Replacing my Favorite Photo Editing Plug-in

Google recently announced they would no longer support Nik, a photo editing plug-in for Lightroom and Photoshop.  I, like many others had become dependent on Nik in my editing workflow.  I was even one of those who spent a huge sum for Nik in the early days before google bought them and started distributing it for free.  While I can’t understand google’s decision to scrap such a brilliant piece of software, I’m moving on.  

Recently Scott Kelby published a video course on his KelbyOne site on this very topic…replacing Nik with Macphun’s Luminar.  I went ahead with his suggestion, and don’t regret it at all.  Luminar is easy and intuitive…easy to learn.  I wasn’t looking for a replacement for Lightroom and Photoshop, simply a Nik replacement.  I think I got something in between. It’s more than Nik.  It can do what Nik did, but more, with more flexibility.  I’ll be using Luminar a lot. With the ability to handle layers, Luminar might even replace some Photoshop functionality eventually.  That will take some time though since I’m quite comfortable with Photoshop…but it could happen.

As an aside, I purchased On1’s software some months ago, and have tried it several times, but it never took hold the same way Luminar did.  It almost does too much…is that possible?  I keep telling myself I need to learn more about On1. 

Navajo Nation

Just returned from a trip to Navajo Nation.  One fabulous photo adventure with good friends.  This slideshow was put together using Adobe’s Spark Page app on the iPad. 

My Photo Editing Workflow

Since I’ve taught numerous workshops on photo editing, and touch on the topic of Workflow, without being able to get deeply into it, I thought I’d do it here to be able to share it in the future with workshop attendees. My personal workflow is not something I dreamed up overnight, nor is it something I consciously or logically designed.  It evolved over a long period of time from a combination of learning from others (Kelby, Kloskowski…others), and my own experience developing the look I personally like in my pictures. I’m absolutely positive that some of the greats out there could give me a thousand reasons why my workflow isn’t the best way.  That’s fine.  It is the best way for me, and gets the results I want.

This post isn’t intended to explain how to use Lightroom, or suggest how you should use each control.  It merely covers the way I progress through the editing process, step by step.

First I edit virtually every “keeper” picture I take.  I shoot in camera raw all the time.  Never in jpg.  I also am pretty brutal about selecting out the pictures I want and deleting the rejects.  Since I shoot raw files…THEY MUST BE EDITED, and cannot be used as is out of the camera. I tell my workshop attendees they have two choices when editing.  Either let the camera edit your pictures, in which case, shoot jpg files, and edit them before they are taken by carefully manipulating your camera controls.  The second choice is to shoot raw files, and edit them yourself using software after you download them from the camera.  Either way you are editing your pictures.  Since I shoot raw files, I’ve made the choice to use software, where I have more control and can exercise more creativity.  The post-processing of images is part of the workflow, which begins before you take the picture.

Before beginning, this workflow is for the software I use, which always starts in Adobe’s Lightroom, then for some pictures goes to Photoshop, then back and forth between Photoshop and either Nik, or On1 installed as plug-ins to Photoshop.  On1 can easily be used as a standalone and will handle everything from file organization to full-blown editing. 

Planning the shot

Once you get a good understanding of what your editing software can do you will find yourself shooting with post-processing in mind.  You’ll do this automatically for almost every shot.  Is the foreground too dark? Sky blown out? Will the detail in that rock wall pop with the right editing? You’ll then expose for those possibilities…maybe take several shots to blend later.


After you’ve editing enough images you’ll find yourself doing pretty much the same basic things on many of them.  This is especially true for types of images; landscape, architectural, etc.  Those basics may include your preferred settings for 

controls in the Basic, HSL, Lens Correction, and Camera Calibration panels.  Whatever those settings are, create a “preset” that you can apply to all your pictures upon import.  This saves you a lot of editing later, that you would probably do anyway to each picture individually.  For my Landscape images, for example I almost always have these starting points in the import preset:

Camera Calibration Panel: I select the camera profile (LR picks this up from my camera, so yours may differ), for Landscapes.  This gives the image a good starting point.

