Before & after images of the Dordogne

19th July 2016
Going through my website recently, I realised how much my processing style had changed over the years, hopefully for the better! Workflow and processing skills should evolve over time, and along with things like camera technique and compositional skills, go to make us better photographers.

The down side is of course, when I look at images I processed years ago I don't exactly get a warm feeling inside. So to that end I decided to re-visit my images from the Dordogne taken in 2010, and thought it might be interesting, at least to me anyway, to compare how my processing from 6 years ago has changed to how I process them today.

A couple of things to note. The image on the left is the 2010 image and the one on the right is the revised one, this is the case for all images. You will notice on most of the pictures that there is a slight shift as you move the slider across, this is due to me using lens distortion correction in Camera Raw, which wasn't available in 2010. All revised images were re-processed from the original Raw file with all previous edits removed.

The most obvious difference in this image of the hilltop town of Beynac, is how much lighter the new image is. As a general rule I did like to give my images a much darker, some might even say murky look to them. I can't really remember why I favoured this approach, I think I just liked to push the processing as far as I could, whereas now I have a bit more of a gentle touch.

While going through the original files, there were certain views that I decided against using originally, but on second look, I found I preferred. The image above is a case in point. This is also a view of Beynac, and while the town can't be seen as clearly as the first image, I actually prefer how the image works as a whole, and nowadays wouldn't dismiss it as I did before.

Here is an example of something I try not to do now if I can help it, as you can see, even though the village of Bretenoux is very picturesque, the light is really drab, so I have tried to push the processing to rectify the flatness of the image, never a great idea, as I have gone overboard on the dodging and burning in an effort to create some three dimensionality to the buildings. The resulting picture certainly has 'storybook' quality to it but overall it's a bit of a mess.

The revised image, while more restrained is still not a great image because of the conditions and shooting angle. This is one of those times when it would have been better to recognise that the image didn't have any potential, rather than try and force it to work.

This image of Chateau de Fenelon has a bit more going for it, there is at least a bit of sunlight on the scene, plus the clouds have a lot of interest in them. Unfortunately I took that form in the clouds, and with unerring overkill dragged the image into the realm of unrealism. Couple that with excessive use of the dodging and burning tools, and blocking a lot of the shadows, it's easy to see why it was time to update it. The new image is certainly not as tough on the eye, but once the distracting edits had been removed and it was processed more gently, I wasn't particularly happy with the image generally, I didn't think it was that strong.

This picture was originally discarded, but going through them with fresh, and I dare I say, more knowledgeable eyes, it stood out as the best image from the set taken at Fenelon. The path and wall lead the eye into the view and towards the chateau. The clouds are not quite as energetic as the first picture but rather work to frame the top third of the image. An example of how picking the correct image in the first place may negate the need, as a way of compensating for a below-par selection, for over-processing later on.

Moving away from the landscapes, this detail shot of an ancient wooden door in the village of Carennac, one of the features that these medieval towns abound in, is a lesson in letting the elements of an image tell the story themselves, as opposed to dragging them kicking and screaming into a new narrative. The original image which, while it does have a certain look to it that isn't entirely out of place considering its subject matter, does seem to suggest that just round the corner are a pile of disease ravaged bodies and a village filled with bile frothing, plague infested peasants. While the new image, with it's warmer, sunnier tone and more restrained processing looks more like a fortunate encounter with an interesting feature on a summers morning.

While they both exude a sense of history, it's important to realise the power of meaning that imprints on an image depending on how it is processed. I'm pretty sure I wasn't driving for a Black Death themed picture when I processed it originally, I just tried to make every stone stand out and every feature more prominent through the use of highlights, shadows and colour balance, whereas it didn't really need that kind of treatment, and I completely changed the substance of the image.

This image of the famous town of Rocamadour is a lesson in more isn't always better. In an effort to make the image as dramatic as possible I re-visited this file several times, each time adding a bit more work to various areas to try and bring out as much detail as I could. In the end it just wound up a dense, nubilous representation of the scene. Yet because I was so invested in getting the image to look a certain way and had spent so much time on it, I was loath to give it up.

The new processing took about a tenth of the time and yielded much more positive results. Sometimes it's worthwhile to take a step back from an image to evaluate the best course of action. It can be difficult to be sure, especially if you have a definite idea in your mind of how you want it to be, even though the results aren't forthcoming. At times like that it can be a good idea to make a fresh start, even if that means discarding the work done up to that point.

This image of wisteria around an old door, taken in the remote village of Peyrusse-le-Roc early one evening was one of my favourites from the trip, and was one of the few pictures I wasn't sure needed a processing re-visit. But after having given it a make over I'm glad I did. The dense shadows, which I considered important to give the image depth, I soon realised weren't required, and it looks a lot fresher for their removal. With more of the door visible it now plays a bigger part in the picture, and the texture of the ancient wood really comes to the fore.

As is often the way, while looking through the original Raw files I came across a different view of the same scene and it immediately grabbed my attention. I'm still not sure I prefer it to the closer image, I change my mind every time I look at them, but to my eyes it's definitely as strong. Showing more of the scene, it gives extra context to the elements, and has a bit more depth to it, the first picture is a touch dimensionally flat.

This quiet little cul-de-sac in the village of Carennac was another one of my favourite images from the area, thanks to the interesting architecture of the houses and accompanying colourful plant life. The original, as was my want, is a little too dark, with the shadows conveying a grubby feel to the place which definitely wasn't intentional. I didn't realise this until I re-processed it, and comparing the two versions it became all too apparent.

It can be tricky when working on images, to keep a balanced view on how they are looking, it's all too easy to rush headlong into a certain way of working, and forget how the scene actually looked at the time. To be fair the new edit isn't perfect either, I kept the colour balance on the new process more in keeping with what the camera captured, but in hindsight I think a yellower tinge would've been more agreeable.

I rectified the colour balance on this different perspective of the same view. I actually prefer this to the first one, it's still keeping the colour of the vegetation, but the scene is a lot more open and I think pulls the viewer into the image. I can imagine walking into that picture, past the flowers and down the steps at the far end, then off into the village. It's a lot more inviting and having looked at it over the past couple of days, I favour this one far more than the other.

Why I chose the first one over this image when I did the original edits is something I'll never know, it obviously didn't speak to me like it does now, which of course is another facet to consider when working with images, our taste, knowledge and experience in photography change over time. There's not much we can do about that of course, it would be pretty difficult to choose and process an image to please the preferences of our future selves. But what we can do I guess is try not to get stuck in a particular way of doing things, be aware that just because we are comfortable in a certain workflow, it doesn't mean that it can't or shouldn't change.

And don't forget to re-visit old images, it's always worth having a spring clean every now and again!

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