Old Failthful Area, Yellowstone National Park Wyoming (WY), USA

Looking into your Soul

Here is one of the fantastic hot springs found in Yellowstone National Park around the Old Faithful area. This one reminds me of a giant eyes staring back at you – trying to look at your soul.

I took three bracketed shot using our iHDR Manual Blending Workflow. I stood on the boardwalk and raised my tripod as high as possible to take this shot because I wanted to get as much mid-ground as possible. I had to stand on the bench to be able to look at the settings on the camera. Because I took this shot early in the morning, there was no one around.

Crystal Creek, Colorado (CO), USA

Can a “Photoshopped” image match reality?

What is a SOOC photo? SOOC stands for “Straight Out Of the Camera”. And those who use the term are generally looking for a pat on the back. Their photography is clearly superior because they “got it right” in the camera. No “manipulation”. No post-processing. Just a true representation of the scene in all its glory. When a photographer talks about their SOOC photos, they are often not-very-subtly implying that those who use processing software are cheating and that their photos are fakes. And that’s all well and good for them. I think I’ll stick to my post-processing, thank you very much. ;)

While I enjoy the challenge of “getting it right in the camera”, the fact is that even the most advanced cameras can’t always handle the broad dynamic range of light in nature. With the help of Photoshop, I am often able to create a photo that is much closer to reality than SOOC photos.

Consider the above image. I took this photograph of Lizard Lake in Colorado on a partly cloudy day. There’s no bright glaring sunlight here. The range of light isn’t very extreme. At first glance, the lighting, the colors, and the exposure look pretty well balanced. You might think that under such conditions, the photograph could be easily captured with a point-n-shoot or even a mobile phone camera in automatic mode. And a nice DSLR should be able to handle that range of light easily, right?

Well. No. This is not an SOOC image. In fact, I created this photo by blending three separate exposures using our iHDR workflow to maintain a natural look.

Here are the three bracketed exposures – SOOC using default settings. Notice that none of the individual exposures looks better than the processed image. And none of these SOOC shots represent reality as closely as the manually blended image. It is true that photographers can get pretty artistic with Photoshop and HDR technology – but in many cases, processing software also lets us bring our photographs much closer to reality than those SOOC photos.

There are – of course – LOTS of other good reasons to take the time to process your photos. This is just one of them!

To learn more about photography check our webinars and eBooks below:

Workflow Series Macro

eBook: The Workflow Series – Details and Macro

Workflow Series MacroPrice:  $6.00

Format:  eBook, PDF format, 29 pages

Size:  16.4 MB

Requirement:  Adobe Acrobat Reader 9.0 or greater


This is the fourth eBook in our wildly popular Workflow Series. Join professional photographers, Varina and Jay Patel, as they discuss their vision, their thinking process, and the post-processing workflow they use for six of their most popular macro images.  Learn about circular polarizers, focus stacking, depth of field, and so much more! The pros will show how you can use a wide variety of techniques to create stunning macro and detail photographs!

The Vision – Varina and Jay invite you to join them in the field as they explain their thought processes and the challenges that arise when they are shooting. You’ll find tips and suggestions for improving your own photography! This is the next best thing to learning on location!

The Process – Take a look at rarely seen, un-processed images, and pick up tips and hints as the pros walk you through the process of preparing and finishing a photo!

The Result – When all is said and done, take a look at the finished product. Compare it to the original, scrutinize the changes that were made, and think about the decisions the photographer made in the field and while processing the image.

Check out the sample pages below!

Transient Light, Glacier National Park, MT

How much time do you spend in Photoshop?

For us, the answer is different for every photograph. Some photos require just a moment or two in Photoshop, while others requires more than 30 minutes. On average, I spend between 5 and 15 minutes per image in Photoshop. Here is a typical Photoshop workflow for me.

This is an image from Glacier National Park in Montana. It’s one of my early photographs produced using a GND filter and my old Canon D30 (Canon’s first 3mp DSLR). I always do what I can to get it right in-camera, but the dynamic range of the scene was too great for my camera to handle.

