Envision the End Result

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For me, as a travel photographer, my pictures are often a 50-50 deal: 50 percent image capture, 50 percent image processing. Sometimes, I spend even more time on image processing than on image capture.

When shooting, I try to envision the end-result in Photoshop or Lightroom. That is something I stress to all my photo workshops students.

Here is just one example.

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While driving through Spearfish Canon, South Dakota, yesterday, I took the above grab shot. First, the quick grab shot is a bit tilted. Second, the picture is flat – and lacks color, contrast and details, due to the overcast sky.

All that was easily fixed, first in Photoshop by adjusting the Levels and with a bit of cropping. After that quick fix, I use NIk Color Efex Pro – applying the Detail Extractor, Darken/Lighten Center and Tonal Contrast filters.

As a final touch, I stretched the image to more of a panorama using Image Size in Photoshop, increasing only the Width and not the Height. I did that by un-checking the Constrain Proportions box in the Image Size widow.

Envision the end-result. Always.

Explore the light,


Check Out Topaz Clarity – and save a few bucks!

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Readers of my blog, as well as those who come on my workshops,  know that I am a big fan of plug-ins – because plug-ins can help you awaken the artist within.

My latest (just launched today) and favorite plug-in is Clarity from Topaz Labs. So far, I have been using Clarity to create stronger images.

This before-and-after set of images of Official Parking Man in Old Havana, Cuba is one such example.

Compare the image below (original) with the image above (enhanced). Notice the increased detail in the wall behind the man, as well as the increased structure in the man's face.

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To add the texture and "a look" to the image, I used the Documentary filter in Clarity, which gave the photograph a stronger look and feel.

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Above is a close-up of the man's face. Clarity increases details in an image without creating halos, which can creep into an image when adding this type of enhancement. That's very cool.

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Above: One viewing/working option in Clarity is to see your images side-by-side. That's the way I like to work (and play).


Above: Cool controls in Clarity include: Hue, Saturation, Luminance, Dynamics and even Masks! Plus there are tons of pre-sets to get you going and to give you some creative inspiration.

Clarity Sale, Discount and Download: Until May 31, use the code - claritynew - and get Clarity for only $29.99. After that date the price goes to $49.99. You can download the cool plug-in from the Topaz site. Go to Products and select Clarity.

While you are on the Topaz site, use my discount code - rsammon - and save 15% on other Topaz plug-ins . . . and save a bundle on a bundle.

As long as I'm talking about Topaz Labs, Topaz Adjust is another favorite artistic plug-in. I usually use it to remove some of the reality from an image. When you remove some of the reality from an image, a photograph can look more artistic and more creative.

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Above: I used The Lomo II filter in Topaz Adjust to remove some of the reality from the image on the left. I photographed the young woman in Old Havana Cuba, too.

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Above: All Topaz plug-ins offer easy-to-navigate windows for . . . that's right . . . easy navigation.

My favorite plug-ins are listed on my Save on Plug-Ins page. Check 'em out and save a few bucks.

Explore the light,

P.S. Plug-ins are, indeed, cool. But you must start with the best in-camera image, which starts with a good exposure and good composition - stuff I talk about on my on-line classes.

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Here's a fun shot of me in Old Havana, Cuba. The man makes "cameras" out of beer cans.

For street shooting, I usually travel with two Canon 5D camera bodies and two zoom lenses: Canon 24-105mm IS and Canon 70-200mm. All my gear is listed on My Gear page.

Today's Guest Blogger: Mike "Spike" Ince


My guest blogger today is friend Spike, a.k.a. Mike Ince.

Spike will be heading up the nighttime photo sessions on my Southwest Photo Caravan later this year. Info on my 2013 Workshops page. We hope you can join the photo fun - during the day and into the night.

Take it away, Mike.

A big hello to everyone out there!

Thanks to Rick for letting me have the opportunity to guest blog for a day!

I first met Rick on his Oregon Coast Photo Caravan. Then a few months later, with him and Juan Pons, I became fascinated with the astrophotography in New Mexico while visiting the Very Large Array.

Since then, I have been hammering out these photos striving to improve my techniques one photo at a time – both on the field and in the digital darkroom.

If you would like to try some shots like this, here are some starting guidelines for the Big 3: aperture, iso and shutter speed.

1.  The faster the lens the better. 2.8 is popular and works great, lenses with a larger aperture will work that much faster. All of my shots n this post are at f2.8, and of course wide angle lenses are ideal!

2.  A good starting point for ISO would be 1000 (start here and work your way up), but most of the time you will find yourself moving up fast. I tend to favor the 2000-4000 marks. Noise reduction can be cured drastically in Lightroom, Photoshop and a lot of plugins, so do not hesitate to bump it up if you need to.

3.  For shutter speed, most of the time I am between 20-30 seconds. If you want to avoid star trails, then keep it under 30. At 30 seconds plus, you will start to get star trails, which is a whole other ballgame (but a fun one). Of course you will need a tripod and it will also help to use a remote or set the self timer to 5 seconds or so. This allows the camera to stabilize after you touch it.

4.  When scouting a location, take a pic at 30 seconds (or longer) with the ISO sky high! That way you can create your composition and see whats really out there in the dark. Then play with the above settings.

Aside from these guidelines, here is some other things to keep in mind.

If your primary focus is the Milky Way, shoot on, or within a day or two of the new moon. The darker the sky, the better. If you want to include some foreground elements, then a little moonlight can help illuminate the scene. A quarter moon can be good for this. Just because the moon is not a new moon does not mean you are out of luck. Also keep an eye on what time the moon sets. Every month there will be time to catch the moon set and still have time before sun up to shoot away. There are plenty of free apps for both Apple and Android to figure out when and where the moon sets and some even have entire star charts.


You have awesome shots... now what? Now you enter the digital dark room! See my before and after pics above (the orange glow comes from the city lights. To avoid this you need to be FAR away from the metro areas).

You can accomplish all of your post editing in Lightroom or Photoshop, or even use a combination of both. I also use a combination of filters from both Nik and Topaz. A big key is blending images together to get your desired look. Sometimes I will use 1 filter (or sharpen, or color adjust etc.) and then blend that with another layer, taking elements from different layers I like. If using Photoshop keep everything on its own layer and use masking techniques to blend your final composition together. I believe this achieves the best results. A little from here, a little from there, and before you know it you have your final piece! Don’t hesitate to go crazy and experiment! Keep in mind these are just guidelines so do not hesitate to try something new and think outside of the box.


On my last shot I found a lonely highway and had 30 seconds to spare so I incorporated some light painting along with the Milky Way. Fun stuff!

I have been posting some of my shots on Google Plus and enjoy interacting with the communities there, so add me and see what’s next! I also recently launched my site which you can visit anytime as well!

You can see more of my work on my web site and on Google +.

• • • • •

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Above: Here's an HDR image I took of Spike on our Bosque Del Apache Photo Workshop.

Thanks, Mike, for a great post. See you under the starts on my Southwest Photo Caravan!

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