports it). There are certainly those who are happy to accept “fast food” cooking (the camera’s built in conversion to jpeg or tiff), and to know enough about the cook and how to direct the cook, to obtain the result they are satisfied with. And there are certainly some cases where that is just expedient. Sports and photojournalists, more often than not, just don’t have time for a “gourmet” meal. But I believe most of us would benefit from getting our ingredients “raw,” and then take some time to appreciate the aromas of fine cooking. In order to obtain a palatable final image from a raw file, it is going to have to be “cooked.”

Glade Creek Gristmill; warming filter applied
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Here, then, are some of the most important reasons I do my own “cooking:”

Two different photographers can stand side by side and see the scene very differently


One of the primary results that is largely effected by the “cooking” process is color. There are many things that effect color, including the medium of capture (whether digital or film), lighting conditions, and the perception of the viewer. It is common for certain colors to be rendered by the default raw converter as the “average viewer” perceives that color. The complication, of course, is how we define “average viewer.” Two different photographers can stand side by side in front of an image and see the scene very differently – including the perception of color. And, while there are certainly colorimetric “standards” for measurement of color, those same two photographers will still perceive those colors differently.

More importantly, it is common that the color displayed is not what the photographer wants to portray. Staying with the cooking analogy, some people like a little more spice, sweeter, etc. And that is the benefit of post-processing a raw image file.

Burton Hill Road Farm Scene
Barton, Vermont 2010

As I have learned more and more about digital post-processing, I have discovered some primary areas where this happens. Things that are “supposed” to be white are a great example of this phenomena. In 2010, I made what may be my favorite Vermont fall foliage landscape image ever. Conditions were right. There was a “thread” on the “Scenes of Vermont” foliage board where I posted the image, which remains today. I probably should go back and replace it with my “corrected” images. A couple years later, while working on my LightCentricPhotograph website, it jumped out at me. Clouds, fog, and frothy water, in most cases, are perceived as white. My fog in this image had a very distinct purple/blue/grey hue. While I think the color is “possible,” it is not the image I saw that clear, cold, fall morning. I think the color-corrected image is much more realistic and much more pleasing. In another example, I had the perhaps misfortune of coming to Babcock State Park on a particularly rainy, cloudy weekend. Grey clouds always introduce a color cast and you can see the gray cast in the original image. What is harder to see is the gray-blue cast in the water. The second image incorporates a warming filter (in Photoshop). As you can see, while it improves the appearance of the rest of the scene a bit, the water still has a cast. Water–to our eye–should be “white.” The third image is corrected using NIK Viveza2, by reducing saturation of color in the water, with a bit of added contrast and brightness. I think the water looks more like it is “supposed” to look.

Glade Creek Gristmill
Color Corrected
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

I put quotation marks around “supposed” on purpose. In art photography, there is no “correct” color. But there are certainly colors that are generally perceived by most of us within a range under the particular conditions. The Vermont image was made in the early morning sun, on what turned out to be a perfectly cloudless, sunny day. The original image from the camera might lead the viewer to think the opposite – that this was a cloudy, dark day. Color correction changes this perception entirely, in my opinion.

It is often the case that the color displayed is not what the photographer wants to portray


Exposure and Appearance:

Because I record images as raw files, there are usually some “darkroom” type adjustments that need to be made. Understand that post-processing software is not designed to “fix” your mistakes. Getting things like sharp focus, exposure and composition right in the camera is still required.ย  But we have always found ways to improve aspects of our photographs, beginning in the darkroom. Today, digital processing software perhaps gives us more ability to be creative and improve images than ever before. Beginning in my raw conversion program, I first look at the image “globally,” checking for things like color, exposure and contrast. If any adjustment needs to be done, I do that first. But remember Newton’s Law, here (or at least a modified version of it). When you move a slider, it will effect the adjustments other sliders make.

One of the things I love about my current setup is the ability to make more targeted adjustments. Most software today has powerful masking tools, both incorporated and with the ability to more or less manually mask. This means adjusting can be done with an adustment (like Photoshop’s “clarity” slider) that is discriminate in its action, adjusting, for example, just certain tones in an image. It also means a more specifically target area can be masked individually and adjusted. Some of this has been available in software for some years now. Others are constantly newly developing.

Above, I noted that sometimes a photographer wants an image to look a certain way. The beauty of non-reportage or scientific photography is there is no one correct presentation of an image. Note the substantial difference in tone and color in the lily image above, from the sharpen example images earlier. Post processing gives you the ability to creatively work with images – and to experiment – especially with color.

