Ron Martinsen is a well-known international photographer and photo editing blogger. His blog has over 1,000,000 visitors with topics ranging from gear, plugins, and book reviews. This week Ron allowed us to pick his brain about his photography, post-processing, and how to create a successful photography business and we’re excited to share his knowledge with you.
Ron’s post-processing using his favorite plug-in Topaz Adjust.
Topaz: Do you have a signature post-processing workflow for your images, and if so what are your key steps?
Ron: I wouldn’t say that I have a signature post-processing workflow because my style evolves and adapts as technology changes and for the content of my images. In many of the interviews I’ve done with some super famous pro photographers, I’ve discovered that their “signature look” was really caused by their limited knowledge of the tools available. As a result, they would get into a habit of doing the same thing – partially out of necessity due to deadlines – so their “look” was a result of running the same Photoshop Action on their images and always getting the same result.
Prior to 2008 a photographer could get away with that, but in the super competitive market we are now in, that’s a great way to find your “look” copied by others. To keep up with the times I’m always paying attention to the latest software releases, and pushing myself to learn new techniques for editing. This does make it a little harder for someone to look at my photos and say “that’s the Ron Martinsen” look, because no such thing exists. With that disclaimer, there are some common characteristics as to how I edit a photo.
My basic workflow goes like this:
1. Minor adjustments in Lightroom from the RAW file and then I send it to Photoshop as a 16-bit ProPhoto RGB. It’s important to note that I try not to crop in this step because sometimes I find myself needing different cropping options due to the different aspect ratios of 4×6, 5×7, 8×10 & 16×24 prints. It’s for this reason that cropping is almost always my last step.
2. Once I’m in Photoshop I’ll duplicate the layer, and if necessary I’ll do noise reduction – pretty much on anything greater than ISO 200. If the image has lots of texture I might create a layer mask and only apply the noise reduction in the smooth areas of the image like skies, metal surfaces, etc…
3. At this point I usually create an empty layer and then use the Content Aware healing brush and Stamp tool to remove distractions, stray hairs, skin blemishes, trash/sticks in landscapes, fix bad patches, etc…
4. If any areas need to be brightened or darkened, I usually do it in this step.
5. If there is skin, I’ll do my skin softening at this point. Often times after I’ve applied the skin softening I’ll lower the layer opacity to let some of the pre-softening texture bleed through to avoid the plastic look.
6. By this point I am typically ready to start doing my creative layers where I try to add more vivid punch to the colors I care about, warm up the image, etc… This may involve several layers and layer masks so that I get the result that I want.
7. Once I’m done with all of that, if I have a face in the image I’ll enhance the eyes and teeth over the course of a couple layers.
8. Next I’ll give the image a look over to see what I might have missed. Hopefully it’s nothing, but sometimes I do a little surgery at this point to correct the little details I didn’t catch earlier on.
9. Once I’m satisfied with the color version of my image, I’ll usually experiment with a black & white version to see how I like it. If I don’t find anything I like then I still typically bring in a neutral B&W layer and lower the opacity and/or change the blend mode to Soft Light to see how the image would improve with those mid-tone darks.
This is the technique that has the most variation but also creates a unique look. Some people do this by copying channels, others who understand Photoshop well know to do this with Apply Image, but I like using B&W software as they offer variants that channels don’t to create some very interesting looks sometimes (like my tree house shot).
10. If the image was really soft I’ll do some creative sharpening here, but most of my shots with my latest gear are so sharp that there’s no need for this step. I save the image and go back to Lightroom.
11. In Lightroom I’ll do my cropping, sometimes creating virtual copies for the different crop types, and then exporting each size that I need.
12. I often apply a post-crop vignette to the image if it benefits from it, then I export out if the output is for web then go to the last step. If not, I go to the next step.
13. Save as a new PSD for use with printing – in the exact resolution I need (often 16×24 @ 360ppi for Epson and 16×24 @ 300ppi for Canon)
14. With this new “for print only” PSD, I make any adjustments for printing while using the soft proofing feature of Photoshop. Often times I need to do a curves adjustment to brighten the image by 5 to 10% for the best result.
15. I inspect the image carefully at 100%+ and make any corrections that might not have been caught earlier
16. Finally at this point I do my final output sharpening on the final resized image and either print or export it out as a 8-bit sRGB JPEG for the web.
Topaz: You feature a lot of photo editing tips and instruction on your blog, do you have a favorite post-processing tip or trick?
Ron: Yes, I do and my biggest tips (mentioned above) are:
1. Don’t paint yourself in a corner – disk space is cheap, so:
a. Save cropping for last
b. Keep adjacent images that you might want to throw away in case you need to extract parts of those images to save another image (i.e., people/distractions in the way, overblown areas, etc…)
c. Never flatten – keep all of your layers
d. If you want to save disk space, and you are certain you are satisfied with your layer mask, then do an Apply Image to only keep the bits you need for that layer. It’s easy to get in trouble with this though, so I only recommend it for advanced photo editors.
