Daily Photo Edit: Sunset over the Amazon

I set myself a challenge for 2017 – post at least one photo to Instagram every day. I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough good photos to share. What I discovered is that setting a challenge like this is that it forces you to not only take more photos, but go back through your catalog of photos and edit them. Over the years I’ve managed to improve my editing skills so that photos I thought were a lost cause can now be resurrected into share-worthy inspiration.

Thanks to the Instagram posts I’ve received a lot of questions about my photography and editing process. This made me realize that, although the Instagram challenge is going well, I’ve been neglecting blog posts. I thought it was time to fix this. Now, with each daily photo I’m going to start a new series of blog posts describing the edits. To kick things off, today’s post is of a sunset I took whilst traveling down the Amazon River in Peru.

The Basics

Before we jump in, since this is the first post in the series, let’s cover a few basic questions I receive:

What software do you use?

The most common question I receive is what software do you use to edit your photos?

I use Adobe Lightroom to manage my catalog and perform most of my photo editing unless I need something that requires a little more finesse such as intricate clone stamping, or photo merging. For detailed work I use Adobe Photoshop. I also purchased a couple of preset and brush packs: the complete collection from Sleeklens, and Replichrome I & II from TotallyRad.

Throughout the daily posts, I’ll add a bit more detail on how I use presets and brushes.

What camera & gear do you use?

I primarily shoot with a Nikon D810, almost always with a Nikkor 40mm fixed lens. I love this lens. Shooting with a fixed lens forces you to think about composition more. Plus, I am typically hiking or backpacking. A fixed lens greatly reduces weight I have to carry. Speaking of saving weight, I also recently purchased a Leica Q for some long (1000km) treks and street photography. I had tried mirrorless cameras in the past (Sony Alpha) and was disappointed with the electronic viewfinders and poor layouts of buttons. The Leica Q, however, is on another level. It’s a spectacular camera. I don’t think I would take it with me into really rugged environments; the Nikon still excels there, but I can see why people fall in love with Leica.

For filters, I use Lee gradient filters and the Big Stopper 10 to capture waterfalls even in bright light.

I put my gear to work in harsh conditions. They have to take punishment. I’ve dropped a camera in the Amazon River (and left it for the piranhas), the pacific ocean (which after retrieving it and drying it out, it came back to life, albeit a little glitchy, until I could get home and send it to Nikon for a full repair), slipped  off mountain sides, been in sub-zero temperatures in the Himalayas and sweltering humidity in caves. If your gear isn’t scratched and beaten you are not getting the shot.

What’s the best advice you have for getting started?

That’s easy:  Take a lot of photos, and learn about histograms. So many people think that post-processing can fix everything. It’s always best to start with a good photograph, and the only way to improve is take a lot of photos!

Today’s Photo

Location Amazon River near Iquitos, Peru
Camera D3200 (I think. I shot this about 5 years ago)
ISO 200
Focal Length 22mm
Apperture f14
Shutter speed 1/800


Before and After

The photo was a little dark, but back then I hadn’t learned about filters. In post-processing, I wanted to keep the sunset and add a lost world sort of feel whilst bringing out those those shadows. I started with two presets: Sleeklens – All in One Retro Feeling and Curve:Fade Highlights+ to get the feeling I wanted. The current trend is definitely to add some fade presets to photos. In this instance, it’s fits really well with what I wanted to accomplish.

With the base complete, I applied a brush to bring up the shadows of the people just slightly, then dropped the overall highlights and every so slightly increased the saturation to give it that warm sunset vibe. the last thing was to apply a Medium Back Vignette preset. I often use a vignette to draw the eye into the center of a photograph. In this example, the vignette helped me balance out the photo to the center of the frame. Most of the detail is on the left, the vignette draws your eye back to the middle.