one day at a time

day 107: watching

watching © Verena Fischer

watching © Verena Fischer

This picture was taken yesterday when I was going for a walk along the river Spree. At this point I hadn’t reached the Spree yet and when I turned around I saw this guy in full working gear including dust mask just standing there. He didn’t pay attention to me and he seemed somewhat distant, as if far away in his mind. I guess blowing leaves is not exactly his dream job. I just had to take a picture, because he just looked like right out of some kind of post-apocalyptic scenario.

As you might have noticed, I’m in a black and white mood again these days. I’m starting to find black and white somewhat more expressive, but it tends to take a bit more work in the post-processing. I’m also slowly getting to know more Photoshop kungfu and I’ve been especially fond of the results of levels adjustments. It’s quite amazing how much of a difference just a few simple steps can make to a picture. I found a simple way to locate middle grey in the picture and it’s quite useful. It even makes a difference if you then end up converting to black and white, although it may sound unintuitive. For now my workflow looks like this:

1. RAW conversion. Usually I adjust blacks, contrast, clarity and vibrance. Then I crop if necessary – although lately I’m trying to get the crop right when taking the picture in the first place. Last I might add a little vignette, but only very little and I don’t always do it. This very much depends on the picture. I wouldn’t add a vignette to a macro or a landscape, but if there are people in the picture it often helps.

2. Sharpening. For this I use the unsharp mask. It actually makes a huge difference for my two lenses since they’re cheap zoom lenses. Without the sharpening I hardly would get any sharp lines, because I really like to shoot wide open. You have to be selective though and know how to use a layer mask, since it can worsen noise in the bokeh or make surfaces look dirty.

3. Levels adjustment. I adjust blacks, whites and middle grey with the colour pipettes and hardly use the sliders. To adjust the middle grey I found this helpful tutorial that makes use of difference blending a 50% grey layer over the picture together with a threshold layer. It takes a bit of practice not to lose the colour marker when zooming in and out, but it’s definitely a simple technique.

4. Black and white conversion. I use an adjustment layer for this since it gives you all the control you need over the different colours and no colour information is lost in the process. For faces the red and yellow sliders are helpful and for the rest just pick up the sliders and play around until you like it. A part of this is usually to add a brightness and contrast layer since you definitely need more contrast than in a colour picture. For the latter I’m normally happy with whatever comes out of RAW conversion, but for black and white you need a bit more extreme configurations for it to really pop. However, usually it’s better to handle the contrast with a levels adjustment and just push up the brightness a little bit in this layer.

What I don’t do is to go the quick and dirty way and use layer blending options to handle brightness and contrast. A levels adjustment only takes a few steps more and gives way better results.

What’s the most important for post-processing is to be open for where the flow goes. Don’t limit yourself already in the RAW conversion and keep the option open of using colour even if you planned a shot to be black and white. The best way to give you that option is to play with the vibrance setting. And if you planned colour, still try the black and white, just to give you a different perspective. I find it quite rewarding to play and see what comes out in the end. Who would have thought that a neon orange work overall would end up looking best almost black in this picture for example?

6 responses

  1. post-apocalyptic scenario is the perfect description of what I thought I was seeing! The more you learn in ps the more we see! Great work.

    November 27, 2011 at 6:51 pm

  2. I love the tips! Brilliant story too 😉

    November 28, 2011 at 4:12 am

  3. Sometimes processing is just as much fun as taking the photo…
    (which explains why I often get carried away with it, I guess)!

    November 28, 2011 at 4:18 pm

  4. Very nice Verena and great tips also!

    November 28, 2011 at 5:39 pm

  5. I do the majority of my editing in RAW – easier to do batch edits and it doesn’t degrade the photo during the process. I sometimes use MCP acr actions if I am in a hurry –

    November 29, 2011 at 2:34 am

  6. So much happening in this photograph, well done!

    November 29, 2011 at 6:50 pm

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