Lens Correction Panel: I apply a lens Correction to every picture, so why not do it on import? I’ll also select remove chromatic aberration. 

Basic Panel: I always slide down highlights, and open shadows on every landscape image…to some degree.  My preset includes those adjustments, in addition to auto White Balance. 

HSL Panel: another adjustment I find myself doing on most landscapes is darkening the blue in the sky.  I will therefore adjust luminance downward a bit for the sky-blues. 

These basic edits are then applied to all my Landscape imports as a starting point.  They obviously need to be adjusted for each image, but work amazingly well for most.

In order to create the preset I simply take a sample image, adjust the above settings to taste, then save them as a preset.  I don’t include all the settings, because some like “transform” and “effects”, differ so much from image to image.  Also “Detail” is an adjustment I like to do at the very end of my workflow.  I don’t use Split Toning, or Tone Curve at all.

Editing Workflow

I begin my workflow in the Camera Calibration panel.  My import preset should have already set the profile I want, but I could change it here if I wanted.  I don’t touch anything else in this panel.  NOTE: if you shoot jpg files you won’t have any options here. 

My next step is to set lens correction if my import didn’t already do that. I’ll almost always also check the “remove chromatic aberration” box.

The next step is to straighten the image.  This will not have been done on import. Make sure horizons are horizontal and verticals are vertical.  StRt by trying Auto. If that doesn’t do what you want try the guided approach. 

If the transformation results in too much potential cropping, I won’t use the Constrain Crop box, but instead export the image to Photoshop and fill the blank crop areas using content aware tools, such as fill, or patch.  This doesn’t always work, but is worth trying.

If you have a hazy picture, before using the basic panel, jump down to the Effects panel and try using the dehaze slider, the. Come back to the basic panel

Now it’s finally time to move to the top panel, the basic panel.  The first thing I’ll adjust is color by adjusting white balance.  While I apply auto White Balance on import, it isn’t a very satisfying adjustment. I’ll frequently change that to daylight, or back to as-shot. NOTE: If you shoot jpg files, you won’t have any options here, and will have to make you color adjustments using the temp and tint sliders.  

Staying in the basic panel, after I just White Balance I’ll adjust highlights and shadows, and whites and blacks.  I won’t touch exposure and contrast unless I can’t get what I want with the highlights/shadows/blacks/whites sliders.  As I adjust these sliders I keep my eye on the histogram to make sure I’m not overdoing the changes.  

Finally in the basics panel I’ll finish off with some boost in vibrance…almost all my pictures get that, and some clarity.  Both these can make your image look very unreal.  Be careful.   I never touch the Saturation slider
All the above adjustments effect the entire image.  I now make a few target adjustments.

Hue, Saturation, Luminance (HSL) is my next stop, especially for images with partially cloudy skies.  I’ll typically use the targeted adjustment tool in the HSL panel to lower the luminance of the blue in the skies.

More targeted adjustments can then be done using the spot remover tool (dust spots), the spotlight tool (circle) and the gradient tool and brush.  While these can be done in Lightroom, I will do most of my dodging and burning and removal unwanted elements in Photoshop. The cloning, healing brushes in Photoshop are more accurate and powerful. 

At this point, depending on the image I switch to Photoshop.  In Photoshop I do things like removing unwanted elements (people, wires, garbage cans, branches), dodging and burning, and blending in skies from different exposures or different images. While in Photoshop I may take the image into the Nik plug in for some special effects.  Coming out of Photoshop I save the image back into Lightroom as an uncompressed file…usually in psd format (smaller than tiff).  Finishing touches are done in Lightroom.

Final touches include sharpening and noise reduction, and for many pictures a subtle vignette.  

Exporting Workflow

After all that editing you’d think the workflow ended.  It doesn’t. When you export your image there still might be some thing you want to do.  During the export process you need to think about how your exported image is to be seen.  Will it be on the web? Will you be sending it to print?  Answers to these questions determine how much sharpening to apply at export, and which color space you select. 

