BEFORE/AFTER: Contrast, Warmth, Distractions

Heck yes! I’m pretty dang pumped about this post. Ever since the middle of high school, I’ve been immensely interested in “the process.”  You know, that middle bit between point A and point B that nobody but the artist ever sees. I’ve always loved peeking behind the scenes to see where something started and what kind of work and thought went into creating the finished product. I know I’m not the only one because a lot of you have asked to see before/after’s of certain shots on my Facebook so I decided to create a new series that not only shows you the before/after’s (hover over the image to see the before), but that uses each image to explain a bit more about what I do in post. Hope you all enjoy the first three!


Here it is! Photo numero uno. This shot of Madison and Joe is one of my absolute favorites from the day. We got caught in a snowstorm at Garden of the Gods in Colorado and it brought out the best of everything. The snow brought in motion and mood that I loved, the fog gave me gorgeous soft light, and the cold created a perfect environment for them to wrap up tight. Not too shabby for something that most people would complain about. Honestly, I’ve been praying for foul weather a lot more often than I used to. Something about it creates that extra little bit of magic that pushes an image from interesting to intriguing.

As soon as you hover over this first image one thing will be pretty clear, my images look FLAT out of camera. My style comes alive in post. Obviously the ingredients have to be there (good light, a great connection, correct exposure, interesting composition, etc) but my editing is what cooks it into my style. If you know my work, you know that I love shooting in soft light (either shade or back lit) which means that my RAW files are pretty soft. In post I bring back the contrast and richness that gives the image the pop that I love. Another thing you probably noticed in the hover over is the little things that were taken out of the image (the phone in his pocket, the tree branch, some snow on the ground, etc). Don’t worry, we’ll talk about that in the last frame. Pinky swear.



I haven’t shared this shoot yet but… hot damn. I’ve known Preston for a while now and it was so rad to finally meet is fiancee! They both just radiate awesome. Knowing Preston, I knew that this would be a pretty energetic set when I was driving out to the location and I’m so excited about what we created. It’s on the way soon!

Now back to the before/after! Since I always shoot in shade or with back lighting, my WB right out of camera either lands in the the really cool range (in the shade), or the really warm range (backlit). I shoot on AWB because I’m not a fan of fidgeting with dials while I’m shooting and I know that, since I shoot RAW, I can always change the WB as much as I want in post without losing any quality. This frame was shot in the early evening in the shade of the coastal cliffs which left me with pretty cool tones right out of the camera. When you hover over it, you will see how much I brought back the warmth in post. The golden light that I love sometimes just doesn’t show up to set as much as I want it to but I have a few tricks to bring it back. Aside from altering the WB in post, I also add warmth into the shadows which warms up the image without making the skin look off-color. If you hover over the frame one more time you’ll see that I also added a bit of warmth with a LR brush coming in from the top right corner and over the top of the cliffs to emphasize the golden haze that the sun was giving off. Long story short, if the golden light isn’t there, create it.


During my last trip out to Colorado with Katch we camped with and shot these two at Colorado National Monument. Nothing but long drives with open windows and mountain views. Nature rocks.

I’m a complete sucker for minimalism. The less distractions the better. I do a decent amount of cleaning things up in post because my mindset is “if something doesn’t add to an image, it takes away.” Does this mean that I spent a ton of time taking out tiny black pebbles on the ground? You know it. Good things take time. Chances are none of my clients know that I spent the time to clean up the background as much as I do, but they do know that my entire portfolio looks clean and simple. That’s what matters. Without distractions to draw your eyes in different directions, you look deeper into the moment that actually matters. For this before and after, I kept the editing the same but showed you what I change when I retouch. The background becomes a series of clean shapes instead of distractions that try to push their way into the foreground. An easy way to see which distractions should be taken out is to look at your image and squint your eyes until it becomes blurry. You’ll be able to see the light and dark shapes that pop out much easier and you’ll look like a fool in the process. Win win!

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    Wow! What an amazing post. I have been wondering for so long how you do what you do. Freaking incredible work man! Quick question, do you normally shoot under exposed and bring it back in post? I assume thats better for maintaining details? Thanks again for helping make us all better photographers!

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    Yes! Your blog is exactly what I was looking for! ! i just started using lightroom. I love the before/after examples! thanks for sharing! love your work

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    This is an awesome post. But I particularly liked the clickable Peeking link.

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    Wow! I loved reading this and seeing a little behind the scenes 😉 I would love to show something similar on our blog. How did you do the before and after hover??

