The Digital Darkroom

People seem to be in two minds about using software to change an image once you get home; there are those who feel it is all part of the creative process, and a continuation of part of taking a photograph, and there are others who don’t like it at all, and who feel that a good photograph should be taken at the time and not need anything else done. Of course, there are lots of other views as well, but those are the two that I come across most often.

I fall into the first camp – I take a photo with my digital workup in mind. I focus on capturing images that are sharp and composed well, but don’t worry too much about getting the white-balance right, or the exposure (that’s not quite true, I do worry about the exposure, but mostly that, if anything, I over expose a little so that I capture detail in the shadows). Then, once I get home I open my images in Lightroom and carry the process on. I really enjoy the workup, because it extends the photography process, and really lets me get the feel of the images I have taken.

I thought it would be interesting to mention my workflow – what I actually do to images in Lightroom – of course, this might just be extremely dull, in which case, I apologise, but here we go:

To start I use the rating system to remove images that I’m not happy with – all images start with 0 stars, those that I think have something get one star. I then filter so that I see 1 star only, and go again. This time I’m checking composition, is it workable? is it good? images that pass get 2 stars, those that don’t, stay at 1. At this point I compare any images I have of the same thing. I have a rule that having multiple images of exactly the same thing with minor differences is a waste of time and just fills up memory, so I make myself choose my favourite, and keep to that. I look through all of the 2 star images, and this is where I check the sharpness and quality of the key details – I’ve written elsewhere about my obsession with detail, but there are some things that really must be sharp – eyes in a portrait, for example. Again, those images, and more often than not I’m only down to a few now, that pass get an extra star.

All of the 3 star images get “enhancement”, that is I crop to tweak the composition if necessary, change the exposure to what I want, adjust white balance – do the things to the image that I feel will make it what I want it to be. Some people have a specific workflow that they use, doing essentially the same thing to each image, but I have a much more serendipitous approach; I change things based on my gut feeling, I forget everything I’ve ever read about a “good” photo and just keep adjusting until it feels right, after all I’m not professional – these images aren’t for anyone else but me, so as long as I feel they are right, that is all that matters.

And that’s it. 4 stars is given to those finished photos that I think are good, and will be worth showing online, and will make up the numbers in a photo book, and 5 stars goes to those that I am really overwhelmed by – that I want to order prints of and show everyone I meet!

What do you think about the digital darkroom? I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on this one.

2 thoughts on “The Digital Darkroom

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