How the Switch from DSLR to Mirrorless Changed How I Edit Photos

When I started in photography more than 10 years ago, the only viable option for editing images was Adobe Photoshop. At that time, 100% of my photo editing was done there.

A few years later, Adobe introduced Lightroom and I embraced it right away for its speed and organizational features. I immediately adopted it into my photo processing workflow and it was the first big transition that drastically changed my processing.

The next big change in my processing happened when I discovered HDR photography. As a photographer with a background in graphic design, I quickly saw the potential in the new processing technology and, again, I incorporated it into my workflow.

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Canon 60D, HDR processed

By the end of 2014, after 10 years of shooting with a Canon DSLR, I had established my own photo editing workflow one that I was comfortable with, that reflected my style of photography, and covered different scenarios of travel and landscape photography. Below is a list of four main processing techniques in my editing workflow, with the percentage of the total use for each.

HDR Processing in Photoshop HDR Pro and Lightroom 50%

The foundation of my natural looking HDR photography style, this technique is based on merging bracketed photos in Photoshop HDR Pro and later editing the new HDR image in Lightroom. The beauty of this method is that Photoshop HDR Pro does not change the pixels (luminosity, contrast, saturation) of the original images. Instead, it combines data from the bracketed photos into one enormous 32-bit TIFF image.

I outlined this technique in detail in one of my previous articles: Natural Looking HDR in Photoshop and Lightroom in 5 Easy Steps.

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Canon 60D, HDR processed with Photoshop HDR Pro

HDR Processing in Photomatix 30%

Photomatix is the most popular, and matured standalone HDR program. It has a completely different approach compared to Photoshop HDR Pro. Besides standard HDR features like image alignment, de-ghosting and merging for HDR, it has unique image editing tools that allow me to create distinctive looks in my photographs.

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Canon 60D, HDR processed with Photomatix

Luminosity Blending in Photoshop 10%

This technique is based on blending multiple images together in Photoshop using transparency masks. It gives me the most flexibility and control over image processing but, at the same time, it is the most involved and time consuming. I use it in the most complex cases when everything else has failed.

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Canon 60D, digital blending with Luminosity Masks

Single RAW processing in Lightroom 10%

When the light is not very dynamic, I use a single image and process it in Lightroom.

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Canon Digital Rebel, single RAW image processed in Lightroom

The Switch

The biggest change in my photography happened at the end of 2014 when, after shooting with a Canon DSLR for 10 years, I switched to Sony mirrorless. It was quite an adjustment. After shooting for so long with one brand, I had become extremely comfortable with it. During the switch, I had to learn how to work with something very different (more details on that topic here: 5 Lessons Learned Switching from DSLR to Mirrorless for Travel Photography).

But, I did not expect that the brand switch would dramatically change my editing. I was wrong.

After I returned from my first photography trip to Hawaii and California, where I put my new equipment through the test of real life scenarios of travel photography, I had 3000 brand new photos shot with the Sony a6000.

When I started to edit the new photos, I could see some differences. In general, the images were much cleaner and sharper with a higher amount of detail. These changes did not surprise me because the a6000 has a new generation sensor with a higher pixel count, and in combination with quality lenses from Sony and Zeiss, it could easily resolve a staggering amount of detail.

What surprised me was how the images behaved when I started to edit them. I could immediately see that the images were more responsive, meaning that I could push them much further, with more aggressive editing, and that I could recover more shadows and highlights from a single RAW image. I realized that I could process some images without using HDR techniques, which was not possible before.

This is when I started to look around trying to find the reason for the different behaviour. I found my answers on the DoX Mark website when I compared camera sensors. The dynamic range of the Sony a6000 sensor is wider by almost 2 stops (11.5EV vs 13.2EV) or 14%.

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The difference is probably not a big deal if you are a wedding or street photographer but, for someone like me who specializes in travel and landscape HDR photography, this was a game changer. I saw the opportunity to streamline and optimize my digital techniques once again.

Now, six months later, below is my new modified digital photography workflow.

Single RAW Preset Based Lightroom Processing 50%

A major shift toward the single RAW Lightroom editing made me realize that it could be the perfect opportunity to optimize my workflow in order to save time on processing. I organized my Lightroom presets into four collections: Landscapes and HDR, Cross Processing, People and B&W. Now, I start the process of editing by applying different presets to the image trying to find the right look. When I find the one I like the best, I tweak it with standard Lightroom and Photoshop editing tools.

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Sony A6000, Sony 10-18mm lens, Lightroom Preset Based Processing

HDR Processing in Photoshop HDR Pro and Lightroom 20%

With Adobe introducing Merge to HDR in Lightroom 6, I find myself using it more and more but I still use Photoshop HDR Pro.

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Sony A6000, Zeiss 16-70mm lens, Lightroom 6 HDR Processed

HDR Processing in Photomatix 20%

Cleaner digital files allow me to push the images even further in Photomatix.

Luminosity Blending in Photoshop 10%

Nothing has changed here.

Conclusion

The switch from Canon DSLR to Sony mirrorless had unexpected consequences that drastically changed the way I edit my photos. In the end, the change was very positive, it allowed me to save time on processing and editing photos. Also, the extended dynamic range of the new sensor resulted in me taking fewer photos. I do not have to take five or seven bracketed shots anymore; in most cases, three brackets are all that is needed.

Have you made the switch? Have you noticed any changes in your processing workflow? Share with us your thoughts in the comments below.

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