During a post-production session at a recent Mojave First Horizon Workshop several photographers asked why I teach them to start with the black slider in Adobe Lightrooms’ development module first.
Here is Why.
When we adjust the black slider, we find the darkest area of the image that will still hold detail and then move onto the white slider to find a point that still holds detail as well. We then adjust shadows, and highlights (see our Fool Proof Manual HERE) as needed and sometimes exposure if necessary. To do the first two steps, we hold down the ALT Key (OPT Mac) until we see the threshold pixels, which defines the black or white points and then back off until they disappear.
Some asked why not use the auto command which they pointed out does a pretty good job of adjusting all the sliders in the RAW file almost instantly, or simply hold down the shift key and double click on the various slider pointers and Lightroom will find the black point and white point for you (and other slider settings as well).
Automation is great and a useful tool for many workflows in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw. You could also push sliders around in the develop module until you arrive at an image that you like. However, there are 4 reasons for teaching and using this workflow when creating Art Photography, and Landscape art in particular.
1. SLOW DOWN, SEE and FEEL YOUR WORK
How and when we select to use the sliders in the Develop Module has nothing to do with the pixel distribution technology. It has everything to do with how you will see and feel your work.
Following a logical step by step process, forces you to slow down, to see and feel your image at a pace that allows you to absorb the power and the nuance of the develop module tools. What I expect from our workshop students who are developing as landscape art photographers is not an image that accurately represents a given place with fortuitous light and clouds.
Rather we encourage students to create images that reveal they see as significant, and personally subjective. Art Photography today rarely relies on depicting ‘reality’ or snapshot documentation. We photographers have been pixel pushing for several decades to extend the emotional range of our work and thus postproduction tools and workflows have become standard operating procedure and a component of the visualization workflow.
Put another way, don’t Xerox what you saw, take time to create what you felt.
2. SLOW DOWN, SEE AND FEEL YOUR TONAL RELATIONSHIPS
It is critical to see the tonal relationships develop as you make your adjustments. One of the first lessons in an art class is to pencil sketch a tonal range, through shading. In class, students spend hours performing shading exercises and learn to create light, form, and dimension.
Since we see and understand objects because of how dark or light they are, tonal value (be it black and white or color) is incredibly important to art photography as it creates visual dimensionality and emotional range. In photography, we capture light, but in post we can adjust or redirect light values with adjustment sliders in our development panel and with our local adjustment tools.
3. LOOK FOR NUANCE, DETAIL, AND SIGNIFICANCE
In Figure One, we have a normally exposed image of an isolated and solitary windmill against a distant mountain that is in full sun. When you look closely you see that the highlights are ‘hot,’ in the mountain and lack detail and the shadows in the foreground suffer some blockage.
In Figure Three, we have adjusted the develop module controls based upon our Foolproof workflow and selected a black point and a white point. Although we have a technical white point. We often adjust this slider further (pull back) to achieve an aesthetic white point with less brightness for many landscape images.
It is important to note that when proceeding with an art workflow, we have to recognize that although we find the black and white points with technology that reveals their pixel threshold, we still have to use our eyes to determine if these points create the image we have visualized.
In Figure Five, Adobe’s Sensei (auto command) has adjusted our sliders to create a baseline image using Artificial Intelligence (AI). Note Sensei slider positions are much like our Foolproof workflow, but Sensei has chosen to lighten the image overall, by adding some exposure and contrast. (For accurate comparison work, we eliminated the Sensei vibrance and saturation adjustments.) In this case Sensei has created a solid starting point for your image, but the instant results often distract from the creative process of feeling your visualized image.
4. REST THEN TWEAK YOUR ADJUSTMENTS
If the image meant something to you when you squeezed the shutter, then take your time now, let your thoughts expand, sensitize your eyes and emotions and circle back to your original feelings. Next go back to your Basic Panel and tweak your adjustments to produce a work that begins to achieve the emotional range that drove your field visualization.
Deliberate, predictable workflow steps which require artistic focus and discipline open an image to further creative interpretation processes. Moreover, this methodology helps you determine if this image is the real thing, the image that portrays your feelings. In this case the windmill did not, and I abandoned the image after the Basic Panel Workflow and some local adjustment tweaks.