Photo Processing: Specialization vs. Basics

‘Why should I learn to use Layers and Masks? Can’t HDR software do all that for me?”

Well… if somebody will hand me my soapbox, I’ll go ahead and answer that…

Here we are in the digital age. It’s an era of high-speed internet, smart phones, and instant gratification. It’s tough to remember that sometimes you have to slow down and think about the details. We want quick solutions. Click-of-a-button answers. But photo processing isn’t always that easy.

More and more photographers are abandoning the art of Photo Processing and going directly to the plugins or specialized programs that process images with the click of a button. Just pick your preset and whamo. It’s all done for you. Cool stuff! Varina and I even use some of it! But what if you want to create something specific? What if your artistic vision falls outside the scope of the software’s ability to create a finished product for you?

When you get to the point where presets aren’t enough, you need to chose a program and learn to use it. Take the time to really learn how to use the software – we use Adobe Photoshop – and you’ll find that you are no longer limited.

Consider the High Dynamic Range (HDR) software that’s available today. It’s incredibly easy to blend images into a single finished image with a broad dynamic range. The photographer doesn’t have to do a lot of thinking. You play with the sliders until you are happy with the result. Easy enough, right?

But what if you want to blend images where half the scene was in shade and the other half in the sun? Now you are dealing with different white balance settings on top of dynamic range problems. What if you want to blend a polarized lake with an unpolarized sky? In the image above, I used layers and masks in Photoshop to blend two images. Take a look at the original shots…

I took the first image (below) without a polarizer. Notice the clear reflection in the water. I took the second with a circular polarizer. Notice the rich tones in the rocks and trees behind the pool. To get to the final image, I selectively blended the two images below using photoshop layers and masks.

  • Reflections captured without a polarizer

  • Captured with a Polarizer

With a working knowledge of layers and masks, I can blend dynamic range like most HDR programs do, but I can also do so much more. I can blend image with different color balances. I can work with polarized and non-polarized images. I can target adjustments to specific areas so that my adjustments only effect the areas where they are needed.

About Author Jay Patel

I could startoff like this – “Seeds of Jay Patel’s appreciation for beautiful places were planted early in his childhood….” but it would get boring really fast. I will just sum it up and say that I am a Landscape and Wilderness Photographer who loves to capture dramatic light. My photographs have been published in various magazines, calendars and advertising materials throughout the world.

Patience is a virtue...unless you are chasing your dreams

  • Fred Dunn

    Did you mean to write “I took the second without a circular polarizer.” Isn’t the second picture with a polarizer?

    • Fred – If you look at the two small sample images, the first was taken without a polarizer, and the second was taken with a polarizer.