Transforming Reality Part 2 – Three Different Workflows
In part one of this essay series about recent changes in my work, I explained how my work changed from being about believable photographs to being transformations of reality. In part two, I want to talk about how this change affected my processing workflow.
Three Different Workflows
Since I started working with digital processing, I have used three different workflows:
Workflow #1: Adjustment Layers in Photoshop. This first workflow was based on using adjustment layers in Photoshop. I converted my raw files in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) with minimal changes in order to get a conversion that exhibited low contrast and low saturation. I then enhanced both contrast and color in Photoshop using adjustment layers.
Workflow #2: HSL and Selective color in Lightroom and Photoshop
This second workflow was based on using Selective Color and HSL (Hue, Saturation and Lightness) adjustments. I converted my raw files in Lightroom making more changes to contrast and color than in my first workflow. However, I was not using all the tools in the Lightroom adjustment panel. For example, I was not using curves or HSL. My goal still was to create a soft conversion, one in which tone and color were undefined, and later make all the artistic decisions in Photoshop. Therefore, it was only when I imported the file in Photoshop that I did the ‘heavy lifting,’ meaning the artistic transformation of the image in regards to tone and color. I did that with Selective Color, HSL, curves and other adjustments.
Workflow #3: Deep color changes using LUTs and more in Lightroom and Photoshop
This third workflow uses deeper color changes created with Lightroom, with Photoshop, and with LUTs. It also starts the artistic process in the raw converter. I now make significant changes to contrast and color when I convert my images in Lightroom, using all the adjustments in the Adjustment panel. I then import my photographs in Photoshop where I continue making further adjustments using Selective color, HSL, curves and other adjustments. However, my work does not stop there. I use LUT profiles to further adjust color and contrast, either in Photoshop, or in Lightroom. I also use dedicated LUT software, such as 3DLUTs Creator, to further transform the color of my images.
When I created the third workflow my goal was to go beyond what I could do with my second workflow, the HSL and Selective Color process. I looked for ways to push the image further than I did before. I looked for ways to make the image more artistic. I looked for ways to be more creative, to express myself in new and different ways, and to explore my vision further. My goal was to create images that I had not done before.
Going Directly To The Artistic Stage
This third workflow represents a significant change in my processing. The motivation for this change comes from the desire to be in control of the color transformation process. It comes from the fact that I do not want my camera, my computer or my software to dictate the look of my images. I believe that this causes the artistic quality of my images to be diminished.
For these reasons, I now go straight to the artistic stage. At first this change happened without my awareness. It occurred when, while working in Lightroom and Photoshop, I realized that I was no longer creating a technically perfect photograph the way I did previously. Instead, I was making artistic decisions immediately and changing the look of the original capture in significant ways. For example, I started radically changing the color scheme of the image without first establishing a ‘correct’ color balance in Lightroom the way I did before. I also started fundamentally modifying the overall contrast of the image –shadows, highlights and mid-tones — without first establishing a true black point, a true white point or a true mid-tone point, the way I did previously.
This third workflow represents a new approach to processing my images. I now make a significant number of fundamental changes to the image in Lightroom, changes I used to do in Photoshop. Previously I used Lightroom to convert the image quickly, doing little more than making sure the photograph had details everywhere and was properly color balanced.
I continue using Photoshop because there are things that can only be done in Photoshop. Lightroom is a raw file converter and editor. As such Lightroom is not able to make pixel-based changes. Things like warping, cloning, image resizing and more can only be done in a pixel editor such as Photoshop. HSL also does not work the same way in Lightroom and in Photoshop. For this reason, I use HSL both in Lightroom and in Photoshop, combining the unique capabilities of each to create the look I am after. Finally, Selective Color is not available in Lightroom. It is only available in Photoshop. Because it is a cornerstone of my color processing workflow, I need to use Photoshop.
The outcome of all this is that I now go through a single stage: the artistic stage. I like to compare this new approach to the difference between working with machines versus working with hand tools in woodworking. When doing woodwork with a machine, it is necessary to have a reference plane that is flat and square in order to shape the wood with a router bit, a planer, a circular saw or some other machine. When doing woodwork by hand no reference plane is necessary. A rough piece of wood can be shaped any which way I like because my hands can accommodate an uneven shape. Hand tools can conform to any type of surface, flat or not, because the tool can be turned to accommodate the shape.
I realized that the same principle applies to image processing on a computer. I do not need to create a perfectly color and contrast adjusted image in order to apply artistic changes. Doing so would be similar to creating a reference plane on a piece of wood so it can be worked by a machine. Because my purpose is artistic, I do not need to concern myself with my images being perfectly color and contrast balanced at any stage of the process. This approach is similar to working wood using hand tools.
Because the work I do is artistic, the process I use has its own artistic ‘logic’ in regards to color and contrast. To give an example, I do not need my photographs to be adjusted to the standards of a specific publication in order for me to start working on the artistic aspect of the image. Because I am my own publisher, I do not need to follow the tenets required by other publishers. I can follow my own tenet, which at this time is to start working in an artistic direction immediately and express my artistic intent from the beginning.
