The Power Of Post
I recently posted this on Instagram and it had an unintended set of responses. It was just to highlight that sometimes, what you get in camera isn’t anywhere near what you wanted but should be ignored at your peril.
At the time, I’m thinking, ‘two amazing cars, great location but the weather is too bright… hmmm…’ The one thing that I can tell you is that the last thing you want with most shoots, is cloudless sky and midday sunlight. But, what you gonna do? I’ve rapidly learnt that you just have to work with it.
In my Instagram post, I clearly stated that the reason for the post was how I’ve laboured over other peoples work, the quality, the cleanliness, the light, the colours, the feeling, the tone and then looked at my own work and felt deflated. It had been drummed into me that to be a photographer, you have to do it all ‘in camera’ so seeing all these amazing posts and curated portfolio’s, was depressing.
Here’s the thing though. Yes, you do need to have a grasp of what you can get in-camera, but using Lightroom, Photoshop, CaptureOne or any other editing for post production, is not a crime. They are all just tools.
The Tools I Use
I rememeber when starting out, I used Lightroom Elements and I only ever used it lightly. I was of the undestanding that to push, pull and move the pixels, was cheating. I didn’t have filters, I wasn’t shooting RAW files and, frankly, everything I shot, was shit.
Over time, I started to play with the sliders. YouTube was still in its infancy (I know, I’m THAT old) and learning was done in clubs or with friends who were also photographers. The first thing that I began to do was shoot and edit RAW files. The sliders could lift shadows but add noise, the highlights could be pulled back but showed where I’d overexposed and lost detail. I was intrigued.
The best tip that I picked up by far, was spot metering. When looking at a scene, I would spot meter off the brightest point and keep it at +2EV on my camera. I still do this as while the camera systems and sensors have improved, it is still my belief that this means I can keep full highlight detail in post. (Unless I’m using filters and have more time to control overall exposure as needed.)
In Photoshop, I could then bring highlights down and have say, sky detail, but any shadows still had enough in them ‘as-shot’ that meant I didn’t have noise. All of this took months of shooting, learning, trying and failing. If there is one tipp I can give to anyone wanting to improve their photography, it is fail. Often. I do. I still do!
I progressed from Lightroom Elements and finally used Photoshop. It was a big, scary thing. It had panels of tools, things called layers and masks. I did the thing that many men do. I tried to use it and failed spectacularly. I used it all wrong. It seemed complicated and a million miles away from my skillset. So, for a long time, I ignored it.
I stuck to Lightroom and built a few presets. I purchased a few too. VSCO and it’s promise of ‘one-click’ presets could deliver professional results. Here’s another tip. Presets can and do, help, but the thing that no-one tells you; get the basics of photography right first. No good applying a filter onto a crap picture because guess what? You now have a crap picture with someone else’s look on it.
But I’m going away from this shot.
I exposed for it but we had to then move becaust it was a live runway and a plane was coming in for some touch and go practice. I managed to rattle off a couple of frames and then we had to move. There were many other shots I’d made that day so it was a while before I got around to properly looking into these.
You’d think that under the heading ‘Photoshop’ that that’s what I used, but this was all done in Lightroom:
I usually have an idea as to how I want the finished image to appear but with this, because I knew that the shadows were going to need pulling quite a lot, I played around more than usual.
The latest version of Lightroom allows you to use the selection tool to quickly select the sky or an object and the AI is pretty clever. It will need to be inspected as sometimes, it will get confused so be careful how you check it, but in this case, it did a fairly decent job. You can choose to drop the exposure but that can make it look too unreal so I tend to mix the dehaze slider and the highlights slider on the selection in order to give me a fighting chance of a decent look.
I added to this by using a liner gradient filter so that it can mimic a graduated filter in the field. (I hadn’t used one as I didn’t have time to attach everything and these Ferrari’s don’t offer great luggage space for gear.)
This now meant I had a great sky but the backlit cars still had deep shadows.
Using the Object selection, it grabbed the cars quite well but then any adjustments looked awful. I tried using a linear gradient and lifted the shadows which brought back quite a lot on the cars but lost details across the tarmac. Using another new linear gradient, I dropped the shadows back down below the cars and now had a half decently exposed looking version.
The main issue though is that it looked cold. I really wanted a warm, summer day feel to it. Almost LA, west coast. The issue with adding wamrth is it generally adds highlight across everything too so once I’d got the right warmth, I needed to slightly reduce the highlight detail in the gradients just so I didn’t have it too bright.
The green on the red car had gone decidedly faded so now, using the Object selection, I chose that car and in the HSL area, I used the green luminesence slider to make it more green again.
Final tweak was detail. Again, it is personal choice, but the Clarity slider can sometimes add too much contrast to the shadow detail and I tend to keep it quite light these days. Using the Texture slider, I added that to the whole image and that was that.
And Now Photoshop
Becuase this frame was just for me, I decided that I would try out a technique that I’d seen ages ago. The idea was to take the logo from the dMB guys selling these cars, and superimpose it for fun behind the cars.
Loading the image into Photoshop, I found their logo as a PNG file on their website and opened it in Photoshop. I then pasted it as a new layer over the image of the cars and selected Layer>Create Clipping Mask and you know have a perfectly selected, floating logo.
Select the cars layer and then using the AI of Select>Subject, it selects the cars. Duplicate this as a new layer and drag it over the logo layer and then resize and erase the parts of the logo that you don’t want showing.
I now had the logo but it wasn’t visible through the windscreens. By selecting the brush and changing the foreground colour to #808080, you can brush over the logo in the windscreen area and the logo magically appears, slightly with reduced opacity and sits well in the frame.
I then went back to the logo to add some rough shadow lines in the vague direction from where they might be and my ‘playing around’, was complete:
For good measure, I added a couple of sun flares on the logo but you get the idea.
Is it perfect? Nope. Is it a bit of fun? Yep. And so, I posted it on Instagram.
I’ve long given up on having billions of likes, comments or engagement on the platform. One becuase I find it becomes a fun sponge but two, it isn’t my platform. I don’t own it and therefore I refuse to overly care about it. Instagram has and will remain, a bit of fun. I’ve met some wonderful people on it, I’ve got some clients from it, but I refuse to be addicted to it.
But here’s the thing. The comments I got were great. You get the odd bot comment and a zero follower acount sending you a DM to ‘collab’ or the occasional offer of sex, but the comments were genuine. And it seems to have helped someone too. And that, I like. I like people knowing that when you see someone’s end result, you do not know the route they took to get to it. Some shots are made by many people. Some are made by one person. Some will be genuinely in-camera. Some will be CGI, composite or heavily edited.
I guess the main thing I want to show you is that you shouldn’t be put off by it. Any of it. It is all feeding your choices. I look at what some people post and genuinely admire 99% of it. Even if it is something that I don’t like. Because it isn’t all for me.
Anyway, I’ve since built my own preset out of this setup and while it looks hideous on some shots, for the right underlying image, it gives quite a pleasing effect. To me anyway. And isn’t that the point?
The darkness is simple a place for the light to exist