Post Processing – Don’t Overdo It

A few days ago I left a comment with a member’s post where the Photoshop post processing altered the images beyond the point of being representative of what was captured in camera. While there is nothing wrong with “extreme makeovers” we need to acknowledge the difference between digital “art” and digital photographs. For this stage of our Photography Improvement Course, we need to concentrate most on getting the best image possible straight from the camera – and not thinking “I’ll just fix it in Photoshop”.

Normal post processing steps would include –

  • Lighting – this includes
    • Exposure adjustments
    • Brightness throughout the image as well as
      • Selective darkening (old darkroom “burning”)
      • Selective lightening (darkroom “dodging”)
    • Highlight/Shadow recovery
  • Color – not changing red to blue, but adjusting the hue to match what you think you saw
  • Contrast – adjust tonal levels
  • Sharpening (as needed – if you start seeing halos around things you’ve gone too far)
    • Sharpening needed is dependent on the intended output for the image –
      • Electronic (monitor, internet, projection, etc.)
      • Print (type & size)
    • And – the sharpening needs vary for each of these and should be done (using your RAW “negative”) as a final step uniquely for each different target output. Note that size matters – a 4×6 print’s sharpening requirements are not the same as a 12×18 for example.

If you shoot in RAW all of the above can be done accurately and easily.

I shoot RAW 100% of the time. I keep all of my camera settings such as contrast, saturation, sharpening, etc. set at normal/low and make adjustments in post processing as needed. I find it easier to add things like color and contrast than it is to take them away. It’s like starting with a clean slate and painting rather than starting with everything over-done & having to erase – thus my in camera normal/low default settings. Your mileage may vary.

Here is a slide show of images made yesterday morning. They are in pairs – first a before post process, followed by an after. You will see that most follow the steps indicated above. A few had some minor cropping and/or a horizontal flip. The major difference that you should notice is that the originals are sort of flat & lifeless and the after versions have a bit more “pop”. The only “heavy handed” adjustment was some selective burning on a few – to take out the background. The last three show a conversion of the “after” image to B&W.

Click on the center of the slide show and then choose “Full Screen”. While in full screen, you may find that choosing the “gallery view” option is helpful – it allows you more control.

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