My project to print new images for my wall continues. I’m quickly being reminded just how much ink printing 11x14s uses. I’m really happy with the results so far. And at times, I’m learning a lot, both about the process of taking raw images to print and how far my imaging skills have progressed in the last few years.

Most of the images I’ve done for print so far have required fairly minimal processing. Then I decided to tackle this image:

Morro Bay Harbor Panorama from Sweet Springs Nature Preserve, Los Osos, California

It’s a favorite image from a favorite location and stirs up fond memories, so it’s an obvious choice to stick up on the wall. I realized there were challenges. For one thing, it’s a panorama, a three part stitched image that was sitting in my library as a TIFF file. That means the stitching was done in Photoshop before I shifted that work into Lightroom. It also implies I have limited ability to tweak the image, because TIFF files aren’t as flexible. In the olden days of three whole years ago, I’d have taken each of the three source files, processed them and tried to match them, and then sent them to Photoshop for the merge. And then iterate until they are merged and balanced and happy. That could take multiple trips until I was happy with how they came together, especially in the sky where seams and tonal mismatches stick out like sore thumbs. I start to realize why I always want to do panoramas, and never actually do…

Starting over meant it was necessary to take it back to the camera and reprocess the thing from scratch. Which is not that big a deal at first glance. I track down the originals and I restitch them in Lightroom. I huge advantage of doing this is that you end up with a stitched RAW file, meaning you have full ability to tweak and manipulate as if it was a single RAW image out of the camera. Which is good, because it needs it. Here’s what I had after stitching, with the only processing done being the auto button in the develop tab.

Sweet Springs Nature Preserve, Los Osos, California

At first glance this image might get tossed by many, and back in my film days, I would have. But these days, especially with the Fuji sensors, there’s a lot of life in an image that at first glance doesn’t show you much. Looks are deceiving, and there’s a good picture in there somewhere.

40 minutes later, I think I found it.

Sweet Springs Nature Preserve

This image looks very different than my previous version of it. Some of that is the quality of the tools I’m using. Some of it is that my esthetic preferences and style has changed. Mostly, though, I think it’s because I’m much better at processing than I was when I originally did this three years ago.

An image like this might trigger the yelling about manipulation of images vs. the idea of “what the camera saw”. I’ll note this is what the camera saw, and all processing was done in the Lightroom Develop module. No photoshop, no plug-ins, no taking a fireaxe to the pixels. The processing is fairly extensive, including three graduated filters, a radial filter (used for vignetting) and a bunch of HSL tweaking, but to me, that’s all standard processing fare these days, nothing I consider manipulation.

So your mileage my vary, but I see this is nothing more than I used to do in the wet darkrooms with my dodging and burning tools. I just have a lot more image potential in the raw to work with, and I’m no longer afraid to try to pull that potential out and bring it forward.

(for those curious, the three graduated filters are for (a) the sky, (b) the ground up to the harbor water, with (c) a smaller one from the bottom of the frame to the fallen log along the bottom specifically to balance the exposure in that area with the area above it. Nothing too fancy)

By the way, this looks really, really good printed out. But I decided I wasn’t done yet. I’d originally also done a version of this image in monochrome, and that’s actually my preferred form of the image, so I decided to try it again (thank god for Lightroom Virtual Copies, folks).

I don’t do black and white nearly enough, and I’ve never really figured out why. I love the results, but perhaps it just takes enough more time that I put it off for a later that never happens. In any event, I did it here and I’m thrilled with the results.

Sweet Springs Nature Preserve

Compare that to the previous version in monochrome:

Morro Bay Harbor Panorama from Sweet Springs Nature Preserve, Los Osos, California. This is a black and white variation of this image.

One thing I immediately notice is that in this monochrome I pulled out the clouds in the sky a lot better than I did in the color version, and that was actually the inspiration to do the same when I started this new version.

I’m much happier with how the water shows up and the detail you can see in the fields, and that fallen log, which was what originally got me thinking about taking this show, really turns into a focal point for me in this image.

Happy with all of this, I prepared them for printing. Most of the time that involves making a virtual copy and ramping up the sharpening, but in this case, since these are panoramas (they are about 7.2k x 4.1k) they need to be cropped to 11×14 format. That can significantly change the look of an image and sometimes kill it, but in this case, I think it ends up fine. And after consideration I again decided I preferred this in monochrome over color, and so that’s the image I chose to print. In the original at the upper left there are some branches that I left in because they’re well hidden in the vignette, after cropping a few bits still existed but were a lot more noticable, and so they ended up getting cloned out (I hear that scream of “manipulated!” out there. get over it).

And so the new final version that’s going up on my wall looks like this:

Sweet Springs Nature Preserve, Los Osos, California

Of course, having done that, I started thinking maybe this image might be improved by some toning, so I pulled out the split toning panel in Lightroom and tried a few things. This one felt best to me, but I’m undecided if this is an improvement or just different. Any opinions?

Sweet Springs Nature Preserve, Los Osos, California

I think this image is a good example of why you should re-evaluate your tools and re-process images from the past when the opportunity occurs: it may seem your existing setup does what you need, but newer tools create options, and as a photographer, your skills and your eye for what an image should look like change and improve. Sometimes an image happens that show those changes in a very visible and exciting way.