Night Photography – Part 4

Digital Darkroom

Post Processing.

Editing.

These words have gained a slightly negative connotation when talking about digital photography, but remember that post processing of digital images is based upon the alterations available to film photographer in darkrooms. I realized that it also included a plethora of other abilities like cloning out blemishes, but I do not like throwing the baby out with the bathwater, per say. Taken in its cleanest form, if you burn, dodge, or crop your image you are processing the data POST or after you captured a scene.

The negativity might stem from how quickly digital photography gained popularity. Photography was available to many and the editing of photos became fun, easy, wild, and maybe a little overdone - but that was the fun of it! The digital format made photography and editing accessible to nearly everyone with a computer. Photography has become even more accessible since the strengthening of cameras in smart phones. I think it is safe to say that we can enjoy photos from practically anyone around the world, with or without classic training, and with or without photo-journalistic rules that they go by. That can be exciting, frustrating, freeing.

So, the digital darkroom - are you a purist? Does that even exist anymore?!

I realize that some photographers share that they do not edit outside of the camera. I do not belong to such a group. I may not leverage post-processing as drastically as some, but I always apply some amount of processing. In fact, I do not believe that post processing is actually avoidable. When I say this, I am organizing the techniques of burning, dodging and cropping into the post-processing world. But I am also referring to how the operating systems built-in-software, your printers software, or the print group you send your work to affects the files you plan on printing. There is quite an array of built-in visual adjustments that each of these programs apply before you open things up or send things out to be printed.

But I am getting into the weeds. Post processing isn't a bad word. Maybe it is often overused, but it is a tool available to us as it was to any classic photographer. My favorite photographers had complete control over their resulting imagery and they did that my maintained their own Darkroom. They burned, they dodged, they cropped. The digital world has a digital version of those same tasks and though we can make far more drastic changes to our images, we should understand that the classic array of enhancements are and not to be feared.

For ME, night photography requires practically equal parts onsite work and computer development. Okay, I am overexerting, but still, the time commitment is there. I am not here to recommend a product. There are many. Some more affordable than others, some easier to use. You must make that choice alone. What I can share is what I use purely because of what I was first introduced to - Adobe Photoshop.

I should also share that I capture my photos using the raw format. They are large files. They are cumbersome. I constantly have to update my software to read my aging cameras format. Many photographers do not like raw because of its size and the lack of in-camera adjustments. They come out looking bland and they seem to lack contrast and color quality. However, the information is embedded, I assure you, in fact there is far more information stored in the darkest colors and lightest colors than in that of other formats. So, at the end of the night I potentially have more to work with during my digital Darkroom editing.

To cap off this section, I end with my most repeated adjustments on night sky imagery:

  1. I brighten the lights of an image about halfway
  2. I brighten the darks about halfway
  3. I darken the blacks by a quarter to remove any sudden spike in unwanted mid-tones
  4. I soften and remove obvious noise
  5. I play with broad dodging an burning at various levels of transparency to avoid drastic over adjustments
  6. Hopefully I am pleased, but some amount of saving and reapplying the same settings might be in order.

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