This image showcases two types of light. On the right side of the image, you can see predawn magenta light. This is the subtle reflected light that touches the mountains before the sun comes over the horizon. The light falling on the clouds in the upper left is direct light from the sun, which is very low on the horizon. This light is far more intense than the soft, predawn light on the right side. So even with my GND filter, the top left of the image was over exposed.

To process this image, I started with the Basic tab in Adobe Camera RAW (as shown above – click for a larger view). I chose white balance and exposure settings that produced the most accurate colors for the predawn light. (2 minutes)  As expected, the area that was lit by direct sunlight (the area marked in red) was too bright. I felt that most of the image was correctly processed with just a few simple adjustments to white balance, exposure, and contrast. In almost all my images, I use a colors saturation of 10% or less.

The next step was to open the image in Photoshop and to restore the highlights, bring out the shadow details, and make few minor targeted adjustments. To restores the highlight, I processed this RAW image again, and manually blended the two versions using our iHDR workflow. (6 minutes)  Then, I used layers and masks in Photoshop to make targeted adjustments. I used a Wacom Intuos tablet for drawing selections for masks – the stylus lets me be incredibly precise so I can create perfect masks really quickly. (5 minutes) My total time spend in Photoshop (including Adobe Camera RAW) for this particular image was about 13 minutes.

How much time do you spend in Photoshop? Feel free to share your workflow.

To learn more about photography check our webinars and eBooks below:


Varina and Jay at the NFRCC Annual Fall Seminar

This year, Jay and I will be teaching the NFRCC Fall Seminar in Hamburg, NY. We hope to see many of you there! We will be teaching all day, so the $45 fee is an incredible value. And lunch is included! Awesome! :) We hope many of you will come out and join us!

Date: Saturday, November 10, 2012

Price: $45.00 US/CDN (Lunch Included)

Here’s what we’ll be teaching…

Morning Sessions

Composition & Mood: While the basic rules of composition are easy to understand, it is much more difficult to learn how to create impact with your imagery. How can composition and color impact the mood of the viewer?

Perception: The gestalt theories of perception provide insight into the way our brains process what we see. How can a basic understanding of how our brains work help us share our own vision with our viewers?

Hyperfocal Distance: Understanding hyperfocal distance allows us to ensure that every element in a wide-angle photo is in focus – from the pebbles just in front of the lens to the distant mountains. We’ll simplify this confusing concept and discuss the reasons for using it, the problems with calculating it, and the benefits of getting it right.

Afternoon Sessions

Histograms: Histograms are an incredibly useful tool – but most photographers aren’t using them to their full potential. We’ll talk about how we use histograms in-camera and in post processing?

From the Field to the Finished Product (This section will be broken into two parts.)

On Location: We will start by discussing the research we do before we travel and some of the decisions we make in the field. We will show some of our unprocessed images, and discuss the basic thought process that went into building them in the field. We will use the same images to continue into the next section…
Post-Processing: The sheer number of processing tools and software products available today can be overwhelming. We will show an overview of our workflow from start to finish. This section will focus on the tools we use ourselves – including Adobe Bridge, Adobe Camera RAW, and Adobe Photoshop. We will discuss the various stages we work through as we organize our workflow, process an image, and prepare it for print or web. (We will not go into detail about the specific processing techniques we use. Instead, this section is meant to help students learn to organize their work and develop a workflow.)

Once in a Lifetime

Is it ok to “Manipulate” your Photos?

Long Shutter Speed creates surreal effect, and a color enhancement in Photoshop mimics Velvia film.

