Some Highly Effective Postprocessing Tips
These days the internet is full of advanced, fancy software which vendors and photographers say will transform the quality of your final image. When I started out in photography, I also tried several products in the hope of giving my images that extra pop, to make them more evocative, to add that “wow” factor. My workflow became complicated and involved, and often I felt my final image did not achieve what I had spent so much time and work on.
My workflow now is much simpler, and I only use a few, highly effective, processing tools. These tools have been around for many years and many of them have even been used by some of the first photographers, such as Ansel Adams:
1) Saturation: I use little saturation in my images, at the very beginning of my workflow (RAW editing stage).
2) Contrast: This is essential for making your images pop. I use two tools to adjust contrast:
• Curves Tool: I use this only once, at the very beginning of my workflow (RAW editing stage).
• Levels Tool: One of my favourites – used throughout my workflow. It is very useful to know how to make local level adjustments ( e.g. with the brush in Light Room or by using masks in Photoshop).
3) Dodging and burning: The oldest and most important tool for controlling the intensity and distribution of light in your image, which is one of the deciding factors for how evocative your image is. Dodging and burning has been used prolifically in the dark room by nobody other than Ansel Adams!
An example of the power of contrast work, illustrated by this capture of a clearing storm in Canada’s Yukon Territory. The version of the image on the left had a slight curve adjustment in RAW and otherwise no contrast work. This is the first step in my processing workflow. The image looks flat, dull, and not as the scene appeared to my eyes. On the right is the result after contrast work (mostly levels) and dodging/burning. This version has more impact and reminds me of what I actually saw.
4) Color temperature/white balance: A lot more important than what most people would think. A high color temperature (warm white balance ) may add color to your image but it will hurt what is much more important, your contrast.
5) Sharpening: Proper sharpening is highly relevant to the quality of your final image. I will go into this into more detail in a future post.
These tools will not automatically give you an evocative image. You need to know how to use them, and understand artistically how adjusting contrast and controlling the distribution of light affects the emotional appeal of your image.
And, finally, you have to capture great light to begin with! Yes, there are photographers who can transform a grey sky into the most amazing light show you have ever seen, but I am sure you agree with me that this no longer is photography, but rather digital art.
I hope you found this brief overview of my processing workflow useful. These tools have been around long before most of the fancy editing software, plugins and apps came along and, in my opinion, if used properly and with care, are the only tools you need to achieve superior images.