One of my New Year’s resolutions is to learn Photoshop. I’ve been serious about photography for over five years now, so I’d say I’m long overdue to take the plunge and join the “dark side” of photo editing. I avoided learning Photoshop for so long because I was honestly too lazy to learn new software and I was put off by the cost. I also avoided using Photoshop because of the sometimes negative stigma associated with photography and “photoshopping.” The fact of the matter is every professional photographer, and most serious hobbyists for that matter, digitally re-touch their images. Photoshop is simply the best (and most expensive) editing program out there. Truth be told, I have been re-touching my images for several years now using Adobe Lightroom and plugins like Nik Efex. With these programs, and now with Photoshop, my goal is not to create unrealistic images, but to further improve the images I do take and to help overcome the limitations of my camera gear.
To demonstrate the limitations of even my high end camera system, have a look at this series of pictures of the Capitol Building in Pierre, SD. Below, in the first image there are two major issues that stand out to me: First, by focusing on the rock at the bottom of the frame, the Capitol and grounds are blurry because my camera can’t keep both the close up rock and far away capitol building in sharp focus. In fact, even with a wide angle lens, the focus zone is so small that the rock sticking out of the water on the right middle of the frame is already out of focus. Second, by exposing for how much light the rock needed to be properly lit, the capitol and grounds are overexposed and in the case of the capitol building, so overexposed there is no detail in that area, just pure white. After all, cameras are just machines and can only record so much of a range of light, much less than the range we see with our eyes, and I have exceeded that range with my camera in the image below.
In the next image, I focused on the capitol building and also set the camera’s exposure so the capitol dome would be properly exposed. I now have the same problem as in the first image but in reverse: Now the rock in the foreground is blurry and also very much underexposed.
Now here is where Photoshop comes into play. I loaded the two above images into Photoshop and used layer masking to merge the properly focused and exposed capitol and grounds picture with the properly focused and exposed rocks in the foreground picture to make a single properly exposed image with sharp focus in both the foreground and background.
The above example shows a relatively extreme case of my exposure woes. In practice, I always carry a variety of filters that I place in front of my camera to help control the dynamic range of a scene. Sometimes, as in this case, using filters is not ideal or is still be insufficient to control the dynamic range of a scene. Even though I prefer using filters in the field to correct exposure, obtaining “front to back” sharpness in an image is a chronic challenge. With Photoshop, I will now overcome!
I don’t believe that by learning Photoshop my landscape images will become fake and from my imagination alone. Instead, I look forward to using it to correct the limitations of my camera and gear and ultimately present an image that is more pleasing to view and is still true to the scene I actually photographed.