In the days of film photography, photographers manipulated their images in the darkroom. Ansel Adams himself was very accomplished in the darkroom – and he wasn’t afraid to stretch the boundaries of possibility. I think we take ourselves entirely too seriously if we aren’t willing to let photography be the art form that it is. Of course, there are limits to what I believe is acceptable. First and foremost – I believe in honesty. If I adjusted an image in Photoshop, I believe it’s important to be honest about the changes I’ve made. And if I am presenting an image for documentary purposes – newspapers etc – then I need to make sure my photograph is true to the reality of the original scene. That said, as far as I’m concerned… there are no limits to what is acceptable when it comes to your art work.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that a JPG image directly from your camera is also a manipulation… it’s just manipulated according to the settings you select in-camera, and the algorithms that the software developers choose.

Film was very different… there were no built-in, digital algorithms. No JPG or RAW or PSD… and yet, photographers used colored filters to produce effects that are similar to what we can achieve in PS. They dodged and burned and cropped and rotated. They chose Velvia film to produce saturated colors. They used circular polarizers to enhance colors and reduce reflections.

A circular polarizer filter helped remove distracting reflections from the wet surface of the rock. A wide-angle lens makes the rock appear large and adds depth to the image.

They used kaleidoscopic lenses to create bizarre manipulations, and fish-eye lenses to create extreme distortion, and wide-angle lenses to mess with perspective, and long lenses to get close to faraway objects, and macro lenses to make little things look big. They created double exposures.

Double Exposure created in Photoshop from two images taken within minutes of one another.

They used soft focus, or a long exposure, or a narrow depth of field to change the look of the scene they were photographing.

A narrow depth of field eliminates distracting details from the background.

And they even used masks – carefully cut from dark paper, or even created with the help of a microscope – to build images that were not so different from what we can do with Photoshop today. If photography is art – then who decides what is right or wrong? The artist, of course!

To learn more about processing and capturing photographs check out our ebooks below:

Tinkers Creek State Park, Ohio (OH), USA

How to Process a Moody Photograph

Conveying mood in a photograph sometimes requires a little extra care in your processing technique. I took this shot in Tinkers Creek State Park in Ohio on a foggy morning. To preserve the moody atmosphere, I processed a single RAW image twice – then combined these two versions of the same image using our iHDR Manual Blending Workflow.

Low Contrast Processing

Fog and humidity in the air reduce the contrast of objects that are farther away, so my first step was to process the RAW file with low contrast. The image you see above shows the result. The foggy atmosphere in the trees and highlights is preserved, but the grass in the foreground and the wooden boardwalk look dull and unappealing.

High Contrast Processing

Next, I used the same RAW file and processed the image with higher contrast settings. The image above shows that these adjustments produced good details in the foreground – but the appearance of the fog in the tree was all but lost. As a final step, I selectively combined the low-contrast and high-contrast images using layers and masks in Photoshop. I retain good details in the foreground, while also preserving the foggy, low-contrast mood in the trees and the highlights.

Prelude to the Light, Glacier National Park, WY

Is it “Photoshopped”?

Sometimes when people look at our photographs, they ask if the colors are manipulated. Have people told you your photos look “fake”, “too HDRish”, or that you used too much “photoshop magic”? One of our personal favorites is the assertion that “Photoshop ruined photography.”

Believe me, we’ve heard it all. So, what’s our answer to all this? When someone asks if we photoshop our photos, we simply say “Yes”. The fact is, we use Photoshop for every single image we take because we shoot only in RAW. We need to choose the proper settings in Adobe’s RAW converter.

But how much manipulation are we really using? Each image is different, but here’s a typical photograph – and the settings we used in Adobe Camera RAW. (Click on the image to see it at a larger size.)

The most important setting is color balance. The wrong color balance will make the whole image look weird. Jay chose a setting that showed the colors as he remembered them. He also bumped up the color saturation by about 4%. (Varina often leaves this setting at zero.) Straight-out-of-the-camera images shot with Velvia film will have far more saturated colors.

In many cases, we’ll use manual blending to bring out details in over or under exposed areas. And we may use targeted adjustments – similar to the way Varina used to use burning and dodging in the darkroom. We use Photoshop to help us bring out details in areas that the camera can not handle properly because the range of light in the image.

