How much can you improve an old edit?

If you want to improve your photography, one great way to do that is to review your old images and reprocess them. Starting from scratch can reinforce important lessons as you compare the new version to the old. You might be surprised how hard you find it to recreate some of your best work sometimes. Or you can take the old image and try to improve it from where it is. I find this latter approach to be very powerful, as it gives me a way to keep the look and feel of an image as I improve it. This allows me to easily improve an image for print, while still delivering a result that’s fully consistent with the client’s expectations. It also helps me to learn better ways to correct problems after the fact, which can save time later instead of redoing an image.

I processed this image 7 years ago, so naturally there are a number of details I would process differently now as I’ve grown more skilled as an artist. I still enjoy the image, but upon close inspection feel that the following could be improved:

  1. The sky shows a fair bit of haze, which I’d like to minimize.
  2. The flower highlights are a bit blown out. In keeping with the very high contrast ratios here, I don’t need to restore everything, but I do think some improvement is warranted.
  3. The reflection of the flowers shows HDR artifacts. I processed this back at a time when I was still relying on HDR much more than exposure blending with luminosity masks and HDR often shows such “ghosted” results when water creates movement from one exposure to the next. There are some artifacts around the same reflected flowers from my D800, which shows lines extending from some of the highlights in the water. That wasn’t a common issue for me with the D800, but it certainly didn’t handle dark skies nearly as well as my D850.
  4. Some of the trees lit with bright yellow behind the flower are a bit too hot. The color separation is good, but the light source isn’t as obvious as the neon flowers and I think they could stand to be slightly dimmer so as not to compete with the main subject.
  5. The ambient lighting under the trees to the far left and right was constantly changing colors and not synchronized. There are two better options here. I could make the trees on the left purple to match the colors on the right, which would emphasize the character of the long walk through this park. Or I could make the trees on the right green so as to further emphasize the main subject. I think they’re both great approaches, but I’m going to go with the latter.

Here’s the approach I used to address each of the issues:

  1. I already had a darker exposure in my old image, so I can just mask more of it into the sky. I created a luminosity selection specific to the sky area to help me paint white onto the existing mask. The selection needed to target dark areas of the sky, so I used the Quick Selection tool to target the sky roughly, clicked D for a darks luminosity preview, and then feathered the quick selection slightly when clicking “Sel” to help ensure a smooth transition at the edges.
  2. The flowers needed some exposure blending with a new exposure I imported from my original shoot. This is pretty consistent with other blends I’ve demonstrated, but in this case there’s a twist. My processed image is a few pixels smaller than the new source material and I’m importing a Smart Object, so I had to manually align the new source. When adding the new layers with “PreBlend”, I just checked “check alignment (difference)” to put the layers into a blend mode that would make it easy to align. Just activate the move tool and click on the arrow keys to nudge the layer pixel by pixel until the result looks as dark as possible (difference blend mode shows generally very dark when things are perfectly aligned). Then just create a lights luminosity selection and start painting on the mask to reveal the improved flower details.
  3. The reflection is a bit different. It’s more of a local replacement than a blend because the working image has those artifacts (HDR ghosting and the lines in the RAW). I grabbed a source image which had both good details and a shutter speed that rendered the water in an ideal way. In addition to processing for details, I also needed to remove the camera artifacts. By using strong noise reduction in ACR and negative texture coupled with a boost in clarity, I was able to nearly eliminate the D800 artifacts and generate a great-looking reflection. As the water in both versions matches and lacks detail, I simply used a soft white brush to reveal the better layer.
  4. The background trees are also a little different. In this case, I wanted to darken the yellow trees without darkening the green/magenta/white flower, so I just clicked “Color” to make a selection based on yellows and brushed through it to reveal the darker trees. I added a BlendIf to target the lightest pixels. I don’t typically use BlendIf for blending, but it works just fine in this case. I then reduced opacity so that the result was a subtle correction.
  5. The tree color is a bit tricky. You could use an HSL adjustment, but I found better results by just replacing the color. I added a solid fill layer with the desired hue and saturation and set it to color blend mode. I then used “Color” to create a Blue/Magenta mask and then added an additional mask to target only the blue/magenta colors in the trees on the right side of the image.
Greg Benz Photography