This change took place in Lightroom because Lightroom does not use adjustment layers. For this reason, it gives me access to the final look of the image right away. When I work in Photoshop, the final look of the image is achieved progressively, layer by layer. In Lightroom, I can also work on different aspects of the image in no particular order because the preview window shows me the current look of the image in real time, compiling all my processing steps immediately. This aspect of Lightroom gives me a level of artistic freedom that I did not have in Photoshop because I do not have to need to wait until all the steps are completed, or all the layers created, to see the final result. In Lightroom, everything happens at the same stage and changes can be made in any order thereby bypassing the need to work in two stages, technical then artistic, the way I did previously in Photoshop.
About Changes In My Work
I heard people say ‘Briot did nice work at some point.’ This comment refers to my 4×5 period during which I did work that adhered to the traditional landscape photography canon: photographs that are sharp, well exposed, exhibiting realistic colors and printed to match the transparency with color and contrast adjustments whose purpose is to match the dynamic range of the paper.
My answer to this criticism is ‘Been there done that.’ I enjoyed doing it. I created what some consider ‘beautiful work’. However, I do not want to do this my entire life. Change is good. I now want to try new things. In fact, I have tried many new things since I stopped working with 4×5 film. To address those who think my previous work was beautiful, I say that my current work is just as beautiful as my previous work. It embodies a different concept of beauty, one based on transforming reality, not on conforming to reality.
Art is a fluid medium and this flux follows the artist’s path, his inspiration, and his desire to explore new ideas and to try new approaches. It is a process of evolution. The message may stay the same or it may be different but either way the way this message is presented changes, evolves, takes advantage of new improvements and discoveries, and overall moves with the time, the cultural changes, the evolution of one’s thinking, and a million other things that influence and change all of us and which, with artists, alter both our perception of the world and how we depict this world in our art.
Change Is Not Necessarily Good
Granted changing my style dramatically is one of the worse things an artist can do to his career. To put it simply it will demote it. Sales will drop, collectors will move away, perceived value will be lowered. All this regardless of whether the new work is better, more interesting, a logical progression from previous work, or other. People, art collectors included, do not like change. While the artist may perceive change as an evolution, collectors perceive it as demotion. They believe this change is due to a lack of ideas, a drying of the creativity well, or a loss of vision. Rarely is artistic change seen as good. This is because new art is rarely successful right away, and this apples to new art created by already-successful artists. In doing so, in creating something entirely new, it is as if the artist reset his career and returned to the rank of beginner, of an artist with no track record. In the mind of the audience the reason for doing this is suspicious. The artist could have continued reaping the fruits of his labor, and benefit from having ‘paid his dues’. He could have continued cashing in basically. But he did not and this is cause for questioning. Is his art losing its value? Is the investment still worth it? Will previous work be devalued as well?
There are two safe havens for artists who change their style. Agreed, this change is not always a planned decision, but this applies regardless. The first haven is if the artist is financially well off, or can live off his past income because it was wisely invested, and is therefore unconcerned with future sales. The second is if the artist is not selling at all, or selling so poorly that a dramatic change in style may be what they need because it will attract attention and boost sales from their dismal levels. In other words, things cannot get worse. They can only get better. There is nothing to lose.
I belong to the first category. Fortunately, I can seek shelter in the first of these two havens. I am financially secure therefore, I can take a chance and create work that is unlike what I have done before. We are all in a different position so you need to ask yourself which haven is yours and make your decision accordingly.
Learning My Third Workflow
I teach the third workflow which is the subject of this essay in my latest Mastery Workshop on USB: The Artistic Color Mastery Workshop on USB. A special offer is available for a limited time. This offer saves you 20%, gives you a free gift and free shipping worldwide. You can see it HERE.
About Alain Briot
I create fine art photographs, teach workshops with Natalie and offer Mastery Tutorials on composition, image conversion, optimization, printing, business and marketing. I am the author of Mastering Landscape Photography, Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity and Personal Style, Marketing Fine Art Photography and How Photographs are Sold. All 4 books are available in eBook format on our website. Free samplers are available.
You can find more information about our workshops, photographs, writings and tutorials as well as subscribe to our Free Monthly Newsletter on our website at http://www.beautiful-landscape.com. You will receive 40 free eBooks when you subscribe.
Studying fine art photography with Alain and Natalie Briot
If you enjoyed this essay, you will enjoy attending a workshop with us. I lead workshops with my wife Natalie to the most photogenic locations in the US Southwest. Our workshops focus on the artistic aspects of photography. While we do teach technique, we do so for the purpose of creating artistic photographs. Our goal is to help you create photographs that you will be proud of and that will be unique to you. The locations we photograph include Navajoland, Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley, Zion, the Grand Canyon and many others. Our workshops listing is available HERE.