(skip further below for the highlights)
I've never learned my way around programs like Photoshop enough to know whether or not there's a magic sunset button, or if there is one, how to use it properly. If I want a magnificent moment in nature, I first have to find one. That's where it all starts. Getting up super early (and I am NOT a morning person haha!), staying out late, researching, traveling, scouting, searching, waiting, wandering, slipping, falling, suspending (don't ask), predicting weather, hoping, praying, trying, failing, returning again and again, practicing, and eventually succeeding…all these things are common events in the life of a landscape photographer. I didn't venture into this passion because I wanted to sit behind a computer all day trying to turn humdrum events into something special. I wanted to actually witness something special out in nature, and somehow bottle it up and bring it back home. This is where my passion resides. This is the foundation of my art.
I often think the term "Photoshopped" is misunderstood and perhaps misapplied plenty of times in today's world. It's sort of like saying a meal has been "kitchen-ed," when of course it's the cook in the kitchen who makes all the difference. Not every cook employs the same tools and techniques. Yet, maybe because we often don't know the specific names and/or processes of every cook out there who may have had something to do with the images we feast our eyes on, we resort to blaming anything we might find suspect on the existence of the kitchen (and those tools and possibilities contained therein). Silly, huh?
I know, in one sense, reading what is outlined below will be like checking the packaging of the food you eat. You want to know just how natural the ingredients are, and often you'll even find yourself concerned about the ingredients behind the ingredients, with questions akin to "which ocean did this fish come from?" or "what was this chicken fed growing up?" So many important things go into the acquisition of a tasty meal before a kitchen is ever part of the equation, as I hope my rambling in the first paragraph shows when it comes to nature photography.
In the end, a photographer is not only a cook, but also a hunter/gatherer who brings all their own raw ingredients together. Many photographers can already taste the final meal in their mouths while bringing the raw images home. Sometimes not much needs to be done (sushi anyone?), and other times more work is required for various reasons. In any case, like cooks, each of us has a particular style as photographers that we develop and refine in presenting our final images for mass consumption. We all interpret a chicken dinner in different ways based on the raw meat we bring home, and we try to do this as tastefully as each of us knows how. Whether or not we succeed in being tasteful is up for debate, and probably will always be till the end of time:)
And so with all of that said, in the spirit of you knowing what's in my food and where it came from, below are my main techniques I might call upon "in the kitchen" from time to time depending on the situation. Hopefully this will give you a better understanding of what you are seeing in my images, and my heart behind it.
…to improve the overall tones/realism/emotion present in the scene. As much as we photographers might wish, cameras don't always register and interpret the various colors in a scene in an accurate and helpful way. Thus, some fine tuning of colors may be necessary after the fact.
…for instance, when I need to get a balanced, more realistic sky and ground that doesn't suffer from one area being too bright or too dark, I will blend by hand separate images (captured one after the other) that contain the appropriate details. Also, for times when I couldn't get everything I wanted sharply in focus with just one exposure, I will blend multiple images captured at different focus points. And finally, if perhaps it was a persistently windy day near a mountain stream, I will take one or more faster exposures meant to freeze the surrounding tree leaves from blowing, and then blend them with a longer exposure meant to blur the water.
…subtle (or sometimes dramatic) lightening and darkening of areas within the image that help control contrasts and the direction the eyes navigate the layers and textures present in a scene. This is a popular and long accepted artistic process in which great photographers like Ansel Adams were well versed.
…this is another older technique used amongst photographers either subtly or drastically to convey emotion and keep someone's eyes from drifting outside the image. We can use it in various degrees to articulate a tunnel vision that helps communicate how focused our eyes and hearts were in real life on the subject matter being photographed. It's definitely an artistic choice, but one I certainly enjoy from time to time.
…especially with the hopes of making an image seem more like staring out a window then viewing a picture on a screen/print. It's hard to explain briefly, but subtlety is my most important weapon here. I do what I can to make myself feel like I'm back in the real life moment.
...similar to the previous example, I do this with the hope of improving the perception of 3-dimensional depth in a 2-dimensional medium such as a photograph. Again, subtlety is my secret sauce here if I have any! And again, it's all with the intention of making me, and anyone else viewing the image, feel like they are standing back there in the moment.
...to help soften harsher highlights and/or details that demand too much attention or otherwise seem too distracting in the overall presentation of the image. These subtle blurs can also be used occasionally to evoke a dreamy quality to a scene that nature lovers often feel in person, but doesn't always translate fully into the camera's raw image. Using these blurs tastefully is key, and knowing when not to use them is just as important as anything.
...such as pieces of trash, tree limbs, or airplane contrails that I was unable to remove in person. In their place will be a sampling of the immediate areas surrounding them (such as grass, blue sky, etc) blended to a seamless presentation.
…I will on rare occasions introduce an intentionally drastic color shift for artistic purposes, but if I do I will say so in the image caption on my website. Yet, I won't introduce a sky that wasn't there, or move mountains, trees, flowers, or streams (etc) where they didn't reside in the first place.
…as stated further above, I will occasionally digitally remove pieces of trash, tree limbs, contrails, or smaller distracting items if I could not remove them in person.
…if it exists:)