Before and After Post-Processing of Travel and Fine Art Photography

peter-stewart-post-processing-guide

Peter Stewart is an internationally published photographer that specialized in travel and fine art photography. To understand how to take awesome scenery photos, you must know the three basic qualities of light: intensity, direction, and color. Check out how a master does his work.

Intensity: This refers to the strength of light. If the sun is high in the sky, light can be harsh and too strong. Cloudy days bring soft and diffused light.

Direction: This refers to light placement. There are three categories of light placement: front, back, and side-lighting. Side-lighting produces more texture between light and shade.

Color: The color of sunlight varies depending upon conditions and time of day. If the sun shines at the beginning or the end of the day, the color of the light will be much warmer and will lead to a much more dramatic scene.

While all three are different qualities of light, they all have another important factor in common: time of day. Choosing the correct time of day is a foremost in capturing a scene at its best. The intensity of light brings out different colors in a landscape image. Colors in landscape photography depend on light available and also what time you shoot a scene, as well as and where you place your camera. On top of balancing light, Peter draws the vibrant color back in Photoshop, giving it life for the eyes of the consumer. Check out these images photographed and edited for the audience to see. 

Four exposure blend: Exposures manually blended in Photoshop. De-Fished using Adobe Lens Profile for Samyang 12mm.

Four exposure blend.

Three exposure edit: HDR bracketing, manually blended in Photoshop. Nik Color Efex Pro used for post-production color enhancements.

Three exposure edit: HDR bracketing, manually blended in Photoshop. Nik Color Efex Pro used for post-production color enhancements.

Three exposure edit: Two exposures manually blended in Photoshop. Perspective fixed in Camera Raw. Color adjustments made using Nik Color Efex Pro and VSCO. Replacement sky composited into final image.

Three exposure edit: HDR bracketing, manually blended in Photoshop. Nik Color Efex Pro used for post-production color enhancements.

Three exposure edit: HDR bracketing, manually blended in Photoshop. Nik Color Efex Pro used for post-production color and exposure enhancements.

Three exposure edit: HDR bracketing, manually blended in Photoshop. VSCO film presets used for color enhancement.

Three exposure edit: HDR bracketing, manually blended in Photoshop. Nik Color Efex Pro used for post-production color enhancements.

Three exposure edit and sky replacement layer: Three exposures manually composited in Photoshop CC. Replacement sky layer manually overlaid and painted in.

Three exposure edit: HDR bracketing, composited using Photoshop's Merge to HDR. Nik Color Efex Pro used for post-production color enhancements. Mt. Fuji composited in using an earlier, clearer image.

Single exposure edit: Single raw image copied twice, then flipped and cut diagonally, then masked to create a seamless join. Image then brightened to reveal detail. Selective Color used to bring out the reds in the walls and blues for the windows. Composite sky added. Final color grade added and color noise reduction performed.

Single exposure edit.

Single exposure edit: Contrast and color temperature corrected. Color enhancements made using VSCO and Nik Color Efex Pro.

Single exposure edit: Color temperature adjustment using Adobe Camera Raw.Single exposure edit: Nik Color Efex Pro used for post-production color enhancements.

Single exposure edit: Various sky adjustments and dodging and burning performed in Photoshop. Nik Color Efex Pro used for post-production color enhancements.

Single exposure edit: Overexposed image with detail brought back using Camera Raw. Nik Color Efex Pro used for post-production color and contrast enhancements.

Single exposure edit: Gradual orange sky gradient and color adjustments performed in Camera Raw. Sunrays created in Photoshop with added glow. Minor color and exposure enhancements from Color Efex Pro.

Single exposure edit: Perspective correction and power line removal in Photoshop. Color enhancements using Color Efex Pro, with some dodging and burning back in Photoshop.

Single exposure edit: Single raw image, processed in Adobe Camera Raw. Tonal adjustments made using Nik Color Efex Pro. Composite sky blended into frame manually. Final color grade using VSCO plugin.

Single exposure edit: Single raw image processed in Adobe Camera Raw. Adjustments to contrast and color to reduce haze and warm up the image. Composite sky blended into frame, with sun glow added in. Final color grading using VSCO.

Understanding natural light develops your ability to create better images. You'll then start to see the beauty of light and colors in a new and exciting way. Do you have any images to share? Show us in the comments!

