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Photography Processing: Lessons Learned

When I first started getting more seriously about this photography stuff, I focused mainly on getting a decent DSLR and learning how to use it to take better pictures. Pretty much common sense, right? I didn’t realize at the time how important the processing of those pics was to the final result.

At first, I was using the camera’s default settings, which meant every image came out as a jpg file. At the beginning of 2015, I switched that setting to RAW. Now, instead of the camera processing the image and compacting it into a jpg, I got the whole file with all the data and information the camera captured. Suddenly I could adjust white balance, tweak the exposure and shadows, and so much more. Compare the camera’s default jpg of Zoey from last year (left) to the one I processed from the RAW file (right).

Zoey JPG Zoey-raw

That was just the start. In the past, I’d used Photoshop to do some basic fixes and adjustments to my photos, but I’d never really learned to take advantage of everything the software could do. (I’m told Lightroom is even better, but like everything else in this hobby, that would require spending more money.)

On the left is a picture of Sophie. I’ve already done the initial white balance and such in RAW, but haven’t done anything else. On the right is a picture where I’ve reduced the color noise, added a few contrast layers, added a saturation layer to brighten her nose, blurred the foreground a bit, and added a little sharpening.

Sophie-raw1 Sophie-raw2

It’s particularly apparent when it comes to Milky Way photos. For a long time, I thought I just didn’t have a good enough lens and camera, or maybe I wasn’t getting the settings right. I could see the Milky Way in my pictures, but it was awfully faint. The shot on the left is an example of a jpg straight from the camera. But then I started researching how professionals process these pictures, and I realized a lot of the pics they start out with look faint and washed out too. But look what happens when you add several layers of contrast adjustment and a little bit of noise reduction.

Milky Way jpg Milky Way 2

I know the experienced photographers are probably rolling their eyes and saying, “It took you how long to figure this out?” But for me, this was an exciting revelation, one that’s added a lot to my photos … at least when I have the time to really work on them.


Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 31st, 2016 07:00 pm (UTC)
The last one is the one that *really* makes a difference. The other two are partly things that will come with practice and experimentation, though I find it's a trade-off: I change my settings *a lot* while out in the field, but I sometimes get tired of spending several exposures and a lot of time tweaking white balance, ISO etc.

My goal, however, is to take great pictures without adjustment: while I have a lot of tools, I prefer not to use them and to get it right first time around. (My camera does dual exposures - JPG for most uses and RAW for when I need extra, and I love that feature.)

But the main point is that Photoshop/Lightroom (I own neither) and other apps are tools in the toolbox, there when you want them, and they can often help to save a so-so shot and make it nice. It's all about what you feel comfortable with - just don't feel compelled to use adjustments all of the time 'because that's what serious photographers do' - I'm pretty serious (I average about 10K pictures a year) and I do next to no post-processing work.
Aug. 31st, 2016 07:04 pm (UTC)
I don't always process pics -- a lot depends on time and what I intend to do with the photos. But it's great learning about the possibilities, even if I don't always use them, you know?
Aug. 31st, 2016 07:35 pm (UTC)
This is really great. I have a digital camera (not a DSLR though, yet), but not much experience with these techniques. So for even more of a novice like me, this is really helpful just to get a sense of where to start.

Also, I'd bought some prints of the Milky Way from a photographer, and this is on par with his. Very cool.
Aug. 31st, 2016 10:37 pm (UTC)
LOL everyone comes to the path in their own way at their own speed :)

Post pro is the best fun :) Unless you have to do a wedding or other event and then its just drudgery some days

Here is a post I did for a woman in Canada who was asking if it was worth learning post processing - she kindly gave me one of her images, and I did some edits with it to show the different outcomes you could get - all using simply Lightroom


The following link is taking the whole post pro to an entirely different level with compositing an image - check out the before and after


Lightroom does make it a lot quicker and easier to edit images - if you have the Photographers CC Subscription it gives you PS and LR included for around $10 a month approx.

Otherwise use the ACR - Adobe Camera Raw module in PS - it does the same as what LR does but in a less user friendly environment.

