A technical observation of post processing styles

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Recently I was asking myself, “What is Matt Anderson’s style?“ The recipe for each of our photographic styles is, I believe, quite complicated and unique. A lot has to do with our personality, interests, environment, skills, fear and fascination. (Can you get out of bed at the crack of “way too early” for that golden sunrise? Do have anthropophobia, but wish to be a street or portrait shooter.)  Today's digital photography also requires savvy technical skills with complicated digital cameras and limitless post processing (developing) in the digital darkroom. Cyberphobia (fear of computers or working on a computer) is not an option. I looked up the definition of style: a manner of doing something, a distinctive appearance, elegance and sophistication, design or make in a particular form, rodlike objects - huh ? ... the list goes on and on. Some say any attempt trying to forcibly design a style is doomed. You can’t always control your light, subject, FOV, emotion, or audience. Creating a definitive style can be the culmination of trial and error. Evolution of your experience and processes. I think, in some ways, a photographer can create a visual style with post processing. Much can be done to an image after the shutter has been released. I won’t get into the debate of photographic purist vs photoshop artistry. What I will show you is the possibilities of using Photoshop as a tool for artistic vision.

For the purposes of this blog, I selected a few of my own personal images to illustrate the technical parity and creation of styles. Some of the photographic styles are well known masters others are artists who(m) are rising stars. I have illustrated before & after examples, explaining the post processing technique involved to achieve the look and feel. Side Note: Given the webs lossy nature of color and detail, I have processed the files by erroring on the dramatic side. The animated gif format doesn't do you any favors ;~}


For my first example I chose Vincent Versace. I had just finished his book “Welcome to Oz” a cinematic approach to digital photography. This example illustrates how you can control the direction of the viewers eye with the isolation of detail, DOF, and selective lighting. I had a few semesters of theater lighting at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This experience proved to be quite helpful in understanding Vincent’s direction. The end result is done with multiple layers in Photoshop. Curves, dodging and burning, layer blending, and selective gaussian blurring with layer masks creates this intimate and mysterious feel. This is one my favorite photos.

For this example I tapped into my complete awe of  Ansel Adam’s “Moonrise over Hernandez, NM” ... My all time favorite landscape photo. Like many landscape photographers, much of our shooting is timed with the lunar cycles. Figuring out where and when the moon will be rising and setting on the horizon. This past winter it happen to workout out that I would be ice fishing deep in the Mississippi backwaters near Onalaska, Wisconsin. At then end of our cold day on the ice, we were treated to this amazing view of the moon rising over river bluffs, shining delicately on the ice shanties. This caused a ethereal glow to the frozen ice. I prefer the color version, but to keep in theme and tribute to Ansel’s masterpiece, I converted the photo to Black & White with Nik’s silver efex pro. The conversion was effortless using the auto functionality.

This example demonstrates the famous “Orton” effect, created and named after Michael Orton. There has been much written about this type of effect. You will also find many digital variations on how to create this look. For this particular example I chose a lone birch tree in the Winters snow. The photo was taken in Northern Wisconsin near Crandon, Walsh lake. The delicate texture of the birch provided excellent subject matter. Here is a simple way to create this look. Duplicate your image layer, apply a gaussian blur 5-30 pixels, set the layer opacity to 10-20%, and switch the mode to darken. This is only one variation of the limitless possibilities. The original effect was done with two films, exposure compensation, and focus-detail variations.

The unmistakeable Jill Greenberg look. For this example I chose the quite popular and equally controversial style Jill Greenberg created for her upset children series. I first want to admit that this is my own ten minute rendition of this intricate and detailed style. By no means is this perfect, just a quick illustration. My starting point was a backlit harsh lighting photo of my daughter from 2006. I had just explained to her the deep sorrow I had felt that day. It had been a year since a close friend and relative had died from brain cancer at the age of 35. The amount of processing that goes into this type of effect is staggering. In many of Greenberg’s photos you see a simple single colored background with a vignette of light coming from the center. To create this effect outside a controlled lit studio I created a similar look using the gradient tool. I masked off the hair with my air brush in quick mask. A second layer was added to add fly-away hairs for a natural look. The overall photo was adjusted with curves for saturation (S-curves in the individual RGB channels) and a global S-Curve for contrast. An additional layer was added above, filled with 50% grey, set to soft light. With a soft brush  I added black for rosy cheeks, and white for smooth catchlights. Done correctly this creates a soft high-pass look without the use of shooting with a ring light. Additional dodging and burning was done on the eyes, lashes, and facial features.

