100 STEPS TO IYP – Post Processing

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So here we are, back after a long gap. For this lesson of the IYP series, we focus on a very important aspect of photography – Post Processing.
Post processing is an important part of photography. If you don’t agree, I would request you through this post and the comments that follow. I’m sure you’ll understand what I’m saying.
Now the good part is that there are plenty of tools available for basic post processing of pictures, and everyone has some tool or the other. You can use free software like GIMP and even Picasa to make basic edits. And of course there’s Photoshop. I use Photoshop for all my post processing.

In this tut, I won’t tell you how to post process pictures. I’ll focus on a general workflow and what to do and what not to do.

1. Calibrate your monitor. The colours that you’re seeing on your monitor may appear different in prints. This is because your monitor is not calibrated properly, and you may not see most of the detail in the shadow that is actually there. You will obviously process your picture accordingly, and the print (or the result on a calibrated monitor) will appear over-processed. And these days, with most people using LCD monitors, the viewing angle also plays a role here. You don’t need anything fancy to calibrate your monitor. You can use simple brightness and contrast to get reasonably good calibration. You can use the picture below to calibrate your monitor. Click on it to get the larger version, and use that. The smaller one is pretty much useless.

2. First step – Straightening and cropping: The first thing you should do is straightening any tilts and slants in your image. Many good images are spoilt by a simple tilted horizon. Not good. Simply rotate your image until you get the horizon straight. If you want, you can use a grid to match, but it generally isn’t needed.
Next comes cropping. Empty space, distracting objects in corners and on edges, and other similar stuff can be easily cropped out. This way you can fill the frame as well, which in many cases enhances the picture. Cropping can help improve composition to quite an extent.

3. Brightness and contrast: This is the next step. If you’re using Photoshop, use the levels tool to adjust these. What you need to be careful about here is losing detail in shadows and highlights. Too much brightness will blow out the highlights and too much contrast will render the shadows too dark. Simply keep an eye on these when making adjustments, thats all. You can also use the shadows/highlights tool in Photoshop to get retrieve some detail from shadows.

4. Colour correction/saturation: Come to this after the adjusting the brightness and contrast. Another common mistake is made here by oversaturation. I’ve seen many people (including myself) who saturate the colours to such an extent that it spoils the image rather than correct it. Of course, the need varies from picture to picture, but generally, a small amount of saturation should do it.
Colour balance can be corrected in Photoshop using the Image>Adjustments menu, like brightness and contrast. If there is a tint of yellow or blue or whatever, play around with the colour sliders to decrease that specific colour.

5. Noise reduction: I would recommend you use a dedicated noise removal software/photoshop plugin for removing noise. I use Neat Image, and find it very effective. You can also use softwares like Noise Ninja or Imagenomic Noiseware. These work better than Photoshop’s inbuilt noise removal, and allow you to sharpen images as well, but I would suggest you leave the sharpening for the end.

6. Sharpening: The last, and often the trickiest part of image processing. Sharpening should be done at the end. For me, Unsharp Mask in photoshop works best. No technicals here either. Play around carefully, and you’ll get what you need. Just know that too much sharpening can leave halos around the edges, making the image look oversharpened.

These steps are in the order I generally follow, and have found that it works well for me.
I know that pictures would help here, and I’m sorry for not being able to post examples. I’ll be adding them soon however. And we’ll also be putting up more and specific articles on post processing. Notice that I’ve left out RAW processing here. That will be covered in a different post. For now, play around and try and get an idea about what I’m saying. This is the second last post of the IYP series. There’s only one more post to go. I hope you enjoyed the series.

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