Image Post-Procesing Objectivity

panorama of mount redoubt and nodoubt peak from chilliwack lake provincial park

Alpenglow on Mount Redoubt and Nodoubt Peak from Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park
(click for larger version)
6 exposures stitched, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM @ 144mm

   When I spend time shooting I will normally take a quick overview of the days results immediately. There are often a few shots that will stand out – and those are often processed and sometimes show up here on the blog right away. I have learned that taking a long step back from a series of new photos can be beneficial to me in terms of my objectivity in culling the weaker shots. If I were to go through all the shots immediately I still carry my mental image of what I had planned for a photo. Not everything I try works out of course, and sometimes my initial expectations turn out to be too high. Sorting and processing images a month or two later gives me a lot better perspective of what is a “good” shot or a bad one – as many of my initial expectations have settled down. This has generally worked out so far – and I think I am better at choosing strong images than I used to be in part because of it.

However…

   I recently had an experience where the month+ delay in processing a panorama didn’t really seem to help. I processed and stitched this panorama 3-4 times – never quite happy with the colour of the sky. Things got to the point where I was no long able to view the photo at all objectively.

   For this particular panorama I stood in the snow next to Chilliwack Lake for over an hour, freezing, taking the odd shot but waiting for the right light. When it came – I shot about 3 panoramas (and many single shots) with a few different compositions. I like the composition of this one the best. The colour of the sky seemed quite purple compared to what my brain was telling me looked “natural”. This could be a case of over analysis – but I try to process images such that they are faithful to what I saw at the time. So I processed the 6 shots that make up this image again in Camera Raw with some PS adjustments to account for the colour. Then I did this again. Still not happy I put the image away for a few more weeks. I should note the purple color is present in the raw file – not as a result of some other colour processing I have done.

   Now that I have picked up this panorama again, I am still not sure if this looks natural. I like the colour on the mountain peaks, this is how it looked when I was there – but the sky still bothers me. I have stared at it so long I no longer remember what it looked like in person – perhaps that is the downside in waiting to do post processing? Maybe I just have to drop an image for longer or toss it entirely? I again processed an alternate panorama – taken about 7 minutes before the one posted above – and the sky looks bland and the clouds undefined – the whole image is uninspiring.

So what is the good thing about all this?

   During this process I learned a few more Photoshop techniques that I otherwise would not have. Tweaking sky colours using Selective Color in Photoshop, for example. Next time I have a sky colour problem as a result of changing colour temperature etc – I know how to fix it. I have also learned that sometimes I might need to move on from processing an image that just isn’t right – or leave it behind entirely.

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6 Responses to “Image Post-Procesing Objectivity”

  1. It looks good to me. I think the tones in the sky match the shadow areas of the foreground slopes. If you went more purple I think it may look odd. A bit hard to tell though.

    • Michael says:

      Thanks for the feedback. The Camera Raw defaults showed the sky with more purple which was what I was trying to decrease and keep things looking natural – to my eye at least.

  2. Steve Cole says:

    I can definately relate to your story. As landscape photographer’s, we live for the magic light of sunrise and sunset but I know I struggle with processing them due to color casts. Recently I made a comment about these kind of situations on the Photo Cascadia blog and Sean Bagshaw referred to some pretty elaborate steps he takes such as double processing the RAW for different color temperatures. Crazy but I never thought about doing that! I’m taking his image processing class soon so I hope to revisit some photos and make them better.

    I also apply your concept of “distance” to my selection process for photos to add to my website. Unlike photos destined for rapid turnaround on my blog, I like to look back over the last 6 months to more objectively evaluate photos.

    It’s always nice to learn that others work in a similar manner! 🙂

    • Michael says:

      That is a good point – there are other techniques I could have employed to deal with this. Double processing and masking, for example. There are a few shots from the same location (non panoramic) where I am trying that technique. If they work out I may post them to the blog in the future.

      Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  3. Henrik says:

    Beautiful landscape shot!

  4. Christopher says:

    Very nice shot and an interesting glimpse into your process here. I can relate to your musings about abandoning a shot but heavens not this one. It’s a great shot and though the lighting and color are challenging you’ve created a strong image.

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