Sally Mann. Well known for her large black and white photographs of young people, and later in her career landscapes. Many of them having a dark greenish and high contrast edge. To recreate the effect I chose Nik’s silver efex pro. Is was almost effortless. Under two minutes and a few clicks of the mouse and I had a Sally Mann preset created. Vignetting on the edges with a bit of a burned style, green tinting in the mid and three-quarter tones, deep and dark shadows, high structure (contrast and sharpness) throughout. The same look can be achieved by duplicating your layer, set to multiply, adjust the opacity, and apply a layer adjustment photo filter for the greenish hue.

This next example illustrates a one-two punch effect. Step 1, increasing the saturation and hue separation of an image. Step 2, controlling the luminosity of the scene after the shutter has been released. In step 1, I called upon the ingenious Photoshop findings of Tony Kuyper, a photographer known for his colorful imagery of the Southwest. He has an excellent tutorial on “saturation masks”. There are many ways to skin the chroma cat. I suggest you check out his method. It involves using color space changes using legacy filters. You can also emulate the effect using the new vibrancy adjustment in photoshop, or switching to Lab and applying endpoint shifts with either levels or curves to the a/b channels for increased contrast, thus increasing chroma and hue. In Step 2, I applied Chip Springer’s “Paint with Light” action. It creates a duplicate layer that lets you adjust tonal values in the photo via brush or dodging/burning. The effect is nice to visually control where you want light emphasize and where you don’t. Chip’s light control action is handy for many types of imagery including landscape, portrait, and still life.

This photo illustrates, what I think, is an off shoot of the Orton effect. Dave Jaseck has an action called “Midnight Gold”. In a nutshell, the action quickly creates and blends variations of the background layer using multiple blend techniques (multiply, screen, softlight) with gaussian blurring and toning. The look is unmistakable and quite artistic in appearance.


Marc Adamus glow. Marc is a photographer from the Northwest who has a knack for getting imagery with extraordinary light. (This extraordinary light is the result of extreme perseverance) Some of his work has an almost painting nature to it. He has described this processing as his own variation to the Orton effect. To create this look here are the steps. Duplicate your layer. Apply a gaussian blur 20-40 pixels. Increase the contrast of this duplicated layer. Set the layer opacity to 5-15%. Mask off portions you don’t want affected. Additionally, selective dodging and burning to artistically render the scene to your interpretation. Finally, a slight vignette on the edges for framing.


One of the most popular post processing effects to fly across the internet has stemmed from the work of Andrzej Dragan. He is a well educated Polish photographer as well as music composer. His photography is quite unmistakable. He is known to portray his subjects in a dark and almost sinister or eccentric manner. His post processing techniques require a masters skills to properly emulate. I chose to use his image of “Jacek Leluk 2004” as stimulus for this particular entry. A while back I shot some promo kits for a few bands. I had a photo in mind that would be suitable content (I  hoped) for this entry. An individual with a bit of a peculiar look seemed perfect. Let me first say, to echo the artistic style of Andrzej is no easy task. Quite impossible really. His style is not just post processing, it’s preparation, theme, composition, lighting, etc... It’s like trying to make an award winning dish with a frozen dinner. If you don’t have the right ingredients and skill, it ain’t gonna happen. Processing this photo required masking two portraits of our bass player model. The background image was dodged/burned, high passed, curves, converted to B/W, high passed, and high passed again to my own tastes. The main portrait image had similar processing done. Additionally, I converted the image to Lab, used the L channel as a luminosity layer in RGB and applied a contrast curve. I used the “paint with light” with the dodge and burn tools to work on facial features. I used a gradient map on the chroma details to apply a washed out color look, and additionally added  the photo filter effect for the warmer amber toning. Most of the work on this style required painstaking hand brushing via the Wacom tablet with a soft touch. I have purposely over done the effect to illustrate the style. It’s easier to process that way, then go back and adjust the opacity for a controlled effect. For fun I applied some effects with the liquify filter to mirror some of Andrzej’s bizarre subject matter. In a perfect world I would have shot a subject in a studio with controlled unidirectional lighting that isolated selected features.

I have attempted to illustrate to you a few of the popular styles that I see on the internet. These unique “visions” are an approximation into the talented peoples styles that I find intriguing and at times intoxicating. I think it is important for all artists to find their own unique artistic and imaginative style. I believe our personal style is an evolving culmination of experiences and pursuits. Experimentation and taking risks is crucial. I hope these examples, processed in appreciation to the creative vision, offers some insight into your own personal direction. Inventive and expressive efforts advancing the Fine Arts. These artisans, and many others, have helped develop my elements of style and vision.

Topics: Creative

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