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The reason I decided to put together an article on before and after photography examples is to address one of the biggest misconceptions beginners face when first learning photography.
So, what is the big misconception that discourages many beginners from continuing on the path of photography?
It is a common practice for beginners to look at the work of more established photographers for direction and inspiration. This is a great approach that helps us measure our own learning progress and find new, creative ideas as well.
When aspiring photographers look at an more experienced artist’s solid work portfolio, they assume that the final photographs they see are what came directly out of the camera. And, when they compare their own work to the artist’s photos, they quickly get discouraged and are ready to quit. Why? Beginners attribute the huge difference in the level of quality to the "lack of professional equipment" and the "lack of talent."
This misconception greatly affected me when I first started learning photography. Not only did it make me feel helpless and inferior, it discouraged me from moving forward in the learning process.
My perception changed when I discovered the work of Ansel Adams. I already knew his name and recognized some of his work like everyone else, but learning more about how he approached photography was a huge revelation to me. I learned that, after returning from a photo shoot, he often spent days working on the same photo in his darkroom, creating an endless number of versions with the hopes of achieving his creative vision.
It became clear to me that even with the limitation of film photography, post processing was hugely important even then and, with the advances in digital photography, it is even more paramount now.
My Approach to Photo Editing
For a long time, my philosophy was that taking a picture was only 50% of creating a successful photograph with the other 50% tied up in post processing and editing.
But, with the advances in digital sensors that produce high-quality digital files and the improvements in editing tools like Lightroom, Photoshop and Capture One in recent years, the ratio is shifting again. For me personally, editing now makes up more than 50%.
For me, after I decide what to photograph (composition), the rest is the process of collecting as much information from the scene as possible and nothing else. I make the final decision on the exact look of the photo during the editing process when I assemble the collected information into the final photo.
Before and After Photography Examples
The goal of “Before and After Photography Examples” is to demonstrate my post processing workflow, how it has changed over the last few years and what tools I use.
Before and After Photography Example #1
1. HDR processing with Photomatix
HDR is a big part of my photography. Because of the poor dynamic range of my Canon’s sensor, I had to heavily rely on HDR to capture the scene’s entire range of light.
The first HDR tool I used was Photomatix. Years ago, HDR was a novelty concept and Photomatix was the only tool mature enough to produce high-quality HDR photos.
Before and After Photography Example #2
2. HDR Photography with Photoshop HDR Pro
Although I used Photomatix heavily, I was not fully satisfied with the program. It drastically degraded digital images and produced a high level of digital noise and artifacts.
This is when I started using Photoshop HDR Pro. It is a very simple tool since it is a module in Photoshop that serves one purpose: to combine multiple images into a huge 32-bit TIFF image. No editing is applied, no pixels are modified. This is just a simple, high-quality merger. The procedure allowed me to push my HDR files even further when I later used Lightroom.
Photoshop HDR Pro also allowed me to produce natural looking HDR photos that were better aligned with my style of photography.
Before and After Photography Example #3
3. HDR in Lightroom
In the beginning of 2015, two events occurred that drastically changed my editing workflow.
First, I switched from Canon to Sony. Sony is famous for designing and manufacturing the best digital sensors in the industry. The difference in quality and the dynamic range of the photos that my new Sony A6000 produced was so huge that it cut my need for using HDR in half.
Second, Adobe introduced their HDR Merge module in Lightroom 6. Now, I could merge multiple photos in Lightroom and produce RAW HDR files. It was a completely new experience because I did not have to rasterize raw files to produce an HDR image. Instead, I could keep working in a RAW environment.
Before and After Photography Example #4
4. HDR Expose
HDR in Lightroom satisfies 99% of my needs. At the same time, the functionality of Lightroom’s HDR Merge module is very basic. Occasionally, when I face extreme cases, I need something more advanced. This is when HDR Expose comes into play. It has the most advanced merging functionality of any HDR program I know. With HDR Expose, you can shoot multiple photos handheld and still merge them perfectly without any artifacts.
Before and After Photography Example #5
5. Long Exposure Effect Without Filters
The long exposure technique is a significant part of landscape photography. By opening the shutter for a long time, it allows us to create a blurry effect in the water and sky.
The conventional way of shooting long exposure in broad daylight is to use Neutral Density (ND) filters to block the light. I find that ND filters slow me down because it takes time to set everything up, plus you absolutely have to use a tripod.
The alternative method that I use is to shoot multiple photos of the same scene and later achieve the long exposure effect in Photoshop by merging multiple images together.
Before and After Photography Example #6
6. Lightroom Single RAW Editing
With advances in camera sensors that produce high-quality digital files plus the addition of advanced editing tools in Lightroom, I can complete the entire editing process entirely in Lightroom.
Before and After Photography Example #7
7. Lightroom Rapid Editing
If you have followed PhotoTraces.com for some time, you probably know that Lightroom Rapid Editing is a preset-based workflow that I developed for simplifying and speeding up my editing. This new approach cuts my editing time in more than half.
Before and After Photography Example #8
8. Luminosity Blending
Luminosity Blending is an advanced editing technique that helps us create HDR photos without using dedicated HDR programs. Instead, you use Photoshop's transparency masks to blend multiple files together. This is a complex process, but it gives us even more control over the entire process and produces the cleanest HDR files.
I use Raya Pro panel for Photoshop, which was developed by travel photographer Jimmy McIntyre to simplify the process. You can check out my review of Raya Pro here.
I hope my “Before and After Photography Examples” give you some ideas on what to do after taking photos of your own. I also encourage you to experiment with the post processing workflow and find your own unique way of creating photographs.
Please remember, you do not need any fancy equipment or expensive tools; all you truly need is Lightroom and nothing else.