For print you’ll typically want the Adobe RGB color space, and additional sharpening, since printing softens the picture.  For print you’ll also want your resolution to exceed 250dpi. For web use export the file at lower resolution 75-100 dpi, and use the sRGB color space.  Here’s a good article on using available color spaces.  

Morning Walk

I do love walking, and its not only because I now wear a fitbit.  I’ve always gotten outside to clear my head and think.  This morning was no different with a workshop on Lightroom scheduled for later in the morning, a good walk in the woods clears the head.  My iPhone is always at hand, as is my love of taking pictures, so the perfect scene 5D5AF99A-FAC4-4758-B55C-B539E50621CApresented itself; leading lines, sun flare, quite solitude.  This image was taken using the native iPhone camera app, then processed in Snapseed as I walked. Enhanced using a slight glow effect before going to black and white, then some dodging and burning to get the eye to follow the path.  Great morning though.  The class went well also.  I hope I didn’t drown the attendees with too much.

Macro and Close-up Photography

This is a type of photography I almost never do!  I gave it a try this month for our Photography club assignment.  I even went out and bought some Extension tubes to allow me to get really close.  These are my first attempts at Macros (two), with two close-up (non-macros) thrown in for good measure.

My main learning…well this really makes you work your camera hard.  Manual controls, manual focus, understanding depth of field, and using the live-view mode for obtaining critical focus.  Hard work!  Composition also becomes a bit problematical as small (minuscule) moves really alter the image a lot.  

I’ll give this more chances in the future, but for now back to landscape photography…planning a trip out to Navajo country in Arizona and the four corners area.

By the way, that flower in the pose header is a very tiny flower from a Nandina bush in my back yard…really tiny.

Cuba Again

I was in Cuba before..before Castro that is.  Does that say something about my age?  Yes, I remember as a child living in Barranquilla, Colombia, flying up to Miami…probably shopping for school.  We used to fly Super Constellations, and landed in Kingston, Jamaica and in Camaguey, Cuba. The flights were really long, and I can remember a lot of bumpy air.  On one trip, probably our final one through that route, we landed in Camaguey as usual, and stayed in the plan while they did whatever they were doing there.  Presumably loading and unloading passengers and probably refueling.  As always I had the window seat due to my propensity to motion sickness.  I can remember marveling at all the bearded military looking thugs outside the airplane, as it was surrounded on the tarmac.    Well I was in Cuba again!  A few weeks ago I spent two days in Havana as part of a cruise.  Cubans are very much like my Barranquillero/Consteño Colombians.  Happy, vibrant people who love good music and speak Spanish as it shot from a machine gun.  I actually felt pretty at home with my rough memory of Colombian Spanish.

This gallery shows Havana over two days.  Cars, being one of the things I love most in this world, are naturally a big part of the gallery.  You will notice for the most part that the cars appear beautifully maintained.  They are, but realize there have been no imports from the US since Kennedy imposed the embargo in the early 60’s.  There have also been no import of car parts, so these cars may look like mid-50’s vintage vehicles but who knows what is under the hood.  

As for processing, most are simply processed from raw files in Lightroom using most of my standard settings (secret sauce), however I did put the car pictures, in particular through Nik’s software to bring out the luster in the paint, then masked the effect off the rest of the image to avoid the whole picture looking overdone.

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More IR

Playing around with IR again.  Still having some issues trying to get the post processing right.  It certainly does make great black and whites.  I found for these images taken on a vintage Nikon D70 as jpg’s (I somehow didn’t have it set to raw!!!), my post processing was pretty simple.

No processing in Lightroom

Photoshop – Autotone

Photoshop – Image/Black and White

Levels adjustment

One thing I did that I rarely do is add a lighter vignette to one image instead of darkening the edges.  I thought it improved the etherial quality of the IR scene.

Conclusion of this test Vs. my D810 camera yesterday: I actually like the results of the D810 better, even if it took more post processing work.

Related Images: