Behind the Lens | Editing Without Actions and Before/After Comparisons
I've already explored the importance of finding a photographer whose editing style you love, and how vastly one photographer's finished product can vary from another's, even when the starting point is the exact same SOOC (straight-out-of-camera) photo. You can find that post here. Today I wanted to share a few of my before and after comparisons with you and give you a glimpse into my editing style, and how it has evolved and come into its own recently.
If you're into photography, you've likely heard of Photoshop Actions or Lightroom Presets being sold, individually or in sets, to facilitate post production. Essentially, a series of actions in an editing program is recorded to then be reused on multiple images. Some are basic and do simple things like boost exposure and sharpen up the image. Some are more creative and add colour casts, grain, haze, heavy contrast, etc. The really great thing about actions and presets is that they can be a quick and simple way to really transform an image. They're also great for achieving a certain look that you may not know how to recreate on your own (Photoshop can be complicated, to say the least!). It's also great to have consistency in your work, and if you find an action (or a series of actions) that you love, it can help you develop an editing style that is unique and recognizable.
I first discovered the world of actions for myself last Spring. I've always been really picky about the look I want my photos to have, so I set out to find a handful of simple actions that enhanced my images without totally transforming them. I eventually found an editing groove and applied the same editing technique to almost all of my images. I would use actions on low opacity so as to not create an over-processed look and make sure I stayed true to the essence of the photo when it was taken, which is important to me.
The thing with actions, at least for me, is that you grow tired of them. Lucky for all of us, photographers are always putting out new action sets to keep up with the demand and the newest editing trends. But in my case, I wanted more than just new actions. I wanted to know how to create the look I wanted myself. I longed for complete creative control over my images. Essentially, I wanted to make my own actions. So I used the slower season (January-March for me) to really explore what I want to achieve with my editing and how I could get there. I researched, found tutorials online, and did a lot of trial and error. Photoshop curves became my best friend. I figured out how to add just a touch of a hazy matte finish while still keeping the image fresh, clean and timeless. In short, I figured out what I wanted to achieve with my images, and how to achieve it on my own. It's been fun, liberating and so empowering to ditch my actions and just edit the way I want to edit. I still have so much to learn about Photoshop, but it's been so exciting to have a few "Aha!" moments in the past few months. We truly are always learning.
I thought I'd share a few before and after comparisons for you. It's important for me to try and nail the shot in-camera as much as possible, and to do as little "fixing" in post-processing as possible. That said, sometimes I intentionally underexpose to hold on to details in the sky or light, and sometimes I just plain old forget to adjust my settings until I'm a couple of clicks into a new shooting situation. This is why I always shoot RAW. The photos below are all hand-edits and have all undergone essentially the same action-free processing. I want my final image to stay true to the original colours and mood of the photograph. If it was a dark, gloomy, sunless day, then I'm going to embrace that... I won't be adding a fake blue sky or throwing in some artificial sunflare. As much as I love me some golden sunlight, it's gotta be real for this girl. That said, if there's some dreamy, delicious sun, then I want to enhance it and allow it to set the tone for the image. I like my images to have a touch of matte haze to them, but just a touch. I also like to bring out the deeper tones, but I'm not about overly contrasted images. I like my photos soft but bright, fresh but hazy. Does that make any sense at all? I suppose the good thing about figuring out my own processing is that I can take all of my crazy non-coherent thoughts and work toward getting the result I want.
My style is certainly not for everyone, which is why, as I said at the beginning of this post, it's important to find a photographer whose style is a good fit for you. And just in case anyone reading this has been lead to believe that I am anti-action, let me clarify. I loved actions while I used them, and some of my favourite photographers use actions and presets regularly. The important thing, I think, is to do what works for you. And because I am the kind of person who'd rather bake the bread than go to the finest bakery, this was the right path for me to take. And it's a path that has made editing go from a tiresome task to an art form that fulfills my need to create - a MAJOR bonus, since editing is a HUGE part of my life!