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My Thoughts On Image Processing With Exposure X5

· 25.October.2019

In my last article Through Memories to Emotions, we discussed photo-reporting philosophy. My source of strong inspiration as a photographer are paintings from Pre-Raphaelite painters, old photographers or film-makers from the black and white era. I am very fond of the work of Edward Curtis, who was a “Shadow Catcher” from the perspective of the Native Americans he photographed. Far from a shadow, I think there is wonderful presence in all his pictures.

© Edward Curtis – An Oasis in the Badlands – Sioux, 1905

Most of us work with digital cameras. Over the years, images have come with a lot of details, and sometimes there is even something quite “surgical” about them. The question is: how do I process images in order to share the emotions or information I want to share? As we can see in the above picture, the size of our modern sensors doesn’t matter.

So, why do we need to process images? Some of the possible answers :

– to reveal the hidden beauty of a photo

– to add our personal touch

– to embrace our creative part

– vintage processing: less information for more impact !

As an example of revealing the hidden beauty of an image, please let me show you one of my favorite images. I was in the Shan area in Myanmar, walking through a village around 5:00 AM, when people invited me to join them for breakfast. And you know, I felt so connected (it was just like being at my own place) that I simply did not take a lot of pictures. I just took the one I needed and avoided disconnecting with the hosts. And then afterwards, the raw image was dark, but all the information was there, waiting to be revealed:

Myanmar, Shan area, RAW edited with Exposure

Years ago, I was an Adobe Lightroom user. I wanted more, so I tried most of the software I could find on the market. I am a huge fan of the “idiot proof” concept. I tried some software that looked so amazing, but I just did not get it. Some others were fine, but this is not what I wanted (even if I did not know at those times what I wanted excatly). And then I discovered Exposure, I used it as a plugin like the Nik Collection with Lightroom. And soon after, I fully switched to it as my main processing software.

This is very subjective, but for me Exposure was just natural. I tried it, things were easy to use, it opened and processed image fast. In addition to that, through years, I enjoyed more and more about it: Exposure team kept asking their users about what kind of evolution and updates they were expecting to see in the next versions. And the customer service is just so reactive and great, every time I contact them. Even when I was renting a new camera from a camera factory, they were available to help me.

Each piece of software has a certain “philosophy”. So have a look at it.

The first thing you will discover using Exposure is this:

Norway, with Fujifilm XF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6

You can decide where you store your files. You will see your RAW files on the right and on the left, you will notice a handful of presets that let you see an overview of how you can process your file. There is some “vintage” looks in there, too.

What is very interesting is that you will find a huge collection of both black & white and color presets, from vintage (like the panel I selected here) to more recent renderings. Exposure has converted the different particularities of past times films, in color, grain, vignette, blur… into digital presets.

The first advantage of this: you can go very fast to see what works and what does not work for your image. And then you can bring in some fine-tuning. You can edit your own presets and create your own catalogue. You can create a digital copy of the same image in order to try different processing. Your presets and modifications are stored in files and you will easily find them back later, even if you change your computer or the version of Exposure!

In addition to that, I also enjoy the way Exposure corrects lenses’ deformation or vignetting flaws.

Sometimes, your processing is more subtle:

Sometimes, you just have one of those painting moods and well, you have to find the way to express it !

 

Featuring burlesque artist Louise de Ville.

You can see that the ground that was burnt has now been corrected, that I added vignette and blur in order to focus on the model and play with colors. For me, this is one of the great functionalities of Exposure. All the way you can alter colors or modify color tones.

Let’s have a look at one of the latest functionalities of Exposure : the LUTs (Look-Up Tables), useful for color grading ! If you don’t know what I am talking about, let me show you what you can do with them: I will be applying the “golden hour” LUT here (there is many third-party LUT makers, such as Lutify Me).

Featuring burlesque artist Miss Angie.

On the right, you can see the full control panel that allows you to fine-tune your processing. At the top right, there is a calque panel where you can add some specific processing to some parts of the image. You can draw the layer onto the image, use gradient (useful for a sky for example) and use color restriction.

Basic panel, Tone curve, selection on Layer panel.

Below you can see a process of a color edit with an image. A few easy steps has been applied in order to have two dominant colors with a golden hour light.

  • 1: Left : RAW file (this unedited image is just fine! We will just try to see if we can express something a bit different)
  • 2: LUT “golden hour” applied directly to the raw file, the whole image is orange…
  • 3: I applied the Agfa Optima mild preset to the raw file because I wanted to create a blueish atmosphere.
  • 4: I applied the LUT Golden Hour to the Agfa Optima mild preset (you can mix preset and LUT)
  • 5: In addition, I can save a new preset to apply it to an image at once.

Another panel for quick effects is the overlays menu where you can add the following features: frame, different light effect and texture (from scratches through fake old damaged photos to different kind of textures). With the layer function you can superpose different kinds of effects.

Featuring burlesque artist Chanelle de Mai.

There are other great panels available in Exposure as well, for example: focus or bokeh. Focus lets you add some “glamorous” style to your images, while bokeh can create a “tilt shift” effect.

Sometimes, on social media, photographers ask if people prefer color or black & white photography. Does it give any indication about photograph or on how, as humans, we process information with all our biases? What I find funny is sometimes, those photographers say: “What people like most is not what I prefer.” I can understand that!

The answer, perhaps, is not so evident, and depends of the subject of the photograph.

This study is an estimation of beauty with the same image in color and B&W. It concludes: color may play a crucial role in preference for some categories of objects, preference for other categories may be influenced by other factors (such as shape, texture etc. with different subject: architecture and food. (Source: “Aesthetic preference for color vs. black and white photographs: Effect of the category of photographed objects”.

Personally, sometimes, I do propose color and B&W versions of a set of images that I like for different reasons. This is just what you feel.

Sometimes, for one image, I just feel that monochrome look would be the correct way to process it.

As I write this article, I meditate a lot about my work as a photographer. And I look on my past work and sometimes… I rediscover it. I even find photos that I did not process at that time, just because I did not know how to process them. Sometimes, a mental process of digestion occurs and lets you know how things must be done.

That’s exactly the case with the last photo I want to show you. We are in Indonesia, among Torajas people. I remember it well. It was a Sunday morning. I was exhausted carrying all my camera stuff for one week… People were at the mass except those ladies. I remember the voices from the songs. The Torajas, who are known for mummifying the dead, converted to Christianism a long time ago, assimilating their belief of life after death to Jesus’ resurrection.

I came across those ladies and the first one proudly struck the pose. Well, you know, you just do not have to talk sometimes to communicate with people. Just see what happened:

I hope you enjoyed the darkroom from inside my mind, the first place where I processed some of my digital images with Exposure. Please let me know via social media what you think about it.

If you want to try the newest version of Exposure for your self, go ahead and download the free trial of Exposure X5 here.

Stephane Heude

Stephane Heude

Bonjour, this is Stephane “Fanfan” Heude from France. I like natural light and emotions. Besides, I like to enjoy myself with weird self-portraits in Urbex (abandoned places) and nude photography.

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