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by Neil Creek
A GUIDE TO POST-PROCESSING
A note from Darren Rowse – Editor of dPS
Over the last two years I’ve had the privilege of working with Neil to publish the previous Photo Nuts ebooks; two of our most popular publications that teach photographers the basics of how cameras work and how to use them to take beautiful images. The previous Photo Nuts ebooks have helped many thousands of people to do just that but there’s always been one piece missing: what to do with the photos after they leave your camera! For years my own approach was to avoid post-production; my mindset was that great photographers always got it right in camera anyway and that any processing work was somehow ‘fake’. Over time, however, I’ve come to see the benefit of some gentle processing on my images - not to hide anything but to bring them alive and to reflect the reality of the scenes and subjects that I capture. While getting your photos right in camera is the only real place to start, this ebook is all about putting the tools and techniques in your hands to take those good images and lift them to new levels through post-production. I was delighted to work with Neil on this ebook because his approach to post-production is similar to my own. I therefore trust that you’ll also enjoy learning about how post-production can help unleash the potential in your own images.
About the Author
Neil graduated from Monash University in 1996 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He enjoys science and art, especially so when the two meet. At age 16 he built an 8 inch reflecting telescope from scratch to further his love for astronomy and from which came an interest in optics. Digital photography has been a passion since 2004, combined with Neil’s enthusiasm for learning and teaching. He has been writing his photography blog for six years and has written three ebooks in his Photo Nuts series on photography which have all been published by dPS. In 2008 Neil took the plunge and decided to become a full-time photographer. Much of his work is in portraiture but he thoroughly enjoys landscape, 360° panoramic and night sky photography and does this whenever he gets the time. Neil loves to capture the beauty in the world, and share it, as well as what he has learned while doing so. twitter.com/neilcreek facebook.com/neilcreekphoto neilcreek.com/blog
Credits and Copyright
Written by: Neil Creek www.neilcreek.com Publisher: Darren Rowse www.digital-photography-school.com Producer: Jasmin Tragis www.wonderwebby.com Graphic Design/Layout: Naomi Creek firstname.lastname@example.org
Version 1.0 ©Copyright 2011 Neil Creek All photos and illustrations by the author unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical or otherwise without prior written consent from the publisher, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. You may store the pdf on your computer and backups. You may print one copy of this book for your own personal use. Disclaimer: The information contained in this book is based on the author’s experience, knowledge and opinions. The author and publisher will not be held liable for the use or misuse of the information in this book.
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A note from Darren Rowse___ 2 About the Author____________ 2 Credits and Copyright_ ______ 2 Introduction_________________ 4 What will be Covered?_ _________5 Disclaimers____________________5 About Image Files_ __________ 6 What’s in an Image File?_________7 How is the Image Data Captured and Stored?_ __________8 Step 1 – Capture_ ___________8 Step 2 – Interpretation_______9 Step 3 – Processing_________9 Step 4 – Output_ ____________9 About Colour_______________ 10 What is ‘Colour’?_____________ 11 Colour Terminology___________ 12 Colour Gamut________________ 13 File Management and Workflow_______________ 14 Example – My Workflow_______ 16 Hardware Setup______________ 16 Directory Naming Format______ 17 File Naming Format___________ 18 Metadata on Import___________ 19 Convert to DNG______________ 19 Detailed Metadata____________ 20 Preparing for Output__________ 20 Exporting Photos_____________ 20 Backup_ _____________________ 20 Retrieval_____________________ 21 The Cull and Select_________ 22 Flags versus Stars____________ 24 Which Photos to Cull?_ ________ 25 Why be Selective?____________ 25 Which Photos to Select?_ _____ 26 A Process of Refinement_ _____ 27 Difficult Selects_ ______________ 28 Practice!_ ____________________ 28 What is Processing?________ 29 Processing vs Photo Manipulation_ ________________ 31 The Stigma of ‘Photoshopping’_ 32 Just Three Values_____________ 33 Changing the Values__________ 33 Selecting Pixels_ _____________ 34 Processing Tools_ ___________ 36 The Histogram_ ______________ 37 Global Adjustments___________ 39 Exposure_ _______________ 39 Selective Exposure Sliders___39 Curves_ _________________ 40 Colour Adjustments___________ 41 White Balance____________ 41 Saturation_ _______________ 42 B&W Conversion_ _________ 42 Selection and Specialist Tools__ 43 Cropping_ _______________ 43 Masking_________________ 44 Direct Selection_ __________ 44 Region Selection_ _________ 45 Spot removal_____________ 45 Red-eye Reduction_ ______ 45 Noise Reduction and Sharpening_ __________ 46 Lens Correction__________ 47 Processing Walkthroughs____ 51 Rocky Coastline______________ 53 Alley Portrait_________________ 56 Heron Landing_ ______________ 59 Portrait of Annie______________ 62 Beach Sunset________________ 65 Common Problems and Solutions_______________ 69 Exposure____________________ 70 Clipping_ ________________ 70 Noise_ ______________________ 74 Composition_________________ 75 Tilted Horizon_ ___________ 75 Shifting the Composition_ __ 76 Colour_ ______________________ 77 White Balance_ _______________ 77 Saturation_ _______________ 80 Spot Corrections_ ____________ 84 Soft Images__________________ 85 Getting it ‘In Camera’_ ________ 86 Creative Processing_ ________ 87 Capturing Reality_____________ 89 Communicating via Processing__ 90 What are You Trying to Communicate?_______________ 90 Processing to Communicate___ 91 Your Processing Style_________ 94 Changing Reality_ ____________ 94 Presets______________________ 95 Processing as an Intermediate Step_ __________ 96 Approach____________________ 98 Workflow____________________ 99 The Output Process_ ________ 101 File Size____________________ 102 Image Dimensions___________ 103 Sharpening_ ________________ 105 Metadata___________________ 106 Watermarking_______________ 107 Other Output Destinations____ 108 Delivery to Clients_ _______ 108 Ebooks_________________ 108 Printed Books___________ 108 Art Prints_ ______________ 108 Conclusion_________________ 109 Stay in touch_______________ 110
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You press the shutter, a moment in the universe is captured, and an image is created that will last forever. Right? If this is where the process ends for you, then you’re skipping half the work, but missing out on half the creative potential and fun! Post-processing – the work you do to the photo after you have captured it – is half of creating a great photo. The creative choices and opportunities in ‘post’ are almost as great as they are in the capture of the photo itself, and almost every photo can be improved with a little post-processing. Photo Nuts and Post is the natural progression in this series of comprehensive guides to the essentials of photography. Book one, Photo Nuts and Bolts, brings you up to speed with how the camera works, how to control exposure and how to take full control of your gear. Photo Nuts and Shots helps you to become a better photographer, with tips and techniques for being more creative and expressive, and eliminating the most common problems encountered in photography. Photo Nuts and Post follows on directly from the first two titles by teaching you how to turn the photo you’ve captured into a finished, polished and appropriately prepared photo for whatever need you have, whether it be sharing online, printing or publishing in a book.
What will be Covered?
This book will help you realise the hidden potential in your photos to look better than they do straight from the camera. You’ll learn the basic concepts behind processing, discover how tweaking a few settings and adjusting some sliders can make your images ‘pop’ and find your own processing style. We’ll step through the whole workflow from pressing the shutter button to copying and backing up files, organising your growing collection of photos, and managing metadata, processing and output, focusing on how different uses for your images have different requirements. You’ll develop a better idea of what to do with a photo that “doesn’t look quite right”, and how to make it look as you want it to. Once you have progressed through this book, you’ll be better able to bring your images to their full potential, and to fulfil your own potential as a photographer.
Processing photos is a creative process and, like any creative process, there are as many opinions on how to do it as there are photographers. Each photographer has a different ‘eye’, a different artistic aesthetic, and a different way of doing things. There is no right or wrong way to process a photo, as long as the end result is what you wanted. Nonetheless, the fundamental principles are the same for everyone. Naturally, I see the world through my own eyes, so when reading this book, keep in mind that I’m describing techniques and creative ideas that work for me. Even though the principles remain the same for everyone, my unique perspective may be reflected in how I discuss them. You’ll have your own way of processing photos that will be right for you, and it will probably differ from mine. Developing your own processing style is one of the joys of photography, and that applies equally to processing and shooting. The particular software to use is another choice digital photographers need to make when processing their photos. There are many software solutions for post-processing photos, including those which come bundled with digital SLRs, as well as a number of sophisticated applications from other companies. This book is written to be as software-agnostic as possible, but by necessity some of the terminology and examples may be influenced by my personal choice of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Screen shots of examples are mostly from Lightroom, but I have striven to keep them relevant to other software choices. Finally, this book assumes that you are shooting with a full-scale camera. Camera phones and other tiny, simple cameras are great tools, but the photos they create allow limited post-processing. While there is phone-based software that will let you do simple processing, it is beyond the scope of this book. Nonetheless, the basic principles that you’ll learn in Photo Nuts and Post apply even to camera phones.
The lessons in this book flow smoothly from one chapter to the next, but you can read it in any order you like. However I urge you to read the first few chapters which cover the basics of image files, file management, pixels, colours, and the fundamentals of processing. These subjects may seem overly theoretical when you’re keen to leap into the practical side of processing, but just as an understanding of how the camera works will make you a better photographer, so does understanding the fundamentals make you better at processing your photos. Throughout this book, you will see pairs of photos showing before and after processing. These photos don’t necessarily relate to the subject being discussed, but are there to provide you with inspiration.
ABOUT image files
and storing certain kinds of changes made to the image. including allowing the photographer to add copyright information and keywords.nef .cr2 . The more technical metadata is critical for the processing software to understand how to interpret and display the data in the image file.jpg or whatever format you’re working with. It might seem like a simple thing. the settings of the camera when the photo was taken. In this book I assume that you’re shooting RAW. and it describes various aspects of the image including the make and model of the camera. if you have the option available. As I emphasised in both previous Photo Nuts books. Metadata is very useful to a photographer for helping organise their work. and well worth a closer look before we get into processing itself. This other information is metadata. an image file contains other information wrapped up in a container. different applications will hide varying amounts of metadata to keep things simpler. information about the camera’s sensor. a thumbnail-sized version of the photo for quick browsing. always shoot in RAW format rather than JPEG. often a medium-sized JPEG image for previewing on the back of the camera. What’s in an Image File? As well as the data that describes the photo you captured. As a lot of this information is not actually of use to most photographers. Typically. Some of the reasons for this advice will be discussed in this chapter.About Image Files The image file is at the heart of digital photography. . and much more. During the editing process the metadata contained in the image file can be edited and added to. or data about data. learn the effect the settings had on a particular photo. but there’s actually an awful lot going on inside that . and again later in the book. editing programs will allow you to see more metadata than viewing programs. and so on.
as shown in the diagram here.About Image Files How is the Image Data Captured and Stored? The process of capturing. Each photo site has a coloured filter in front of it. or blue. There are approximately four photo sites for each pixel in the image. but the aim is to home in on the data values that you actually need. The light data collected by these photo sites will eventually become pixels in your photo. green. is a vast array of microscopic light sensors that turn light energy into a correspondent level of electrical energy. but also decreasing ‘depth’. CC BY-SA 3. All of this data is stored in its raw form in the RAW file that the camera saves to the memory card. The millions of photo sites on your camera’s sensor are arranged in a pattern of these colours. processing. Each of these sensors I will call a ‘photo site’ to distinguish it from ‘pixels’. hence its name. The Bayer arrangements of colour filters on the pixel array of an image sensor. as described in Photo Nuts and Bolts. At each stage a significant chunk of data is discarded. depending on the camera. This is what allows your camera to take colour photos. Step 1 – Capture The camera sensor. That’s 4096 levels of brightness or 16. Each photo site can record 12 or 14 bits depth of electrical value. recording. but they do not correspond exactly.0 – en:User:Cburnett 8 . either red. and finally exporting an image is a kind of data flow.385 levels of brightness respectively (although there is some debate as to whether this translates to a significant practical advantage). and the data which is originally captured by the camera sensor goes through several transformations of increasing refinement.
this data cannot be viewed as an image. BEFORE AFTER 9 . green.About Image Files Step 2 – Interpretation In its current form. Typically this last step throws away most of the remaining data through a combination of resizing and compression to a web-friendly file size. or RGB. Most photographers will also want to at least tweak most of their photos at this stage. in the case of a photo taken by my 5D MkII. yet a typical JPEG file uploaded to the web might be 200 kilobytes – less than one percent of the file size of the original RAW file. A further refinement process is required to make sure that the ‘right’ data is used in the image when it is exported for use elsewhere. this is the creation of a JPEG file suitable for sharing online. as is a common misconception. The decisions made by the algorithms are automatic. Adobe users would be familiar with the Adobe Camera Raw engine. and three channels multiplied by 8 bits depth equals 24 bits. This is the part of the data flow that most of us will know as ‘processing’. To get from the millions of photo site values to millions of pixel values. which are the smallest element of a photo. or 8 bits depth. depending on the bit depth of the file. For example. which performs this process for Adobe software. Step 3 – Processing The amount of data left after the conversion process still exceeds that which can be displayed on typical modern displays. a 24-bit image would have each pixel with RGB values from 0 to 256. the actual creation of the final output file takes the large data set interpreted in the second step and processed in the third step. For example. Every image is processed in some way. such as JPEG. and depend on the aims and ultimately the personal biases of the programmers who create them. However. just to turn it into a form that can be displayed. This is one area of competition between the various processing applications. This is one reason why it is a mistake to suggest that an unprocessed image is more worthy than a processed one. the processing software has to perform a complicated algorithm. and creates a file suited for the intended use of the image. In the majority of cases. each compressed RAW file is approximately 28 megabytes. Step 4 – Output Finally. This means each pixel can be one of over 16 million colours. and blue values. The millions of recorded brightness levels of red. The remaining data here will be a tiny fraction of that which was captured. Pixels are described as a triplet of red. Different applications use different algorithms and can produce subtly or dramatically varying results. sometimes called demosaicing. green. and blue photo sites need to be converted into an array of pixels. and stored in most image file formats used online. for creative reasons. the idea is to leave the ‘right’ data to bring you closer to the final image you want. and the methods used to convert raw data into an image are continually improving with each new version release. The side effect of this conversion process means that some of the data collected – in the order of half the data – is discarded.
BEFORE AFTER ABOUT COLOUR .
What is ‘Colour’? When we talk about colour in our daily lives. but for the purposes of day-to-day use and understanding of colour in photography. pink. A combination of three coloured filters – red. for example – will be recorded as very dark or black. but for a camera to accurately capture an image of a real-world scene. These filters only let through light of a certain wavelength. this summary will do. we think about words like red. The way around this problem is to use coloured filters in front of the sensors. By itself. Everything I discuss here can be expanded and discussed in much more detail.Colour is a surprisingly complex and confusing topic. When the three separate images are combined later. the (almost) full range of colours is able to be displayed. The relative values of red. and the bit depth – as discussed above – is the number of colours that can be distinguished. yellow. green. and orange. green and blue describe all of the colours that the camera is capable of capturing. inasmuch as each individual photo sensing site on the sensor chip can only measure the intensity of the light hitting it: the brightness (a term we will look at more closely in a moment). A red filter will therefore only allow light that is red to be recorded. So much more can be said about colour than is within the scope of this book. it needs to have a much more detailed and precise way to describe colour. Parts of the photo that have little or no red – a deep blue sky. it refers to the way colour is defined and stored in digital files. This is actually very similar to how our own eyes work. 11 . green and blue wavelengths of light. or colour. This might be fine for describing the colour of your shirt to a friend. with cells sensitive to red. but it is important to define some of the terms and explain some of the reasons why colour is such a challenge for photographers. this brightness tells the camera nothing about the object’s colour. green and blue – is all that we need to capture the information needed to take a colour photo. All digital cameras are fundamentally black-and-white cameras. This is where the term ‘RGB’ comes from.
150 green. In the colour cylinder. In the diagram the brightness is the height of the cylinder. blue.png: SharkD I will use the terms hue. green. When I don’t need to be specific. purple and back to red again. the hue is described in degrees around the circumference. and if you’ve ever used a colour picker in any software. An alternative way of describing colour is used alongside RGB in photo editing software.About Colour Colour Terminology Unfortunately. saturation as a percentage along the radius outwards and value as a percentage of the height from the bottom. This is a much more comfortable way for us to think about colour. you’ve almost certainly used HSB. saturation and brightness in this book when I need to refer specifically to the terms as they are defined above. A change in brightness is the difference between blue and navy. we don’t think 255 red.0 – HSV_color_solid_cylinder. Saturation is the purity or richness of a colour. we think ‘orange’. called HSB (or sometimes HSV). CC BY-SA 3. Hue is the scale most of us would commonly call ‘colour’ and represents the spectrum of colour values. RGB isn’t an easy way for us as human beings to imagine colour. This is actually a loop. and describes how ‘diluted’ the colour is by white and black. from red through orange. and is described in degrees around a cylinder as you see in the diagram here. yellow. This stands for hue. In the diagram the saturation is along the radius of the cylinder. saturation and brightness (or value). When we see ‘orange’. which you can take to be the combination of HSB or RGB values. Brightness is the luminance of the colour: from black to white. Brightness is sometimes referred to as ‘luminosity’ or ‘value’. A change in saturation is the difference between red and pink. I’ll say ‘colour’. 12 .
The other colour gamuts represent fewer colours. and the JPEG file you upload to the net is sRGB. there are two good reasons to shoot in Adobe RGB. sRGB is the standard colour gamut of the web.5 – User: Cpesacreta 13 . although few consumer displays can show this as yet. Firstly. able to represent some colours into the blues and greens the human eye can’t see. CC BY 2. if you wish to create a high-quality print of your work.About Colour Colour Gamut Colour becomes a bit more complicated when you learn that no way of capturing or representing colour is able to reproduce all of the colours that the human eye can see. This diagram represents colour gamuts. but unable to represent some aquas and purples. Matt Paper being the worst. There are a number of modified RGB colour gamuts being developed and used in various applications today. and the various methods of defining colours are called colour spaces. aRGB will give you more room to edit colours before you run into clipping problems – which will be discussed later. just as shooting in RAW will give you more dynamic range for editing your exposure. CMYK is the gamut used for printing. Secondly. Why shoot in aRGB rather than sRGB? Even if your display cannot show these colours. This range is called the colour gamut. a good printer will be able to print colours in the aRGB space which are lacking in the sRGB space. but the one you are most likely to encounter is the Adobe RGB (aRGB) colour space. Many modern DSLR cameras allow you to use this slightly broader gamut. The horseshoe shape underneath represents the range of colours visible to the eye. The ProPhoto RGB gamut is the largest colour space shown here. Each method of describing colour has a different range of colours that it is limited to.
