Before-And-After Tutorial for “Sky Watcher”

Before-And-After Tutorial for “Sky Watcher”

Let’s look at a before-and-after 4-image workflow of my Sky Watcher image! I am asked all the time about this, and I think it is a good thing to share with everyone what I have learned and my process. Thinking of the famous quote from Ansel Adams, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” Let’s make an image.


(Image 1) Below is the straight-out-of-camera (SOOC) RAW file. It’s bland, lacking contrast, uninteresting, totally lacking my vision for the final image, and completely untouched. To sum it up, I could see that the image had potential but not in this form.

Sky Watcher - RAW File SOOC - Mabry Campbell

Sky Watcher – RAW File SOOC – Mabry Campbell


(Image 2) To make a compelling image, and I know I wanted a black and white final, the first thing I did was to take the image into Lightroom 5 and perform basic adjustments. In Lightroom 5 I performed a simple white balance adjustment, adjusted the colors to aid in the black and white conversion (such as amplifying the blues), added a bit of contrast, camera profile correction, removed chromatic aberration, reduced the highlights, amplified the midtones, set the white balance, and set the black point. Below is the image after those minor adjustments.

Sky Watcher - RAW file with basic Lightroom white balance adjustments - Mabry Campbell

Sky Watcher – RAW file with basic Lightroom white balance adjustments – Mabry Campbell


(Image 3) The basic black and white conversion image. So what did I do? Well I did what I felt needed to be done to make the image look like my vision. But let’s get specific and learn something. After the minor Lightroom adjustments (and applying a square crop), I brought the image into Photoshop 6. I used the DFine plug-in by NIK Software to remove any noise. Next I made three conversions of the color layer into black and white using the Silver Efex Pro 2 plug-in through Photoshop. I made a neural conversion, a high key conversion, and a low key 2 conversion. Now in photoshop I have three black and white layers. With these layers I applied numerous layer masks, masking in parts of the layer beneath using bothe the paintbrush and gradient tools, always working off of the neutral conversion. This is a fun a freeform process. Just go until it looks right to YOU.

My next step was to duplicate the layer, changed the layer’s properties to “Multiply”, and added a mask. With a white brush, I painted in the parts of the underlying layer that I wanted to be visible. To make that process more dramatic I duplicated the layer mask and then flattened the working layers and associated masks. This is a dramatic step so I suggest you use a “light hand”. My next step was to perform a significant amount of dodging and burning…primarily burning. Again, take it slowly and don’t be too heavy-handed. It’s not a race, it’s about getting the image to look the way you visualize it.

My final step was to bring the image back into Silver Efex Pro 2. Using control points I added a bit of contrast and structure to the person and to parts of the boulders. I used control points to remove a bit of structure from the sky. These are minor adjustments, but they make a big difference in the end, And finally in SEP2 I burned the edges just slightly. All of this in an effort to force your eye to the part of the image that I want. In this case, the mane and the clouds surrounding him.

Sky Watcher - Basic Black and White Conversion

Sky Watcher – Basic Black and White Conversion – Mabry Campbell


(Image 4) The final fine art image.

Sky Watcher - Final Fine Art Image - Mabry Campbell

Sky Watcher – Final Fine Art Image – Mabry Campbell


I hope you enjoyed this brief tutorial! As always, keep on sending me emails on all aspects of photography & post processing and I will help out the best I can. Contact me here.

All the best,
~Mabry Campbell


11 thoughts on “Before-And-After Tutorial for “Sky Watcher”

  1. Thanks for the tutorial. I think it’s for us to share this kind of information. After all you could tell me every “trick” you know and I still wouldn’t be able to copy you vision. Sharing only gives us the opportunity to do better. Thanks again.


  2. Thank you for sharing this tutorial! I can’t wait to try it out. I have all those plugins so yay! Your images are so beautiful (as I’m sure you know because I ooze this out on your posts sometimes), lol. I’m bookmarking this one! Thanks again 🙂


    • My pleasure Laura. I’m going to be making a lot more tutorials. I need to make them easier to follow I think. But glad you understood this one. I think it’s super important to share our processes. Maybe video? Who knows. :))


  3. Thanks for sharing, my favorite is the cropted version picture no.3. I find 4 a bit dark, you can’t see the depths at the rocks, I think if there was a pic between 3 and 4, that was my favorite. Sorry just give mine preference 🙂


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