Chris Dickinson Photography | Do you always have a plan or idea?

Do you always have a plan or idea?

June 24, 2015  •  1 Comment


A follower of mine from Instagram, joruhlz (Johanna), wrote:


Aaw, beautiful picture!! 😊 But Chris, I just wondered, when editing pictures from your shoots in ps or lr, do you always have a plan and idea of what you wanna do with the pictures to bring out their best, or do you just play around with them until you like the look of them? I just started playing around with photoshop in my photography class, but I always find it hard to decide on one type of style I choose for my pictures.. 😕 any suggestions?


This is such a great question on so many levels, however, it isn't as easy to answer because, for me, it's more about creativity...and...It Depends.  First we need to talk about how I shoot, when I shoot, where I shoot, and my style of shooting.  Those things, off the top of my head, greatly influence what I do in post processing.  Something else that influences post processing is TIME!

To start off with, I've addressed this before in several IG posts, 100% of my images go through Lightroom, period.  Of those, 25-30% will be edited in Ps.  I edit from Lr into Ps, save and go back into Lr.  I export from Lr to a jpeg.  When I'm doing commercial work (creating flyers, folders, facebook profile images) I'll work directly in Ps.

For this image I knew what I wanted, I had an image in my head, and just needed to get it out!  That's the creative part, and quite frankly, the hardest part.  When that happens, I shoot right away...that's the when!!  It's quite a challenge to say, yep, we'll shoot at 7pm on Wednesday and I'll be creative then! It doesn't work like that, at least not for me.  In this case I imagined the puppies (there's two) on this old trunk of mine.  The original thought was, color harmony and leading lines.  I really liked the warm tones from the background, the puppies, and the trunk.  In studio, I shoot with trunks a lot, especially when I have a dog in here - and for the record, I shoot A LOT of dogs.  My wife is a Professional Dog Trainer, we have no shortage of dogs come through, trunks help isolate and elevate.

I've shot SO much in my studio that I've developed Lr presets based on my style of shooting.  Which brings up STYLE and HOW!  I lean towards a low key image, that's me.  Some like a high key image, that's cool, but not me.  I'm more emotional, and feel more emotion when I'm shooting like this.  My typical setup (in studio) is one main light, one background light (placed opposite main), and a white card fill.  In fact, that's the setup here.  I'm most comfortable shooting with my 70-200, but comfort can quickly be replaced by mediocrity which is why I chose the 16-35.  I wanted it to be a bit more jovial while still in my style.

In post processing, I'm influenced by music, especially when I'm going thru western images.  Studio images, family images, etc are also influenced by music.  There are go to presets, again, that I've created based on HOW and WHERE I shoot.  Sometimes I might shoot in total shade, I have a preset for that, perhaps is totally overcast, I have a preset for that too!  But these are ALL based on how and where I shoot.  When you're doing it for a living, and not a hobby, it's important that you introduce efficiency in your workflow.  There are a handful of images that I'll choose which I take a step further...enter, Ps.

On the editing side I have a routine that I go through which includes several adjustment layers (curves, levels, B&W) adding in some Nik filters, changing up the blend mode of those, and in some cases a blank layer for sun flare or blur.  In Nik I have a few go to filters there too, I've created some that are also used...not all the time though.  I find that it's helpful to always be learning something new in post to see if I can or should introduce something new.  That doesn't happen often though.

Out on location I, based on the conditions, I can pretty much pick the preset that I'll use.  Ps is a different matter, there are many variables that come into play like; making sure there aren't any competing highlights distracting from my subject...if so, I'll burn them down using levels.  Below I've taken a screen shot for each layer of this last image of the puppies and added a comment below each which I've tried to make as a play by play.

Thanks for asking the question, Johanna!

This is the "before", with basic settings applied from Lightroom and opened in Ps for editing.

First layer turned on.  The layer was one I chose from Nik, dropped into a soft light blend mode and masked out things I didn't want...things being "too dark on the edges".  Right now I see the trunk top is too bright and competing with my subjects.  Next thing I'll do is burn down the bright spots with a levels adj layer.

Ok, so I've burned down the top but by doing so it's increased the saturation (this happens all the time), so, get out a saturation adj layer.

While I've desaturated  the top, I want to increase the saturation (slightly) on the ears.  I've added in an inverted layer mask to paint in the ears.

Next I've created a merged layer, and reduced the highlights on the whiter puppy's top of head.  I inverted the layer just to paint the effect back in without affecting the overall image.

Here I've created another levels layer to open up the shadow areas just a bit making sure that there's detail in the blacks/darks.

Next I did a high pass for sharpening, these are in fact Spinone Italiano puppies that have wirehair!  I want to accentuate that.  So using high pass I dropped that layer into a hard light blend mode, inverted the mask and painted in at a 50% opacity.

Finally, a final check on hot spots that I might have missed...a final clean up if you will.  Missed the hot spot between the puppy's leg and trunk top...burned down.  Also burned down the little hot spots on the lid.

Final Image












Hey Chris,
thank you so much for answering my question!! As I'm still in the very beginning of my photographic journey, I guess I still gotta learn a lot, especially thinking more about what I shoot :D But I hope to improve on that when taking a little more time for photography over the summer break :) I also urgently need Lightroom, but I think I'll be able to get it soon, I hope it will help me improving, experimenting with and developing my own style!
Thanks for being an inspiration and if you ever feel like exploring Germany with your Camera, you're welcome to visit!
All the best :)
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