BEFORE AFTER FILE MANAGEMENT AND WORKFLOW .
Here I’ll discuss my experience of handling tens of thousands of images accumulated over more than eight years of intense photography. these are rarely issues. easy and cheap photos help you to learn faster. If you make a habit of organised thinking. and to know where you copied your photos. as I’m sure they will continue to do. For an organised photographer. and they won’t be ideal for everyone. and you never need to be afraid to waste a shot. For new photographers. A strategy to sort. My methods have evolved over time.Digital photography’s greatest strength can also be a problem. but instead glean and adapt what knowledge you can to organise your own collection in the way that works best for you. so let’s walk through my workflow so that you’ll be able to see what I mean. organisation becomes as natural as breathing. So please don’t take my word as gospel. . because the manner in which we do things doesn’t allow for such mistakes. but very quickly you can find yourself with hundreds or thousands of photos to deal with. My solutions helped me turn an unmanageable mess of images into an organised archive. store and retrieve your photos is essential to getting the most out of them. and it works best when it happens seamlessly and naturally. that’s all very philosophical and entirely useless without specific examples. Everything you do with your images benefits from a structured way of thinking. and see if you can adapt it to your own style. Of course. Consider my process. Fast. it can be a challenge to remember to have enough memory cards. from which I can find any image I want relatively quickly and easily.
Hardware Setup After having a hard disk drive (HDD) die. Using my preferred settings for the intended use. Import all the files (into whatever RAW processing/image editing software you prefer). I prepare a new directory. Automated software mirrors all changes of my entire RAW and DERIV HDDs every night for a current backup. Adding unique keywords is where I need to make the most improvement to my routine. I export all the photos I want. Copy all the files from any camera-generated sub-directories into the new top level directory. These backup drives are connected to the network. With the directory and file naming schemes I use. rate the picks and process. Take the shot Copy files Collect the files Load up Lightroom Click! Create a new directory on my RAW hard disk drive and copy all files there from the card. and I update these every few months – far too infrequently. Assign more detailed and descriptive metadata to the picks of the shoot. taking with it five years of photos (which I fortunately managed to retrieve years later). My current HDD setup is largely inspired by The DAM Book: Digital Asset Management for Photographers by Peter Krogh. finding images based on concepts is a little tougher. I have a stack of other HDDs with a tertiary backup stored at my parents’ house.File Management and Workflow Example – My Workflow Below are the typical steps in my workflow. and so on. Rename the files – my renaming style is discussed below. On my DERIV HDD. We’ll talk a little more about backup shortly. email. burn or otherwise disseminate the images. Because my metadata routine is imperfect. and every night a backup program writes all changes to them automatically. Upload. I have a series of large internal HDDs. Delete the duds. The drive to which I export processed files is called DERIV (for derivative files). applying what metadata you can on the way. I swore that I would never again be without backup. RAW2. finding the images I’m looking for is usually simple. Select and process Add metadata Prepare for output Export Share Backup Retrieve 16 . I also have a separate pair of large external drives where the contents of the RAW and DERIV drives are backed up. The main drives where all my RAW files are stored are named RAW1.
month. • T he confusion between European and American date formats is avoided.Peninsula Trip Date . it’s possible to search for them with your file manager’s find tool. a quick scan down the directory list will find them. day. If the description includes relevant keywords. Names generated by your camera contain no information about the photo. • Files are sorted correctly by date in your file manager.Description 17 . it could refer to any of a hundred years. The descending order starts with useful information • that becomes increasingly more useful. worse. you could overwrite your old files.File Management and Workflow Directory Naming Format A consistent naming system is absolutely critical to any digital asset management. A typical directory on my RAW HDD might look like this: The date is very useful. The nominal description is simply to help me find the folder once I’ve narrowed down the approximate date. In the space of just six characters I can uniquely identify any date within one hundred years. you can easily and quickly narrow down the exact day. By starting with the larger time block. when you ‘go around the clock’ and take enough photos to cause the camera to start reusing numbers. especially photos. The date is read in pairs from left to right in descending order of detail: year. I use a structurally similar system for naming both my directories and photos. 110120 . I’ll usually create a second directory with the same date but different description. Your file name could be the same as hundreds around the world (impacting your ability to search for uses of your photos online). The reasons for choosing this format are: • O nly six characters is very efficient. and they are not unique. If I shoot more than one location or event in a day. it takes up as little room as possible. If I know I took those Peninsula photos sometime in January. If you start with the day. making it easier to scan a list of folders in a narrow column in your file manager.
Whatever naming convention you decide to use for your photos. and keep a combined archive of their photos and mine. The naming system works equally well for their photos. Extension BEFORE AFTER 18 . The date is used in the same way and for the same reasons as in the directory name. It’s important to note – name your photos before you do any culling.cr2 My name . in front of the • otherwise purely numerical file name draws attention to the file. but a name prefix keeps our photos separate.File Management and Workflow File Naming Format Once I move all my photos into the day’s directory and import them into Lightroom. it doesn’t affect their sort order. For especially large shoots. A typical RAW file might be named like this: I use my name as a prefix to my photo names for a number of reasons: • The photo is easily identified as one of mine. otherwise it will lead to a version control nightmare! There’s nothing wrong with having a file list with missing numbers. The file naming system I use for my photos is similar to the one I use for my directories. Having a word. creek-110120-058. The extension is the default RAW file type. from 001 up. A file with a numerical name looks machinegenerated and can easily be ignored. If you use more than one system. you could count from 0001 and up. and since all my photos have the same prefix. a name gives a file some protection from deletion. The unique number is just a count. but that will change soon enough. Because humans can more readily make sense of a name than a number. or mistaken for some other kind of file. I rename them all. which is valuable if my photos are being passed around a client’s studio – they don’t have to delve into the image’s metadata to know who took the photo. the most important thing is that you stick with it. especially a name. The strength of a naming system lies in its consistency.Unique number . Once you’ve named your photos don’t rename them ever. things will quickly become a jumble. The rest of the file name is pretty straightforward.Date . • S ometimes I shoot with friends. aided by the fact that my surname is uncommon. • B eing a short name it doesn’t add too much to the length of the file-name. and you won’t be able to confidently track your photos. It also helps me build my name as a brand. as we’ll discuss below.
as a shoot can be so varied. This is where all the information about your photo is stored. If you choose to work with DNG. saving about 20% disk space. Check that all your processing tools are compatible with DNG before you convert all your photos. especially potential users of the photo. you should keep in mind that while most apps are compatible. Inconsistent keyword use also lessens their usefulness. I’m a big fan of the DNG RAW format. and I add a few keywords that apply to all images in the shoot. family photos among a year’s worth of professional photos. as discussed on page 7. for many reasons. and later finding it. 19 . The main problem with keywords is that keywording hundreds or thousands of photos is a lot of work. Search engines are not yet smart enough to recognise the content and context of a photo. • T he self-contained metadata means that all edits and keywords added to a photo stay with the photo. rather than be locked in a catalog or separate file which can become lost. I’ve created a metadata preset in Lightroom that adds all my details to every photo I import. Photographers should also be aware of the IPTC metadata fields. At this stage in my workflow I assign a standard credit to all imported photos. meaning that software will be able to read the files many years in the future when the proprietary format may have been abandoned. including: • It’s an open format.XMP files. meaning your folders don’t become filled with extra . • The DNG files are slightly smaller than my . Of most interest is the credit information and keywords. This is particularly true of independently produced plug-ins or utilities made by individual developers. • Metadata is fully contained within the DNG file itself. Credit information is crucial for identifying a photo as the work of a particular photographer. so keywords fill the gap. Convert to DNG At some point in this process I convert all the photos to the Adobe DNG format. It allows others. Sometimes this isn’t easy. to know who took the photo.File Management and Workflow Metadata on Import Metadata is an incredibly useful tool. Effective keyword use makes searching a huge database of images for exactly the one you want straightforward.CR2 RAW files. there are a few which are not. say. but even one or two keywords can help make it easier to find. Keywords are extremely useful for describing a photo.
and it’s happened to me. they’ll stay with the image in the metadata. It’s still vulnerable. If I keyword the RAW files. and if you don’t have a reliable backup procedure in place. ACDSee. If the photos are destined for a website that supports keywords. backup becomes a bit more challenging than simply burning a DVD of all of your documents and low-resolution photos for family and friends. I take a bit of extra time to keyword the images before export. and make it easier to find later. Adding additional keywords to individual photos is timeconsuming. and they’re notoriously unreliable. a friend’s inbox. They’ll also be there for any other use I have for the image. I’ve completed all the work I’ll do on a particular image. Preparing for Output I discussed my hardware setup above. or the photo lab. describing the RAW/ DERIV hard disk drive system I use. but let’s discuss it briefly here. 20 . from pressing the shutter release to sending the photo to its final destination. or creating a sequence of images to be combined into one. Exporting Photos We’ll come back to the output process in much more detail towards the end of the book. It will happen one day. However. but be aware that your archive will grow. Loading the folder list for every day I’ve ever done a photo shoot would take too long. and adds considerable value to the image for them. and no fun at all. whenever I offer photos for sale. or you start taking HD digital video. However. The vast majority of the time they’ll be uploaded to the web or sent to friends via email. the only difference is that I group the directories into years.File Management and Workflow Detailed Metadata This is where the keywording task becomes daunting. I recommend external drives that you can easily transport if you need to take your archive with you – and that you quickly grab in an emergency. such as with a panorama. The settings I choose for the exporting of photos depend on what use I intend for them. I dedicate a great deal of time and effort to keywording those photos. Other times I’ll be exporting full-res photos for printing. your storage needs will likely increase in the future. One or two 1–2Tb drives should be ample for today’s photographer. you’re just setting yourself up for heartbreak when you lose some or all of your photos. and some sites will preserve and display the keywords when uploaded. This speeds up access to the photos in my preferred viewing application. Backup is an essential part of any workflow. and the time spent keywording can be saved in searches many times over. and as a result I have to rely on my file naming system to find images. as there’s only one electronic copy of it in existence. whether that be online. DVDs simply aren’t large enough. You really must protect yourself against data loss – end of story. tiring. By far your best solution is to buy additional HDDs. This is the weakest point of my own process. the pay-off can be huge. This helps them be found by potential customers. Backup By this stage. as cameras produce larger files. so grouping the shoots by years on export speeds things up greatly. But I can’t forget about the image just yet. When dealing with the large files you end up with when shooting RAW. Searching for a specific image from thousands of keyworded ones is so much easier. The directory setup I use on the derivative HDD is similar to the one I use on the RAW HDD. also. I rarely spend the time keywording that I should.
A new alternative is becoming the backup choice for some. If you have access to a fast. I’m hoping that this problem will be but a memory after my next hardware upgrade. Once a month or so. and my increasing emphasis on good keywording practice. Initially uploading your entire archive could take considerable time. This isn’t yet a viable option for many photographers around the world. A number of companies offer highvolume or unlimited storage at an affordable price. which require the whole application to be reloaded just to check them. return onsite with them. you should use an off-site backup as well. it’s a relatively simple matter to perform a nightly off-site backup to this third-party service. I can usually find it within a minute. The main difficulties I face with image retrieval at the moment are caused by the segmented Lightroom catalogs. unmetered internet connection. DESKTOP PC OS & APPS DERIV 1 RAW 1 RAW 2 RAW 3 External drives backed up nightly BACKUP 1 BACKUP 2 External drives backed up monthly OFFSITE 1 OFFSITE 2 OFFSITE 3 OFFSITE 4 21 . and large data transfer quotas make possible the creation of an online backup for your files. some services allow you to courier a HDD with your files to them to seed your initial backup.File Management and Workflow Retrieval The backup method I use is to create a nightly mirror of all files on my desktop drives to a pair of external drives using backup software – SyncBackSE in my case. High-speed internet connections. this solution only applies in the lucky few countries where the internet service makes this possible. consistent file and directory naming conventions. Looking for images that match a certain concept is harder. The easiest way to do an off-site backup is to repeat the same steps for creating your first backup and then transport the drives to another location. perhaps a relative’s house. it’s much faster than having to scroll through thousands of disorganised thumbnails in an image browser. If I have a specific image in mind and I know the approximate date off the top of my head. finding an image I want isn’t too painful. Due to the care I’ve taken to use descriptive. I recommend a similar procedure for your own backups. To eliminate the risk of this. take your local backup disks to the offsite location and swap them with the off-site disks. The key is that they are done regularly. Unfortunately. A house fire or burglary could cause the loss of your originals and your backups. A backup system isn’t really safe if all copies of a file are kept in the same place. and synchronise those with the latest backup. cheap storage. for example). as well as the risk of master and backup drives failing at the same time (due to lightning strike. however. as my keywording is incomplete in that regard. but with any luck that will change in years to come.
BEFORE AFTER THE CULL AND SELECT .
lets photographers push many of these decisions into the post-processing phase. but the result is the same: filtering the best photos from the rest. but it also increases the workload after the shoot. myself included.Digital cameras have fundamentally changed the way photos are taken. and there was the associated cost of developing and printing. Digital photography. a photographer will need to cull the worst photos and select the best. where several photos are taken in quick succession with the intent of choosing the best one later. After a big shoot. . This can increase the chances of capturing a better photo. more thought and consideration had to be put into each frame. There are many different ways of doing this. and each photographer’s technique will differ. frequently shoot in burst mode. When film had a limited number of frames on a roll. with its essentially free photos. Many photographers.
Mixing flags and stars might be a good solution. My personal practice takes the following route: I mark all photos to be deleted with a black flag. not bad enough to be rejected. and neither). A keystroke then allows you to permanently delete all photos flagged as rejects. two-star photos are those you process. four-star photos are candidates for your folio. I very rarely mark a photo with five stars. those are photos I consider among the best of my career. rejected. How you use the star system to filter your photos is up to you. The flag system has three levels (selected. and five-star photos are the very best of your photos – the ones you show clients when you only have ten minutes.The Cull and Select Flags versus Stars Adobe’s Lightroom and Bridge both have two ways of marking your photos for the cull and select process: flags and stars. and the stars may have different significance to different photographers. The star rating system gives you a bit more control over how you rate the photos. Most other processing apps use similar equivalent features. three-star photos are good enough to upload to your online photo gallery. unflagged photos are in between. all photos to be processed score one star. Filtering by flag type lets you see only the photos you’ve decided as worthy selects. This will probably add a lot of time to your post-processing. but it means a lot more consideration needs to be given to each photo to evaluate its level. whereas you can rate a photo from 0 stars to 5. not good enough to be selected. 24 The star system gives you a much finer scale of a photo’s worth to you. and you then star rate the photos after processing for your later reference. where you use flags to do a quick refinement before processing. So what’s the difference? A white and a black flag allow you to mark photos as either ‘selects’ or ‘rejects’. and the best photos (typically ones to be emailed to the client as a preview for the whole job) get two stars. The very best photos of a shoot score three stars and photos which I want to put in my folio score four stars. which may be a problem if you need to get the photos out fast. For example. six levels. . unstarred photos may be those you plan to cull. Quickly scanning through your shoot and pressing ‘P’ for selects (pick) and ‘X’ for rejects makes a first-pass cull and select easy. one-star photos are those you don’t want to delete.
pictures with people blinking. showing every photo you take means that all of the not-so-good photos are there for all to see. you may still be able to use them in a composite. • T est photos taken early in a shoot can sometimes be the best.The Cull and Select Which Photos to Cull? These days there are lots of reasons not to cull at all. severe motion blur. Your audience doesn’t want to see ten nearly identical photos. and you risk being perceived as a less-skilled photographer. • M issed focus or significant blur.or underexposed photos. They will quickly grow frustrated. Photos I usually delete are: o far from the correct exposure they can’t be • S salvaged. Why be Selective? One of my pet peeves is photographers who upload every photo they take to a shared gallery. Invariably. • A creative experiment or an accidental photo may look like a dud on the back of the camera. miss looking longer at the better photos. • N ew photographers can learn a lot from looking at the metadata of poor photos. but some creative processing can bring an interesting photo out of it. especially in portrait shoots. • A series of essentially identical shots from a burst shoot where I’ll keep one or two and delete the rest. and they’ll be more likely to have the patience to look through all of the photos. The baby may be crying in one family group photo. or failed experiments – can end up being useful! • Shooting in RAW affords a huge latitude for processing. and might just give up and move on without seeing much of the shoot. But if you’re serious about photography you can’t stop halfway. Sure. this is the new photographer who doesn’t have the time or inclination to sort through their work before they show it. On top of this. provided they don’t have any other artistic merit. xposure and lighting tests that aren’t otherwise • E interesting or useful. but when you can easily expand your storage by adding more inexpensive hard drives. but the father blinked when the baby was smiling. It’s very frustrating paging through a gallery with hundreds of photos. so you might be able to salvage poorly exposed photos. Your audience will be more impressed with your work. the most significant being that storage is so cheap. Merging two or more dud photos can result in a great photo. as the subject doesn’t think these shots will be used. they just want to see the best of those ten. as that can tell you what you did wrong and help you do better next time. • I f one or two photos of a burst are no good. why would you need to delete anything? Even apparently useless duds – accidental shots. For these and other reasons. and is not worrying about their pose or expression. Culling and selecting a shoot before you share it with others will make you look like a better photographer. I usually prefer to be very generous when deciding which photos I delete. most of them near identical copies of the one before. skip through your album. there’s more work in selecting and processing images than there is in just uploading the whole lot. 25 . sight unseen. highly over. You may have tens of thousands of photos.
