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Can you Share your Photoshop Workflow?

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When I speak publicly, I get a lot of questions about my post production workflow. People want to know how much work we do in post, and how – exactly – we produce a finished image. The problem is, there’s no clean answer to that questions – except “It depends.” And it does. Each image requires a different set of steps. When the planning stages are done and the shot is in the camera, the photo becomes an entity of it’s own. Each photo has a unique personality – and the post processing workflow reflects that.

Some photographs require nothing more than a few minutes in the RAW converter. The first step is the most important. I just look at the photo. Maybe that seems obvious, but I think it’s critically important. I don’t just jump in and start playing with sliders. Instead, I think about what I want to accomplish. I usually have a pretty clear idea of what I want to create before I release the shutter in the field, so this step might take just a few seconds. Once I know what I want from the photo, I can make the changes quickly and without hesitation because I’ve spent a lot of years experimenting. I always select my color balance carefully, and I often make adjustments to contrast and clarity. I also frequently clean up chromatic aberrations using the lens correction tools.

Sometimes, that’s all it takes. But there are times when I need to open an image in Photoshop and give it a little more attention. This is always true for bracketed shots that require blending – like the one you see here. In that case, I’ll process the images in Camera RAW, and then I’ll open them in Photoshop. I use layers and masks to create a finished image that matches the vision I had in my mind while I was shooting. At times, the finished photo will be very close to the real scene as I remember it. Other times, I’m looking to create something surreal or dreamy or abstact.

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As I worked on this photo, I grabbed a screen shot to show the layers and masks I was using. I used three bracketed shots – one for the trees, one for the sky and the water, and a third to help brighten up the darkest regions of the sky. In the end, I chose not to brighten up those dark corners (you can see that the top layer is turned off) because I liked the depth they produced.

I should mention that learning to anticipate what you’ll need to do in post processing isn’t easy. It takes practice and experimentation. It’s only because I spent a lot of years playing with my photos that I am able to get through my workflow quickly. And I still don’t get it right on the first try every time. It’s a learning processes.

Does your workflow differ from mine? – Feel free to share with our readers via comments.

About Author Varina Patel

There is nothing more remarkable to me than the power of nature. It is both cataclysmic and subtle. Slow and continuous erosion by water and wind can create landscapes every bit as astonishing as those shaped by catastrophic events – and minuscule details can be as breathtaking as grand vistas that stretch from one horizon to the other. Nature is incredibly diverse. Burning desert sands and mossy riverbanks… Brilliant sunbeams and fading alpenglow… Silent snowfall and raging summer storms… Each offers a unique opportunity. I am irresistibly drawn to the challenge of finding my next photograph, and mastering the skills required to capture it effectively.

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