The Digital Darkroom
Want to take your images to the next level? Are you interested in developing your own style?
Then I recommend you spend time learning the Digital Darkroom and Post Processing.
Today, Post Processing is much easier than it was 20 years ago due to software like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. Now you can edit your images anywhere - at home, on the road, in a coffee shop - as long as you have a computer and editing software. If you haven't used editing software before I recommend you try it out and watch a few hours of YouTube to fully learn the tools.
Should you edit your images? Yes, Absolutely.
Why? Well, technology isn't really able to replicate what your eyes naturally see.
To give you some context our eyes can see a lot of detail in the bright (highlights) and dark parts (shadows) of a scene. Let's call the range of what we see 1-10, with 1-3 as shadows, 4-7 as mid-tones, or 8-10 as highlights. Cameras unfortunately can only capture ~1/3 of that range at any given time - so roughly 1-3, 4-7, or 8-10 - requiring camera techniques, or post processing to better replicate what our eyes actually see. So at a fundamental level Post Processing allows you to replicate what your eyes can see but your camera can not capture. Make sense?
Let me walk you through two examples and how I approach Post Processing.
Sahara Dust Sunset
Expose for Highlights - HDR Post Processing
When capturing this image I focused on preserving the details in the sky (highlights) and adjusting my drone settings to make sure the sunset was not blown out. I set-up the drone in 'bracketing' mode to capture multiple exposures (shadows, mid-tones, highlights) which allowed me to blend the images together in post production. For this image I first blended the shots using the HDR tool within Lightroom (vs manually blending in Photoshop) giving me a more balanced image overall. Once I had that image I started making some global adjustments to the image using the 'Basic' panel in Lightroom, adjusting the brightness, highlights, contrast, shadows, etc. To help make the image pop I also added some light dodging and burning of the highlights and shadows which gives the image more of a 3D/Fine Art feel. I'm pretty happy with the final image as it closely resembles what my eyes naturally saw as I watched the sun set.
A Realistic Composite
This image is technically a composite because I was not able capture a razor sharp image of the swimmer with the shutter speed I wanted to show motion in the waves as they crashed into the rocks. As I saw the swimmer stand on the rocks I set-up my tripod to lock the framing and allow for slower shutter speed shots, knowing I would likely combine images in post production. Once I got to my computer I first selected the two images I wanted: one an image of the swimmer standing on the rocks with no motion in the waves (1/160 sec) and the second image showing the motion in the water I liked (2 second exposure). In Photoshop I opened up the two images as layers, aligned the edges and all elements, and started painting in the razor sharp swimmer on the 2 second exposure. Once I had a baseline I was happy with I made global adjustments to the brightness, highlights, contrast, shadows, etc. and landed on a final product I was quite happy with.