Choose the photos which best show your subject as you know them. At this stage. A party with friends. A personal portrait session with a family member. This will remind you what shots you obtained. without selecting and rejecting right away. Although you may only upload one photo as your entry to the project. select only the best photos for each look or use the client is after. The very first decision you need to make is what the photos will be used for. AFTER 26 . A product shoot for a client with a very specific look in mind. you might also flag or star any exceptional photos that jump out at you as truly great shots or absolute duds. and maybe let your subject choose some of their favourites as well. A professional portrait session for a client with specific uses for the photos in mind for the images. Follow the brief. including a few great photos that came out really well. You’ll probably want to share most of the photos you took with your friends.BEFORE The Cull and Select Which Photos to Select? Deciding which photos from a shoot to select can be very difficult. but not spend a lot of time processing them. and quite daunting if you have a shoot with hundreds of photos to choose from. Similarly to a product shoot. so that when you’re deep in reviewing the shoot you’ll have an idea what photos are coming up. you need to start separating the wheat from the chaff. but make sure to give them enough variety to choose from. Once you understand how the kind of shoot affects the approach you’ll need when selecting the photos. You might want to select a representative collection of photos to show off the park. where you took photos of people you know having fun. You don’t want to have eight great photos selected out of the ten your client wants when you’re only a quarter of the way through the shoot. some of the work in progress photos or rejected ideas might make for a good blog post about the project. The kind of shoot you did will help inform you how to choose the best photos (see example at right). Photos taken on a walk through a national park. and select the best two or three photos for each ‘look’ the client requested. It’s a good idea to quickly run through the whole shoot first. An online project on a particular topic. and prepare your mind for selecting.
or that meet the goals of your shoot. otherwise they wouldn’t have survived the selection process thus far. You might have taken a batch of photos at one location before moving elsewhere. but even reducing the number of photos by half will save you processing and uploading time. If you need to further refine the selection. you’ll probably find that you’ve narrowed down the photos a lot. You need to get rid of nine out of ten photos to end up with the ones you like the best. obviously not as good as the others. These can help greatly with the process of refining your photos to the best from the shoot. as you already have the best few of each look or variation within the shoot. including the Grid. and impress your audience more. or doubled up in terms of different looks. you may have noticed that the photos were clustered naturally into groups. Cast your eye across the remaining photos and see if there are any photos that are redundant. it’s a bit more straightforward now. working with smaller clusters of photos within it. Lightroom has a number of tools to assist with the selection process. . leaving you to eliminate the last few photos that aren’t up to the same standard. perhaps to 10–30% of the total. when one hundred would tell the story of the party just as well. Using these clusters as kind of a mental chunk can help break down the daunting task of selecting from a massive shoot into choosing from more manageable groups of photos. you have to make some tougher decisions. and de-select these photos. You probably like all of the remaining photos. and may make it easier for friends who don’t have the inclination to go through a couple of hundred photos. It’s time to be ruthless with your selections and separate the good from the great. Culling the shoot to the very best photos will make you look like a better photographer. Look at first only within that group of photos and pick which you think are the best one or few images. as you can mark the obviously superior photos with a higher rating to make sure they stand out above the rest. Compare and Survey views. then move on to the next group. Obviously. or you may have taken a set of shots of a product with one lighting setup before changing to another. So how do you tell that one good photo from the other nine? When you were scanning through the shoot. Other dedicated RAW processing and image viewing applications have similar tools. If you need to refine further. Which photos best represent the concepts you wish to show? Which portraits show the subject at their best or show aspects of their personality better than others? Which product shots make the best impression with the greatest impact? Using star ratings can be helpful at this stage. By now you should be left with a much smaller set of photos.The Cull and Select A Process of Refinement Imagine you have a shoot of 200 photos. After you’ve been through the whole shoot. you don’t have to be as ruthless in your cull for photos from a birthday party or similar event. and you’re aiming to find the best 20 to show others: a ten percent ‘hit ratio’.
Even if you don’t take their advice. the better you get. just pick one and move on.The Cull and Select BEFORE AFTER Difficult Selects Sometimes it can be truly difficult to narrow down a shortlist of your favourite photos to a much smaller number. A Find out which photos they prefer and ask them why. Flip the photos. then it’s probably actually the one you prefer. or you’ve decided that a smaller number is best for showing your work. You may not have a choice. then it doesn’t matter which you choose. Over time you may find that you make it through your selecting faster. lip a coin. even if it’s to defend a photo they didn’t like. A trick that painters and illustrators often use is to look at their work in a mirror. and have less trouble choosing between good photos. S Put aside your selecting for a day or two and come back to it. In time. How do you resolve this dilemma? Here are a few suggestions: leep on it. another opinion can help you solidify yours. Practice! Selecting is like any other skill: the more you do it. If you get a pang when you have to reject the losing photo. and sometimes errors you couldn’t see before will jump out at you. This can break the problem of familiarity that comes from looking at a work too intently for too long. Just pick one! If two photos are so similar to each other that you can’t decide. 28 . and go back to look at whole shoots from a few months ago to see if you still agree with the selections you made. however. and see if one is stronger than the others. Taking a break from thinking about it can bring a fresh perspective. sk a friend. it will become a much less painful exercise. Flip your photos in editing software. F Tell yourself that you’ll let a coin decide. if you need to submit just one photo to a competition. Listen to the feedback you get on your selects (were there too many photos? too few?).
BEFORE AFTER WHAT IS PROCESSING? .
expense. using their hands or masks to cast shadows on the paper when printing. or skill as was needed in the darkroom. photographers can make huge differences to the resulting photograph by using different chemicals. a play on the word ‘darkroom’. there has always had to be a process to take the information stored in the light-sensitive medium and convert it into an output which can be viewed. cross-process. and then projecting light through the developed negative onto light-sensitive paper.From the very first photograph ever taken. there is great creative potential. In the case of film. Additionally. Within this process of creating an image from raw light. CC BY 2. crop. for example. These are the absolute minimum requirements to be able to look at a photograph. Film photographers moving to digital processing may recognise the names given to some of the controls in processing software as having originated in the darkroom. Adobe’s RAW-processing application is even called Lightroom. processing software lets a photographer alter and tweak their photo in ways that darkroom users once couldn’t have even imagined. processing typically consists of immersing it in a series of chemical baths. In the case of digital.0 – User: dok1 . filters on the enlarger when making a print. In the darkroom. dodge and burn. processing requires interpretation of the raw measured electrical levels of the sensor and converting that into pixels of varying colours in an image file. Today’s digital photographers are granted amazingly capable and flexible processing software that’s both easy to use and doesn’t require as much time. and many other techniques. and vignette.
this is not what most people mean when they talk about ‘processing’ a photo. there’s almost no limit to what can be done to a digital image. Tools to do this kind of basic photo manipulation or retouching are available in most processing applications. rather than the photo-manipulation end. However. There are many excellent books on photo manipulation out there for those interested in the myriad possibilities. I simply need to limit discussion to the scope of this book. let’s clarify a distinction in terminology. Elements from dozens of photos may be assembled to create an image that looks like a photograph. computergenerated imagery. Post is about helping you to improve all of your photos through processing. 31 . many photographers will do some degree of photo manipulation on their images to improve them. or remove a skin blemish from a portrait. The power of modern computing and software puts into the hands of photographers tools that have redefined what photography means.What is Processing? Processing vs Photo Manipulation At this point. They might clone out a car from a landscape. Whereas typically a photographer would only go to the effort of extensive photo manipulation on a very few images. I’m not making a value judgement about whether photo manipulation or retouching are valid tools for photographers or not. Photo Nuts and Post focuses on the processing end of this spectrum. and many other creative tools can render the act of capturing a photograph but a step in the creative process. On the other hand. but was never seen by a camera. This kind of work is commonly referred to as ‘photo manipulation’. painting-like digital brushes. There is no distinct line when a photo becomes a digital painting created on the computer rather than in the camera. When producing a finished piece of photographic art. Digital composites of several photos.
I admit that I’m not immune to this myself. No carpenter would hesitate to use a bandsaw just because others are proud that they made a chair using only a handsaw. This stigma can even go as far as some viewers commenting that a photo might look ‘over-saturated’. creative lighting. you may have encountered the common belief that an image which has been manipulated is somehow less worthy than one which has not. for reasons we’ll come back to later. HDR (high dynamic range) tools. When it comes down to the final photo. isn’t it how the image makes a viewer feel that matters? We don’t criticise a painter who tweaks the lighting in their artwork. don’t be hesitant or afraid to process any or all of your own photos in whatever way you feel they need to make the images you want. every single photo has to be processed to some extent in order to be viewed. so that the image looks how they intended it should? If you feel cheated that what you see in the photo isn’t the same as what the photographer saw through the viewfinder before they pressed the shutter release. ‘photoshopped’ or that some other minor tweak to the photo makes it less deserving of praise. perhaps the problem is with your expectations rather than the photographer’s work. Photographers frequently take pride in stating that their photo was “straight from camera. referring to the powerful photo-editing software of Adobe Photoshop. 32 . Photoshop. or of rare events or unusually beautiful scenes. or any other photography application are just tools to allow you to realise your photographic artistic vision. and this is a good goal to have. with special effects. Instagram.What is Processing? The Stigma of ‘Photoshopping’ While we’re on the topic. Why should anyone begrudge the photographer some control over the process. or moves around a tree or two to improve the composition. Use the tools you need to get the job done. By the same token. This is especially true of remarkable-looking photos. no photoshopping”. I strive to create an image in-camera that’s as close as possible to the final product I want. I am proud when I’m able to capture something amazing without needing to significantly add to the photo in post-processing. however. Lightroom. and know that the critics are upset only because you created something in a way they don’t prefer. As we’ve already discussed.
Just for a fun mental exercise. it may seem surprising how many controls and options you have in processing. To make changes to some pixels and not others. changing the values of every single pixel. By describing each value of red.216 colours. A typical digital photo will consist of millions of pixels. Many changes are made to the whole photo. Given the simplicity of the fundamental changes that you are making to the photo. the colour and intensity of each pixel is defined. then you’re changing its hue and/or saturation. In a beautiful instance of symmetry at the other end of the process. If you change the RGB values independently of each other. All processing – every slider you move. shutter and ISO. and yet they can be so easily transformed via processing. green and blue.777. everything involved in obtaining the correct exposure comes down to the three values of the exposure triangle: aperture. if we consider the number of possible pixel values in a 24-bit 10Mp image. You mightn’t always want to change the value of every pixel in the photo by the same amount. There are only two types of changes you can make to pixels. every spot you clone – is simply changing the RGB values of the pixels in the image. for example. white balance and saturation. If you change all three values of a pixel by the same amount. Changing the Values Since we’re only ever changing three values for each pixel. every effect you apply. In the case of 24-bit images – the vast majority of images which are the ultimate product of digital photography – each value can have one of 256 values. your photos end up comprising three further variables: Red. or megapixels. That’s the power of the digital format. Every pixel in a digital photo file is defined by the values of the RGB triplet. and therefore each pixel can be one of 16. you’re changing its brightness. you must select the pixels you wish to change. . exposure. Green and Blue. the key to successfully processing your image is to work out how to change the pixels. When you add the 16 million possible pixel colours in 24 bits to the millions of pixels in an image. you begin to see that there is actually an astonishingly wide range of possibilities. and which pixels to change.What is Processing? Just Three Values Ultimately. It’s incredible that such a simple system of three variables can describe such a staggeringly huge number of images. we discover that there’s practically an infinite number of possible photos.
but generally they can be categorised as carrying out one or more of the following tasks: • D irectly selecting regions of pixels with selection tools like a lasso or brush. some apps have tools which allow you to refine your selection. • • S electing all pixels which meet specific selection criteria. 34 . In Lightroom the Adjustment Brush is used to mask an area of the photo to which a change will be applied. The pixels which have a percentage selection (a pixel may be 50% selected or 10% selected. Once a selection of pixels has been made. Selecting all pixels of a certain colour range. • Selecting all pixels of a certain brightness range. the Colour Range tool is used to select all pixels in the image in a defined range of a chosen colour. or additional selections could be added to the existing selection. In Photoshop. for example) are affected by whatever change you make to the selection by that percentage amount. Pixels can be partially selected. It is important to note that a selection doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing thing. For example.What is Processing? Selecting Pixels There are many tools and techniques for selecting pixels. for example. when using a soft-edged brush to paint a selection mask. such as neighbouring a pixel with a specific difference in brightness. the selection criteria might be changed after the fact. the selection may be expanded or contracted.
Once the pixels you want to edit are selected. gives you unlimited creativity.What is Processing? In Photoshop a Magic Wand selection of the white background is modified with the Refine tool. The Graduated Filter in Lightroom applies a change to one side of a slice of the image with a hard or soft edge. and the control you have over their adjustments. It’s quite simple at a fundamental level. Now that you understand the mechanics behind processing a photo. let’s look at some of the types of tools you can use to process your raw digital images. but the multitude of ways that pixels can be selected. This allows better control of the edge of the selected area. you’re free to make the changes to them simply by changing the RGB values of the selected (and partially selected) pixels. 35 .
BEFORE AFTER processing tools .
Where the histogram really comes into its own. is when you’re processing your photos. with a steep cliff of pixels rather than a slope down to zero. The reverse is true for dark or underexposed photos. If the histogram ends abruptly at either end. as these will appear as areas of white or black with no detail. Clipping represents portions of the image in the highlights or shadows which are outside the range of the image file’s ability to show. with the darkest pixels on the left and the brightest pixels on the right. This chapter covers the most common types of processing tools. and therefore detail in these areas is lost. which appear to have the columns pushed to the left of the histogram. the photo is high contrast. they work in very similar ways. . If values are mostly in the middle of the histogram. this indicates clipping. In the case of the Lightroom histogram. Although the specific tools available may vary from one processing application to another. possibly overexposed. 37 AFTER The histogram is a representation of the distribution of tones in the photo. Photos with values mostly to the right are bright photos. however. the photo is low contrast. One of the videos included in your purchase of this eBook is a tutorial on using the histogram in processing which can be found here. we touched on the histogram as a useful tool in the field when checking your photos on the back of the camera. and how they affect the final image. colour information is also depicted in the histogram – a feature shared by many post-processing applications. The values to the far left are called shadows. the values to the far right are highlights. and those in the middle are mid-tones. and what it can tell you about your photo.Digital photographers have an extensive toolkit available to them to process their photos. The distribution of the columns in the histogram tell you about the type of image as well. It’s preferable to avoid clipping in your photos. with pixels in the highlights and shadows and possibly the mid-tones as well. Not only does it give you useful feedback on the tonal and colour information in the photo. The columns represent the relative number of pixels in the photo. but you can also watch it while you are editing to see the effect of your changes. Let’s first do a recap of what the histogram is. If there’s an even distribution of values. BEFORE The Histogram In both previous books in this series. Processing tools all perform the same basic function – to change the values of groups of pixels – but do so in different ways that allow the photographer to carefully control the final appearance of the photo.
Even more useful is a similar feature in most cameras. however. and creative decisions always take priority over preserving detail throughout the image’s tonal range. rather than the mid-tones. A low contrast image. It’s crucial that the areas of your photo in which you want to show detail are not clipped. rather than fixing the problem in post-processing. but rather a controlled distribution of pixel values from almost black to almost white. This feature will help you to correct a poorly exposed photo while on location. the aim is to end up with a photo that has no clipping. of course. A high contrast image has more pixels in the brighter and darker values.Processing Tools Most processing applications include a feature to highlight clipping within the photo by overlaying a colour on clipped pixels. with pixels represented more or less equally from all brightnesses shows a wide flat histogram reflecting that. The small triangles in the upper corners of the Lightroom histogram do this. Typically. which will highlight pixels that are clipped or in danger of being so. and the left-hand triangle shows blue where there are black clipped pixels. This isn’t always the case. so the histogram shows a peak at each end. Adjusting the exposure settings in processing will correct this. Unless you have a specific reason not to. Hovering your cursor over the right-hand triangle will overlay red on white clipped pixels. usually with a flashing colour over those areas. 38 . your photos will look better if they resemble this ‘ideal’ tonal distribution.
Brightness in Lightroom is similar to the Exposure slider. Contrast shifts the pixels in the mid-range towards each end of the histogram. This slider will increase the exposure on all pixels by the same relative amount. Assuming you are editing a raw photo. but still work in a similar way.x each affect the exposure values of various brightness pixels in the photo. processing applications will have other controls which affect the exposure of the photo. which is like changing the ISO setting after the fact. Exposure Controls The basic means of adjusting the tonal distribution of your photo is with the exposure controls. you may be surprised how much you can change the exposure setting. and don’t require you to make selections or use special tools to control which pixels are affected. 39 . In the case of Lightroom. Fill changes the mid-tones. BEFORE AFTER The sliders of the Basic panel in Lightroom 3. and not the value of individual RGB components which would change their hue and saturation. Selective Exposure Sliders Beyond the basic exposure sliders. or indeed any exposure controls. These tools adjust the RGB values of the pixels together. These sliders have been changed in Lightroom 4 beta. changing only their brightness. Exposure The most basic exposure control is to simply use the Exposure slider. but runs the risk of blowing out highlights (pushing the high value pixels past the maximum value and causing clipping) and can increase the visible noise in the shadows.or underexposed photos. but limit themselves to different parts of the tone curve. to bring out hidden detail in over. just as if you had dialled up or down the ISO when you were taking the photo. This can easily correct poorly exposed photos. and Blacks affects the shadows.Processing Tools Global Adjustments Let’s first look at processing tools in your virtual kit which affect the image as a whole. affecting the highlights less and preventing clipping. but it ‘pins’ the highlights so that adjusting it increases the brightness of the photo in a non-linear way. Recovery changes only the highlights. creating a photo with a stronger contrast.
and vice versa. thus changing the tonal distribution.Processing Tools Curves Another way to change the exposure and tonal distribution of a photo is using the Tone Curve (frequently referred to as Curves). or curve. The useful aspect of this tool is that the line. affecting the highlights. in order to make changes to the image’s colour balance. 40 . Moving the curve up or down increases or decreases the brightness of pixels in each area. the left end. resulting in a very dirty or strangely alien look. could be pulled down. The curve represents pixels of different brightness. The Curves tool in Photoshop works in a very similar way. Moving the line below its starting point darkens the pixels. which affects shadows. This gives fine control over the exposure of the image by freely choosing the parts of the tonal range you wish to affect. The user can change the shape of the line which runs through the graph from the bottom left to top right. Shown here are the different areas affected in the Lightroom Curves tool. In addition the user can select which colour channel they wish to affect. Curves tools are a different way to effect the same changes as exposure sliders. could be pushed higher. The right end of the curve. as dramatic changes in the curve can cause sudden shifts in exposure which appear as banding in the photo. This tool shows a graph rather than (or overlaid upon) the histogram. dark to light from left to right. Subtlety is the key here. doesn’t have to be one simple curve.
