Making Post-Processing Decisions

Decisions, Decisions

I love post-processing photos. Since my approach to photography means creating my own vision or “take” on what I see, I have no problem processing a photo in dramatic directions and find it all incredibly satisfying. I was raised in an artistic family, so I guess that just got baked into me. By the same token, I was trained classically in photography, revere Nature and have learned that sometimes Nature does all the work for you. When that happens, you really shouldn’t mess with perfection.

Such was the case on this day:

Nature is such a drama queen sometimes.

The 2 Questions I Always Ask Myself

Every photo I take requires a decision. Maybe a couple of decisions. I usually ask myself “What’s the story?” and “Literal or Interpretation?” I find that answering those two questions usually sends me off in a good direction. To me, every photo has a story – or should – otherwise, what’s the point of the photo? The voice of the story tells me whether to keep my processing more on the natural side – or go wild.

In this case… I didn’t have to create anything. It was ALL right there… and wow! I was blown away watching this thunderstorm build in from the East. Just standing atop a very dry Eagle Falls overlooking Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe, California, I could literally watch these clouds roiling up over the horizon and tumbling over the lake like an explosion. There was no improving on that… my job was to capture it the best I could, then get out of the way.

The story: the moment itself… the clouds… the drama unfolding right before my eyes
The choice: Literal.

Literal? Whaddya Mean?

Now is a good moment to define “Literal”. For me, that does NOT mean using the image straight out of the camera. Because that image is not what I saw. That version of the moment is flatter, blown out in sections, too dark in others and doesn’t bear all the depth, texture and drama that was actually right in front of my eyes.

In those instances, I use HDR as my tool of choice. In this case, 5-7 auto bracketing shots. I think I shot 7, but used 5.
“But wait! That’s not natural!” I someone in the back row cry out.
“Ahhhh, weedhopper… I said ‘Literal’, not ‘Natural’.” I calmly reply. And smile just a little.

This image is literally what I saw. No way could I get my camera to capture that all by its little manufactured self.
I SAW those gradations, layers and textures in the clouds, saw the brilliant late afternoon sun lighting up the trees – and all the stuff in between. I wanted you to see it too, because it was amazing.

So I used HDR to capture that. Didn’t use it to add much… just bring it all in. From there, blended back the best parts of the best images, so that no highlights were blown out, no dark areas obscured the details – and did my best to capture the almost unnatural shades of blue to blue-grey in the sky that I saw with my own beady little eyes. Used some sharpening and contrast… gently… to bring the impact into focus. Then called it done. Done!

Because what you see there WAS the story… literally!
And when the story is literally all there… then tell the damn story, as literally as you can.

That’s MY story.
And I’m sticking to it.