Every digital image can benefit from post processing. Yes. You read that right. Due to the technical nature of the way digital images are created, some post processing is needed to bring out the best qualities in the image data. “Oh, but I shoot in jpg and my images look great”, you say? This is because the camera has already processing the image to create the jpg file. Shoot in RAW, to see the difference between an unprocessed file and your jpg.
This is the second article covering essential post processing steps for digital photographs. The process covered here includes 10 photo characteristics to consider during your first edit of a new image. Yes, I said first edit. It is okay to revisit an image and make multiple passes while editing.
This article covers steps 4-7 of my 10 essential steps. Steps 1, 2, & 3 were covered in a prior post, Part 1, where I also included information about the cameras, computer, and software I use in my workflow. I have yet to find an image that could not be improve with some measure of tweaking. If you are a purist, who is dead set against post processing and feels adamantly that everything must be done in camera, then this article is not for you. I will mention that modern digital cameras all do some amount of post processing and more and more capabilities are added with each new technological generation.
Post Processing Checklist
Crop & Straighten
Find a true vertical or horizontal reference point. Crop for a good composition.
Correct any aberrations or distortion created by the lens.
Set color tone, temperature and white balance
Adjust highlights (consider reducing them)
Increase contrast (digital images are usually too flat looking without this)
Use the histogram while adjust whites and blacks to eliminate any clipping.
Adjust clarity and/or texture settings to help define edges or reduce them.
Adjust vibrance for adding or reducing color. Then use saturation if needed.
Check for any digital or color noise.
Sharpening should always be the last step.
EVERY digital photograph requires some measure of post processing.
Carol Fox Henrichs
After steps 1-3.
4. Adjust Highlights
Around 90% of the time, I drastically reduce the highlights in my images in post processing. Like many photographers, I practice exposing to the right (ETTR) when shooting. Meaning, I try to capture as much image data as possible by almost overexposing the scene. Strictly speaking, a digital image is just a bunch of bit and bytes–data. Underexposing a scene records less data than a proper exposure. Having too little data, restricts your ability to make edits to the photo. Exposing to the right allows the camera to record the maximum amount of light (as data) and thus get the optimum performance out of the digital image sensor. You will then have more information or data and can get better results from post processing.
Increase the contrast. How much is up to you and your vision for the photo. There are many types of contrast, however, for this first pass at post processing, we are just going to consider a global adjustment to the luminosity contrast by adjusting the contrast slider in any post processing software like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop.
Take a look at the following two images. The first one is the image after following steps 1-3. The histogram in the second image is more spread out because I made the darks darker and the brights brighter. In other words, when I added contrast the whites and highlights moved toward the right, and the darks and shadows moved towards the left.
To some degree, luminosity contrast in the original photo depends upon your lens choice and the dynamic range of your camera but contrast can also be improved in post-production. Please keep in mind though that subtle, controlled contrast is often better than pulling the contrast slider all the way up to +100. Adding more contrast pushes highlights to the right and shadows to the left – which means you have the risk of both blowing out your highlights and sacrificing the details in your darks, ending up in making your entire picture look artificial. The goal is not just to add contrast, but to optimize it.
Now that you have just finished pushing the darks darker and the brights brighter with an increase to contrast, it makes sense to take a look at the histogram to make sure you have not gone too far. What is a histogram? How do you know if you have gone too far?
A histogram is a graphical representation of the pixels in the image. It looks a lot like a bar chart. The left side of the graph represents the blacks or shadows, the right side represents the highlights or bright areas, and the middle section represents the midtones (middle or 18% gray). The heights of the peaks represent the number of pixels of a particular tone. Each tone from 0-255 (0 being black and 255 being white) is one pixel wide on the graph.
Likely you know you can tell an image is well-exposed if it reaches fully from one edge of the histogram to the other edge and it isn’t heavily going up one side or the other. In an ideal world, the graph should just touch the left and right edges of the histogram, and not spill up the sides.
Crowding of peaks up the left or right edge of the histogram indicate “clipping” of that tone and a loss of detail in that area. Clipped areas are often unrecoverable, especially in the highlights. Generally you should try to expose so that the peaks just touch the right edge (which indicates that you’ve kept your highlight details). It is usually easier to recover some shadow detail and retain a decent image than to try and create highlight detail from data that isn’t in the file.
The Clarity slider is one of the most useful in Lightroom when it comes to giving your images extra punch and impact. While similar to contrast, the Contrast slider has a more far reaching effect. It makes both the shadows darker and the highlights brighter, stretching the histogram in the process.
The Clarity slider works differently. It increases contrast, but in the mid-tones only. The highlights aren’t affected, and if applied to an extreme, the photo becomes darker as the Clarity slider is pushed to the right having a greater effect on dark tones than the Contrast slider. Increasing mid-tone contrast brings out texture and detail, increasing the tactility and apparent sharpness of the image. That’s what the Clarity slider is designed to do.
In short, Clarity affects the contrast between midtone luminance values appearing to help the image become clearer. However, all that is really happening is the adjustment of more or less contrast to the light and dark areas which fall into the midtone area between highlights and shadow.
You may also notice the photo is perceptively brighter and that the color saturation diminishes slightly when increasing Clarity. On the other end of the spectrum, decreasing clarity adds in a soft-focus effect. The Texture slider lands somewhere between Clarity and Sharpening in Lightroom. A good way to think about Texture is that it is much less harsh than Clarity and offers more subtle results without affecting absolute brightness or color saturation. Texture focuses it’s smoothing or clearing effects on areas of a photo which possess “mid-frequency” features. You can think of these as medium detail areas.
https://cfh.art/wp-content/uploads/6060533_med_rez_wm.jpg14001750Carol Fox Henrichshttp://cfh.art/wp-content/uploads/foxlogo-banner-minimal.pngCarol Fox Henrichs2020-12-27 17:03:462021-02-25 12:22:13Essential Post Processing for Better Photos – Part 2