Next up, Image Sharpness

The Sun Rises in Florida, Too

The sun rises over The Courtney Campbell Causeway viewed from Safety Harbor, FL
[Copyright Andy Richards 2020]

Florida’s Gulf Coast is renowned for its spectacular and colorful sunsets. Its a scientific fact that the sun sets in the west. This makes Florida’s western coastline (essentially one big beach), prime for sunset viewing.

Florida’s western coastline is basically one big beach, prime for sunset viewing

Over the years, I have made mention of sunrise and sunset imagery a few times. I think I have probably expressed a preference for sunrises. There are some differences between sunsets and sunrises. Other than working around our stomach (sunsets often occur at or near mealtimes), sunsets are easier. We are up and awake. It is often warmer, and there is plenty of time to get on location before the actual event. Sometimes, you can see by the late afternoon weather, how a sunset might develop (though if you rely only on what you see in the hours before the actual event, you might miss a really spectacular image).

Tampa Skyline in the pre-dawn light, viewed from Safety Harbor, FL
[Copyright Andy Richards 2020]

Sunrises often mean you have to sacrifice some sleep, by getting up well before dawn, in order to get out and on site. Unless you live right onsite, it means you may need to get up even hours before, in order to be in place before the pre-dawn lights things up. Some of the best shots happen before the actual sun appears and after it drops below the horizon.

Tampa Sunrise
Safety Harbor, FL
[Copyright Andy Richards 2020]

Esoterically, I have always found more solitude at sunrise, probably primarily because of the above circumstances. In virtually every case, there have been few, if any, other humans in the vicinity during my sunrise shots. I like that. I also like the effort required to get a sunrise, and always have an affinity for the shooter of a sunrise.

Tampa Skyline
I “played” with some of the presets in NIK Color Efex Pro 4 to get this “pastel” look
[Copyright Andy Richards 2020]

There can be real differences too. Mornings often dawn crisp and clear, with clear skies. Or, you can get fog rising from ponds, swamps and other bodies of water, or even frost. Sunsets can be influenced by particles in the air that have accumulated during the day, and by cloud cover that will often develop in late afternoon. These conditions can result in diffused color, dramatic contrasts, and overall spectacular conditions. This is particularly true over large bodies of water, like the Florida Gulf. It is why so many photographers shoot from the same beach, day after day.

Safety Harbor Pier, silouhetted in the pre-dawn
[Copyright Andy Richards 2020]

I now live in that world. My home is 10 minutes from a couple of spectacular gulf photography sites, and only 30 minutes in either direction from even more of them. The vast majority of my shooting since we moved here has been sunsets on one of these beaches.

Safety Harbor Pier, moments before sunrise
[Copyright Andy Richards 2020]

But we live on a peninusula that is separated by the Florida gulf and Tampa Bay. Just 20 minutes from my door, the little community of Safety Harbor is situated on Old Tampa Bay; the far northern reaches of the bay. It is shallow and narrow, and you can see across to Tampa in the distance. Because it faces east, I knew I would get direct on sunrise there. I spent perhaps the 2 coldest mornings we have had here in Florida in the past several years there, photographing the sunrise.

Sunrise over Tampa from the Safety Harbor Pier
[Copyright Andy Richards 2020]

Only very rarely does the sunrise over water itself make a nice image in my opinion. I think there needs to be a point of interest, other than just the sun and water, to balance the composition and give it context. Something in the foreground. Sometimes it is something physical. Sometimes it is a photographic phenomena, like color layers or reflections. At the Safety Harbor Pier, there is a bordwalk to the northwest from which you can get a pretty clear view of the Tampa Skyline, and “The Courtney Campbell Causeway,” perhaps the most prominent feature between (and connecting) our peninsula and Tampa “proper.”

What color is the sun? Yellow, of course ๐Ÿ™‚
Safety Harbor Pier in the early morning sun
[Copyright Andy Richards 2020]

For me, perhaps the “main” event in my planned trip over to Safety Harbor was to frame the pier at sunrise. I think I was successful at several images, but you always have to have the “iconic” image, right? ๐Ÿ™‚ So here it is – sunrise over the Safety Harbor Fishing Pier. As always, thanks for coming to visit!

Sunrise over the Safety Harbor Pier
[Copyright Andy Richards 2020]