In my Lightroom catalog I have a collection called Masterfiles. In it are photos I consider my best, highest quality images for use in stock or fine art. The photos are arranged from newest to oldest. Occasionally I will scroll through from top to bottom to gauge how far my skills as a photographer have come. Warning – this is not for the faint of heart! Unless you have not progressed at all, invariably you will find many older photos that cause you to wince at the poor quality. Sometimes, however, you find a gem or two that you have forgotten about, for example, the photo above, taken twelve years ago.
As someone who strives to continually progress, this old find begs the question, can I improve it? Obviously the moment is gone and so is the camera. Nevertheless, for reference, this image was taken with a Canon EOS 20D. Introduced in 2004, the 20D was a consumer camera with an 8.2 MPix APS-C sensor and a maximum resolution of 3504 x 2336 pixels. I used the kit lens that came with the camera, the EF-S 17-85 mm, f/4-5.6 IS USM. Metadata indicates the lens was zoomed to 66 mm which converts to a focal length of 106 mm for a full-frame sensor. Fortunately, I love the lighting and composition of the scene which is why I took it originally. Again, there’s not much I can do to it compositionally except perhaps to crop which I feel is not needed (nor can be afforded with the low starting resolution). What can be done, however, is to reprocess the RAW file with my current knowledge and tools of post-processing to see if I can improve it.
Not only have my skills in post-processing advanced since 2006, but so has the capability of Lightroom (LR), Photoshop (PS), as well as the plentiful variety of plug-ins. When I originally processed this photo in 2007, LR was just launched. The color profile was from the Process Version 1 (2003) ACR 2.4 RAW converter engine. Shadows, Highlights, and Whites sliders were not available, although these adjustments could be accomplished in other ways. Clarity was introduced later that year and Dehaze did not exist. I did not use capture sharpening in LR probably out of ignorance of its need. Similarly I found the lens profile corrections turned off for the RAW file which corrects for lens distortions.
The photo below was processed with Lightroom Classic CC 2018, using the new Adobe Color profile. Shadows and Blacks were increased and Highlights and Whites decreased. Clarity was used to improve mid-tone contrast. Luminance noise was decreased along with modest capture sharpening. The file was then exported to PS CC 2018. There, I enhanced the photo further using Luminar as a smart plug-in. The sky and the foreground cliffs lit by the sun were burned to bring out detail.
Overall, the resulting image is brighter, much sharper and has better contrast. Note the enhanced detail in the sky and the better separation of the mountain peak from the sky. Shadows around the cliffs are more open. The orange and brown colors of the mountains are less saturated with better contrast of the light and dark areas created by the shadows.
For me, the answer to the question I first posed, ‘could I improve it,’ is a resounding yes. Revisiting old photos and reprocessing them is an exercise that I think should be done on a regular basis. By bringing the best of the latest technology to your portfolio you can ensure it will look its best. Lastly, post-processing updates may help breathe new life into older images and allow them to be marketed longer.