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How-to's

Five Steps to Better Post Processing

J. Norman Reid (Positives)


Keywords: postprocessing, lightroom, photoshop, ononesoftwarecolor, luminosity, hue, saturation, cropping, j_norman_reid_positives

I’ll frankly admit that in the past I’ve failed to use a steady, and studied, approach to post processing my images.  Instead, my practice has been to make somewhat arbitrary changes that made my photos look good or at least better than the original captures.  But, this practice has a problem; while it sometimes leads to pleasing results, it’s essentially random and, as a result, leads to unpredictable outcomes.  And since I’ve set no clear goals for my images, that approach, such as it is, lacks discipline, order, and, in the end, effectiveness.

So, I figured there must be a better way.  And as it turns out, there is.  Several resources pointed me toward a more practiced and reasoned strategy for enhancing my images in post.  First of these is Guy Tal’s essay “Obsession, Joy, and Torment” in his recent book, Another Day Not Wasted.  Tal argues that color and luminance, which are processed in separate parts of the brain, can and should be used expressively.  As he puts it, the purpose of editing images is “to elicit some meaning, rather than just to illustrate an appearance.”  In other words, both color and luminance, if thoughtfully managed in editing, can enhance the meaning conveyed by an image, rendering it more than just a pretty picture.  Tal’s essay inspired me to seek out practical ways to find and portray such deeper meanings in my own images.

Second is Marc Muench’s book, The Art of Luminosity, a valuable resource on post processing techniques.  This short volume, available for free from the Muench Workshops web site, examines how to capture luminosity effectively in-camera and then how to manage it in post processing.  Muench gives excellent verbal and visual illustrations of his methods for editing different types of images and provides an inspirational and instructive guide to adjusting luminosity levels to achieve more effective results.  

Yet another valuable resource teaches color theory, how different colors affect the brain, and how to use them to best advantage.  It’s See It: Photographic Composition Using Visual Intensity, by Josh and Ellen Anon.  This book is the best resource on using color I’m aware of.  It does for color what Muench does for luminosity.  

Taken together, these resources provide the tools for enhanced post processing methods. However, they leave open the question of how best to apply them when editing.  So, drawing on these resources, I set out to build a set of practical actions to help me reveal more meaning in my images.  Inspired by Tal’s provocative essay, I’ve boiled them down to five steps (see the SIDEBAR below).  

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10 comments

Frederic Hore (voyageurfred) on September 5, 2022

Thank you JNR for your insightful post on the techniques you use to process images. I follow much the same path, with some exceptions. I start with my initial processing in Adobe Camera Raw, with Brightness, contrast, adjusting white and black points, bring up Shadows if needed, then tweak the Clarity, and often the Vibrance too. If the image needs some noise reduction, I then go to the Noise reduction tab to adjust the Luminance followed by the Mask tool to achieve the least amount of noise without removing or blurring too many details. Then I formally open the image into PS for further processing and do a Save As as a master TIFF file to work from. Next I crop and resize the image for the format I want, be it social media or for printing. I will then apply Levels, Curves and Saturation as needed. Within PS, I will create layers and dodge and burn areas that need it. Sometimes I will use the Quick Select tool to select areas that need more attention and refinement. Then I Flatten the image, and apply final sharpening, either with Smart Sharpen or Unsharp Mask, then add my watermark or copyright, before doing Convert to Profile (Adobe RAW to sRGB) and final Save As with a new title. If the image is to be a 16 by 20 inch print, using your Mill image as a reference, the file name would be Old Mill (+location) c 16x20.jpg The c denotes I have attached my copyright to an image. Thank you once again for your workflow, references and inspiring methods for processing. Cheers, Frederic Hore, Montréal.

Jose Francisco Fernandez Martinez (fedefran) on August 7, 2022

Laborioso pero efectivo el trabajo bien hecho,

Doug Nickle (fivesense) on July 30, 2022

Thought provoking essay, JNR! Here are some links to the authors you referenced. Another Day Not Wasted, but Guy Tal https://www.amazon.com/Another-Day-Not-Wasted-Meditations/dp/0998785725 The Art of Luminosity, Marc Muench https://muenchworkshops.com/photography-ebooks/ See It: Photographic Composition Using Visual Intensity, by Josh and Ellen Anon https://www.amazon.com/See-Photographic-Composition-Visual-Intensity/dp/0240821505

George Cassella (Casedich) on July 2, 2022

Very helpful article. I have been a member for a year and never realized the wealth of information that is available here. I enjoyed reading about your process and realize that I need to look at a photo first and set a goal as to what I am trying to achieve in the post process. Makes perfect sense.

Connie Cassinetto (Via the Lens) on June 28, 2022

Ribbon awarded for her valuable contributions to the Articles Section.

Thanks for writing a very instructive and detailed piece on processing. I enjoyed the read and will follow up with some of the photographers you have mentioned.

Reza Gorji (gorji) on June 25, 2022

Thank you Norman. I enjoyed reading this.

Reed A. George (rgeorge911) on June 11, 2022

Thank you so much for this. I just gave it a try with a single image and feel that it reaaly does keep me from randomly making changes without clear purpose.

James Pearson (jwjjpearson) on June 1, 2022

This was a great article!! I loved how you walked the reader through your "vision" and by downloading the images I could see the change from one photograph to the next! Thanks for sharing this. Jim

Shari Wilkinson (BelleInPA) on June 1, 2022

Thank you for a succinct step by step mental process. I will be looking up the books you suggested. Coincidentally, I used to be a member of the Erie Photography Club (before I moved), of which Ellen Anon is also a member. I was fortunate enough to hear her speak on several occasions. It's a small world! Thank you again for the article and instruction.

Angela Friborg (Angi) on June 1, 2022

This is absolutely fabulous and I want to thank you so very much for taking the time to write this and share it out for all to read! In a world where fewer and fewer appear willing to communicate and share these days, I get so excited when I encounter a soul that willing shares. I am even more excited because these are areas that I am swimming around in, admittedly cluelessly, and love this advice. I am also grateful that you shared out some books and articles for additional reading/resources (you so know I am already on my way to find them and scoop them up). I have been slowly learning the art of photography over the years, and only just last weekend encountered my first in-person fellow photographer who was willing to share stories, tips and tricks, and prized locations. We had a wonderful afternoon together sharing and going to his favorite places for birds and wildlife. I learned so much from him and now have a list of places to go! So, thank you, again! I now have direction and purpose in my post-processing world! Angela

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