A useful addition to your camera bag is a gray card. as is offered in Lightroom. often represented pictorially by an eye-dropper. if you’re in dense foliage. The tint scale intersects each temp value in a roughly perpendicular line. it’s best to set the eye-dropper to sample a wider group of pixels. Processing software will also typically include a very helpful tool called a colour picker. Observing the examples here. Practically speaking. thus temp or temperature is the more correct name for white balance.Processing Tools Colour Adjustments White Balance White balance is the subject of a whole chapter in Photo Nuts and Bolts. Photoshop and many other processing tools. it would appear obvious when to change the temperature scale. however. as an oddly coloured pixel may be used as the target and cause erratic results. which has a green cast. You’ll likely also find a choice of white-balance presets. Photo taken under mixed artificial lighting. but when would you want to change the tint scale? On the simplest level. A key tip for using the eye-dropper to pick a neutral colour to set the white balance: avoid noise or texture in the target of the picker. This curve is the temperature scale drawn through the relevant colours in the colour space’s gamut. such as white paper or a gray shirt. Custom white balance – 3400K. blur the target object before clicking on it. A true white-balance adjustment therefore allows for adjustments on both of these scales. from warm yellowish colours at the low end of the Kelvin temperature scale to cool bluish colours at the high end of the scale. and this scale is referred to as tint. or if you want to exaggerate the pinks and magentas in a sunset photo. White balance can be conceptualised as a temperature scale. which can give a green cast to the ambient light. it’s actually a curve through the colour space (see diagram). Rather than a line. True white balance. 41 . if a portrait subject has heavily flushed or pink skin. temp corrects for colour casts on the green-magenta spectrum. you might find this useful when shooting by fluorescent lighting. Daylight white balance – 7500K Photo taken under mixed artificial lighting. otherwise any subtle colour will skew the white balance. but we’ll cover it briefly here in order to examine how the change is effected in processing software. similar to those in your camera. It’s important to be sure the target is true neutral. For this reason. In addition. on a green through magenta spectrum. This powerful tool allows you to set the correct white balance with one click by using it on a part of the photo with a known neutral tone. or if this feature isn’t available. as the white balance sliders may imply. isn’t just a linear scale. Look for temperature and tint adjustments where the whitebalance controls are located. there’s a scale perpendicular to the temperature scale. which is a colour-correction and exposure-calibration tool that has the specific neutral tone of 18% gray. the temperature scale is actually a curve through the colour gamut. FTungsten white balance – 2850K Photo taken under mixed artificial lighting.
making the brightness of the pixel determined by its red value? Or does it become 102. when vibrance is increased. but the values of all three are identical – it’s the differences in the values relative to each other that define the colour. appearing as a sharp transition. or sudden changes in the values of neighbouring pixels resulting in banding or blocking of colour within the image. 143. Over-saturating pushes the reds close to clipping and shows posterisation.Processing Tools Saturation The Saturation slider adjusts the colourfulness of the image. green. as some colours (the values of the red. Black-and-white images (in the RGB colour space) are still described with the RGB triplet. while the green slider has the same effect on grass and foliage. as we will discuss below. more intense colours. 102. The reverse is also true: decreasing the exposure of the photo. it’s often best to tweak the saturation and brightness together. a darker grey based on the blue? When doing a b/w conversion. Adjusting the blue slider can make a sky in your photo become deep grey or bright white. In a similar way that coloured filters are used in film photography. may increase the apparent saturation. Care must be taken when adjusting the red and magenta sliders in portrait photos. subtle colours. or blue of the pixels) can easily become clipped. A completely desaturated image contains no colour information at all. Over-saturating an image can cause problems. say: 143. usually making more saturated areas look darker. 102. 143. Other processing applications often have similar tools. 132. Adobe has an alternative adjustment they call Vibrance which seeks to help with this problem. or parts of it. A highly saturated image has richer. This can be a problem when you want to increase the overall saturation of a photo that already has highly saturated parts. most pixels become more saturated. and those which already are or become highly saturated are not increased any further. as blemishes on your subjects’ skin can be brought into dramatic contrast. Vibrance works similarly to brightness in that the most saturated pixels in the photo aren’t affected. especially those with strong saturated colours. Saturation also has a relationship with brightness. 102 into a grey colour? Does it become 143. So how does one turn. which can cause garish regions of colour. Sliders control how much each colour affects the brightness of pixels when converting to b/w. Desaturating an image is a quick way to convert it into a black-and-white image. This can result in posterisation. but often isn’t the best. B&W Conversion It might seem that desaturating a photo is the way to make it black and white (sometimes called grayscale or shortened to b/w) but fortunately there’s more to it than that. which means more creative options. as the process is called. changing the effects of different colours can have dramatic effects on black-and-white photos. Thus. For this reason. 42 . such that changing the saturation can have an effect on the perceived brightness of regions of a photo. and a low-saturation image has muted. we retain complete control over what influence the different colours have over the final brightness values of the pixels. such as a single flower.
however. A careful crop can change the meaning of a photo by drawing attention to different elements. and. There are other tools that affect pixels far more specifically. or imparting a different emotional context. making the photo smaller and changing its composition. Doing so. or it can be unlocked. allowing the aspect ratio to change. no other post-processing tool gives you as much control over composition. The crop tool can also be rotated. for one so simple. such as for a square or panoramic crop of a photo. especially when the true horizon is hidden. or broad groups of pixels based on their brightness or saturation. while others are unique features to specific applications. Cropping is a powerful compositional tool. as is the case here. it can have a dramatic effect on the photo. allowing the composition to be tilted for creative effect or to correct a tilted photo. Some of these tools are common to many processing applications. Cropping a photo is simply cutting off one or more edges of the photo. Cropping Cropping is the simplest and easiest processing tool to understand. 43 . Let’s have a look at a few of the most common. requires the image to be made smaller on all four sides. BEFORE AFTER The Straighten Tool in Lightroom is a very helpful guide when levelling a crop.Processing Tools Selection & Specialist Tools The tools mentioned above all affect the whole photo. A crop can be locked so that it matches the photo’s original aspect ratio.
because one can. magic wands.. but typically take more effort and time to create. 44 .Processing Tools Masking A selection mask is typically painted onto a photo with a brush tool. Once selected. rather than for the sake of the artistic message of the photo. rather than RAW-processing software. • U se of masked edits for the sake of novelty. which allows the photographer to directly control which part of the photo any changes made will affect. The Photoshop Path tool is best at creating clean-edged. This is a quick but somewhat imprecise method to make a selection. Most of these types of tools are typically found in photomanipulation applications such as Adobe Photoshop. selection lassos. The risks of editing a photo with masks can include: Sloppy selection causing unintended changes to • parts of the photo. any changes made while the mask is active will only affect the masked areas. highly complex selections. Great skill is required to make the most impressive masked edits. A mask can also be refined by selectively erasing it with the brush. and path tools. This can be a powerful tool to make subtle or dramatic changes to specific regions of a photo and multiple masks with different edits applied can completely transform an image. and draw their attention to the fact that it has been edited with too heavy a hand. and can have a hard or soft edge. including changes to the brush to control the hardness of the edge and the density of the selection. Direct selection tools are more precise than brush masking tools. Direct Selection lack of subtlety may distract the viewer from • A appreciating the photo as a whole. • E xtreme changes to the masked areas that lead to exposure or clipping problems which are made even more obvious when seen in the context of the rest of the photo. Other controls can help prevent masks from selecting beyond high-contrast boundaries or into particular colours. Different applications have slightly varying controls to assist with masking. This category of tools include marquee tools. depending on the settings used for the brush. Multiple Adjustment Brush masks were used to create the unnatural look for this photo.
which mimics the effect of the graded neutral density filter a landscape photographer might mount on their camera. This can sometimes be a problem for the patternrecognition software in the application. skin blemishes. as the result may appear more visible. 45 . The user selects a spot to fix with a variable-diameter brush. part of a repeating pattern. or other unwanted features. which becomes the source for the area to be fixed. The pixels are copied. then either automatically or with a second click chooses a second point. Care must be taken when choosing the source. Typically. This tool is very useful for removing small defects in the photo such as sensor dirt. or used as a texture reference. It is also inadvisable to use too large a destination or source selection. and the result is blended. sometimes known as the clone or rubber stamp tool. Practice will improve your use of this tool. Spot fixes can become particularly obvious when the destination area is highly detailed. The Lightroom neutral density filter is one. and the user may need to tweak the edit for the best result. and are often specific to a particular software package. The iOS app ‘Snapseed’ makes use of a point selection tool. The spot removal tool is used here to remove sensor dust. Nik Software’s Upoint technology is another. the destination pixels to be fixed are replaced with these. a selection area is drawn around the subject’s eye and an algorithm attempts to identify and correct any red-eye problems.Processing Tools Region Selection Other tools offer unique selection methods. and it can greatly reduce dependence on photo-manipulation software. allowing for the adjustment of specific areas of a photo. so that it blends well with the destination. The highly specialised Red Eye Correction tool in Lightroom makes dealing with the familiar problem relatively straightforward. to affect regions of the photo as determined by the specific tool. Spot Removal The spot-removal tool. Red-eye Reduction This highly specialised tool is only used to correct the wellknown problem of red eye seen in flash photos. or on a high-contrast boundary. using control points to affect a circular area of the photo around a radius of the point. designed around specific concepts. Tools such as these aren’t as common. is a kind of repair tool.
your subject’s green eyes may end up looking grey. exhibiting halo artifacts. These vary from application to application. Reducing the dimensions of a noisy photo will do a lot to hide the noise. Once the domain of stand-alone software packages. as less noise reduction may be required for either of these types of noise. increasing the sharpness of a noisy photo exaggerates the noise. rather than adjusting both together. Conversely. and saw that it’s always best to try to limit the noise in a photo before it is taken. modern digital cameras and modern processing software have become so sophisticated with noise-handling that it has become less of an issue in recent years. However. You may find yourself jumping between noise reduction and sharpening. you’ll become more efficient and accurate at achieving the best compromise. as the random variations of several nearby pixels will become merged into an average of just one pixel in the reduced image. but ultimately the balance between noise reduction and image sharpness is a choice the photographer needs to decide for themselves. colour noise results from variations in the noise in the colour of the pixels. One thought to bear in mind is that any photo that you wish to share online will typically be reduced in size to make it easier to upload. As you become familiar with these controls. such as hair or small patterns. What may look like a horrible noisy mess when viewing a full-sized photo at 100% may be perfectly acceptable when viewed at 100% as a much smaller photo. while luminance is noise in the brightness. which needs to be counteracted with sharpening. so is the image sharpening. and depends on the particular photo and your personal preference for how you want the photo to look. Overcorrecting colour noise can cause a colour shift in small areas of the picture. The first step in dealing with sensor noise happens behind the scenes in the raw conversion process before you even see the photo in your editing program. As you might guess. Separating these controls is useful. 46 . for example. Be wary of pushing the noise reduction too far. noise reduction has the effect of smoothing the photo and reducing detail. so some noise filtering is usually required when sharpening. then back again as you try to extract the most detail from a noisy photo. Just as balancing the noise reduction is important. Middle: With noise reduction. you may have a crunchy shimmering photo with over-sharpened edges and exaggerated noise. A typical control you will see involves sliders for reducing luminance noise and colour (or chroma) noise. The noise-reduction and sharpening tools generally also have a number of controllers and modifiers. tweaking first one then the other.Processing Tools Noise Reduction and Sharpening The digital noise generated by the camera sensor when the light levels are low has long been a problem for digital photographers. Noise-reduction tools are usually paired with sharpening tools. Left: As shot. At the other. At one extreme. noise reduction is a balancing act. We talked about this issue in relation to the camera in Bolts and Shots. Red colours are particularly vulnerable to over-correction. so you should refer to your software’s manual for an explanation of how these controls affect the image. Right: Over-sharpened. Different RAWprocessing engines have varying methods to extract detail and reduce noise. you may get a flat mushy image with no noise but little detail. Pushing the luminance noise correction too far will cause a loss of detail in areas of fine contrast. As with everything. highly sophisticated and capable noise-reduction tools are now available in many RAW-processing packages.
and most of the pixels at the edges will be highly stretched and may show significant softness. Fisheye lenses are a special case. using something like a distortion slider. Correcting for pincushion will push some pixels out of the photo’s edge. but more and more of this is becoming just one included feature of a RAW-processing application. This results in a bowing-in of the image. the other barrel. and distortions of the image plane. barrel distortion correction can still be performed on a fisheye lens in post-processing. Such correcting will straighten lines in the image which appear curved due to the distortion. there’s no reason why you can’t use them beyond their design purpose for creative reasons. we discussed the shortcomings of lenses in terms of problems such as chromatic aberration. which must then be cropped out. You will be able to restore straight edges. Correcting for barrel will pull in pixels. albeit resulting in a drastically distorted image. in that it pushes out the edge of the image to keep straight lines straight. but do not have any kind of built-in correction for the moderate to severe barrel distortion they exhibit. As with all corrective controls in processing tools. Even though these flaws are hard to avoid given the laws of physics and the prohibitive cost of very high-quality lenses. Note that correcting for barrel distortion via optics in the lens has a similar effect to software correction. creating portions of the image at the edge with no data. Some of the major lens-correction options available in processing software include: Distortion Distortion occurs when the lens can’t create a perfectly geometrically flat image at the image plane. edge softness. Correcting in one direction on the slider fixes pincushion. or a bowing-out of an image. That means that a 16mm fisheye lens will have a significantly wider field of view than a 16mm corrected non-fisheye lens. some software packages were originally developed solely to assist photographers to deal with lens issues. It’s important to note that some amount of image data will be lost depending on the degree of distortion. with only a fraction of the field of view and image information of the original photo. These distortions occur in a consistent and reliable way. Nonetheless. and it is a straightforward correction. These lenses have a huge field of view.Processing Tools Lens Correction In both previous Nuts books. but much of the photo will be off the edge of the image. The extreme distortions created by a fisheye lens are corrected with the Distortion slider. This is a trade-off to get the fisheye’s super-wide field of view. 47 . As with noise correction. and cannot be avoided. computer power allows digital photographers to do much to address these problems. called barrel distortion. called pincushion distortion. Cheating the lens distortion corrections can create a very different kind of image by exerting a particular impact on its emotion and meaning.
Perspective correction can make diverging/converging lines parallel at the expense of a loss of resolution and a tighter crop. as you would need if unable to stand directly in front of the building. Too much correction can cause significant stretching of pixels. or lampposts between the photographer and building. Perspective correction also works for horizontal correction as well as vertical. perspective correction changes the tilt of the image plane. as the top edge of the building is further away. While post hoc correcting for distortion changes the curvature of the image plane. and may result in a visible softening as the original pixels are stretched to cover more of the photo. the top of the photo must be stretched. You need to tilt your camera up in order to see the whole front of a building. To do this.Processing Tools Perspective Correction Perspective correction is related to distortion correction in that geometric transformations are applied to the photo. perspective causes the left and right edges to appear to converge and look smaller. . Anything outside this plane. All geometric corrections – distortion and perspective – are best done in small measures. such as nearby buildings. such as the front of a building or a poster on a wall. This causes image data to be lost off the sides of the image. resulting in loss of detail and softness in parts of the image. the edges of that surface will only be parallel if you’re directly in front and centre. Perspective correction tilts the photo and virtually brings the top of the building closer so that the sides run parallel to each other. will end up sloping outwards or inwards. 48 This correction only works for the plane in the photo being corrected. When shooting a flat surface.
In other cases. it’s best to control vignetting and make it a deliberate choice when processing a photo. and sometimes filters can also cause or exaggerate this problem. vignetting is an especially subjective one. especially when it’s pronounced. teleconverters. resulting in a darkening of the corners.Processing Tools Vignette Vignetting appears as an uneven distribution of light across the image. and can be corrected in post-processing. and it can be used effectively as a means of directing the eye into the centre of the photo. with decreasing effect towards the centre. It should be noted that of all the problems with lenses. or more visible due to the subject being evenly illuminated. rather than being subjected to it whether you want it or not. such as stitching images together to create a panorama. Many photographers like the look of a vignette. especially with telephoto lenses. A vignette may be created in a photo. A vignette can also be added to a photo deliberately. Camera accessories such as extension tubes. 49 . and is especially common in telephoto lenses. Vignette correction simply increases the exposure for the corners of the photo. require even illumination across the frame for the best result. so that the photographer has the option of dialling down the influence of the vignette or removing it entirely. as seen on the left. as seen on the right. A subtle vignette is added to give a sense of intimacy. a vignette can be detrimental to a photo. Some other specialised types of photography. A slider controls the intensity of this correction. This effect is most noticeable in old or inferior lenses. However.
some software companies have tested many different camera and lens combinations. the intensive calculations needed to correct this problem are all done by the software.and super-wide-angle lenses are more prone to CA. every lens and camera design is different. and creating a profile with a utility for your software. Check with your software provider to see if they have a lens-profile-generating utility available. Due to the lens being unable to focus all colours to the same spot. CA is a known physics principle. One fantastic benefit of correcting for CA is an apparent improvement of image sharpness. Also apparent is blooming. Using their own resources and expertise. but the number is always increasing. A chequer-tile pattern at the bottom of a fisheye photo is a worst-case scenario for exhibiting CA. which contains all the information needed to accurately correct with a single click a photo taken with that combination. Correcting for CA effectively focuses the affected parts of the image after the fact. and assessed them carefully to create a ‘lens profile’ for each model. or that and a yellow-blue slider. the corrections for them can be done precisely if the specific design of the lens and camera involved are known. where a bright halo may extend from bright areas into dark areas at high contrast areas. Like lens distortions. This problem is more common with older lenses than with modern lenses and their improved optical construction. Automatic Correction from Lens Profiles Some or all of the above corrections may be needed to give your photo the highest possible level of polish. but as time goes by more and more lens profiles are becoming available. If there isn’t a lens profile for your particular camera and lens combination. and manually adjusting an image. Both of these faults are usually only visible at 100% zoom. The result is the appearance of speared colours. If you ever find yourself with an image that looks unfocused at the edges. Obviously the number of combinations of camera body and lens is staggering.Processing Tools Chromatic Aberration Chromatic aberration (CA) is the result of the inability of a lens to bring all wavelengths of light to focus at the same point on the image plane. The defringing tool can help correct fringing by desaturating and increasing the contrast of edges in the photo. find an obvious example in your photo. even if they are consistent across that specific model. even if you can’t see any obvious CA. it’s possible to create one by performing the same tests as the software manufacturers. improving image sharpness and the detail captured. Tweak these until you see all colour fringes on the contrast boundary disappear. Due to the fact that all these issues stem from the lens and camera in predictable ways. You have one or two sliders available to you. Wide. A textbook example of this is sometimes seen in tree foliage against a bright cloudy sky. Fortunately. . and exhibit their effects on a pixel level. Fortunately. This eliminates the guesswork for the photographer. Of course. 50 Defringing A problem sometimes encountered with digital camera sensors (more so with older technology) is that of fringing issues. you might be able to eke out a bit more detail by playing with the CA sliders. and greatly speeds up the correction process. particularly in the corners of the photo. with which you simply adjust a couple of sliders. To correct CA. purple fringing can sometimes be apparent on very high contrast edges. Naturally the newest and most widely used combinations are being made available first. and occurs in predictable ways. with these controls can quickly become tedious. Depending on the sensor technology and design. Defringing may also be useful in eliminating any stubborn CA that can’t be removed completely via CA correction. or several. some software manufacturers have recognised this problem and provided a solution. and zoom in to 100%. the light information for each part of the image is smeared over several pixels. either just a red-cyan slider. or colour fringing on high-contrast edges.
