On Processing Photos

I did this a while back on portraits, but here’s a little behind-the-scenes on how I process my photos in Lightroom.

Let’s take a photo from the Heidelberg Project in Detroit – blending a few favorite subjects of mine: an abandoned house, public art in an urban setting, good mix of light and deep shadows.

Here’s a before and after. The photo was captured with a Canon 7D and 24-70mm f/2.8 Sigma lens. The framing of the brick pillar and the burned black ceiling, with the shaft of light streaming down the stairs, made for an interesting scene.

I start with exposure. Is the frame too dark? Too bright? How about white balance. After adjusting those in Lightroom, I pick my VSCO present. These days, it’s Film 05′s Kodak Ektar 100. That particular film setting has a lot of options, but I usually stick with the default, or play with the Contrast+ setting.

I like Ektar because of its high-contrast, green-tinted-shadows look. It’s not afraid to let the shadows go completely to black, and it’s a warmer film tone. But that’s just the start.

From there I’ll probably add a bit more punch in the contrast setting, drop the highlights a bit to let more detail in the bright spots, and drop the blacks down to give it that really contrasty look. Shadows are my friend.

Depending on the image, I’ll also reduce the saturation a bit. Adding contrast makes the colors pop a bit too much for my liking (those shoes might be a bit too blue for my taste).

Increase the sharpening a tad (usually to the 30 mark, with some masking to only sharpen the edges), maybe bump the clarity (only for non-people photos), and increase the color noise reduction if I have to. Peeking at the shadows and dark spots in the photos lets me know if there is color noise.

Hit the “Remove Chromatic Aberration” toggle if I need to, and do any kind of lens or perspective corrections if I have to. And then I’ll add a bit of a vignette and, especially for VSCO film packs, reduce the grain level. My settings rarely have grain going anywhere above 20-30.

As a last touch, I’ll sharpen little details with the adjustment brush, spot remove anything that seems out of place, and crop a bit.

That’s it. Nothing complicated or fussy. I’ll spend a very short amount of time on a photo, and bring it into Photoshop to do any kind of heavy lifting. Getting it most of the way there in camera is the important part, allowing me to make the styling adjustments as needed.

Questions? Give me a shout.

Reader Question on Style

Hello Dave. I just recently created an account on Tumblr and stumbling through different photography blogs I’ve noticed that many people post pictures that have a certain style to them, one I haven’t really seen before. The style I would be referring to I noticed in your pictures “Sunrise on the Mill Pond – Concord, Michigan” and “Catching the Dew – Albion, Michigan”. I was just curious as to how you achieve this look, if it is achieved through Ps or Lr, or if it depends on the type of camera.

Those two (catching dew, and the sunrise photo) are two of my favs from the fall, and really a product of the right time of year, the right sunrises, and a healthy dose of custom VSCO editing in Lightroom. The macro lens helped, too, to really get in there and capture the details on the dew shot. And don’t quote me, but I think I used VSCO Film 03 for both. Thanks!

What You Might Build

Turn off those notifications, turn your phone over, turn on your favorite music, stare at your blank slate and consider what you might build.

The Builder’s High – Rands in Repose

This is increasingly why I’m spending less and less time on certain social media sites. Why consume others’ experiences when you can be busy making your own?

I like to make things. I like to be busy, and creative, and knee-deep in a photo or writing project.

Trying to talk somebody out of the stuff that they enjoy in life is like trying to talk them out of their faith or their sexuality. It’s a pointless exercise that can never be anything but acrimonious and will only highlight unnecessary amounts of difference about things that ultimately don’t really matter. Buy the steak you like, worship the god you love, neck with the people that you treasure and don’t worry about the numbers.

Merlin Mann // Taken from Episode #91 of Back To Work (1:07:00-1:07:24)

(via pantsformation)

AaronMahnke: Memories of Writing, or Why

Aaron Mahnke:


I’m an amateur soccer player, an amateur cook, an amateur skier, designer, racecar driver, and flyfisherman. And I’m happy to be an amateur at all of those things. Actually I LOVE being an amateur at all of those things – it allows me to dabble, make a ton of mistakes, goof around, drop the ball, not care when something else might be distracting me etc.

Being an amateur at those things means I can be comfortable. It’s safe. There is no fear of success or failure.

The weird go pro

Seth Godin:

Laying out the design of a page or a flyer so it looks like a pro did it takes about ten times as much work as merely using the template Microsoft builds in for free, and the message is almost the same…

Except it’s not. Of course not. The message is not the same.

The last ten percent is the signal we look for, the way we communicate care and expertise and professionalism. If all you’re doing is the standard amount, all you’re going to get is the standard compensation. The hard part is the last ten percent, sure, or even the last one percent, but it’s the hard part because everyone is busy doing the easy part already.

This is what makes what I do paradoxically enjoyable and frustrating. I love concentrating on the stuff that no one else cares about because I care intensely about it. Things, little things, do matter.

On the flip side, I encounter people who are template humpers and think good enough is good enough. They have no respect for, or are totally ignorant of, that last 10 percent – and have no interest in it. It’s the interest part that’s frustrating.

For some, Microsoft Word is good enough, and Times New Roman is good enough, and an photo stolen from Google Images is good enough. For me, the fun is in tackling the good enough and making it even a tiny bit better.

Even if I never approach something a tiny bit better (and often times I don’t), the pursuit is, in of itself, a worthy goal.