From Digital Camera to a Fine Art Photograph

Creating a beautiful photograph with a digital camera starts with taking the best shot possible. It should be exposed correctly, and composed well. But that is only half the battle. It’s also what you do with it later on in your computer that will either make or break it as a work of art that you or someone else would want to hang on a wall and admire. The following is a brief description of my workflow for creating this HDR image.

I took a one day road trip to the farmlands around the Brenham, Texas area. Now (mid – April) is the best time of the year to get the best wildflower shots that only last for about 3 weeks to a month.

The first one is of a twisty old oak tree that was just begging to be photographed. I walked around it, and took several different shots from slighly different angles. If you can’t tell, I used my wide angle lens. This, (and all of my images) was shot as a raw file. I always shoot raw as opposed to jpeg or tif, because a raw image file has so much more potential to squeeze out every bit of processing ability that my digital camera is capable of producing. Because I’m producing fine art prints that I plan to either hang on my own walls or sell to other photography lovers to hang on their walls, I have to start with the best image file available from my camera, and then meticulously process it using the best available software and plug -ins until I finally have the “work of art” that I had envisioned in my mind when I pressed the shutter button. For example: For this image of the Twisty Old Oak, my workflow, in brief, went like this:

I captured the image as a raw file. Opened it in Photoshop Lightroom 2 and made basic adjustments to exposure, and calibrated the camera profile to my Canon 5D. Opened it into Photoshop CS4. Saved it as a Tif file, so that I could re-open it later using Photoshop Camera Raw 4. I then opened it into the Topaz Adjust 4 Photoshop plug – in and made some adjusments with the detail sliders and adaptive saturation sliders. I saved that version. At this point I decided that this image might work well as an HDR (high dynamic range) image, so I went to: file/open as, and opened the image as a tif, which will automatically bring it up into Camera Raw. While in Camera Raw I created a new file with the image underexposed to bring out all of the highlights available in the image. I then brought that new file into Photoshop and saved it. Next, I brought the same image back up into Camera Raw and this time I brought the exposure up to bring out the detail in the shadows, and then saved it as a new file. This gave me three files of the same image – one underexposed, one normally exposed, and one overexposed. Now I can create my HDR image using a unique program called Photomatix 3. There are other HDR creating programs out there, but I like this one the best.

So I proceeded to process the three images into one new HDR image. The image is looking very different from the original raw image file I started with. I can now save this new image and bring it back into Photoshop. There are still a few minor areas in the image that were overprocessed in Photomatix 3 which means I will need to bring the original image in as a new layer, and use a mask to blend out some of the unwanted areas. After I finish that task, I am finally ready to add some sharpening and save the final image as my master copy.

Whew! That was a lot of work! But it was well worth it to me. I have a finished piece that I can proudly show, and hopefully sell.

More pics are coming….

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