a typical Cowbelly ‘before and after’

I’m currently working on portfolio reviews, and one of the questions I get asked most often is: “what do you normally do when you edit your photos?”. My stock answer is “it depends”. It depends on what the photo looks like, where it was taken, what the exposure is like (good or bad), what colors it contains, and what ‘look’ or style I’m trying to achieve.  But as far as answers go, I can do better than that. So I bring you, my ‘typical’ before and after. i.e. what I ‘normally’ do to a photo using Lightroom and Photoshop.

Before and after:

The before photo of miss Zen was underexposed, as many of my photos are. So the steps I took in Lightroom involved fixing the exposure, removing that ugly grey haze that all digital photos have, and making it ‘pop’. FYI: for those who are new- I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 for about 98% of my digital editing, and shoot exclusively in RAW.


Exposure: +1.00 (this is a pretty strong adjustment! Ideally I don’t like to add more than about a half stop of increased exposure with software, but I’m shooting in RAW so the file here can handle it).

Recovery: 6 (I only ever do this on shots that have blown out highlights, which I usually prefer to fix either by adjusting exposure or brightness or using the adjustment brush and lowering the exposure on select areas. Going too heavy on recovery makes an image look muddy and gross).

Fill light: 20 (I’m always pretty heavy handed with this as I always like to add blacks back in)

Blacks: 11 (I usually do somewhere between 8-12. This can go a long way in making an image ‘pop’. Blacks + brightness on a RAW file = love.)

Brightness: +75. (I usually try and use brightness first before exposure, because increasing the exposure can blow your highlights out, while increasing brightness preserves them, but here I knew I needed some extreme brightening, so I used both).

Clarity: +20. (I always try and use a light hand here and only add between +7 to +14 if necessary, because it can make a shot look really gritty if too strong a setting is applied. But here it’s great for the graffiti, and if I had more time I’d use the adjustment brush and paint on +100 clarity on the graffiti only to really make it pop).

Tone curve: darks: -21. I swear this is my default setting for 95% of my images. lol

HSL (love these sliders!!). Saturation: blue: +25, purple: +50. Luminance: blue: -54, purple: -23. I did this to keep the vibrance in those colors without affecting the vibrance of the overall image.

Sharpening: amount: 41, Radius: 1.0 (default), detail: 25 (default), masking: 0 (default).

Adjustment brush: I did selective adjustments on Zen’s face to clone out junk, because she had some goopies around her eye and some dandruff in her fur (oh the shame!). Lightroom’s automatic adjustments do an amazing job, and I rarely need to change the area they are selecting from. Thank you Lighroom. I love you.


Sharpening: smart sharpen: amount: 48, radius: 0.8. My sharpening is usually between 0.8-1.4 for radius, and 35-72 or so for amount, depending on what my output is (you always want to sharpen for output). I always use smart sharpen, because I’ve used every plug-in and action in the book, and have always been happiest with smart sharpen. Also, I sharpened twice here (once in Lighroom and once in PSCS5), because I’m not entirely happy with Lightroom’s sharpening results. It’s an ‘ok’ place to start out with using a subtle adjustment like I did here, but for great sharpening, nothing beats photoshop, IMHO.

That’s it! I try and keep my editing as simple as possible these days, because I find that the more I fiddle with it, the less natural the results are.

Hope that helps someone out there. Happy editing! 🙂


9 thoughts on “a typical Cowbelly ‘before and after’

  1. Hi Jamie: I’ve been a long time lurker, but had to come out of the shadows to thank you for this post. As a self-taught hobby photographer that loves taking pictures of my dogs, cats and horse, I have been struggling to know if my post-processing adjustments are “legit” and what I should be striving to acheive. Your post gave me confidence that I’m “seeing” correctly and headed in the right direction…with your tips and a bit more practice, I am on my way to learning to take and edit better pictures. Thanks for being so open with us readers and admirers of your awesome work and talent. I really hope you plan a workshop on the East Coast (DC!) sometime soon.

  2. good stuff. it’s always nice to learn about other photogs’ processes. i appreciate your openness to do so, jamie. thanks.

  3. Thank you Jamie. I’m a hobbyist photographer with no interest in becomming a pro, yet always looking for ways to get pro quality results when photograhping my three dogs (my favorite subjects). I discovered your website about two years ago and have been a huge admirer of your work ever since. I even tried to sign up for one of your workshops, but was informed that it was for pros and aspiring business owners only and was referred to your ” Q&A for photographers” page. I was absolutely thrilled that the Q&A offered so many helpful tips, and I referred to it frequently, but then, shortly thereafter, it was gone….ugh. So, I just want to express how happy, and thankful I am that you shared your knowledge of post processing on your blog, making it available to ALL of the photogs who are inspired by your beautiful work…pros, and amateurs alike.

  4. Hey Jamie, glad to see a new post, and especially glad, as always, to view your work; I love how transparent you are, it makes pet photography seem so accessible. Keep up the great work, and where is your next Passport going to be held? I need to start saving for it : )

  5. My question is, how do you shoot RAW and still get action shots? Anytime I have tried to shoot a furry beast RAW the whole shoot is one blur after another.

    Thanks for the demonstration, btw. It makes the newbie in me less ashamed that I fiddle around in photoshop.

  6. Jamie this is an awesome post! It is very helpful. I use Lightroom for most everything except one or two presets that I like in Photoshop (I am still pretty new to Photoshop but have been using Lightroom a lot longer). I have been using presets a lot for my photos but now I am doing more manual adjustment until I get the look and feel I desire. Sometimes though I just can’t seem to “fix” a photo, so I’m hoping some of these tips here help. I agree with you about the more you edit, the more it can seem unnatural. I try to get it right in the camera as much as I can! Thank you so much for posting this!

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