Practicing with your tools on daily pictures will make you a better photographer when it counts. Having your camera with you isn’t enough to make you a better photographer. You need to practice finishing your photographs just as much as making them in the camera. A well composed and exposed photo is only half done.

Levi_Sim-3As I photographed these coneflowers, today, I knew I’d need to use HDR techniques in order to reveal the details in the center and maintain rich color in the petals. However, it was windy so there was no way to shoot a bracket of exposures as I usually do for HDR. Instead, I used an ultra-high shutter speed to freeze the flowers’ motion and used Photomatix to tone map the picture which revealed the detail in the cones.

I used Photomatix rather than adjusting the Shadows slider in Lightroom because Photomatix doesn’t increase noise, and it helps keep the color saturation looking good. The tone mapping looks pretty good, but in the spirit of finishing a picture all the way through, I continued finishing these flowers.


You probably know that highlights can be clipped, or blown out, and if you press the J key in the Develop module in Lightroom you’ll see red on the highlights that are clipped, and blue on shadows that are clipped. But did you know that the colors in your photos can be clipped, too? These flower petals are clipped in the reds, which you can see in the spike in the histogram at the top right.

So, I countered that by adding a little bit of blue with the white balance slider. Photomatix made a 16bit file, so I still have plenty of color range to work with.

I also noticed that there was a little green fringe around the cone of the in-focus flower. This fringe is called chromatic aberration, and Lightroom’s Lens Correction tab has an eye dropper tool to remove it. Just click on the color with the eye dropper and it’ll go away. The fringe is there because I was shooting a high contrast scene with the lens wide open at f/1.2.

Let’s try some more tools in Lightroom. everyone loves the new Dehaze slider for making a clearer picture, but if you slide it the other way, then you’ll get a lovely glow that is much more gentle than sliding the clarity slider to the left. I like the effect.

What else does Lightroom have up its sleeve? I used the radial filter tool to  darken the darks around the flower and bring back a little more contrast without losing the detail of the in-focus cone. I drew a filter around the flower, dropped the shadows to -100, then duplicated that filter so the shadows are now -200. I also reduced the exposure for a gentle vignette.

A couple more adjustments in the basic panel, and a little more orange in the Color tab, and I’m done with the global adjustments.

The empty space at the top is not adding to this picture, so it’s time to crop. Also, if I want my wife to use this as her desktop picture, I should make it 16:9. Did you know that if you press the “O” key in the crop tool that you’ll see different composition overlays? I chose the golden mean rectangles and positioned the flower on a focus node.

The very last thing I did, and one thing I’m really focussed on practicing, is a little sharpening. In order to keep the softness created with the big aperture and Dehaze, I used the radial filter again to apply sharpening only to the focus.

If you want to be a better photographer, you need to know how to use all your tools. Practicing with Photomatix and Lightroom helps me know what can be done to finish a picture, which makes me more skilled while taking the picture. Digging into the minutiae of the settings will help me be more prepared when I’m making a picture that counts.

Which tools do you have that could use honing? Take a look and I bet there’s a slider somewhere that you haven’t mastered yet which will help make you a better photographer.