BEFORE AFTER processing WALKTHROUGHS .
and the processing choices I make are to my personal taste. but most of the time. You don’t have to be proficient from day one. have fun doing it. but the process is great fun. I use my preferred processing application. . and retain the option of fixing your mistakes later. Experimentation and learning will be slow at first. Click here to go to the videos page. Videos I recorded while processing these examples are included in your purchase of this ebook. especially when processing RAW photos. so next up is a series of walkthroughs of my processing for a few photos. • P rocessing is playing. bring it back the other way. Perhaps you think the colours are oversaturated. then it is right. I keep it as general as possible. maybe even a black-and-white conversion. You may not agree with how I process my photos. Processing RAW files is (typically) nondestructive.Processing Walkthroughs One of the biggest hurdles to overcome when first learning how to process photos is identifying what could be improved in the photo. Some problems with photos are obvious and important to fix. and how to do it. Those are all options available to you. and the tools to edit your photos. • U nderstand that you’ll get better. Life isn’t usually this easy when learning a skill. where do you start? The best way is just to jump in with some examples. Play with the various sliders and see what the effects are. If you are happy with how the processed photo looks. you may look back at your first processed photos and see room for improvement. or you might prefer a more artistic style. There’s no one right way to process. so that you can see the process ‘live’ and perhaps pick up details you may miss from just reading the walkthroughs. Nonetheless. This may seem like an intimidating chicken-andegg problem – and a very steep learning curve – but it’s not nearly as difficult as it seems. and of course you’re free to process your photos to your own preference. and there’s no best order or technique to do it. I highly recommend watching them as well as reading the examples. Push things to the limit and see how it looks. any changes you make in the processing are completely subjective and a matter of personal taste. so that the examples can apply to your chosen application. After a few months of practice. then find the setting in between that you like best. You’ll learn as you go. Adobe Lightroom. and you have huge latitude for experimentation. so you can go back and tweak those photos again. Now that we’ve covered the basic concepts behind processing. for several reasons: • P rocessing is highly subjective.
such as the tilted horizon you can see here. A glaring problem. Note. because of straightening. Steps BEFORE 1. and in Lightroom the handy Straighten Tool. but it can be difficult to capture the scene as you remember seeing and feeling it. you will lose a small portion from the edges of the image. which lets you draw a line to be defined as horizontal or vertical. so my first step in processing this photo is to straighten the horizon.Rocky Coastline Everyone comes away from a trip with many photos of sights seen. can distract you from more subtle issues while it’s staring you in the face. This is done via the Crop tool. AFTER 53 . When processing photos I like to start with the most obvious problems and correct them. In this walkthrough I show how to tweak such a photo to give it a bit more impact and feel more like you remember it. The photos usually end up looking a bit flat and dreary.
Your editing program may have something similar to Vibrance. In Lightroom this can be accomplished with the Fill slider. 4. can look artificial. as is the way when the most obvious problems are addressed first. I prefer to use the Vibrance slider to pump up the colours significantly. A lready the photo is much improved. Going too far. but it can also be done by adjusting the Tone Curve. I like skies in my photos to really pop. A t this stage I think the photo looks a little dark. A fter straightening. the biggest problem I see in the photo is that it has dull and muted colours. and by simply reducing the luminance of blue in the photo. however. but it risks clipping colour channels.Processing Walkthroughs 2. A favourite technique of mine is to make blue skies richer by adjusting just the blue colours. 54 . and more saturated. 3. Saturation is an alternative. For this photo I’ll just nudge the mid-tones a bit brighter. so I lighten the mid-tones while preserving the highlights and shadows. but there’s still room for improvement by making small selective tweaks. richer. and potentially cause colour fringing at the borders of that colour. especially blue skies. The Colour Panel in Lightroom allows for this. the sky colours become deeper.
I decide only a small amount is needed. Increasing the Blacks slider will darken the shadows and increase the contrast of the overall photo. I’m now happy with how the photo looks. A local adjustment to the image tone is required. but it lacks oomph. with the aperture at f8 the lens was performing at its best. I like the overall tone of the image now. In particular.Processing Walkthroughs 5. Again. Having shot this photo at 160ISO. as is often the case. A look at the histogram shows a slow fall off towards the left. I ’m satisfied now with the overall tone of the photo. and apply that. the Tone Curve can be used as an alternative. I don’t think there’s a problem with noise. so aberrations aren’t an issue either. I’m looking for any obvious problems with noise. and a comparison of the original and processed photo (see page 53) shows me a significant improvement. but I want to make the bushy hill above the horizon a bit lighter: too much of the detail is too far into the shadows. indicating that there aren’t many pixels in the shadows. This time. 6. making the photo pop more. Using this tool to affect the Brightness of the selected areas lets me brighten just this part of the photo. 55 . T his playing around with the whole image’s tonal distribution doesn’t separate out any parts of the photo that might need a different treatment. It’s at this stage that I usually zoom in to 100% to check the fine details. 7. sharpness or other small-scale problems such as chromatic aberration. I think the photo could benefit from a little sharpening. in Lightroom this is achieved with the Adjustment Brush.
She wanted a new series of portrait photos for use in her work and with her online presence. At the very least. BEFORE Steps 1. high contrast nature of the location. A first look at the photo doesn’t reveal any glaring issues that need to be fixed. however. Given the gritty. I think this photo would be well suited to some creative processing. I tweak the crop to better balance the composition. so we can have fun playing around with creative processing. perhaps conversion to black and white.ALLEY PORTRAIT This portrait was taken on a job with a client who works with street kids and the homeless. AFTER 56 . and use lens corrections to make sure all the vertical and horizontal lines are straight. We found a great location in an alley. and took a few photos in this alcove.
with the majority of pixels to the left of the histogram. and affects the mid-tones. so I push up the Contrast. I want to emphasise the gritty nature of the photo. so I correct by reducing the brightness. Remember that this attempts to preserve the pixel values in the highlights. A fter testing how the photo looks with increased Vibrance.Processing Walkthroughs 2. 3. in this case reducing the overall brightness while keeping the contrast. Using the B&W panel I make a few small tweaks to the colour mixing to obtain a black-and-white image that I’m happy with. I increase the exposure to fix this. which makes the photo a little too bright to my eyes. 57 . 4. A look at the histogram shows that the photo is underexposed. I decide that the photo would look best in black and white. and none in the highlights. so I compensate by increasing the Fill light and Exposure. This causes the shadows on the face to become too dark.
T o further draw attention to the subject. 58 . and Brightness on the background. I apply a fairly heavy creative Vignette. and helps lead the eye into the centre of the composition. T he background detail still presents too much competition for the subject. The final photo is dramatically different from the original. but I like the result and think it suits both the context and the client’s needs. This gives me a separation between background and subject that I’m happy with. I ’m pretty happy with the overall look of the photo now. 7. To help with this problem. The highly detailed background is distracting from the main subject. 6. but it’s obvious to me that there’s a lot of competition for the viewer’s attention. This darkens much of the background. This helps separate her even more from the nowdarkened background.Processing Walkthroughs 5. Contrast. so I again use an Adjustment Brush. I use an Adjustment Brush to lighten her whole body. the model. this time to reduce the Clarity. in my opinion.
AFTER 59 . These issues will affect how I process the image. and the noise handling is significantly poorer. The main difference with the photos from this camera compared to my current equipment is that the resolution is lower. however.heron landing I took this photo a number of years ago with an older camera. as is so often the case. Steps BEFORE 1. the Sigma SD10. Cropping puts the bird near the intersection of the one-third lines. and banishes most of the distracting weeds to the lower left. I’m a bit more reluctant to crop as there are fewer pixels to work with. A quick assessment of the photo reveals that it needs a good Crop. so that’s what I’ll do. This photo can be significantly improved by a crop. and cropping will limit the reproduction size of any prints. When processing older photos.
3. The result is a punchier photo. and increasing the Contrast slider distributes the tones better. and the water in particular looks a bit muddy. with very little at either end. Looking at the histogram shows that the majority of the pixels are clustered in the middle. Adjusting the Temperature slider to cool off the white balance produces a nice blue for the water. 4. T he next obvious issue with the photo is that it is quite low contrast. and there’s not much colour in this image. and makes the whites of the bird look crisp and clean. 60 . but going too far looks artificial and exaggerates the colour noise. Increasing the Exposure and Blacks extends the exposure range to better fill the histogram. but I think this photo could be improved with higher contrast. I notice that the white balance is quite warm. Sometimes this is desirable. Increasing the Vibrance slider helps. I like my photos to be colourful. so I find a happy medium.Processing Walkthroughs 2.
Processing Walkthroughs 5. T aking a closer look at the photo shows just how little resolution we’re working with. and also the quite significant noise values. 61 . Adjusting the Noise Reduction and Contrast sliders in the Detail panel helps a lot. but it’s never going to give the same results as a modern camera. A bonus to dealing with the noise is that the eye of the bird is now clearer and sharper.
I’m going to Crop the photo to eliminate as many of the distractions as possible. and eliminates distractions from the right. The shoot was in the afternoon on an overcast day. so it was hard to keep the shot simple and clear. and the white balance was fairly cool. AFTER 62 . as well as getting rid of much of the distracting tree trunk. Steps BEFORE 1. and also to make sure that Annie is positioned well within the composition. The first thing I notice is that the right edge of the frame is quite busy and distracting. Therefore. so the light was nice and even. and there were lots of people around. The crop brings Annie closer.PORTRAIT OF ANNIE This portrait of my friend and fashion designer Annie was taken on a shoot of some of her design work to add to her portfolio. The shoot’s location was in the city by the river.
3. From here comes the tweaking of smaller details to improve the photo. 63 .Processing Walkthroughs 2. As it is. 4. the mood of the photo is colder and less friendly than I want. as if the photo had been taken during golden hour. requiring a tweak of the blacks after all. rather than my usual go-to method of increasing Blacks. The result is a lovely warm glow. so I use the Fill slider to brighten the mid-tones. I’ll adjust the contrast slider. as well as tweaking the Vibrance. but also lightens some of the shadows. T he second obvious issue is the cool White Balance. O nce again. I ncreasing the contrast has made Annie’s face a bit too dark. I think the Contrast could be increased a little to improve the impact of the photo. but since the deepest shadows are already quite dark. This helps. fixing the most obvious problems first results in a great improvement to the photo. so I warm up the white balance.
I selectively increase the Brightness and Contrast around the eyes. while sharpening the eyes and hair nicely. as it is easy to overdo the effect for a very unnatural look. I think the lighting has caused Annie’s eye to become slightly lost in the photo. however. I ’m now happy with the overall look of the photo. but that shows too much sharpening of the skin. Given that this was a hand-held photo on an overcast day. Using the selection and clone tools. I think the photo is much improved on the original. so I export the photo as a highresolution master and load this file into Photoshop.Processing Walkthroughs 5. 64 . the image could do with just a little of the Sharpening tool. Increasing the sharpness helps. just enough to make them pop out of the photo a little more. Using the Adjustment Brush. Applying a Sharpening Mask to the sharpening has just the right effect of keeping the skin texture smooth. 6. Lightroom performed poorly for this task. I get rid of the distracting feature to end up with the finished photo. I’m very careful whenever I adjust the brightness of just the eyes. I prefer to have the subject’s eyes bright enough to catch the attention of the viewer. so it’s time to zoom in and study the details. 7. there is still one distracting background element on the right I’d rather remove. F inally. but brings out the noise. This is dealt with by increasing the Noise Filtering.
Hence. Care must be taken not to push either ends of the exposure any further. which unfortunately highlighted a significant problem with dirt on my sensor. and probably clipped. A quick overall assessment of the photo also reveals a couple of issues to be aware of: the area around the sun is overexposed. I already had an exaggerated creative look in mind. dealing with the sensor dirt on this photo became a post-processing issue. which makes straightening it easy. and I chose settings on the camera that would cause the waves breaking on the beach to be blurry and soft. there’s an obvious horizon in this image. or detail may be lost in these areas. Once again. I first like to get a photo’s crop right. I’ll show you how I might process a photo emphasising a creative processing style. and the darkest areas of the pier are very dark. I cleaned my sensor before my next shoot. BEFORE Steps 1. Typically I prefer to process my photos so they are more contrasty and with greater saturation than a strictly ‘natural’ style. but in this case I want to take it even further. A side effect of this is a huge depth of field. AFTER 65 . To achieve this. When I took this photo. allowing me to use a longer shutter speed to create the effect. I didn’t see the full extent of the problem until I viewed the photos on my computer screen once I’d returned home.beach sunset For this example. but I liked this photo enough to keep it despite the sensor dirt. rather than a more realistic one. I set the lens to its minimum aperture.
This gets the bottom half of the photo where I want it. I use Lightroom’s Graduated Filter to adjust the brightness of just the sky. 66 . so I adjust it with the Brightness slider. I dramatically increase the colours by taking the slider almost to its limit. I feel that the overall brightness of the photo could be increased. The same effect could have been achieved in the field with a graduated neutral density filter fitted to the camera. 4. 3. M y intention for this image is to create a hyper-real look to the image by over-saturating the colours. so I bring it just back from the extreme. if I’d had one handy. Using the Vibrance slider. but the sky is now too bright.Processing Walkthroughs 2. Going too far causes the blues in the water to become clipped.
I’ve pushed the exposure in some of the dark areas enough that the noise becomes more apparent there. Also. Using an Adjustment Brush I selectively increase the brightness of the pier. it’s more visible than it might be otherwise. Using the contrast slider emphasises the contrast in the mid-tones without affecting the shadows or highlights too much. I think the photo could be improved by increasing the Contrast slightly. especially the beam which has been affected by the graduated filter. Having shot this at a low ISO. 67 . A t this point it’s apparent that the pier itself is too dark. 7. so changing the blacks or exposure should be avoided. Z ooming in to 100% reveals a small amount of noise. the noise is very subtle. Some moderate Noise Reduction paired with some masked Sharpening is a good combination for this photo. but due to the subject including soft fluffy waves.Processing Walkthroughs 5. 6. especially the darkest parts. There are already pixels at the extreme ends of the exposure values for this photo. to reveal more detail in this area.
Processing Walkthroughs 8. F inally. When the issue is as significant as this. 9. W hile zoomed in. there’s the problem of the sensor dirt. mostly for performance reasons. I export the photo at full resolution and use Photoshop’s Spot Healing Brush to clean up the image. 68 . So for the last step. it becomes apparent that there’s some chromatic aberration visible on some of the high-contrast details near the corners. Using Lens Corrections compensates for this. I find that Photoshop does a better job of cleaning up sensor dirt than using the Spot Removal tool in Lightroom.
BEFORE AFTER common problems and solutions .
looking out to the range. so if any one of them is filled to capacity. As time goes by. So let’s revisit noise and clipping to discover these ramifications for processing. and the shapes of the peaks of the tallest mountains represented in it have been lost. You cut the hedge accordingly. as well as applying noise reduction and sharpening across the whole photo. However often you may be required to salvage a photo that didn’t turn out how you wanted. because all those pixels are clipped. however. The millionaire brought back a photo of her latest conquest. that suffers from challenging conditions or an unseen issue. or face an immediate fine. and tell you that the hedge is taller than the legal limit allowed. Exposure In processing there are really two main problems to worry about with exposure: clipping and noise. The photo sites on your camera’s sensor can only differentiate between a fixed number of brightness values. we can inadvertently cause noise to become more apparent in particular parts of the photo. They’ve been ‘clipped’. but it’s such an important concept to understand that it’s worth explaining in a little more detail to make clear the implications. will all report the same brightness: white. Shooting in RAW and processing your photos gives you huge latitude for rescuing an otherwise problem image. A group of nearby pixels which become fully exposed. and will be recorded simply as white. with the highest point being the limit the local city council will allow. You have the ability to make your photos take on a new life just by how you treat them in processing. The millionaire is also an avid climber. We’ve talked a bit about clipping already. rather than across the whole. Clipping Imagine you’re a gardener for an eccentric millionaire. and has instructed you to cut the hedge to exactly match the shape of the mountains on the horizon. One of the videos included in your purchase of this eBook is a tutorial on processing a high contrast photo which can be found here. One day the council do an inspection. Even if there was a variation in the actual brightness in that part of the image. Now the line of the mountain range has been irrevocably damaged. This analogy demonstrates what it means when the highlights in a bright photo are clipped. whose pride and joy is the hedge along the front of her property. or saturated with light. 70 .Having all those tools at your disposal gives you huge creative potential. and loves the shape of the horizon as seen from the tops of mountains. When processing. your camera won’t record it. You’re forced to clip the tallest parts of the hedge. We’re already familiar with the concept of noise when we think about ISO and the trade-off between sensitivity and noise. it cannot capture any more. the hedge grows and the shape of the horizon gets higher and higher.