All images used with permission of Peter Stewart.

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51 Comments

Anonymous's picture

It doesn't make sense to feel this way but I don't like it when someone replaces the sky. Everything else is editing stuff that's already there but replacing the sky always feels like cheating.

stefano druetta's picture

Trevi Fountain water does NOT look like sardininan sea.
anyone who has seen both can state the same.
ugh.
if that's "fine art photography", I dunno what coarse art photography might look like.
ugh no.2

Anonymous's picture

I think you replied to my comment by mistake. I don't know anything about Trevi Fountain or Sardinian Sea but I'm sure gonna find out! Thanks. :-)

Funny that this was the first thought that I had after reading this and it's the first comment I saw. It doesn't make sense but yes, you are introducing something entirely artificially as opposed to enhancing an element - and that feels like a step too far for me.

Totally down to individual feelings though and if it can transform a good photo to an exceptional one then its difficult to argue with!

Anonymous's picture

I've actually replaced a few skies over the years but always had to take a shower afterward. :-)
Sometimes, you're on assignment and the weather just isn't going to cooperate. I'll accept, and compositionally minimize, a bare blue sky but with some photos, you just can't have that lifeless grey sky or wait long enough for a better one. I don't do Travel Photography, though.

Joe Schmitt's picture

That annoys the hell out of me. Inserting Mount Fuji when it's truly not part of the viewing angle? Ridiculous. It's why I don't believe any of these "super moon" photos out there. Total composites and that's crap.

Anonymous's picture

The caption said it is in the viewing angle but wasn't visible on that particular day. Having been there, I can tell you that it's often obscured by clouds. The first time I went, my Japanese brother-in-law said I should be prepared to not see anything. In all the times he'd been there, he'd never seen it from a distance. It was visible most of the days we were there so I told him God just loves me more than him! ;-)

I appreciate the skill involved, but these images look way over-processed to me. To me they've lost their "realness." I understand there are trends in photography, as with everything else.

Jeff Laity's picture

Edits done in "Camera RAW" = the Camera RAW interface in Photoshop? Or some other software?

Jonathan Reid's picture

I'm interested to see people's thoughts on this. I personally feel that a travel photographer has an ethical responsibility to tell the truth in their images (assuming that the point of the images is to cause interest in an area). I see many images of iconic places referred to as travel photography when really, they are artistic renditions of well covered subjects.

user-108562's picture

I disagree a bit on this. I believe a photojournalist is about the only type of photographer that has an ethical responsibility to limit their photographs to what the camera captures in a single instance. Even then, they still have the final say of what they point their camera at and show to the public. Everything else pretty much is fair game for creativity and expression. While I'm not a huge fan of replacing skies and over saturating/changing colors drastically, I can choose not to do that in my own work but still can appreciate it in others when done well. I believe a travel photographer is the same as any other genre of photographer. A food photographer isn't going to just open up a big mac and take a picture and use it in an advertising campaign. A beauty photographer isn't going to just leave pimples and wild hairs on the models face. A travel photographer is trying to make their subject as appealing as possible to the viewer.

Jonathan Reid's picture

I accept your comparison to the other genres and hear what you're saying, however, I think that travel photography is a form of photojournalism.

I've been on the other end a few times where I've travelled to a place with certain expectations, only to discover that I'd fallen for Photoshop trickery.

Travel photography for an advertisement (like a resort) is going to look different to travel photography for a guide, like Lonely Planet. I'd be annoyed if I discovered a composite in a travel guide.

user-108562's picture

I guess our disagreement would be in what travel photography is then. You say photojournalism and I don't see it that way at all. IMO Photojournalism is in a realm all its own to state the facts of a situation, of an event, of a person or of a thing happening at a certain point in time. Travel photography I would say is meant to encourage people to travel and see new sights, cultures and experience another part of the world. So in it's essence it is there to entice the viewer, to show the viewer what they are missing and to drive the viewers desire to experience something new. That's how I see it anyway. Neither of us is wrong probably, we just see things differently. Perception.

