Photoshop, Lightroom, Silver Efex Pro, Luminar, Nik Software, I use them all.
Over 30 years ago when I learned black and white photo editing with John Sexton, we learned Ansel Adams methodology. Exposure and development times, dodging and burning, all played a large part in Ansel’s magic. Ansel believed in a 4 step process. Visualization, Exposure, Processing and Printing. The idea that a fine art print comes directly from a camera to a finished print is a myth. In most cases the final result takes time, tools, and skill.
Enter the world of digital. I believe if Ansel were alive today, he would be working at least in part, with digital media. Ansel was an innovator, from his early days in the 1930’s, through the 1960’s, he was continually inventing and refining the process of printmaking. He even mentioned that he believed in the future people would use computers to help work on photographic images.
So here we are today in a world where digital is by far the most used means to capture an image, and most images still need post processing. One thing that sets great photographers apart from the crowd, is how they process a digital image. The darkroom is now a computer, the tools are the software.
There is a plethora of editing software available today, and there are many good brands and applications. I can’t begin to give a review, or even mention everything that is available today. What I can do is tell you what I use and why. My process sounds long and complicated. It’s not. Yes, I have had years of practice, but I can edit 100+ decently exposed photos in an hour, or slightly longer. Like many things in life, it takes way longer to explain it, than it takes to do it!
I start off the process after making an image, with Lightroom. Lightroom does a great job of importing files, adding metadata, and getting the files ready to edit with my workflow. Lightroom does not end there however, it is also a powerful editing tool. Many photographers just use Lightroom from start to finish, and there is nothing wrong with that, Lightroom is a very capable tool. The way I use Lightroom however, is to import images and do some initial edits to get the image ready for further processing. I set the highs, lows, contrast, color (if shooting in color) and do whatever small work is needed to prepare my file.Then I import the file to Photoshop. — This is just me, from my many years of working with Photoshop. I started using Photoshop with version 5.5, some 30? years ago, and it is a workflow I’m comfortable with. Most of what I do could be done while still in Lightroom, but Photoshop is my thing. I’s all about layers for me. I suggest you experiment and find the best workflow for you.
After I’m in Photoshop I make a decision as to where I’m going with the photo. If I am going to do a black and white, I may be converting from color, or perhaps I’m using my Leica Monochrom. In either case, at that point I will use either Silver Efex Pro, or Luminar for conversion to black and white and / or processing the image. Which software I use depends on what I want to do with the image. Both programs are very capable, but for complicated edits I use Silver Efex Pro, because it is easier, the program was developed just to edit black and white images, so things like dodging and burning is much faster in Silver Efex Pro than in Luminar.
If my image is color, in most cases in Photoshop I will bring the photo into Luminar via the plugin for the bulk of my post processing. I used Nik software for years before Luminar came along, and there are times I still use some of the special effects in Nik Color Efex Pro. Luminar has a great set if tools for color work, and many useful presets. If I use a Luminar preset I will use it as a starting point. The great thing about the Luminar presets is you can use the right hand panel to customize the edit and add other presets as well. I find Luminar much easier to use than the older Color Efex Pro software.
I’m not going to go into detail on each of these programs. At a minimum it would take a very long post, preferably a book, as each piece of software I use has a multitude of useful functions. My purpose for this post is to give you an idea, an overview of my workflow. If someone thinks – oh, you use Luminar, maybe I’ll have a look at that, then I would consider this post a success.
The other side of the coin is dispelling a few myths. I love my Leica’s, enjoy my Fuji’s and have shot with almost every major camera brand going over the past 50 years, so yes in a way it is about the camera, a friend, a tool, a constant companion, but the camera is only a starting point. Photography is all about the finished product. There are many paths that lead up the mountain, as the saying goes. All of the paths to a finished print in photography, are like climbing that mountain, it takes work and equipment.
The journey is a fun one. Enjoy!