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    Thank you for this post. i just discovered your site and am loving every bit of it! It was a huge encouragement to see that post-processing plays such a key role in making the images come alive. i’ve always been discouraged when other pros show their straight off the camera shot and make it seem that just a quick light bump is all they needed. I know your exposure and composition are spot on, but i appreciate that the beauty of your work stems from your transparency in showing how you create the image. Thank you again!

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    This is the best post ive ever seen! thanks for your insights; loved it!

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    Great tips! I get so nervous about editing photos – I just don’t want them to look overdone – so I don’t do much! I love these tips – they are an encouragement! I am also now seriously thinking ABOUT taking your editing class!

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    Thank you so much, ben, for being so willing to open up about your editing process, technique, etc. you’re awesome. heck yeah!

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    So great! As always, thanks so much for sharing your insight with us, Ben!

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    That hovering over the image thing is freaky! You REALLY have worked some magic on these images. Respect 😉

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    Holy crap thanks Ben! This is an amazing post and the images are beautiful. Not many photographers are willing to share unedited files as openly as this and it’s very helpful to see.

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    I love this post! WELL I GUESS ALL YOUR POSTS….

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    Love this ben, it’s so helpful to see the before & after and to also see how much difference taking away distractions can be!! Can i ask how you create the hover over images?

    • Thanks, Kelly! There are plenty of plugins you can use for this or you can just code it in.Google will help you!

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    This is blowing my mind! Thank you so much for doing this!

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    Ben, thanks for this post! Glad to know I’m not the only one who shoots on AWB.

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    THANK YOU SO MUCH! oh my word. I don’t think any blog post has helped me so much. I always am pretty satisfied with the composition of my images, but when I get them on my computer, I cannot figure out how to bring them to life. Knowing that yours come out raw SIMILARLY, gives me so much hope!!

    I have one question.. How do you add warmth to the shadows without making the skin look off color? I use lightroom, but I’m still a novice at post processing. I wish I could create at least one preset that would help most of my images! Thanks so much!

    • Thanks for saying that, Kristen! I add warmth into the shadows in Lightroom through the Split Toning (awesome tool). I hope that helps!

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    you work is amazing period. Blessings to you. one question tho? do you have to have lightrooom to achive this look of edit. I only have ps4, And I gringe because I can’t get the look I want. Or maybe it’s just me.

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    Ben! I purchased your editing class and love it!! Just curious if you have any more tips for underexposing while shooting. For some reason I feel like I can’t get it just right to make it come alive in post.

    • Hey there, Erin! Glad to hear that you love the class! I always just slightly underexpose. The problem could be the light that you’re shooting in as often that’s what can make it harder to get the pop you’re looking for in an image. I always find that soft, even light is what works best for my style. I hope that helps!

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    Thank so much for the before & afters! I am a cloning pedant too but it’s great to see how much work you put into transforming your work, which is beautiful.

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    how do you take out the little things? you said we’ll talk about that in the last frame, where should i look?

    • Luiza, I take them out using either the Spot Removal tool in Lightroom or the Healing Brush (which I’m a bit faster with) in Photoshop.

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    Hey Ben, I’m amazed with how clean your images come out after processing. Quick question about your workflow, do you bring the images into photoshop first, then retouch with lightroom? Or the other way around?

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    I;m having a hard time getting the contrast back into my images, and keeping the skin tones nice. I was wondering if you could share the lightroom settings on this post? Or the settings you changed. similar to what you did with the hard light before/after post.

    • Hey Candice! I don’t have the settings for this one anymore as it was an older shot but I didn’t do anything special as far as the skin tones go. I know it can be tricky sometimes as the washed out look from some back lit images tends to wash out certain tones too. I’d suggest trying to analyze the tones in the image you’re having trouble with to figure out what the problem tone is. If the yellows look desaturated and flat, you can bump them up in the HSL. If the oranges look too saturated, you can desaturate them in the HSL, etc. I hope that helps!

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    same here with sea, where they “disappear” together with sand? 🙂 no sea only big big white hole again! :)if i go to shoot on sea, beach i wanna have see sea and sand on photos and here i dont see it;) again pic is good but.. 🙂 have a nice day

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    Damn… looks like I missed the really cool workshop.

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    Do you use photoshop to clean it up? can you do a tutorial on this?

    • I do! If you google how to use the healing brush and clone stamp tool, you should find plenty of tutorials!

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