Patience is not a virtue I can claim ample possession of.
In my own photography – if I had to label the genre in which I mostly operate I would call it urban tourist landscape – I tend to grade myself on the “postcard shot” scale. While I am able to aesthetically appreciate impressions of true artists (there is little doubt that I am not one), I most value in my own shots crispness and vividness – in other words, being able to say that “this photograph is like a postcard”.
Shooting in RAW with enthusiast-level gear (which is to say, not approaching professional level but certainly better than amateur), I have many opportunities to get the best out of my shots during post-processing. Lightroom on its own makes a reasonable job of taking a decent RAW file and bringing out colors, re-balancing shadows and highlights, enhancing sharpness, etc. Then, there are multi-RAW processing techniques that allow me to layer in local adjustments to different parts of a given picture in Photoshop.
But I am not patient enough to get the best possible result. I
might clearly lack the measure of artistic inspiration that guides some photographers to identify uncommon adjustments or effects that turn a good photograph into an exceptional masterpiece. But that aside, as much as I swear by post-processing I simply am not wired to take time to painstakingly work on adjustments once I deem my interim results “good enough”. After all, there is a whole line of next photographs being neglected while I am spending all that extra time on a particular one.
HDR to the rescue! While true High Dynamic Range processing requires bracketed exposures, a method called Exposure Fusion takes a single RAW file, calculates what other exposures of the same scene would be like, and then works such virtual exposures as it would work a set of bracketed shots. Photomatix Pro software does an excellent job in producing a “fused” image where shadow and highlight areas are no longer dull and the colors really pop. I may still want to do some further polishing in Lightroom or Photoshop (reducing noise, softening over-saturated areas, sharpening up, retouching blemishes, etc.), but the bottom line is I get to “better than good enough” with fewer manipulations than I would have made otherwise.
Below is a large selection of shots that I made during my walk around Kiev in late January. Pictures on the left are my original final “good enough” results. Pictures on the right are the same RAW files first processed via Exposure Fusion and then additionally adjusted/cropped in Lightroom and Photoshop (some of the perspective crop ratios have not been perfectly matched but those are nonetheless same shots). In a few cases the differences are pretty subtle, while in others they are quite dramatic.
In all cases, I view the right-hand samples as bringing me closer to my postcard-quality goal. I suspect you’ll agree. (All pictures are clickable, as always. Using next/previous controls in the pop-up window will give you a better view of the differences.)