Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

The difference that processing can make

with 39 comments

Wispy Sunset Clouds over Santa Elena Canyon 0140B

Wispy Sunset Clouds over Santa Elena Canyon 0140A

Here are two versions of the same photograph showing pre-sundown clouds over Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park on November 22. The first view was the default that Adobe Camera Raw presented me with, while in the second I adjusted that default to bring out the details in the shadows that my eyes had easily seen when I took the picture. Click the thumbnails to enlarge them. The first view, a quasi-silhouette, is more abstract and therefore perhaps more dramatic. The second offers much more information about the cliffs and canyon. Favor either view or both, as you wish.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 24, 2015 at 4:53 AM

39 Responses

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  1. Dina

    December 24, 2015 at 6:32 AM

  2. I do like the added detail in the second.


    December 24, 2015 at 6:36 AM

    • The second is a “realer” view of the scene, assuming any photograph can be considered real, given that it’s an inherently simplified take on reality.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2015 at 6:49 AM

  3. I favour the second. I like seeing the detail in the rock.


    December 24, 2015 at 6:52 AM

    • That’s two for two for number two. Young people (at least over here) might say the rocks rock.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2015 at 7:06 AM

  4. #2 – it looks real

    Jim Ruebush

    December 24, 2015 at 7:14 AM

  5. I guess I am a contrarian, because I like the first shot more–my mind fills in the details without having them to distract me from the shapes and outlines of the rocks.

    Mike Powell

    December 24, 2015 at 8:01 AM

  6. I’d favour the second one, too.


    December 24, 2015 at 8:39 AM

  7. I’m with the rocks rock group.


    December 24, 2015 at 9:47 AM

  8. I like the first. I guess I’m a sucker for drama. 🙂

    Lisa Rest

    December 24, 2015 at 11:00 AM

  9. Another contrary Mary, I like the silhouette view. Those clouds are the draw though.


    December 24, 2015 at 11:44 AM

    • Contrary Mary, or Attitude Jude. You’ve raised the silhouette-favoring count to three, one shy of the opposite number. As you said, the clouds were what first got me to taking pictures there, and fortunately the clouds are good in both versions of the image (I wouldn’t have shown a version where they aren’t).

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2015 at 12:04 PM

  10. Both are good. Beat wishes to you and your family over the holiday period.

    Raewyn's Photos

    December 24, 2015 at 11:53 AM

  11. I’ve been vacillating between the two, but in the end I’ll declare a strong preference for the view on the left. It’s a deeply appealing, strong image.

    On the other hand, it’s fascinating that you were able to bring about such a marked change through processing. I need to explore that aspect of things in the coming year. When Adobe offered Elements 14 as a stand-alone, I actually purchased the program, but then discovered it won’t run on my computer. I dropped the issue at that point, but I need to pick it up again.


    December 25, 2015 at 10:44 PM

    • Another vote for abstraction

      The key to being able to get the most out of your photographs is to take them in what’s called raw (or RAW) mode. That means that the sensor records what it “sees” but doesn’t do any in-camera processing (unlike with jpeg, which involves the irretrievable loss of some of the information that a raw file would have retained). Many cameras let you save both a raw and a jpeg version of each picture you take. The jpeg provides instant gratification, and you still have the raw to process whenever you want greater refinement.

      As you’ve discovered (or already knew), eventually a computer gets old enough that new versions of programs (and even new versions of the operating system) won’t run on it any more. Unfortunately the only way to advance at that point is to get a newer computer.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 26, 2015 at 12:25 AM

      • I’ve done some reading about the difference between raw and jpeg, but didn’t quite “get it” until I read your explanation above. I’ve started a little file for clear, jargon-free, understandable tidbits about cameras and photography, and that paragraph just got added. Thanks.


        December 26, 2015 at 7:35 AM

        • You’re welcome. Some people like to say that a raw file is to digital photography what a negative was to film photography.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 26, 2015 at 8:01 AM

  12. It’s funny, in an ironic way, that “processing” does not carry the same caché as “developed”. What’s not funny is folks assuming that all photographers “cheat” by processing. At one of my exhibits that I shared with another photographer, a comment was left in his book about the person appreciating that he obviously did not “Photoshop” his images. He did, as did I, but it didn’t show in our work. Grrr…..

    Steve Gingold

    December 26, 2015 at 7:07 PM

    • From the outset, any conventional photograph cheats reality by squeezing three dimensions into two. Even the most “realistic” photograph isn’t the reality it depicts (assuming we even know what reality is). I imagine the commenter meant that the photographs in question weren’t so heavily manipulated that they no longer came close to what could be considered realistic.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 26, 2015 at 9:36 PM

      • Every photograph is manipulated in some way. From the start the choice of lens is only the beginning of shaping the image to our will. In the olden times, film choice, both for the ISO and the color or monochrome decision. And color films did not necessarily capture color according to “reality”. And it just went from there. Digital is not very different except for the vehicle.

        Steve Gingold

        December 27, 2015 at 4:48 PM

  13. […] November 22nd I noticed this densely flowering plant in a wash* not far from Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park, so I pulled over at the first opportunity and walked back to take […]

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