Essential Post Processing for Better Photos- Part 1

Essential Post Processing for Better Photos- Part 1

I firmly believe every digital image benefits from some measure of editing. In other words, every image created using a digital camera, including a smartphone camera, can be improved through post processing. Why? Because digital sensors record light differently than film. I won’t bore you with the technicalities here, but I include them in the articles where appropriate. I’m certain you can research more on your own if you are very curious.

This series of articles describes my basic editing process, which I use for every image I plan to post, publish, or print. My process developed over the many thousands of hours spent at my computer working with my images. I am not saying mine is the best process for every photographer. What I am saying is this the best process for me at this point in time. This point in time meaning, given the current state of technology and my skills. I hope sharing my process with you, and explaining why I make certain adjustments to my photos, helps you develop your own series of basic editing steps. I fully expect my process to continue to evolve, as will yours as you invest more time and effort into post processing. Enough of my philosophy. Let’s begin by looking at my gear and computer setup.

Gear & Hardware

I provide this information, not because I am advocating you must have any certain brand or type of camera and computer, but rather as a way for you to compare your gear with mine and begin to understand how or why your results may differ.

These are the DSLR and mirrorless cameras I have owned and used extensively over the years. Most of my photos were made using one of these cameras. There are others I could add to the list. However, I opted to include only the cameras with more than 5000 images in my photo library.

  • Canon EOS 5D mark IV
  • Canon EOS 6D
  • Canon EOS 60D
  • Canon EOS 7D Mark II
  • Panasonic Lumix DC-G9
  • Olympus E-M1 MarkII
  • Olympus E-m5 MarkII

This is my current computer setup and the software I use for post-processing, in the order of most to least used.

  • Macbook Pro 15-inch, 2018
    • 2.2 GHz 6-core Intel Core i7
    • 16 GB RAM
    • Radeon Pro 560x graphics card
    • macOS Catalina
  • Dell UP2516D 25 inch display
  • Adobe Lightroom Classic
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Topaz DeNoise
  • On1 Effects

Post Processing Checklist

  1. Crop and straighten
  2. Correct for any lens aberration or distortion
  3. Set color tone/temperature or white balance
  4. Adjust highlights (most of the time I drastically reduce these)
  5. Increase contrast
  6. Adjust whites and blacks using histogram as a reference
  7. Increase clarity and/or texture
  8. Boost vibrance.
  9. Reduce noise
  10. Add sharpening/adjust sharpening mask

For the most part, my post processing checklist is the same regardless of the camera or software I use. I use the checklist as a reference to ensure I consider how or even whether I will apply all of the steps changes with every photo. Let’s walk through the first few steps using a photo from the Castillo San Cristóbal located in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

This is the unedited version of the photo. I shot in RAW so that I would have the maximum amount of photo data to use in post-processing. You can see it needs some work. Given the sunny conditions, and limited timeframe, I felt lucky I got a shot at all.

before edits
Original, unedited image.

Watch as I walk through steps 1, 2, & 3 using the photo of a garita at Castillo San Cristóbal in the next video.

Setting a custom white balance is simple using the eyedropper. Watch how I find a gray area in the photo to use as the basis for changing this photos’s white balance.

So far we have completed steps 1, 2, & 3 and the image is looking much better as you can see in the following comparison. I’ll walk through and discuss steps 4, 5, 6, 7 & 8 in the next article in this series.

before edits
Original, unedited image.
After straightening, applying auto tone and setting a custom white balance.

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© 2021 - Carol Fox Henrichs | Nature Photographer & Photo Artist