Jonathan Reid's picture

I would say that our definitions of travel photography are exactly the same, but where I feel it is photojournalism is that in order to entice or interest someone, there also needs to be the perception that it is real. If you look at any noteworthy travel publication, everything looks real and believable. Whilst I'm sure each image gets the ps/Lightroom treatment, it's limited to what is acceptable in photojournalism.

I think it's great that we can have different opinions on travel photography as it encourages meaningful discussion, so thanks for keeping this on track.

i'm way more impressed by his single image edits than the HDRs

Sean Molin's picture

The be fair, exposure blending is a far more effective and realistic way of approaching true HDR.

None of those edits are "true" HDR in my book.

They all look over processed and unreal while the traditional HDR technique (to me) is more about showing what your eyes but the camera isn't strong enough to correctly represent.

Oversaturated colors, sky replacement, etc... it's just a trend photomatix is responsible for.

Nour El Refai's picture

I feel they are way over processed, I see those photos as fine art not as travel photography. The photographer shows great skills and compositions. I understand that each one has a different preference or taste, for me, a single photo with a simple edit would result in a more valuable photos for me, and more succesful as travel photography in my own opinion. Honestly I find some of the original photos great as they are and they don't need much in post.

They all look pretty overcooked to me. I also don't like copy/pasting skies and adding light rays in this context; these seem to be the sorts of photos that would lead people to believe they are viewing reality and would be disappointed upon finding out it only ever existed on a computer. Still, if they have a market, they have a market, and it's good of the photographer to share their process with the people that like their style.

Joe Schmitt's picture

Yep. If he wants to "build" photos, maybe he should focus on building landscapes for video games.

ken weil's picture

HAHAHA I "Love" how some of you yahoos are commenting about over-processing. Realism in travel photography. Realness. Apparently Ive found the ground that is totally clueless. First of all Ansel himself would replace the sky if he could have. He didnt need to but what he Did was spend hours upon hours manipulating his film and paper to create the best most dynamic image possible. Sometime it was to recreate what THE HUMAN EYE actually saw. Yes the human eye see things very dynamically so giving your image more of an "bump" is actually making it More Real!!! So Barbara if thats not how You see life i feel sorry for your flatness. And for those of you who are saying the image are too overdone, I dont see any of YOUR images up here. WHY? Because nobody wants to see them I guess. Isaacs images are great. Not every one but damn good and I enjoyed looking. Btw, yes I am a photographer. I have work thats "overdone" And work that is more toned down as you would say. Stop being little sudo art critics and just enjoy something for christs sake.

Jonathan Reid's picture

So my question was not whether the images were any good or overcooked. I'd like to know if people generally considered it to be travel photography.

As a working travel photographer, I know a few others who work as travel photographers and none of them would replace skies or add light beams, yet the travel photographers often featured on blogs seem too apply a heavy hand in Photoshop.

Anonymous's picture

I think it IS travel photography. Most of his final images, in the proper light, would look a lot like the real thing. There are two problem: First - you show the raw files which gives the impression that was what the human eye would have seen. It's not. Second - people have a tendency to compare photos of things to other photos of similar things and NOT to the actual things they've seen. For a long time, people erroneously believed the camera saw what they saw. Now, they erroneously think that no photo is accurate and anything that doesn't look the way they expect it to, has been over-edited.

user-108562's picture

Very true. The human eye sees dynamic range very differently than a camera not to mention how our brain remembers seeing things. We see so much more than the frame and to capture the true essence of a scene in one frame sometimes does not do justice to the experience itself.

Anonymous's picture

I looked back over all the comments to make sure and ... in one way or another, everyone stated it was their opinion, as are all comments. You can disagree with them, as I do in a few cases, but you can't dispute their opinion. But in all fairness, you make up for it by being insulting and demeaning. :-/
Oh yeah...it's "pseudo" not "sudo" ;-)

Sudo is the stuff cheap meth is made of.

HBO taught me this...

Anonymous's picture

That's odd... I'd never heard of math art much less a need for critics of it. ;-)

Michael Bartello's picture

I for one was happy to see I wasn't the only person with a negative reaction. Most of these are overcooked.

[EDIT: glad to see you edited out your condescending comments and then gave mine a thumbs down - classy move!]

Bloody hell that is some superiority complex you have right there - but congratulations on defining what is worthy photography for the masses. By the way, I don't think he was asking to be taught. Take a chill pill.

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