B&A: Editing an Aspen Grove

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how I post-processed one of my images. I took it from a blah, bland photograph to one that will make you want to go find your nearest aspen grove to wander in.

Although I’ve used a number of photo-editing software over the past decade, doing any sort of edit that veers away from true-to-life still feels a little foreign. It’s uncomfortable. But at the same time, I want to play with different looks and effects. I know, it’s paradoxical.

As a result, I’ve been going through old pictures in my archives, and playing with them. For whatever reason, it feels “safer” to use old pictures than the new.

Last night, I found this photograph of an aspen grove. I remembered reading about how their decline in number and size of groves jumped in the past 10 years, and while they’re not considered endangered (yet), a number of forest managers, botanists, and arborists are suspect that the spike is due to climate change.

aspen white trunks green grass grove woods
Unedited image of Aspens @jenphotographs

For this, I used RawTherapee, which is a free, open-source post-processing software. It lacks a few features that Adobe’s Lightroom offers, but for most part, it meets most basic editing needs. If you’re not ready to jump into Adobe’s CC plan, RawTherapee is worth checking out. The learning curve is similar to LR; if you want to try postprocessing for free initially, it’s easy to transition to LR at a later time.

And for you smartphone shooters, Snapseed is an excellent editing app.

Anyway, back to the photograph. As you can see, my camera’s unedited images lean toward the cool side. I set it up this way because Pentax cameras’ WB shifts toward magenta tint very easily, which I’m not keen on.

Basic Edits

I popped this image into RawTherapee, and made a few tweaks to correct the overall images:

  • Fix the WB to warm the image up
  • Cropped to get rid of the grey/dead trees
  • Sharpened – the image was a little soft to begin with.
  • Exposure – boosted half a stop


At this point, the foundation aspects of the image (WB, exposure, etc) have been corrected, and I can now have a little fun with this.

Advanced Post-Processing

Because of the strong midday light, the grass is looking a little pasty and washed out (it’s reflecting the sun). I remedied this somewhat — I liked the soft, washed out look, but wanted it to look a little greener. More vibrant.

To duplicate a similar look in LR, pull up the tab for Levels (in RawTherapee, it’s in Exposure tab -> Tone Curve), and make a shallow S curve. This improves the contrast.

For the foggy, soft blacks effect, lift the black point (it’ll be on lower-left) up a little bit. This effect is called “Lifted Black.”


And that’s all this picture needs.

It’s very easy to go overboard. Make your changes a little at a time. My rule of thumb is: if I ever ask myself, “hmm, is this too much?” it probably is. At which point I’ll scale back my edits about 50%-80%.

Once I’m happy with my edits, I’ll resize for web and hit the save button. I rarely upload the full-sized, high-res version.

sun lit aspens white trees tall grass wildflowers
Aspen Grove @jenphotographs

Instagram Version

This is a new step I’m adding to my workflow. I used to upload my for-web images to IG, regardless of whether it was landscape or portrait mode. The Insta experts are now recommending that you always photograph and crop to 4:5 ratio in portrait mode, because most people browse Instagram in portrait orientation.

Portrait images have a bigger footprint on phones, whereas landscape images get shrunken down. Makes sense.

As I mentioned, this is a new step in my workflow; I just started doing this last week. Here’s the Instagram version of this image.

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Pinterest graphic Before and After: Editing an Aspen Grove postprocessing photoshop photo editing

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