I can recommend the Scott Kelby books as a resource to help as well. Happy Editing!
Sep. 3rd, 2016 05:48 pm (UTC)
Very cool! On the second one, how did you add in the extra fabric options? Was that from a separate photo composited and blended in?
Sep. 4th, 2016 12:53 am (UTC)
Yes I had one big piece which I copied on both sides and warped in to fit and a smaller piece to fill out the gap in the bottom. Yes separate images composited and blended in
Aug. 31st, 2016 11:54 pm (UTC)
Lightroom vs. Photoshop
Lightroom is cool, but for actually processing your images, I don't think there's anything that it can do that Photoshop cannot.

Full disclosure: I've got both, but I've never really wrapped my brain around Lightroom's whole "you WILL let Lightroom organize your photos for you!" vibe. No, dangit, I'm fine organizing them myself, I just want a convenient interface for initial review and selection of images that are worth post-processing effort. I have pro photographer friends who have switched to Lightroom exclusively and hardly ever touch Photoshop anymore, though, so maybe the problem is me. :)
Sep. 1st, 2016 05:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Lightroom vs. Photoshop
I understand Lightroom can be convenient if you want to, say, change the color temperature of a whole bunch of pix to the same value. But I don't use it, I find Bridge is just fine. I've run in to 'My file management system is better!' before, and it's a royal PITA.

My personal organization method is a main directory of the year, then a subdirectory for each location or thing that I'm shooting. Saturday a friend and I went to Three Rivers Petroglyphs, so that's the directory name. Beneath that level I move all the jpegs, so I have them if I need them for some reason.

It works pretty well for me.
Sep. 4th, 2016 12:56 am (UTC)
Re: Lightroom vs. Photoshop
You dont let lightroom do the organising, you tell it where you want the images to go.

The issue is that lightroom uses a catalog to keep track of images so if you move them around from OUTSIDE lightroom, it cant find them because the image locations don't match the catalog settings

its easy enough to fix - going into lightroom and pointing it to the new folder locations does the trick.

LR is a nicer interface that ACR and its got a lot of really nice features - I dont use ACR as Ive been using LR since v3 and I love it, but now I use PS for the fancy stuff
Sep. 1st, 2016 02:17 am (UTC)
So cute
Sep. 1st, 2016 07:02 am (UTC)
I went from "eh, I don't feel like processing my photos" to hanging off my father's sleeve going "Daddy Daddy Daddy I want it for Christmas" in about thirty seconds flat when he showed me what Lightroom could do. :-D

Sometimes I use it to salvage bad or boring photos through more extreme use of the settings . . . but mostly, yeah, it just makes a good photo pop that last bit more.
Sep. 1st, 2016 04:45 pm (UTC)
I would highly recommend DXO ( http://www.dxo.com/us/photography/photo-software/dxo-opticspro ) it does a very good job at processing images. There is a demo that you could look at.
Sep. 1st, 2016 05:34 pm (UTC)
I've had DXO for a while, I really need to spend some time on it. I've been using Photoshop for a decade or more, currently using CS6 and will move to another program before I move to their cloud/Pay-as-you-go system.
Sep. 1st, 2016 05:40 pm (UTC)
I really need to do some research on astrophotography processing in Photoshop. I got several good photos of my wife's observatory on film, but nothing on digital.

A friend of mine uses, IIRC, HDR Pro for managing HDR exposures. I showed him how it worked with Bridge/Photoshop after we went shooting Saturday, and he was pretty impressed with what the system was doing. You have so much more control with PS, but it does take time and work.

I made a discovery that you may or may not be interested in. I think you shoot Canon, if not, disregard the following. You know how if you set your camera to bracket +/- 2 stops, you get three exposures (if set through the normal menus)? Nikon would give you five. On my 6D, I added bracketing to my custom function menu (don't ask me how) and it now gives me five exposures for every shutter release! I'm REALLY looking forward to working with this more!
Sep. 3rd, 2016 05:42 pm (UTC)
I haven't played with bracketing yet, but I'll try that out. I could see it helping a lot with HDR and such. Thanks!
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines


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