71 .Common Problems and Solutions Clipping doesn’t only occur when taking the photo – it can also be introduced in processing. with no detail visible in the highlights. If the brightest parts of the image are already very bright – towards the top end of the highlights – increasing the exposure of the photo in post can cause these areas to become clipped. hides the posterisation and results in a perfectly acceptable image. An overexposed photo of the sunset caused clipping in the highlights. Processing to attempt to bring out details in the highlights shows severe posterisation. Processing the photo as a high-key image. and to fail to display the detail that was captured.
then there’s no data in those areas which can show any detail. If not. 72 . but what matters is that the subject’s face is correctly exposed. Changing the exposure will simply make those areas grey – a result that will look worse than leaving the pixels exposure values at the extreme. Clipped photos are not always a bad thing. it is important to remember that this isn’t always the case! Sometimes clipping is impossible to avoid – for example. and looks perfectly acceptable. Sometimes clipping is desirable. make sure you expose the photo to eliminate clipping. and only worry about blown highlights after that.Common Problems and Solutions While clipping is sometimes considered a mortal sin of photography. A product shot against white is processed so that the background is fully clipped. If you have clipping in one of your photos. The clipping is clearly seen with the red clipping warning. Sometimes it just isn’t important that parts of the photo are clipped. the sun will always be clipped because it’s so bright. The key is detail. This allows the object to stand alone against a clean background. as seen here. Is it important to the photo that detail be preserved in the highlights? If so. A clipped sun during sunset is unavoidable. a portrait in a shadowy doorway against the bright outdoors may show a clipped background. set your exposure based on keeping the detail where you need it. there’s not a great deal you can do. such as when doing product photography against a pure white background for printing on a white page. This is particularly unsightly on overexposed areas of skin. Clipped areas will all be the same value and will effectively appear as solid white or black. If highlights or shadows are clipped.
Not every photo will suit this treatment. For example. such as making the photo high key (photos that are very bright or mostly over exposed). the face is correctly exposed and shows full detail. a strong backlit portrait may show a clipped halo of hair around the subject’s head. and overusing this technique to hide technical flaws in the image won’t fool your audience for long. You can process the photo so that the highlight tones are bright enough to ramp up smoothly to the brightest clipped values. The subject’s hair is clearly clipped. A similar strategy is to conceal the clipping as part of an effect. however. the clipped areas won’t be as obvious. There is no posterisation around the clipped highlights. By far the best way to cope with clipped photos is to avoid it happening in the first place by keeping a close eye on your exposure when shooting. so there’s no reason why this otherwise beautiful photo should be rejected. so may not notice that the brightest pixels are clipped. and since everything in the photos is light and bright. though. Overprocessing to try to recover detail in clipped areas can make the transition to clipped values abrupt and obvious. The viewer expects these areas to be bright. One strategy to save a clipped photo is to process it so that the clipped pixels are de-emphasised. High-key photos can look great with the right subject. 73 .Common Problems and Solutions Clipping becomes most obvious when the pixels near the clipped areas are close to the same exposure.
Changing the exposure or brightness of the whole or part of the image increases the gain of the affected pixels. and the noise visible there will look similar to that in an ISO3200 photo! By increasing the exposure in the dark parts of the photo. As mentioned earlier. Selectively increasing the exposure in the dark areas exaggerates the noise further. It may be that you are unable to reveal any detail in dark areas without also emphasising the noise to unacceptable levels. Increasing the exposure in post brings out some of the noise. Imagine you took a photo with the camera set to ISO400. Using your processing software.Common Problems and Solutions Noise We all know that increasing the ISO will increase the amount of visible noise in the photo. When the gain is increased. 74 . you increase the exposure of the whole image by one stop. ISO is just digital gain – essentially turning up the volume. with a similar level of noise. As described in Photo Nuts and Bolts. and these can often do a fantastic job to improve the signalto-noise ratio – revealing true details while minimising the visibility of noise. the photo is underexposed by one stop. the noise is also increased. It’s not labelled as such in processing software. and also increases the noise visible in those pixels as a result. unlike aperture and shutter speed. you increase the exposure of the darkest areas by about two stops. but the effective result is the same. Using a selection or adjustment brush or similar tool. The higher the gain. A photo shot at ISO400 in very dark conditions is underexposed. Those areas of the photo are now effectively ISO3200. you need to be aware of the issue of noise in processing and decide when shooting where it’s most important to capture detail – in the shadows or the highlights. That said. the ISO can be changed freely during the processing stage. and there are some areas of deep shadow. the greater the apparent noise across the whole image. you are increasing the value of both the signal (detail in the photo) and the noise. Now imagine that you want to selectively brighten the darkest parts of the photo to reveal some more of the detail there. The photo is now effectively an ISO800 photo. as it’s achieved in a different way than in the camera. Most processing software has tools to help reduce noise.
any crop will be discarding some of the image. As previously mentioned. Sometimes a tilted composition can even improve a photo that was taken with the horizon straight. Tilted Horizon Most obviously. or the shape and direction of lines as they were when photographed. 75 . Changing the crop from landscape to portrait improves the composition. A dramatic crop focuses the attention on the bird. so you don’t have to crop to straighten the photo if you don’t need to. note that doing so will mean that some parts of the photo at the edges will be lost. a tilted horizon or any photo taken where the camera is not level can be corrected by a rotational crop. Of course. For example. The composition of your photo can be changed quite significantly in processing by cropping the image. the arrangement of elements in the scene. a crop of a landscapeoriented composition into the largest possible portrait orientation on a typical DSLR removes 67% of the image. in this case the crop tool can be used in reverse to achieve the effect. Straightening the horizon causes some of the edges of the photo to be lost. or you discover in processing that changing the composition can improve the photo. the smaller it must be reproduced (printed or displayed on screen) without losing resolution. Obviously. it is quite amazing how significant an impact an appropriate crop can have on a photo. a crop can’t change the position of the camera. and a photo that might benefit from an aggressive crop could lose a substantial proportion of the original content. The more an image is cropped. but sometimes you’re unable to get exactly the composition you want. a perfectly straight image isn’t always desirable. Doing so will require that some of the image be lost in the cropping.Common Problems and Solutions Composition Careful thought when composing a photo can maximise the impact. The freedom to crop in post-processing is one of the most important reasons to ensure taking highresolution photos. However. how much will depend on how far you have to rotate the image to straighten it. or better tell the story you’re trying to convey. Once again.
Many of these techniques involved careful positioning of the subject in the photo in the camera.Common Problems and Solutions Shifting the Composition In Photo Nuts and Shots we talked extensively about various compositional techniques to help communicate your message with your photo. remove distractions at the edge of the frame. you’re either changing the position of the image elements relative to the edge of the frame or eliminating them entirely. make an inward looking portrait look outwards or vice versa. When cropping. expand or move negative space. 76 . The only difference between each of the following pairs of images is the cropping. retrospectively use the rule of thirds. and to create a pleasing image. A great many of these can be done to varying degrees by changing the image’s crop in post-processing. or any number of other subtle or drastic changes. In this way you can change the balance of the photo. The best way to demonstrate this is with some examples.
to sample the neutral colour and the software will then correct any white balance or colour-cast issues. Perhaps you’re shooting clothing to be listed on eBay. In these cases. For this reason I recommend taking the colour reference shot at the lowest ISO with the reference out of focus. this could mislead the colour picker. or it will not accurately reflect any colour cast. you will find a white balance reference card. or noise in the image from a high ISO setting. There are a few special circumstances when you’ll need to be more careful when setting the white balance. be sure to include something in one of the photos under the lighting you use that is colour-neutral. Use of a grey card allows for an accurate white balance to be taken. your colour picker may only sample a single pixel rather than an area. Accuracy Needed Accurate colour for photos can sometimes be very important. although it’s usually best to set the WB where you think it looks best for the photo you want to create. or grey. You could set the camera to completely the wrong WB setting when shooting. If there is any texture on your reference. white balance (WB) is almost a non-issue. your neutral reference must be in the same lighting as your subject. You want to be sure that the colours captured by the camera are as accurate as they can be. and correct it perfectly with no problems. correcting the warm mixed artificial/daylight light colour (top right) to a daylight white balance (bottom right). Secondly. So does that mean that WB is never going to present a problem when processing? Not exactly.Common Problems and Solutions Colour White Balance If you’re shooting RAW. Firstly. There are a couple of issues you need to be aware of when attempting this. or you want to create digital backups of a friend’s watercolour paintings. or similar. For this reason it’s best to put your reference right next to the subject. Then once you’re processing the photo you use the eye-dropper tool. or grey card a very useful reference object. 77 . If you need to take colour-accurate photos. you can pick any white balance you like when processing.
These many-coloured lights can make for an interesting photo. rendering the dusk light outside a very cool colour. This is often the best choice when shooting a portrait under mixed light. This is a particularly good choice for indoor mixed artificial lighting. To do this. Warm sunlight illuminated the background. and your subject is correctly balanced. for example. yellowish streetlights against a moonlit sky. rooms with mixed fluorescent and tungsten lights. Pick a WB You can simply choose a white balance for the part of the photo which you think is most important.Common Problems and Solutions Mixed Colour Lighting Sometimes you’ll find yourself shooting in situations where there are light sources of different colours. and accept that the portions of the image illuminated by different-coloured lighting will be heavily coloured. get that right. but is an acceptable compromise between them. The white balance for this photo was set to match the interior artificial light. Then in postprocessing. you have a few choices with how you deal with such situations. You could also split the difference and choose a WB setting that isn’t perfect for any of the coloured light sources. A warming gel was added to the flash used as the key light to compensate. or multicoloured advertising and business lighting in a busy city street. move your subject out of the light from one of the light sources and then add your own artificial light – such as a flash – with a coloured gel that matches the colour of the predominant light source. 78 . especially if you can turn one of the light sources off. but they can often be a headache when trying to get a pleasing white balance. If you need to control the white balance of the photo to get the look you’re after. Add Your Own Coloured Light This option must be used when originally shooting the photo. indoors under tungsten light near a window with dusk outside. set the WB to match the colour of your artificial light. but the subject was lit by a much cooler light in the shade.
Common Problems and Solutions Use Selective Colour Correction in Post In your processing software. correcting the white balance of a photo isn’t the only purpose the WB adjustments are good for. Creative Use of WB Of course. Photoshop. as described in an earlier chapter. Feel free to experiment! Golden Hour Landscapes The light from the sun in the first and last hours of daylight – referred to as ‘golden hour’ – is much warmer than the light in the middle of the day. Unfortunately my preferred program Lightroom currently doesn’t allow for the adjustment brush or other selective editing tools to alter the WB. You’re free to change either of the WB sliders in any way you like for artistic effect. you can then make WB changes only to those areas. be sure you are editing a 16-bit image. and then selectively correct the parts of the image illuminated with different-coloured lights. the use of colour in a photo can have a powerful impact on the message and meaning of the photo. By using selection tools in your processing application. This can be problematic when trying to choose a WB to accurately represent the scene. Landscape photographers may encounter this issue when shooting a composition that involves a blue sky during golden hour. As discussed in Photo Nuts and Shots. pick a white balance as in the first option above. If the white balance is kept warm when processing. can apply WB adjustments to any selection. When using the Photoshop option. or by selecting and editing the sky to cool the WB. Blue was added to the sky to prevent it from going a muddy yellow during the warm golden hour light. Fortunately this can be dealt with in a similar method to the mixed lighting situations mentioned above. the blues of the sky can end up looking too muddy and desaturated as a result. Cooling or warming a photo in particular can change the mood of an image. either by changing the colour values of blue pixels in the photo. however. instead only offering to change the colour – a less preferable alternative. 79 . or you lose the benefits of shooting in RAW. The cool toned light in the shade was warmed significantly in post to create the effect of glowing golden hour light.
because it’s often very subjective. Imagine an intense burnt-orange colour. and be represented on the histogram in the upper mid-tones. may be at 100%. cheerful. so in a sense the histogram is monochrome.Common Problems and Solutions Saturation Saturation can be tricky to deal with in post-processing. Stronger saturation usually feels more lively. highly saturated colours. we’re typically looking at the combined RGB values of each pixel. creating a hyper-real look. Combining Image processed with Instagram. Whatever you choose to do with your photo’s saturation. A recent trend has been to desaturate photos to create a kind of retro effect. Clipping and Posterisation We discussed clipping extensively above in the context of the exposure of the image. Posterisation is visible around the lights and on the brightest parts of the tree bark. This problem is called posterisation. When we look at the histogram of the photo on an older camera or in many processing apps. The problem grows worse if you want to increase the saturation across the whole image. the image is not monochrome. a warm-tinted desaturated photo. How a photo is saturated or desaturated can have a significant impact on its mood and the message it conveys. where the whole photo except for one object. New photographers are often accused of over-saturating their photos. and it can be very ugly and distracting. however. in which regions are already highly saturated. Less-saturated photos can feel emotionally distant and melancholy. and that histogram won’t show some potential problems in the colours. some potential problems can arise which you may need to deal with. will look very retro. for instance. such as you might see on a rusty shipwreck lit by the midday sun. This can result in the most highly saturated parts of the photo becoming patchy and showing bands or sudden changes in colour values. a saturation treatment with a colour tint can emphasise the effect. and subtle differences in these colours may be hard to distinguish. Clipping can occur in the individual RGB values as well. was desaturated to draw attention to that object. 80 . This crop of a photo of Christmas lights on a tree is a challenge with bright. The brightness of the orange areas might be something like 80%. especially with smartphone camera apps such as Instagram. and jubilant. In reality. The saturation on these colours. such as a red rose. A related fad in the 1990s was the spot-colour effect.
An important caveat! The histogram displayed on your camera is generated from the JPEG preview rendered from the RAW data. . The amount of extra data captured and encoded by the camera will eliminate this problem in all but the most extreme colour situations. If you have the choice of using different colour gamuts when shooting. Unlike the camera histogram. if the red in those poppies is dangerously close to being clipped and subtle colour variations are being blown. Keep an eye on any such pixels when processing. while not changing the reds in a field of blooming poppies. although it’s rarely as helpful as it might seem. and try to ensure that your edits don’t force them to be clipped. A wider gamut means more colour values can be represented at the extremes. but the RAW data itself will contain far more image data. The over-saturated JPEG preview may have clipped colour channels.Common Problems and Solutions When Shooting Many modern processing tools and cameras are now capable of showing a full-colour histogram. if that feature is available. selection tools can be used to define areas of the image where you can then make changes to the saturation. including any that are at risk of being clipped. use the widest one available. Firstly when shooting. reducing the saturation and perhaps brightness of only the red pixels may bring those pixels back from the edge and reveal more detail in those areas. Lightroom and Adobe Camera RAW users have access to the Vibrance slider. Finally. shoot in RAW. so that you can deal specifically with problem areas without affecting the image as a whole. You should immediately be able to see if there are clusters of pixel values pushed towards the right of the histogram. Unfortunately this makes the RGB histogram display almost useless. For example. for example use Adobe RGB rather than sRGB. This is achieved by either showing three smaller histograms. and will not be a completely accurate representation of the true distribution of colour values in the photo. which is very helpful in these situations – this tool increases the saturation of pixels throughout the image but leaves those in the highlights relatively unchanged. This allows you more creative control over saturation effects. Finally. and the colour detail will be more accurately captured. which indicate any colour channels that could give you a problem. your processing software will accurately display the colour histograms for the image. if you are shooting a storefront at night with bright coloured neon signs. especially if you want to avoid clipping colour channels. How this preview is generated is determined by the image settings in your camera. which may not be clipped at all! As such it is not recommended to use the camera’s histogram display to gauge colour channel clipping problems. Conversely. if you are shooting with extreme colours in your shot that must be captured with maximum colour detail then expose for those colours. Some cameras have this feature too. one for each of the RGB channels. you can increase the saturation of blues throughout the image including the sky. Applying saturation to the whole image will affect all of the pixels. By default. as always. or overlaying the histograms for each of the colour channels and colour-coding them in the histogram. underexpose the photo to ensure that the sign isn’t overexposed. When Processing So what techniques can we use to limit the effect of posterisation? There are two opportunities to tackle this issue: when shooting and when processing. Most processing tools will allow you to affect the saturation of pixels in the image by colour. In this way. most cameras render JPEG previews with enhanced contrast and saturation.
JPEG in particular. 82 . a topic we will return to shortly. It’s at the extreme edges of the gamut that you can run into trouble. This effect is most visible at the boundaries of solid blocks of strong reds. Naturally this isn’t something I can clearly show by example. or in extreme cases it’s impossible to avoid clipping the colour. such as those you see on tropical fish or certain flowers. such as JPEG. as the photos captured would need to be compared with how I saw the subject with my own eyes. Typically. rather than the purple-blue that was recorded by an older digital camera. maybe a ripe banana isn’t as yellow as you see it in person. there is another problem: Many lossy image formats. even out-of-gamut colours won’t be visible as obvious flaws in the final photo: perhaps the grass isn’t quite as vividly green. But there are occasions where the photographed object won’t appear at all as you see it. I’ve found that neon blues. give my cameras the greatest difficulty. In the case of JPEG. and specific issues related to the methods of camera sensor design. and will become apparent even at relatively high-quality settings. You’ll have to take my word for it that the subjects shown in the photos to the right looked different to me at the time than they do to you here! To the eye. highly saturated red colours will show compression artefacts much sooner than anywhere else in the image. Personally. sometimes you’ll discover that it’s impossible to capture particular colours in a photo as they appear to your eye. with details disappearing into blocky artefacts. The only solution to this particular problem is to use very high-quality settings when saving the file. Problem Colours and Sensor Issues Due to the nature of digital photography. will perform more poorly with some colour channels than others. This is a problem related to the limited gamut of the digital camera sensor and the RGB format. Heavy JPEG compression is particularly apparent in reds. On top of that issue. you are severely limited with regards to how you can process the image due to having so much less image data to work with. and the majority of colours we see day-to-day are easily captured. The gamut of colours a camera can record and store is quite wide.Common Problems and Solutions Lossy Compression If you are forced to work with a lossy image format. the sea star (above) and the flowers (left) were a vivid strong blue. This is something to be aware of when preparing your photos for use online.