So, what’s the secret to getting those brilliant colors? Look for conditions that produce intense colors (like sunrise and sunset), get your settings right in-camera, and follow up with subtle processing. You can find more about capturing brilliant colors in these eBooks.

Metlako Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon (OR), USA

Post-processing with a Histogram – Highlights

Here’s a shot from Columbia River Gorge in Oregon. In an earlier post, we talked about using histogram to capture details in the highlights. Here, we’re going to talk a little bit about bringing out details in every part of the image.

After RAW processing, the photo looked like this:

Notice the lack of details in the water. We can use the lasso tool to draw a selection around the highlights in the water, and then look at the histogram to see what’s happening in that area (see image above). In this case, the histogram shows that the water is not overexposed – but the peak pretty narrow, and skewed to the right. There’s not a lot of detail in the water, and the highlights are pretty bright. We’ll blend a second exposure for that area and see if we can reduce the brightness just a bit – pull that peak apart with a little more contrast.

There are a variety of options for fixing the highlights. We might use an adjustment layer and a mask to bring out the details in the waterfall. Or, we might blend two exposures – one for the highlights in the water and the other for the surrounding forest. Either option will work just fine. Here’s the finished image after blending. The histogram for the selected area is wider, which shows that we have much better detail in the water.

To learn more about Layer and Mark check our iHDR webinars and our eBooks:

Workflow Series Collection

The Workflow Series

Price:  $21.00 (10% Discount)

Format:  eBooks, PDF format

Collection:  Waterfalls, Coastlines, Mountains, Details & Macro

Requirement:  Adobe Acrobat Reader 9.0 or greater


So, you want to learn from the pros – but you can’t afford pricey seminars or on-location workshops? Then this collection is for you! The Workflow series is the next best thing to shooting on-location with Varina and Jay Patel. These eBooks are meant to provide real-world examples and clear explanations for photographers who want to learn from professionals. In each eBook, Jay and Varina present six images. They explain their thought process in the field, the techniques they used in-camera, and the post-processing work they used to produce the finished product. The result is an in-depth look at the reality of landscape photography – the vision, the process, and the result.

The Workflow Series: Waterfalls

Shooting waterfalls can be a challenge, but water is one of the most captivating subjects in landscape photography. We are enthralled by trickling cascades, and awed by thundering water and rising mist – but it’s not easy to capture the beauty of a majestic waterfall and create an image that conveys that same sense of wonder.

So, take a walk with the pros. We’ll visit six waterfalls, and listen in as Varina and Jay explain their thought process in the field. We’ll watch and learn as they process their favorite images in Photoshop. And when they’re finished, we’ll get a good look at the finished products – six images that capture the beauty and personality of some of nature’s most inspiring features… waterfalls!

The Workflow Series: Coastlines

Join Varina and Jay as they visit six stunning coastlines – from Bahia Honda in Florida to the Makawehi Lithified Cliffs in Hawaii! Coastlines are some of the most dynamic and beautiful places on earth. Join Varina and Jay as they discuss the challenges they face as they shoot. Examine the decisions they make in the field… and on the computer during processing. Take this opportunity to climb inside the mind of professional wilderness photographers.

The Workflow Series: Mountains

With this third eBook in the wildly popular Workflow Series, join the pros as they photograph six mountain locations – from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah to Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies! Mountains present some of the most grandiose and majestic scenes on earth. Follow Varina and Jay once again as they walk through their entire workflow for shooting in the mountains – from fieldwork to post processing!

The Workflow Series: Details and Macro

This is the fourth eBook in our wildly popular Workflow Series. Join professional photographers, Varina and Jay Patel, as they discuss their vision, their thinking process, and the post-processing workflow they use for six of their most popular macro images.  Learn about circular polarizers, focus stacking, depth of field, and so much more! The pros will show how you can use a wide variety of techniques to create stunning macro and detail photographs!

Check out the sample pages below!