Making the Image: David Adam Edelstein

Cynthia Haynes

In Part I of this conversation with semi-abstract street photographer David Adam Edelstein, he discussed the why of creating the portfolio he made during the mentoring workshop in Florence, Italy with David duChemin. Making an image is borne from intent, and David Adam wants to force people to create their own stories about his photographs. 

In Florence, David Adam found a stage and waited for the action, spending “oceans of time” standing in one place and being open to whatever showed up. The body of work he produced asks momentary questions and implies relationships (or lack thereof) between people. He states that "this body of work is about being receptive to chance and about letting the mechanics of the camera reveal these scenes and images that I would have otherwise missed.” He never wants his photographs to mumble.

To find how he avoids that, this article breaks down the processing of one image, from before to after and the all steps in between.

 Before (top) and after (bottom)

In this image, there were three main things I wanted. First, I wanted to focus attention on the subjects and away from the edges of the frame, but their position within the frame was deliberate, so I didn’t want to crop the image, either. The second thing was that I wanted to increase the difference between the apparent sharpness of the subjects, to further separate them from each other. And third, there was texture on the wall and in the street that I wanted to bring out, but not so much that it distracted from the subjects.

As with all of the photographs in this body of work, I started with Lightroom’s B&W Look 3. Together which my preferred edits, this preset allows me to get pretty close to my film work (Tri-X in D76; I'm quite traditional). 

The basic adjustments for this image included adding some exposure and bringing the whites up (below). My goal is always to get the overall contrast range close to final. 

  The basic adjustments

After making the basic adjustments, I started working from the outside in. I added three gradient masks, from the top, right, and bottom (below). I’ve been enjoying getting to know the new Dehaze slider, treating it as “burn with texture,” which seems to be the right mental model. Each of the masks has a bit of exposure plus 25-50 points of Dehaze, so I get the vignette I’m looking for, but with plenty of texture in the shadows. 

  Top to bottom: Gradient masks + Dehaze slider. 

Next, I added an inverted radial filter over the woman (below). There are three settings here: I brought up the exposure a bit, I added some Dehaze, and I pushed the feather to 100. This adds local contrast to the medium-to-light areas on her without making the shadows muddy or creating too much of a distracting halo around her. You could do the same thing with the brush but I find most of the time this gets me to the effect I want, with much less fuss.

And finally, there are a few places (like her shopping bag) where I used the brush to paint in some highlight recovery plus a bit of Dehaze to keep the highlights from going muddy (below). 

   Subtle differences made by using the highlight brush and Dehaze slider

 The final image

David Adam shared a screenshot of a few of the selects and outtakes from this series, in the belief that sometimes it helps to see the photographer's journey instead of just the end results. We're always fascinated by contact sheets (hence, the name of our newsletter, The Contact Sheet) and this one is no exception. 

David Adam Edelstein grew up in Hawai'i and China, and currently lives and works in Seattle, Washington with his brilliant daughter and smart, beautiful wife, neither of whom take any of his whiny artistic crap. He has had a camera with him at all times since his parents made the expensive mistake of giving him one when he was eight. He thinks sharpness is overrated and is moderately distrustful of color. See more of his work at


David Adam Edelstein Interview Lightroom & Photoshop

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  • I finally got around to reading this and wanted to thank you for the useful post. I love seeing a good before + after, and reading the thought process behind the edit is a bonus.

    Anda on
  • Wow…thanks a lot. Super useful tutorial…and I love the final edit. And love that it is all done in Lightroom…

    Marsha on
  • This is a great post. Thanks for sharing this information. I love the photograph, but particularly like hearing about the process and seeing the contact sheet.

    Shelly on
  • Very interesting ! Thanks !

    Kieran McGuinness on

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