Sony. nothing – it’s an inherent limitation of the current technology. you’ll likely need to accept that no consumer digital camera can yet match the human eye for colour fidelity. Lightroom 2003 Process Canon. What can be done about this? Unfortunately. you may be forced to try shooting it with a range of different cameras with different sensor designs to see which does the best job. and better display systems are conceived. All examples above were generated from unprocessed photos at the default values upon import. Even then. Lightroom 2010 Process Canon. depending on the design of the sensor chip. As sensor designs improve. new file specifications are developed. RAW Photo Processor Canon. 83 . If it is vital that you capture the precise colour of your subject accurately (for example capturing artworks or fabric samples). recorded and displayed. we can expect a widening of the gamut of colours which can be captured.Common Problems and Solutions This problem is one that can vary from camera to camera. Lightroom 2012 Process The clipping observed in certain colours varies significantly across both cameras and RAW processing engines. The differences in the extreme colours of the building lights can be obviously seen. possibly due to the nature of the Foveon chip used in its design. Seen here is a comparison of photos of the same scene. the Sigma SD10. My first DSLR. Adobe Camera RAW Sony. was a particular culprit with this problem. taken on two different cameras and processed in different RAW applications. A similar problem can be introduced by the RAW processing engine used.
Going forward. I use the spot removal tool regularly to remove dirt or unsightly elements from within the photo (top) as well as cleaning up sensor dirt visible in the image (bottom). making the edits. but you’re still left with two versions of the original picture. That such issues can be easily corrected in a RAW-processing application is a boon for a photographer’s workflow. spots caused by dust on the sensor. modern RAWprocessing applications are able to work directly with the RAW data to provide more accurate adjustments. has until recently been the sole domain of image-manipulation programs such as Photoshop. you pay a further price in that the RAW data must be rendered into the TIFF file. If you need to send your photo to an image editor. such as Lightroom’s spot-removal tool. it’s therefore wise to do this as your last step in processing. The advantage of spot-removal tools in RAW-processing software is thus the reduced overhead in the processing workflow and the quality of operations that leverage the RAW data. Even though the TIFF file can represent the full dynamic range of the original photo. In addition to the awkwardness of this procedure. In recent years. opening that in an image-editing program. have been making their way into RAW-processing applications. however. More complicated or sophisticated image manipulation will necessarily require a program dedicated to this task. if you consider the alternative of exporting the RAW file as a 16-bit TIFF file. then importing the edited file back into your RAW-processing program. and somehow indicating which is the original file and which is the edited version. a small stain on a smooth surface. it’s likely that we can expect RAW-processing software developers to continue to further enhance and upgrade the capabilities of imageediting tools within their applications. This is particularly true when dealing with noise reduction and sharpening. spot-removal tools are useful only up to a point. Of course. however. or other similar infelicities. some of these features.Common Problems and Solutions Spot Corrections Editing a photo to change the details in the image. Lightroom is capable of doing much of the file-handling automatically. rather than general adjustments to the colour and exposure. These tools are very useful for fixing small contained problems – blemishes on the skin. 84 .
In general. Though subtle. Output sharpening is applied in the final step of postprocessing. especially on already high-contrast boundaries. it may be worthwhile sharpening your image in your processing workflow. Again. An important point to note here is that sharpening will only have any effect on an image viewed at 100%. This can be applied to the whole image. Sharpening can make subtle improvements to small details. sharpening is only worthwhile if you intend to create a high-resolution print of the image. and especially photographic prints. Details which may have been visible but subtle can be made more obvious. Viewing an image zoomed out to 50% means you’re seeing only a quarter of the detail in the photo. including its intensity and quality. 85 The Smart Sharpen tool in Adobe Photoshop. Creative and output sharpening can both be applied to the same image. good sharpening adds to the depth of a photo. or you’re preparing a digital image at the size you intend for it to be viewed. Various sliders control the effect. and works on the pixel level. Having said that. with obvious sharpening artefacts. Excessive sharpening can make an image look crunchy. although only the effect of the latter is visible on resized images. . it’s wise to err on the side of subtlety when sharpening. motion blur. At first glance. Creative sharpening is undertaken by the user when processing the photo. Whether it be from camera shake. and it’s important to note that this sharpening does not affect the RAW data whatsoever.Common Problems and Solutions Soft Images The bane of the photographer is the soft image. The bottom line is that unless the parts of the image you want sharp are only slightly soft. and very few photos can be sharpened enough to show four times the detail of the unsharpened image. this is controlled via the settings menu of your camera. zoomed in to the actual size of the photo. after any image resizing in order to counteract the resultant softness. The camera itself can sharpen the JPEG image generated as its output or the preview image created incamera. or to selected areas for greater control. Sharpening can be applied at different stages for different reasons. especially in the output stage. but usually a sharp photo can be enhanced with some sharpening. or simply missed focus. when the image is being prepared for its ultimate use. Sharpening works by increasing the contrast between neighbouring pixels of different values. like eyelashes. As such. you’re not going to be able to make them sharp enough for your liking. The effect of image sharpening is generally subtle. as well as how much existing contrast is required before sharpening can be applied. there’s very little that can be done to recover lost image detail. you may be content with the sharpness of your photo. this sharpening is only apparent when the photo is viewed at 100%.
so that you have room enough to move in post. it’s far better to get in the habit of taking the effort to get the photo looking as close to your vision as possible when you capture it. If you can get your photo close before post stage. The changes you can make to a photo have their limits. You have to try to shoot in the middle of that window. making the screen on the camera hard to see. you may find yourself butting up against the limits before you can achieve the look you want. getting the shot you want as close as possible in-camera is a worthy goal. Earlier I mentioned photographers who proudly proclaim that their photos are ‘un-photoshopped’. and you’d have a better photo if you’d perfected the exposure. but when processing you realise that your editing latitude isn’t so great. chances are you won’t gain any more latitude when processing. or with complicated scenes or lighting schemes. that option isn’t available to you.Common Problems and Solutions Getting it ‘In Camera’ Many of the most difficult processing problems can be avoided with a bit of forethought. Having the most freedom for correction and creativity is about the latitude available to you. for the sake of processing. you have the widest possible latitude for editing. Key moments like the ring exchange or ‘kiss the bride’ are very quick and you need to be sure that you have captured it in the best way possible. “I’ll just fix it in post. While I don’t think this is necessarily something to be proud of. Weddings are one event when ‘getting it in-camera’ is important. This philosophy is particularly important when you’re shooting in challenging conditions. but because you were lazy when shooting. If you don’t have much latitude when shooting. Other times you might have had a bright idea for a creative look in processing. concealing a problem you don’t see until you’re on the computer and it’s too late to reshoot. it can be tempting to look at a photo that’s not quite right on the back of the camera and think. Sometimes a photo can surprise you: you might be shooting in difficult lighting conditions. Or perhaps the conditions are very straightforward. as we’ve seen. With the amazing capabilities of modern cameras and processing software.” While this may in fact work much of the time. If you’re lazy and get it just close enough. 86 . and getting your settings somewhere near right is good enough for the photo to look fine on camera.
BEFORE AFTER CREATIVE processing .
How on earth do you accomplish that with processing? If you own Photo Nuts and Shots. “How did they do that?” or “I think this photo needs more saturation. and how you can tell a story. you’ve learned a lot about processing tools. Alternatively. it’s vital to be aware of the creative processing tools you have at your disposal. so that you know what you can do to the photo after it’s been captured. you may have an image in mind that’s significantly different from what you see before you. but because you know what you can do with the photo later. While you’re shooting. set the mood. and that’s just as true for creative aspects as it is for technical. you can shoot it with that in mind. processing is a crucial aspect of producing a photo. and elicit emotions from the viewer of your photo. and you’ll need to work with the file the camera creates to have it reflect that subjective reality. how they work. they’re unlikely to scrutinise your photo and ask.So. As I’ve said all along in this book. and what they do to the pixels in the image – but all that is irrelevant to the viewer. You may hope to capture a true representation of the scene as you saw it.” You simply want the viewer confronted with your photo to feel and think what you meant them to feel and think when you created it. BEFORE AFTER . Unless they’re another photographer or an art critic. creating the best possible source material for the processing techniques you’ll apply later. now would be a good time to go back to the chapter on ‘Meaning and Message’ for a refresher about communicating with your photography.
It’s a complex system of systems – a meta-system – that derives the conscious experience of perception unconsciously by committee and serves up to us what we believe is reality. and our eyes adjust for the lower light. Even though the top photo is an accurate capture of the light in the scene. and it’s hard to see into it. Our experience of reality is greatly influenced by our emotional state. in which the photographer wants to capture the scene as they saw it. but is in fact a very brief shorthand of the same. just because the sun is in our field of vision. and no errors or variations in each step of the process – from capturing to viewing – are introduced. the processing of the bottom photo more accurately reflects the emotional impact of actually being there. Perception is a highly personal. subjective. not machines. our bodies function in a different way than a camera. You should not be surprised to see two very different images. Imagine asking two photographers – one who has just been married and one who has just been divorced – to shoot and process a photo of the same sunset. The whole scene is assembled piece by piece. The human visual system is more than a biological camera (the eye) and processor (the brain). In addition. for a couple of reasons.” To be blunt. We’ll discuss this shortly. and we perceive detail across a dynamic range far greater than our vision is capable of actually detecting all at once. and more importantly to most non-scientific photographers. and how what we see makes us feel is a complex. this simply isn’t true. and far greater still than a camera can detect in a single exposure. subjective and emotional thing. For example.Creative Processing BEFORE Capturing Reality Further to the first scenario mentioned above. AFTER Reality is very subjective. we may be aware that the sun is bright. we’re biological organisms. A scientifically precise rendering of a scene will require steps to calibrate the camera and ensure that the algorithms that expose and record the light are accurate. some of you may be thinking. but unlike a camera. an accurate representation of a scene will require no processing. To use the sunset example again: the subjective emotional experience of watching a sunset can be intense and affect not only our memory of the scene but our subjective experience of it. 89 . How we are feeling when we look at something. we don’t see the entire world in silhouette. “The camera doesn’t lie. The shadow details which we can also see are built up by the brain when we look directly at them. and every model is slightly different. Firstly. is the human dimension. when we watch the sun set. no camera is perfect. The experience of reality is inherently subjective and to ignore this fact is to miss a great opportunity when communicating with an audience through your photography. This should not be ignored when considering the ‘reality’ of a scene. and constantly changing experience. Secondly.
however subtle it may seem. but the processing is important as well. Obviously the content of the image has a huge part to play in this. The most important thing here is to be sure the photos are the best possible representation of how you remember that moment. Eventually.Creative Processing Communicating via Processing Returning from our little side-trip. even if that meaning is as simple as ‘This looks cool!’. have a longer look. so perhaps these kind of photos don’t pose much of a creative challenge. and they don’t just follow optimal rules that apply to every photo. and you’ll clearly see the difference. And how you process the photo is a vital part of that message. The changes made to the original aren’t random. pet photos. like those awesome images you see on Flickr or Google+. what it is you want your viewers to feel and think when they see them. You might be reading this and thinking that it’s a lot of pretentious arty-farty talk – all you want to do is make your photos look good. But when you do create an awesome photo. and you’ll know what a photo needs to make it ‘feel right’. BEFORE AFTER . you are communicating a meaning. 90 Making this image b/w and applying a vignette isolated the subject better and put her in her own world. Until then. you’ll find it easier and more effective to be aware of what it is you’re communicating. Correcting technical faults. other photos (or perhaps most. such as underexposure. outings with friends. and on the occasions where you need to think carefully about what you want to convey in a specific photo. Different processing can convey a completely different meaning with the same photo. you should already be looking at a broad range of other photographers’ work. Look at an unprocessed photo next to one processed for maximum impact. What are You Trying to Communicate? Your photo is conveying a message. as you become familiar with the tools and techniques of processing. However. Do you really need to be thinking about ‘meaning and message’ to do that? Well. When you do. how do we process our photos to better communicate our message to our viewers? Well. be it a simple or complicated one. even though you may not be aware of it. and thus how to process it. So what is your message? You might not consider most of the photos you take to be extraordinarily significant – the family events. no. depending on the kind of photography you do) will warrant special attention. If you’re taking the advice from Photo Nuts and Shots. It is with these photos that you should slow down. To best understand what makes each photo look its best. not exactly. take note of how these photos make you feel. it’s important to know how to process photos to better carry your message. this will become a largely subconscious process. we need to understand how we respond emotionally. is going to be your most pressing concern. to be able to elicit the emotional response we want in our viewers. and consider what it is you are trying to say.
so processing to bring out the contrast and menacing feel of the sky on the day is appropriate when the subjects are carrying umbrellas. You may disagree with my ideas. great! It means you’re thinking about creative processing. and what you want it to convey and how you want your viewers to feel. Also. it’s actually quite difficult to say.” How you enhance a photo depends a great deal on the photo. processing them is more an art than a science. Perhaps more so even than capturing images. 91 . prefer a different way of processing. High contrast and a dramatic colour treatment create a fashion magazine look. here are a few examples of some basic techniques to enhance the message and the mood of your photos through processing.Creative Processing Processing to Communicate Having said all that. A sepia tone and strong vignette suits the retro styling of the model. and have an idea of how you would go about it. and a real sense for how to create this art is something that comes over time and with experience. “This is how you process your photos to convey your message. A cloudy sky is overexposed in the original photo. a lot of it is necessarily subjective and depends a great deal on that elusive matter of ‘feeling’. or think you could do a better job – if so. Just as a starting point to get you thinking about creative processing.
Processing this photo with a high contrast b/w look completely alters its mood. 92 . appropriate to the computer game origin of the character. Harsh contrast and a colour shift give this photo a ‘cyber’ feel.Desaturating this image but leaving a small amount of colour reduces the busyness of the background and helps to create a sweet romantic feeling. Use of partial desaturation again creates another interesting look – this time transporting the model to another era.
93 . An exposure bracketed set of photos is taken of a high contrast scene. which is then merged into an HDR and processed for dramatic effect. six photos are stitched into a panorama. processed to suit the subject.Creative Processing In an extreme example of ‘creative processing’. and the panorama is then warped to create a ‘little planet’ style image.
if you compromise your vision to satisfy others. as long as you keep some measure of humility about it. so should you imitate as you learn processing. 94 . especially when you look at the recent explosive popularity of retrostyle processing. it can be even more so for photos processed in such a way that the photographer had no intention of creating a realistic photo at all. even if it’s as simple as increasing the saturation on a landscape. you’ll find everyone has an opinion. and although you may never be satisfied with your work. such as painting. This photo is processed to create an alternative cartoonish reality. photography is an incredibly subjective art form. there’s no rule that says you must try to replicate any kind of reality at all. there is a lingering perception that photography is less subjective. even the ones who inspire you. added to by graphical elements. The most important person you need to please is yourself. However. Even though we already understand that reality differs from person to person. and how we have to keep that fact in mind when we try to capture our reality in a photo. you’re creatively doomed. Photoshop stigma is one example of the resistance a photographer may encounter. Chances are that your early attempts will look derivative and unimaginative. There’s no shame in copying another’s style. Find great examples of photos that you liked or brought out an emotion in you. especially from the opinionated critic. Every photographer has gone through the same process themselves. Though it may seem superficially surprising. While one person’s artistic interpretation of reality in their photos may be controversial. My advice to photographers experimenting with creative processing of their photos: don’t take criticism too seriously. and try to recreate that same feeling with your own work. Changing Reality We’ve talked quite a bit already about the subjective nature of reality. but whenever you try to push your creative boundaries. of course. less creative than other forms of art. particularly with popular photo apps on smartphones. but you have to get your mind around the techniques before you can expand upon and reinterpret your inspirations in order to develop your own style.Creative Processing Your Processing Style Just as you should imitate other photographers’ work when learning how to shoot. This should hardly come as a revelation.
changing it instantly and sometimes dramatically to match the look intended by the artist who created the preset. A range of presets is applied to the same processed base image (far left) for a huge range of creative alternative looks. • E ven though there are unlimited looks that can be achieved with presets. so much so that there are literally hundreds or thousands of presets that exist to replicate the look of many types of films in your digital photos. there are definite favourites and fads. or it may be the other way around. the variety of looks that can be achieved via presets is endless. • T hey can be applied very quickly to a large group of photos. and they can open your eyes to new and creative ways of processing photos. than to blindly slap them on every shot you take. • P resets aren’t a magic wand that can fix any photo. However. Experiment and see.Presets Many processing tools make available very helpful processing presets. than as a crutch to rescue a dull photo. • V ery specific looks can be created. there are some limitations to using presets to bear in mind: • A djustments by presets are mostly relative. Using presets is a lot of fun. unless that’s the effect you want. You may find that basic processing of the photo yourself before you apply the preset works better. it is far better to use them with a creative eye. • W ith the huge range of adjustments that can be made to photos and saved into a preset. • T he way presets are applied to your photo may cause problems depending on the order in which you edit the photo yourself. changing the existing values of your photos up or down. The saved preset can then be imported into your editing application and applied to your own photo. and as such you must already have a reasonably correctly exposed photo. Boring photos will probably still be boring with a preset. allowing time poor photographers to quickly process a big shoot. You need to be careful to avoid making your photos look too clichéd. and still achieve creative results. Presets are very popular for a number of reasons: • T hey let you create a cool look for your photos without understanding the process of doing it yourself. Applying a light and bright look to a high key photo may cause it to become strongly overexposed. It is far better to choose a preset carefully and with thought as suits the photo. 95 . However. A preset is a saved set of processing values that have been created and saved beforehand by another artist. • N ot all presets will work with all kinds of photos.
BEFORE AFTER processing as an intermediate step .
Most of the time it’s relatively straightforward: you correct the exposure. processing the photo is an intermediate step in a larger. then export the photo.Photo processing is but one step in a complete process. In these cases. maybe perform some selective adjustments. naturally. But sometimes you may need to take a more complicated multi-step procedure to reach the final image you envision. tweak the colours. more involved procedure to create the final product. .