2. Edit in 16-bit pro photo with the original image size because you may revisit the image in the future when there are devices that can take advantage of the large color space and bit depth. It’s easy to downgrade when you are done, but it’s impossible to upgrade the image back so all your edits will need to be re-done if you go back to your image years later when technology has improved.
3. Create output PSD’s for the exact size you with to print, and then do your final sharpening on those. This gives you the best quality sharpening so you can send your file to the printer at 100% and avoid scaling artifacts.
4. While shooting, if you have the time then do bracketed shots or multiple exposures when there are crowds. This gives you options when you are editing to fix overblown areas, brighten dark areas where there might otherwise be noise from pushed raw files, and eliminate people with simple stamp edits rather than having to reconstruct obscured areas of the image.
5. Experiment – the greatest work out there is often created by going crazy and trying something that seems unorthodox, but that’s how the cool new looks are always created.
Topaz: You’re also very well versed with our Topaz line up, do you have a go to plug-in?
Ron: Without question, my favorite Topaz product is Adjust. I have just about every plug-in out there because of what I do for my blog, but there’s so much unique stuff that Adjust offers that nobody else even comes close to. Sure, I have other products that I love and use regularly, but Topaz is like the secret sauce that give the image a little something special.
I’m also a huge fan of ReMask, but I’m probably a little unconventional in terms of how I use it. What I mean is that I try to do as much as I can in Photoshop, but I just use Remask for the tough areas where it’s too time consuming in Photoshop. This means I’ll sometimes have to merge two layer masks into one to get the final result, but I find it faster than using one method alone. Lens Effects, B&W Effects and Simplify are probably next up as my creative options to say “hey, I wonder what X might look like”.
Topaz: One thing that is very impressive about you is that you only started shooting with a digital SLR in 2007, yet you’ve a ton of success and have been featured in magazines all over the world. What tips would you give to photographers who are trying to build their business?
Ron: I shot for years in film but I really needed the instant feedback and EXIF metadata from digital before I could really improve by leaps and bounds. During my journey I was fortunate enough to have some great conversations with some of the best photographers in the business today, and I got a lot of good tips. However, the most common tip was to find something extraordinary but different and make a great photo of it. It doesn’t matter if the geeks on some web forum or photo contest don’t like it, if it’s unique and well done there will be a market for it.
That turned out to be great advice and I used that to get the attention of big name magazines all around the world. They didn’t know me, and they didn’t care what the score was for an image on 500px, all they cared about was how much the image I took might captivate the attention of a reader. When you can pull that off, success happens despite yourself.
There was another thing I learned too – ALWAYS charge for your images. Everyone will always ask for the images free, and you’ll lose some opportunities, but when you hold your ground it’s funny how often you hear “oh, we didn’t realize you were a real photographer ‘how about $xxxx for this one run of your images?’”. This often led to getting multiple images published, and requests for images in the future so charging a fee actually earns respect. It also helps other photographers who are counting on income to put food on the table, so it’s good for the industry too!
Ron: People know very well how much I care about my readers, because I do things that many other sites dare not do for fear of being shut out. I speak my honest and unfiltered opinion, which sometimes has cost me dearly with a partner, but I don’t do it out of malice. I do it so that consumers can make informed decisions, and product makers can use the feedback to improve their product in a future release. I also took the bold step of introducing the concept of “Real World Sample Images” for my camera reviews which were unedited in-camera JPEG’s taken in real life scenarios so people could actually see REAL results that they would get from a camera.
I got so many people contacting me to say thank you for having the courage to do this because they, like me, had been frustrated to see wonderful images from a camera or lens and not getting those result themselves when they bought that product. This meant that people would see flaws in my work, but I counted on that building a trust that would bring them back. I think it has so that’s helped a ton. I’ve also used the power of my blog to secure special deals for my readers that often times are exclusive to my blog, so I’ve saved my readers well over $2,000,000! Helping my readers save money through discounts and making better decisions with honest reviews has been a winning formula!
Ron: This is a tough one because the way I blog is different from the way Scott Kelby, Trey Ratcliff, or many other respected names blog. We all do something different, but we are all successful because we give our readers something special that keeps them coming back for more. I think we all do one fundamental thing and that is we try to anticipate what would WE want if we were reading our blog, and we try to deliver on that.
As a result, I think the best thing you can do is to write what you’d want to read and show what you’d want to see. If you can make it desirable for yourself, then the thousands of people out there with interests similar to yours will find you. Using social media to help people find you is also valuable as your friends are the seed to viral growth.