I used to think that all the photos I saw on the hundreds of web sites I perused came out of the camera already looking the way I was seeing them: vibrant, punchy, noise-free, and with a clarity that made you feel like you were right there, behind the lens. Little did I know that the truly time-consuming part of photography comes after the shot is taken in what many refer to as the "digital darkroom". Below is an example of a before and after shot. The shot on the left is straight from the camera and the shot on the right is how I processed the RAW file using Lightroom 5, software I'm still very much learning to use. What differences do you notice?
No camera can capture the dynamic range of what humans' eyes can see. While to some the photographers in the foreground can "ruin" the shot, as I've had some people tell me, their inclusion in the shot was very intentional, so I wanted to make sure they were visible. In the original, they almost fade away into blackness since I exposed for the sky and sun lit rocks of Garden of the Gods. FYI, it's always easiest to expose for the brightest part of the scene and deal with the shadows in post. Here's a brief list of some of the major changes I made:
1. Lifted the shadows and raised the exposure in the area of the photographers. Notice how you can see the colors of the clothes the photographers are wearing, whereas in the original they are all just black.
2. Warmed the white balance of the sky and rocks as the original, in my opinion, was a little too cool.
3. Sharpened the overall shot.
4. Reduced noise, mainly in the shadows.
I truly believe post processing is an art in itself. And like every other art, you hone your skill over time.