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Post-Processing Processes

Journal Entry: Fri Sep 7, 2012, 7:23 PM
So I thought I'd write a little about what I do to my photos once I'm back home. But before I explain that, it needs pointing out that I shoot in RAW because I want to make all the processing decisions instead of my camera. If you're unfamiliar with the format, RAW files are basically unembellished sensor data. When you shoot in JPEG your camera will make all sorts of decisions about saturation and light and they may or many not look satisfactory to you. So I, like many photographers with RAW-enabled cameras, take the camera's opinions out of the equation.

Hidden Spaces by andyhutchinson
Only basic saturation boost to show off the sunlight.

In order to help me remember what a scene was like I fire off a couple of shots with my iPhone and I use these as a non-definitive reference for colour and lighting levels - it's just to jog my memory if you like. You could accomplish the same thing by just taking some JPEGs with your DSLR, but I like to leave those settings alone once I'm out and about.

The first time you import a series of RAW images, it can be a scary and/or surprising moment. The images are often washed out, flat looking and almost inevitably not much like the scene you photographed. This is because you now have to apply your own baseline settings.

So I used Lightroom 4 to process my images and Photoshop CS6 if they need further work. I import them directly through Lightroom and it applies a baseline preset I made, which applies automatic lens correction based on the EXIF data and bumps clarity and saturation up 50 and 10 points respectively. Then I scan through my photos and immediately reject the shitty, out of focus and otherwise terrible images. Then I do a second run-through and delete all the ones I was hesitant about deleting, because the truth is that I'm only interested in the good ones and there's no point hanging on to an image that not even you are sure about.

Now at this point I think it's worth mentioning my camera setup. I shoot pretty much all the time with a circular polariser on my camera and often a warming ND grad filter too. I love colourful images with plenty of saturation, but I don't want to go as far as the neon colours you get in many HDR images. I try and get as close as I can in the camera to my 'vision' but often than is not possible.

Days End by andyhutchinson
Color Efex Pro Polariser and Sunlight.

So every photo's different, but the first thing I ask myself is what the main problem with the photo is and I'll fix that first and then tweak everything else. For instance is the colour balance off or is it over-exposed? In Lightroom the Highlights slider is incredibly useful because it enables you to pull back the bright parts of your image by a couple of stops. Since I shoot almost exclusively at dawn and dusk that means I'm dealing with an incredible amount of contrast in an image, from the brightness of the sun to the unlit landscape. So pretty often I'll dial the highlights down about 50 or 60 points.

If you look at the histogram in Lightroom it shows you if there's some clipping going on at either end of the light spectrum. To sort those I use the White and Black sliders to dial up or down as required - this is the same as using a levels adjustment layer in Photoshop.  Some people like soft images, some prefer sharp. I like crisp personally so I set clarity to 50 or 60.

Now it's time for colour. I always use vibrance first because it is a more subtle effect - I dial the slider up to the point where it looks right. If vibrance doesn't get close to the way the scene was originally coloured then I take vibrance back to zero and slowly turn up saturation. The saturation slider is a much more blunt tool than vibrance and it's very easy to over-do it. I hardly ever stray past 15 points of saturation.

So that's pretty much it from the Lightroom end of things. However some photos need a bit of work in Photoshop too. I shoot all of my landscape images with a super-wide 10-22mm lens and when that's at its widest there are large vignettes at each corner. There are two ways to fix them - firstly you can just crop in slightly - this is something I don't like to do because it negates the whole point of shooting at 10mm in the first place. So the second option is to repair those corners in Photoshop.

Photoshop's content-aware fill is a dream come true for this sort of blemish on an image. I drag a rough selection around all four corners covering the darkened areas and then I do a content-aware fill. 95% of the time no further work is required, but occasionally Photoshop will use a really obvious source for its fill and you'll get a clear repetition in the image. In that case I do it 'manually' with the patch tool.

So having done all that my image is usually looking great and that's when I'm done with it, but occasionally I'll want to do more work on it and that's when I call on the services of Color Efex Pro. I was put onto this by Atomic Zen an Australian photographer who takes gorgeous photos. The part of Color Efex Pro I use most is Tonal Contrast. This is an incredible way of sharpening an image without adding noise. Typically speaking I set it to 10,15,10,15 for the highlights, midtones, shadows and saturation sliders. I may also warm the image up using the Sunlight filter and darken the blue skies with the polariser.

So that's my workflow. About 50% of what I mention above is completely automated within Lightroom and then I tailor each image accordingly. Everyone has their own ways of getting the most out of their images.

Sunset from the Aumar lake by MaximeCourty
Maxine's image is a split exposure montage.

For instance, I've noticed that more and more photographers are taking split exposure images and combining them in Photoshop. So they take a shot for the land and then a separate one for the sky and then mask one over the other in Photoshop. For instance the image above by MaximeCourty is actually two photographs - one for the land and one for the sky. I like this technique and I think it's infinitely preferable to HDRs which are very unsubtle. For me, 99% of my photos came from one RAW file.

There is definitely a line between a truthful image and a fantasy. For me I definitely like to stay on the side of truth because I see myself as a photographer and not a digital artist. My images are often very colourful, but that it is usually down to two things - the polarising filter on the camera and the fact that I live on the coast in Australia and sunsets here do tend to be pretty fucking colourful.

If you have any questions, just ask.

Add a Comment:
MyLifeInFocus Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2012  Hobbyist Photographer
Another great article! I wasn't actually aware until recently that RAW needed editing with software but should be helpful if I get the chance ;)
andyhutchinson Featured By Owner Sep 17, 2012  Hobbyist Photographer
no worries :)
EricLoConte Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2012  Student Photographer
it's really interesting. Thanks for your post :)
andyhutchinson Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2012  Hobbyist Photographer
No worries :)
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September 7, 2012


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