Processing as an Intermediate Step Approach Some examples where processing an image is one step in a larger project to create an image include: Bracket exposures to be blended into a high dynamic range (HDR) image. A series of images that tell a story. An exposure bracketed set of photos is taken of a sunset and manually combined in Adobe Photoshop to create a single image with detail in both the shadows and highlights. In cases where the processing step is only a part of the larger process. You need to be aware of the specific requirements of the other steps and take those into account. practice on some simpler examples in order to fully understand and master the workflow. As such. A wise step in any new process is to create a backup of the original photos – or work on copies – so that in the worstcase scenario you can be sure that the original images are always available. as you become expert at the new complicated processes you may choose to return to your original photos and work through the whole process again to end up with a better result. and problems which arise from mistakes may be hard to track down to their origin. it may be appropriate to perform creative processing on a series of photos to be stitched into a panorama. a different approach is required. and will be presented together as a sequence. I recommend that before you attempt to create any critical or complicated finished pieces from your source photos. Sometimes specific procedures can be difficult to understand. 98 . so that you can do things in the correct order and with most efficiency without doing useless or potentially destructive work at the wrong step. For instance. I’ve found this to be the case myself – with the skills I’ve learned over the years and a better understanding of what creates the best end result. it’s best to take the time to understand the full procedure your final image will require. Photos of various elements which will be used to create a single image in a photo-manipulation tool such as Photoshop. In fact. Therefore. Many almost identical photos to be stacked or blended to build up the final image – for example photos of the night sky which can require many hours of exposures to collect enough light to show very faint objects. from time to time I’ve returned to the source files of my favourite early panoramas and generated a superior final image. A group of overlapping images which will be stitched together to create a panoramic photo. but there’s no point doing any processing on the series of photos to be merged into an HDR if the blending program only uses the RAW data and ignores any processing you may have done.
6. and are appended ‘hdr’. missed steps in the process. I often end up with 24 photos to be used in the creation of one panorama. I choose one of the eight HDR-blended images which 4. and to take steps to keep it organised. I group them using the Stack feature in Lightroom.Processing as an Intermediate Step Workflow When working with a group of images intended to eventually become a different product. Once the final panorama image has been created. In addition. Example 360-degree HDR workflow 1. It’s vital to have a clear idea of the workflow for a given process. the workflows for various processes can differ significantly from one other. The TIFF files generated by LR Enfuse are named for the first photo of the stack that comprised them. Here are some of the steps I take in this workflow. your workflow can become very complicated very quickly. The processed TIFF files are then exported as maximumresolution JPEG files for stitching into the panorama. and process that. I mark these TIFF files with one star and filter the catalog to show only starred photos. my HDR plugin of choice. They’re no longer needed. This helps me to focus on the images I’m working with. The original RAW files are kept in case I should need them for any reason. 5. 2. For example. I frequently take a group of three exposure-bracketed images at each position in order to blend into HDR to overcome the problem of a huge dynamic range. and no specific process was done to them. 3. 7. I can just re-export the TIFF files. shows the most typical exposure range for the whole scene. common in panoramic photography. 99 . when I shoot the source images for a 360-degree panorama. I sync the settings from this photo to all the other photos and check each one to make sure the synced settings are appropriate. and keeping track of which images are intended for what process can cause confusion – or worse. which stem from the problems I’ve discovered and my solutions for avoiding them. They’re then automatically re-imported back into Lightroom. I delete the exported JPEG files. so if I ever need them again for whatever reason. This also allows me to use the batch-merge feature of LR Enfuse. To assist in keeping the groups of exposure-bracketed shots together.
I’ll assign them a colour code so that the thumbnail in the catalog is immediately obvious. all grouped together in your folders. If I need to make them stand out even more. Always be careful when deleting files that make up part of your process. A series of more than twenty night sky photos (a sample shown at right) is stacked to create a brighter. more detailed single image of the Milky Way. I recommend only deleting files which are not altered in your process. and the quality of the output improved. I distinguish these photos from the masters with a suffix on the file name. I quickly discovered two major problems: each panorama was stitched slightly differently and. In this way. but are used to generate the final image. you’ll have to redo work to them if you ever need to go through the process again. over time I developed a workflow that best suited creating HDR panoramas. blending from the RAW photos provided much more dynamic range information for the blend to use. trial and error helped me to work out the ideal order for the process. If the files themselves don’t need extra processing. higher contrast. and a correctly exposed one. Exported JPEG files that need further processing. 100 . an underexposed one. I’ll usually delete them afterwards. will go into a subdirectory of that shoot on my DERIV HDD. and the result was significantly better than blending JPEG images. or are an intermediate step in the whole process of creating the final output. The exception to this is TIFF files or other high bit-rate files that are best processed in Lightroom – those files will be stored in the same master directory. Other processing applications have similar or identical tools to help keep you organised.Processing as an Intermediate Step When I first started creating HDR panoramas. I tried stitching the groups of exposure-bracketed images so as to end up with three panoramas – an overexposed one. otherwise. any file which has been exported from Lightroom after processing will go into the relevant folder on my DERIV HDD. You may find yourself with many files. and will be reimported into the day’s shoot. A bit of forethought about file naming and directory structure can go a long way towards keeping everything organised. Also. each at different stages in the process. the images weren’t aligned well enough for blending. I then tried to blend them into the final HDR panorama. as a result. Typically.
BEFORE AFTER THE OUTPUT PROCESS .
but it’s also something to think about when saving a larger version to your computer for your own viewing. This last step is called exporting. and your masterpiece is complete. How you prepare a photo for printing is different from how you prepare it for emailing to friends. In the vast majority of cases.The Output Process So you’ve spent the last two hours (or two minutes!) processing your photo. In fact. we’re talking about the JPEG format if we’re saving our images for anything but the most demanding of uses. but file sizes aren’t significantly changed. highly compressed images rapidly lose image quality at the lowest settings. and that’s different again from uploading it to an online gallery. with faster internet connections more widely available. The exceptions to this are when the photo needs to be of the highest quality. Processing software is great for polishing your photos. in which case I typically save at 60% quality. 102 . but not so great for viewing them. may display the ugly compression artefacts at higher quality settings than others – reds and high-contrast boundaries are particularly vulnerable to this. So what’s the best way to export your photo? That depends entirely on where and how you intend to show it. depending on the specific requirements of the image’s final destination. A file may double in size from 90% to 100%. we almost never need to use the highest levels of compression that JPEG allows. but you would be hard-pressed to discern the difference. it’s best to assess your output process on a case-by-case basis. File Size File size is a concern mostly when you’re planning to put a photo on the internet. when I will save it at 95% quality. This gives us the luxury of leaning towards higher-quality. Note that as you increase the quality setting in a JPEG file at the high end of the scale. the file size will rapidly become larger. and the decreasing cost of storage in your computer. whatever their final use. not quite. If you want to show your photos to anyone else. At the other end of the scale. typically without showing much improvement to the eye. A great deal of control over the image is provided in the Adobe Photoshop Save for Web export dialogue. larger-file-size images which allow our photos to look their best. Today. or when economising on file size is essential. and images featuring those colours. In fact. Now all the work is done and you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour! Well. I usually save my photos. Compression settings and image size can be changed to create a suitably sized photo for upload. also referred to as ‘the output process’. Given current less restrictive limits on file size. at 80% quality – ‘high’ in the Photoshop save dialog. I find 80% quality to be the best of both worlds. keeping file sizes small is nowhere near as important as it once was. Following are some of the main points to keep in mind. you’re going to have to dig them out of the processing app. Also note that some colours.
The Output Process
Matters start to become a bit more complicated when you need to decide on the size of the image itself in terms of its pixel dimensions. First of all, I’ll address one of the most common and frustrating misunderstandings I see concerning the output process: the concept of image resolution. In the most basic sense, the resolution of an image refers to how much detail it shows. Digital cameras are advertised by how many megapixels (Mp) they are. If we’re to believe the advertising, the more megapixels you have, the better. This isn’t the whole story, however. Putting aside the issues of camera and lens quality and process sharpening, the degree of detail actually visible in the photo when your audience views it depends on where and how they are looking at it. There’s absolutely no difference between a 2Mp camera and a 20Mp camera if you’re looking at the photo on Facebook. I own a Canon 5D MkII, which has a 21Mp sensor, but in the vast majority of cases I never export my processed photos at this resolution. There simply isn’t the need for all that extra data where my photos will most often be seen. In fact, downsizing your high-resolution photos can subjectively increase their ‘quality’, due to the fact that many imaging artefacts such as lens faults and noise can be largely concealed at lower sizes. This is only possible with a higherresolution source file, of course, so all other things being equal a higher-resolution-capable camera will give you more potential for a high-quality image up to the point where your budget limits you.
The Image Size dialogue in Adobe Photoshop lets you control the size of your image, with feedback on print sizes and a choice of resizing algorithms.
Just to clarify a point on terminology – as mentioned above, the word ‘resolution’ refers to how much detail an image contains. Common use is far more varied than this, and can lead to confusion. Throughout this book, when I talk about an image’s resolution, I’m usually referring to the image’s dimensions or the number of pixels in the file. A ‘high-resolution’ image might be 3872 x 2581 pixels and 10Mp in size, while a ‘low-resolution’ image might be 800 x 534 pixels and 0.4Mp in size.
The Output Process
What Dimensions to Use?
An image will look its best when viewed at the same resolution (image dimensions) as it is saved, especially if it has been prepared that way by the photographer. In days gone by, the size you saved the image was the size it was viewed, but in recent years most websites and email clients have taken control of how images are displayed. In order to enhance the viewer experience, images which you upload to the web are usually resized by the site upon which they are displayed to fit the user’s screen. Theoretically, this is a good idea – it means you don’t have to worry about the many different monitors and user preferences for display sizes in order for your image to be seen. However, the software these programs use to resize the images is a one-size-fits-all solution. Even worse, to save file size on the vast databases of images these services must store, the JPEG compression of uploaded photos is often very heavy, resulting in soft, mushy-looking photos. Facebook is a particularly notorious offender, and it’s no exaggeration to say that I’m dismayed at how poor my photos look on Facebook compared to other services. Every service is different with regard to how they process your images for display, so it can be a frustrating experience to get your uploaded or emailed photos to look their best. So what can you do? My personal solution has been to give up, to a certain extent. I prefer to use the professional image-hosting service SmugMug, as I believe their service best presents my photos for others to see. I won’t go into great detail, as I don’t want this to become an advertisement, but you can see for yourself how my images look by visiting my folio here: neilcreek. smugmug.com/Folio. I upload 10Mp-sized versions of my photos to my SmugMug gallery, and they’re then prepared for display by generating a variety of different-sized versions to be displayed depending on the visitor’s preferences and display hardware. My watermark is also added to the photos at this stage. I then download the large preview size of photos I want to upload to other services, and let them do their worst with how they’re displayed. A photographer who has serious concerns about how their images are presented may export their images in many different sizes to match the default size of different services; this will give the best possible quality, but I find that too tedious a task.
Among many other options, the Export dialogue in Lightroom can resize your images upon export for various uses.
So what should you do? My rule-of-thumb suggestion for putting your photos online would be to export your images at 2000 x 2000 pixels (as a maximum for the longest dimension) for whatever services you use, and let them resize. For printing your photos to whatever size, it’s more straightforward: simply export at the maximum image size to guarantee your photo looks the best it possibly can at whatever size it’s printed.
The Output Process
We’ve talked about sharpening a number of times in this book, but this will be the last time. Previously I mentioned ‘output sharpening’ in passing, and it’s to this we now return. Sharpening your photo during processing will maximise the detail you extract out of the master image, but downsizing an image inevitably causes it to look soft. This is a result of the algorithms used to shrink the image, and it’s mostly unavoidable; therefore, it’s almost always a good idea to apply sharpening upon export. All image-processing tools should have this option available. How much sharpening you apply at this stage is up to you, but if your photo is destined to end up online, I suggest sharpening a little more rather than a little less, so that as much detail as possible will be preserved when the image services process your photo again.
Output sharpening applies a user-controlled level of sharpening on an exported image after resize to compensate for the softness introduced in that step. The sharpening on this low-resolution image is apparent here. The bottom image has had output sharpening applied. Images shown at 200%.
Along with whatever metadata you added will be included the ‘EXIF’ metadata. including what camera it was taken with. what the camera’s settings were. ou should already know how valuable it is as a learning • Y tool to be able to see the settings other photographers used to create photos of theirs that you like. making it easy for you to keep your photo library organised. you should be careful only to add information about yourself that you’re happy for the world to know. 106 . and make your photos more useful. • Y ou’ll be able to sort and search your exported files by these metadata. Most image programs allow the user to inspect embedded metadata. so I don’t see privacy as an issue. which both protects your photo from being stolen. to a certain extent. and a long list of other more-or-less interesting information. and also allows others to credit you and find you if they want to know more about your work. It’s good to give back a little.The Output Process Metadata We talked about metadata early in the book. This contains information pertaining to the technical specifics of the photo. storage costs and data transfer speeds make file size concerns a thing of the past. By preserving the EXIF data in your photos. Due to the fact that this information remains with the photo from when you added it. So my advice is include your metadata. The metadata applied then should travel with your image through all the processing stages. As a photographer. this information is worth preserving in your photo for a number of reasons: • Y our name should be embedded within it. The only arguments against including metadata are privacy concerns and reducing file size. at least for the tiny difference a little metadata makes. Your email address might be useful. as seen here with ACDSee. If you’re smart and methodical about how you apply metadata. you’ll be in control of what information you include. As previously discussed. but you may wish to keep your phone number and address private. and how it’s best applied to your files as you import them. you give others the opportunity to learn from your experience. and still be preserved within the image as you export it.
or displayed in a border. by letting those new to your work know who created it. Most processing tools should have the ability to add a watermark. I choose to use a simple. to your photo as you export it if you choose to do so. and just create an unnecessary additional step in processing. or image. so why bother? • M ost watermarks are ugly and ruin an otherwise beautiful photo. so the deterrent there is even greater. It’s entirely up to you to decide which of the arguments I describe are most persuasive. text. Those that argue for them may say: • D igital files are so easy to steal that watermarks are the only deterrent. • I f people are going to steal your work anyway. • T he social nature of photos means that even if users don’t think they’re stealing your photo. either overlaid on the image itself. easy-to-read watermark containing my website URL for both protection and promotion. I choose to watermark my photos. Either way. • W atermarks are a pain to add to a photo. • W atermarks can drive business to you. For the reasons mentioned above. you’ll probably get people offering their advice to you about your choice. 107 Those who argue against may say: • M y photos aren’t good enough to be stolen anyway. they’re not likely to let a watermark stop them. A watermark is an embedded graphic or text that is included in the image. . and few users remember to credit a photographer. and whether you watermark your photos or not. • I don’t mind my work being distributed outside of my control – the more people who see and enjoy my work the better. sharing them widely is inevitable.The Output Process Watermarking I briefly mentioned above that I watermark my photos. • C opyright law (at least in some countries) makes the very act of removing a watermark a crime. and no one will take legal action for the illegal use of one photo. a watermark will mean that at least the photographer is credited. • E ven if a photo is used without permission or payment. The use of watermarks is a hotly debated and ultimately personal decision for photographers. • S ome watermarks can be beautiful and add to the aesthetics of the photo. with any luck spurring them to contact you.
as they have probably printed more fine art photos than you have seen in person yourself. such as a cover or a double page spread. Typically the 10Mp size is ideal for this use but some images. but not so large that they consume too many resources. I write ebooks.The Output Process Other Output Destinations Most photographers only need to output their photos for uploading or printing. Listen to the advice the printer gives you. Art Prints Fine art prints for mounting and display are the most demanding application for your photos. but the images embedded are of much higher resolution to take advantage of high resolution printing. I prepare the files so that they are of sufficient resolution to look good in the final PDF file. so every detail – and every fault – will be visible. and particular attention is paid to image sharpness. These photos should be exported at the maximum size possible. and is determined by the quality settings and the size of the image on the page. The final size of the embedded photos is determined by Adobe Acrobat when the PDF is created. I deliver 10Mp-resolution images. Any faults or problems are properly addressed. Ebooks Obviously. so I export with the aRGB colour space if the photo was shot that way. The output file sent to the printers is also a PDF in this case. and if possible. but there are many other potential destinations for your photos. They’ll be seen up close at a large size. and how I prepare photos for these uses. into a high bit-rate format such as TIFF. as it happens!). and with the widest colour gamut possible. order printed book albums from me. be present when the image is prepared and printed. . Here are a few examples from my own experience. and a lot of my photos are used to illustrate them. an ample size for almost all uses. Choose a printer with experience in this process. For photos such as these. Delivery to Clients Most of my paid photo shoots are portrait photos to be delivered on CD as digital files for the client’s various uses. will be larger in size. so that you can ensure it looks how you want it to. especially for wedding shoots. Printed Books Some clients. The client is free to request the full-resolution 21Mp files if they need them. Unless I know that the client specifically wants to make very large prints of the photos. Working with my designer (my wife. I usually spend a little more time processing to ensure the image is as polished as it can be.
BEFORE AFTER Conclusion Processing digital photos is an important step in creating the best possible images. The learning feedback you will get from processing your photos will quickly enhance your skill in using a camera. No matter your skill level. stick at it and you will soon see the results. Having more or better gear won’t make you a better photographer. or take photos that aren’t possible with the gear you already own. But how do you know what piece of gear to buy next. and open up whole new horizons of photography for you. but it may help you take better photos. the computer and even the medium via which it is eventually viewed. With chapters on knowing when it’s time to upgrade. or struggle with the techniques. the book will probably end up saving you a great deal of money. If you haven’t processed your photos before. Face it. processing will make for better looking photos and make you a better photographer. Thanks for reading! . Photo Nuts and Gear will tell you what you need to know. and which is the best choice for you? The fourth and final book in the series. Now that this series has taught you about how the camera works. As a beginner photographer. processing RAW photos will give you much more room for mistakes. what comes next? Gear. Isn’t it better if you take control of it? Understanding how to best process a photo to show the result you want gives you an incredibly powerful tool for communicating and to inspire others. what is the right piece of equipment for you. a photo gets processed by the camera. how to read reviews and detailed discussion on what each piece of gear does. how to be a better photographer and how to take your photos to the next level with processing. and still create great images.
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