Process Your Photos

By Roger (30 August 2015)

I have always enjoyed the post-processing part of photography. When I began, I bought an enlarger and darkroom equipment, so that I could print my photos the way I wanted them printed. The move to digital made things much easier (and faster). Now, I can edit a photo to death, in the comfort of my office.

New photographers can be intimidated by post-processing because they've heard the software is complicated. They have a hard time figuring out where to begin. They open Lightroom and Photoshop, and the screen just stares back at them. It seems to be saying, “You have no business in here, rookie.”

So, how do you get started? Well, you don't have to. Mark and I blog about how to do this or that, but there is no rule that says you must do post-processing on your photo. Keep in mind that these tools are there for your use. Use them a much or little as you want.

For some photographers, this gets to be a religious argument; they proudly announce they never do anything to the image. I'm not sure why this is so important to them, since photographers have been tinkering with camera settings; using certain films or digital camera profiles; and choosing the framing of the subject since the dawn of photography. Not only do I enjoy post-processing, but we wouldn't have much to blog about, if we didn't go a little deeper. In any event, I believe you should begin your editing with the elements that are most important to you.

When Lightroom first appeared, I was not interested in its post-processing capabilities; I wanted the organizational aspects of the program. That was my primary concern, so that's where I began. Since 1980, I had been recording all my location, subject, and date information on 3x5 cards, for each slide or negative, Lightroom organization came to me easily, and all the additional post-processing capabilities were a bonus. If you only used Lightroom for organization, you'd already be ahead of most people who make photos and then leave them, sad and unattended, on a phone or hard drive. I think you should do more than that, but I'd understand.

Let's assume you want to know how to do more than just record the data about your photo, which is now, automatically, collected for you.

Sunrise in Newport, RI

I always recommend you begin with the easy stuff. If you've properly exposed the image in your camera, there won't be much to do but adjust the sharpness, and, maybe, make a color balance correction or adjustment to the vibrance. That's all that was done to the photo, above. I framed the photo before the paddle boarder walked into the beam of the rising sun. Later, I may want to take the sailboats out of the photo, to make it simpler, but I'm not sure. I think they add to the photo.

If there is more you want to do, you can learn the part of the tool that will help you accomplish what you want. You don't have to learn everything at once. I've been working and teaching these programs for almost ten years, and I'm still learning.

One of the easiest tools to learn in PhotoShop is the clone tool. This is the best tool to remove some unwanted garbage that you couldn't avoid or that you missed. I recommend you put your cloning on a separate layer, so you can go back to the original if you make a mistake.

Unwanted trash can, at Virginia Beach

Trash can and pole removed

It helps to pick an easy example, like this one. You can sample the sand and blend it over the pole and the trash can. You will do a better job if you pay attention to areas that are close to your cloning subject. This keeps the depth of field and lighting consistent. Sample from several places to prevent repeating patterns. Once I had the distractions removed, I reduced the vibrance slightly to make the photo moodier.

As your editing skills improve, you can go to resources I cited in my last series of blogs. If you can identify the things that are bothering you in your photo, you can find the solution. One thing at a time. You'll learn the best order, or workflow, as you discover the solutions. Move at your own pace, and don't worry about mistakes – this is supposed to be fun, right?

The logic of layers, in Photoshop, will dawn on you as you progress. When the light bulb comes on, you can solve more complicated problems. The Irish pub we photographed, in Vegas, had a great display, but there was horrible lighting under the glass. I reduced its impact with a couple of layer adjustments and masking. The masks may look daunting to a beginner, but it is really just a logical progression of the tools.

Adjustment layers and masks are fundamental tools.

Adjustment layers and masks are fundamental tools.

The more you work with these tools, the easier they get. You need to play enough that you have some of the procedures in your head. If you only open your tools every other month, you'll have to relearn everything, again. Practice, practice, practice.

If I had my way, everything would be set up, just as I want it: perfect light; no distractions in the image or around me. When that happens, I'm thrilled.

But, when I want a photo of the re-enactor portraying Robert E. Lee, at the Appomattox surrender ceremony, with thousands of other people surrounding me and him, I have to take the shot. Even if I can't move because of the crowd, and I'm too close for the lens I have on the camera. That's when you get to put all kinds of post-processing tricks into play.

Pieces of the puzzle

You can see I couldn't even get the entire horse in one frame here, and lots of people were milling about. I needed to quickly (before the horse moved) make several shots of the pieces of the scene. I put them together in PhotoShop; cloned out the extraneous people; then cropped and toned it in Lightroom. (The first two photos are the composites.)

Lee at Appomattox, Va

You can do this. Just learn your tools.


And, speaking of fun, don't forget to sign up for the Kelby's 8th Annual Worldwide Photowalk, on Saturday, 3 Oct. Mark and I were in Culpeper, this weekend, figuring out a nice, comfortable walk. You can join us by signing up HERE. The walk is free, but you must register. Hope to see you there.