Photography: What is Post-Processing?

When it comes to photography, I consider myself a journeyman or apprentice. I work alone with the Internet serving as my mentor and it has provided great benefits to me as a student of photographic skills. I have always been interested in photography and back in the days of “only film,” I had a black and white darkroom.

Nowadays, digital photography makes things easier; at least for me. Post-processing is chemical free and done on a computer where mistakes can often be easily corrected with a few key strokes. If you are new to photography, you might be wondering: “What is post-processing?” Let me try to give you a simple explanation as I understand it.

When a digital photograph is taken on an automatic setting, the camera, which is really a computerized device, gathers all the information about the scene such as how dark it is, what colors go where, what area should be in focus, etc. and then it interprets the data and converts into a digital image. The current camera models are really quite capable and most will produce good to very good results on automatic settings.

There are times however when the camera may become “confused” because the scene is more difficult to analyze. A picture with lots of snow or many dark areas or one with high contrast will often cause problems. With many cameras, the settings can be changed from automatic to compensate for these difficult situations if the user is skilled enough to adjust the settings manually.

There will invariably be times, however, when a picture is less than ideal. Perhaps the photographer made an error in one of the settings. Some times a dial or setting is changed unintentionally and the error is not noticed until several shots later. The good news is that many mistakes can be remedied after the fact, i.e. post-processing.

In order to have the most options to re-work or revise photographs, some formats are better than others for allowing the photographer to compensate for mistakes such as underexposure or faulty composition. The most common form that offers leeway is the RAW image format, but what I am writing about below applies to almost every format including JPEG, PNG and others as well. It is just that RAW offers more latitude than some and is most common so there are many programs to help correct a picture via appropriate software.

In the RAW format, the camera caputers all the data, but doesn’t put it together for the user as it would in automatic mode. The camera offers the user the opportunity to make most of the decisions about how the photograph is to look. It is as though the camera is communicating with the user and saying: “OK, I know there is red in the scene and I know where it goes, but what is the exact hue of red that you want and what should the saturation and vibrance be?” The user can then use software to manipulate the camera’s information to create the scene as they saw it when the shutter was pressed.

The photograph below, for example, was taken at the Tucson Botanical Garden. When I put the image on my computer to view, it was lacking much of the “punch” and interest that encouraged me to take it in the first place.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but there are too many distracting elements in the photograph. The eye is being pulled away from the main group of the yellow daisy-like flowers by the bits of colors in the pansies on the right.

The upper left also has some distracting plant material. My intent was to have viewers focus on the yellow cluster of flowers. Cropping (cutting off) some elements of the picture will help a bit. In the edit below, I removed as much of the pansies (right-side) as possible without cutting off any of the pretty yellow petals.

Once that was done, I used tools in Lightroom and Photoshop to darken the areas around the plant that were distracting. Making the corners and other areas darker helps to lead the eye directly to the flowers. I also enhanced the color to more closely represent the flowers as I remembered them. I tried to be careful to avoid removing the shadows which add an element of interest to the picture. I like the shades of yellow as they are altered by the varying intensities of the light.

I was relatively happy with the result at this point, but I didn’t like the flower on the extreme left. It was on the wane and seemed to be drawing attention away from the main grouping of four. Experts suggest using odd numbers of objects in a photograph as they most often produce a pleasing result, but I wasn’t sure about this specific image.

I decided to remove the flower on the left to see how that looked.

I like the edited picture above the best. What do you think? When you compare the original image to the final image, I think you will agree that post-processing, i..e. modifying the image after it has been taken, has created a more pleasing and artistic picture.

To quote one of America’s most famous photographers, Ansel Adams, “I don’t take photographs I make photographs.” This is what I try to do. I am an average user of post-processing software, but I continue to learn and enjoy making images. It is much fun and offers the photographer a chance to become a photographic artist.



