What If… Dale’s Take on the Post-production Faceoff

by valrac4_a3kqdy

In our August/September issue, Guy Langevin’s Close-up article on page 66 shared the story of a post-production experiment he did with fellow Photo Life collaborator Dale. Here is Dale’s response to the experiment.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here was a country song getting a lot of airplay quite a few years ago that recently had me chuckling. Randy Travis sang something along the lines of:

As long as old men sit and talk about the weather
As long as old women sit and talk about old men

Well, Randy, I am willing to hedge bets the subjects of your 1987 Grammy winning tune were not photographers, regardless of gender. Give those old men and old women a camera, and I’ll guarantee that is what they talk about…and not always with love, Forever and Ever, Amen.

My good friend, and art director at Photo Life presented me with a challenge this past May. How would two photographers interpret a single image during the post-production stage? We would publish our results in the current issue of Photo Life; Guy would write his comments on the printed page, and I would write mine on this blog.  (How’s that for a clever marketing strategy?)

Of course, Guy added a couple of rules:

1. The fictional end-product would be to illustrate an editorial piece bringing awareness to pollution, and

2. Post-production manipulation is only restricted by no compositing permitted.

With the knowledge the image would eventually used for editorial purposes, a self-imposed code of ethics will apply. Essentially, this usage type will negate the importing of elements or the removal of existing elements already in the frame. I am of the opinion the editorial image should not misrepresent fact, but at the same time I believe the digital artist and/or photographer should have the opportunity to visually enhance what the message might be. I understand there is a very fine line between “enhance” and “manipulate.” Therefore, my rule-of-thumb maintains that if I couldn’t create the image in-camera, then I won’t create the image in digital post-production.

The original file as provided .

The original file as provided.

This image arrived in DNG format which was fabulous. It allowed me to reset any adjustments that might have already been made, and thus start from the original capture.

My first impressions were: the image is very flat and lacks contrast. The sky is washed out and could have been held to an acceptable tonal range with the use of a two- or three-stop ND graduated filter. In the foreground the image is soft, and this is a result of an inferior lens. All in all, this would look very much like a newspaper photograph that will be used to bring attention to the evils of pollution and negative environmental impact.

Goal: Work the existing elements through various techniques in Photoshop to enhance the negativity of pollution.  Maximum time allocation: one hour.


In Lightroom:  Bring detail into sky using grad filter and adjust exposure. Open shadows in foreground using reverse grad filter and adjust exposure. Decrease warmth in overall image by lowering colour temperature to around 4700. Export to Photoshop CC.

In Photoshop:  Create duplicate layer > make B&W > blend adjust to soft light. Select water only, feather 25 pixels and curves adjustment to decrease brightness and tonal range. Pollution is a dark topic so I have lowered the colour temperature to a colder blue to reflect that emotion. The tonal range has been broadened and the detail in the sky made more evident.

This would be the file I would submit to the fictitious photo editor.

Elapsed time: 5 minutes.

This is the file I would submit to an art director for publishing.

This is the file I would submit to an art director for publishing.


For comparison purposes, this is the final file that Guy produced.

For comparison purposes, this is the final file that Guy produced.


Pushing It

From this point forward the adjustments and techniques are a matter of choice that best enhances the “feel” of the image to create a final personal message. I used the Orton Technique to create an ethereal glow to give the image a “feel” that I thought interpreted the surreal and ugly side of pollution.

It was a matter of “art-over-science” by making selections and opening tonal range, or increasing/decreasing contrast in specific areas of the image as the muses would strike. I also added a hint more of cyan to open the deep blue colours that were blocking up. And last, I added a pretty healthy dose of noise on a new layer and then adjusted the opacity of that layer until a desired effect was attained.

Again, all effects were created in Photoshop using techniques that could also have been accomplished in-camera through the use of multiple exposure, filters and ISO selection.

Elapsed time: 55 minutes.

Given druthers, this is the final interpretation that I would prer should I be looking for an image as part of an exhibition, or to publish in a coffee table book.

Given my druthers, this is the final interpretation that I would prefer should I be looking for an image as part of an exhibition, or to publish in a coffee table book.


I want to caution that there is no right or wrong way to work on another photographer’s image. It really depends on the final use and photographer instructions. Whether you prefer one image over another is—rightly so—your choice.

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