I don't make as much time for personal photos as I'd like, so I'm posting a quick study I'd been wanting to do on some purple coneflowers at the Horicon Marsh. My goal specifically was to create at least one good study image of this flower.
When most people go out to photograph, they hope to find an image. When I go out, I expect to craft an image, and my standard for what I'll take home is much higher, which is why it took two evenings, about one total hour of shooting, and several pieces of gear besides the camera and lens to make something I was satisfied with. Let's walk through the photo from the original capture to the final image via Lightroom and Color Efex Pro 4 and discuss equipment and techniques used.
Original RAW conversion unedited.
To create the negative, I set my file quality to RAW of course (why RAW?), ISO to 400, used my Sekonic L-758 incident meter on the front of the flower (bottom portion in image) pointed to camera at f/5.6 to get 1/160 exposure. My wife held the white side of a 32" reflector just a couple of inches in front of the flower to fill the shadows with soft evening light.
I set up my Nikon D700 and Nikkor 70-200 2.8 VR lens on a tripod. I brought the Plamp -- a plant clamp anchored to the tripod to hold plants in place -- but I don't remember if I used it for this image.
Since I was using a 36 mm Vivitar extension tube for macro, I kept focus to manual and focused with a combination of physically changing the camera-subject distance and turning the zoom ring; the extension tubes do enable auto-focus, however. An extension tube is an inexpensive, glass-free solution that enables a lens to focus much closer than its minimum focus distance.
I wasn't concerned about white balance with RAW, but I used a ColorChecker Passport so I could correct in post. Nor was I concerned with getting the petals in focus. I used shallow depth of field to defocus the background and achieve reasonable shutter speed without boosting the ISO to noisy levels.
The ColorChecker Passport contains a spectrally neutral white card, which can be used as a reference in post to select accurate white balance and thus improve color. You can use it to create a custom WB in camera, or simply take a properly exposed photo of it and reference it later.
Lightroom edit of the original RAW file.
In the Lightroom edit, notice cropping to eliminate distractions and direct the story to the flower. I also removed dust spots, applied some contrast and color enhancements through black points, clarity, vibrance, minus saturation, tone curve, auto lens corrections, sharpening, NR, white balance and color profile.
Finished edit using Color Efex Pro 4.
Enhancements in Color Efex Pro 4 included pro contrast 35%, detail extractor 25%, darken/lighten center to darken the background and pop the flower; vignette and vignette blur to help the background recede further, and slight removal of yellow color cast to avoid it printing too warm, even though it was sunset. You would think to use brilliance/warmth to enhance the colors, but with an accurate negative and proper color management, that tool is rarely necessary.
Note that I didn't use Photoshop. I achieved the print image with simple adjustments in LR and Color Efex, both of which are easy to use and inexpensive. I reserve Photoshop for heavy pixel manipulation, such as portrait or landscape retouching, and when I think layers are necessary. For most images, Photoshop is unnecessary.
Take a look above at the original and finished images. I like the colors, the soft glowing light and the richness of the print image. By placing the flower on the right and isolating it to emphasize the color contrast and detail, I created something I learned from International Print Competition judging called "command to look," something I already had been thinking about but didn't have that specific name for. Every image should have a command to look, a home, a place to go. Now you know a little more about how I make a photograph. If you want to learn more about elements of successful professional images, tune into the last day of IPC judging live at stream.theipc.org and create an account.