File Name: yellow_flowers_0507-2.CR2
Capture time: 12:21:36 PM
Capture date: April 11, 2014
Exposure: 1/500 sec @ f/8.0
Focal Length: 17.14mm
ISO: 125
Camera: Canon PowerShot SX50 HS
Lens: 4.3-215mm

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JPEGs from Drab to Fab – Maybe

Full Disclosure: I am not a professional photographer. I like photography and it is a hobby. I am not an expert in either photography or post processing. Putting that aside, I do enjoy trying to capture the best photographs I can and to make them look as nice as possible using Adobe’s Lightroom and Google’s Nik Collection.

I didn’t have anything approaching a “real” DSLR until last year when I purchased a Nikon D3300. I was going to rent some Fuji gear, but it was less expensive at that time to make an outright purchase of the D3300. We were planning our trip to Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. I wasn’t ready to spend a couple of thousand dollars on camera equipment; at least not yet.

I currently own three cameras:

  • Canon PowerShot AS590 IS – This Camera is many years old, but keeps on ticking. It has been my companion whenever I go on a photographic expedition. It has an 8.0 megapixel CCD with 4x optical image-stabilized zoom.
  • Canon PowerShot SX50 HS – I purchased this camera for two reasons: 1) I wanted to see if I would enjoy shooting in the RAW format and doing post processing and 2) I wanted a camera with a lot of reach. This has a 50x optical zoom lens which, as Canon claims, goes from 24mm to 1200mm (35 mm equivalent). This is a step up from the AS590 above with 12.1 megapixels and it has helped with my bird identification hobby.
  • Nikon D3300 – This is my newest camera and comes closer to the full DSLR experience. I do enjoy this camera and I am still learning how to harness the full potential. It has a 24.2 Megapixel DX-format sensor and it came with the 18-55mm kit lens. It did as well as I expected during our trip to Bishop, CA and Yosemite National Park.

With the above out of the way, let me just say that I have a lot of fun turning images from “drab to fab” using Lightroom with Googles’s Nik Collection and doing some intermediate post processing. Let’s just look at one example from my least advanced camera, the Canon AS590.

We were hiking in Utah and on the way home, we stopped at the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. It was a very gray day with rain threatening. The only camera I owned was my little Canon that was three years old at the time.

Assessing the weather we were having, we knew we had little time to explore so we parked the car on the side of one of the named trails, the Toadstool Trail, and began to walk toward several beautiful rock formations.

The toadstools are rock pillars with larger flatish rocks on top of them. Thus they look like (abstractly) toadstools. Below is one of the photographs that I took that day.

Unprocessed photo of the toadstoolsThis JPEG photograph was taken with an AS590 IS and is unprocessed

Understand that this is a JPG only image. It is straight out of camera (SOOC). If you read many of the punditori, they will tell you that there is not much that can be done with post processing and a JPG image and that may be true, but “not much” doesn’t mean that nothing can be done.

I upload all my images to Lightroom (LR) because it is a good cataloguing tool. When done correctly, it is easy to organize and then find any given photograph you have taken. I follow blogs of photographers who have hundreds of thousands of images indexed in LR. I have less than 10,000 photos in my LR catalog, but I am working on it.

When I took the photo above, the rocks appeared to have more red tones in them and there was much more contrast in the clouds. Unfortunately, my camera could not render all the nuances my eye was seeing. Although this is a JPEG image, I decided to process it as I would my RAW images.

This is the final image after doing some work in LR. This is closer to what I remember seeing. I have enhanced the colors and contrast, but that’s what I want…a more beautiful photograph.

Processed photograph of the toadstoolsThis is the same photograph as the one above with post processing done in Lightroom

It is hard to compare the two photographs above when they are separated by the narrative. Although this will not provide much detail, the set of smaller images below should impart the basic idea.

Side by side Comparison of the two images aboveThis is a side-by-side comparison of the two images above

So…what do you think? Don’t you feel the photograph on the right is a more beautiful landscape than the shot on the left? Leave a comment or ask a question in the comment section. originally published this post
All photographs are Copyright by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved

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