The Very Basics of Post Processing

Post-Processing(PP) is an integral part of digital photography and understanding the basic workflow will help you get the best out of your captured images. Personally for me, PP is not image manipulation but image correction. The digital cameras have limitations with the dynamic range and the colours / tonality / contrast it can capture. Our human eye is much more capable and hence PP is needed to match the image as you saw in the field.

While basic “post-processing” is what I follow, I do not digitally alter or manipulate my images. Images where the subject has been cut out and placed in a different background, morphed images and combining two images of the same subject into one, adding elements that were not originally preset while shooting are things I strictly avoid. Remember, I do not want to show what I did not see in the first place. Basic post-processing would generally include the following:

Crop & Straighten – To clean up and correct any issues with composition.
Colour Correction & White Balance – To correct any colour casts and ensure the image colour is as accurate as possible.
Exposure Correction – To improve the overall tonality and dynamic range of the image.
Contrast & Clarity – To bring back any missing punch and bring out emphasis and detail.
Sharpening – Where necessary to bring out any key details.

The below steps are using Adobe CC (there may be slight variation in the version you use)

RAW Processing using Adobe Camera RAW
Setting the White Balance:
Set the White Balance to match the actual scene. In Adobe Camera RAW you can use the drop down to choose one of the presets (Daylight, cloudy etc).

The best way is to use the temperature slider to choose the value to get the correct lighting / colours in your image.
In case there is a slight colour shift even after setting the correct WB, you can use the Tint slider to adjust it.

The other basic settings used to correct the image:

Exposure: Use this slider in case you want to over expose or under expose your image. When you are making changes using the slider, you need to keep a watch on the histogram which is displayed on top of the tools and ensure the graph stays within the extremes.

Contrast: Use the contrast slider to give a better punch in the image. This slider increases the colour depth in your image.

Highlights: If the Whites in your image are over exposed, you may use this slider to get back some details in the whites.

Shadows: This is the opposite of highlights. You can get back the details in the shadow or dark areas of your images by using this slider.

Whites: This increases the brightness of only the whites in your image.

Blacks: This slider is also responsible for increasing the bit depth. This slider is very useful for landscape images which has a lot of haze.

Clarity: This slider brings out more details in your image. If your original image is pretty sharp, then avoid using this tool. Play around with it to get a feel.

Vibrance: This increases the saturation of only the vibrant colours in your image and not everything. I always use this compared to Saturation.

Saturation: I avoid using this. This increases the saturation of all the colours in your image. We don’t want to do that.

DO NOT over do any of the above settings. Use it minimally to improve upon a good image.

Converting and saving
In Adobe Camera RAW, you need to put the below settings before saving the image. Click on the link which is shown at the bottom of the ACR tool:

The key settings to do are:
– Under the Color Space, Keep the space as ProPhotoRGB or Adobe RGB
– The Depth can be set to 8 bits/channel for any web based posting (FB, Instagran, Flickr, etc). In case you are planning for high resolution print, then keep it to 16 bits/Channel
– Under Image Sizing, keep Resize to fit as default (box unchecked)
– You will have to set the image resolution based on your end requirement. For web based posting (Facebook, flickr, instagram, etc) keep the Resolution as 72 (honestly it does not matter for web). For prints, you need to keep the Resolution at around 300pixels/inch and keep the image dimension as per the print requirement.
– Rest all the settings, keep to the default shown.

Note: All the above is using Adobe Camera RAW. Similar settings will be available in Canon DPP or Capture NX.

JPG Processing Using Photoshop
Step 1: Photoshop Settings

Before proceeding on jpg processing using photoshop, it is important to make these one time settings in photoshop:

1. From the menu, choose Edit->Colour Settings and enter the below values
2. Enter these values:

Settings: Use the drop down menu and choose “Custom”

Working Space:
RGB: ProPhoto RGB (if you do not have that, then choose Adobe RGB (1998))
CMYK: Leave it to U.S. Web Coated……
Gray: Gray Gama 2.2
Spot: Dot Gain 20%

Color Management Policies:
RGB: Convert to Working
CMYK: Preserve Embedded Profile
Gray: Preserve Embedded Profile

Rest, keep it to the default.

Once the above values are entered, you need to save it (This is a one time setting). Click on Save, give any name you would like to save it as, then enter the description regarding this profile you are saving and that’s it.

Step 2: Cropping
1. Open the image in Photoshop
2. Go to the Crop tool.
3. Enter the width and height to crop in pixels or inches (for web choose around 1920px pixels on the longer side for horizontal images and around 1200 pixels for vertical images). Be sure to enter as 1920px (with out the px, by default it will be inches).
4. Drag over the area to crop and hit enter.

Step 3: Level Adjustments
1. Go to Image->Adjustments->Levels

The left triangle is to adjust shadow details, right triangle to adjust highlights, and the centre triangle to adjust brightness/darkness. Drag the left triangle to adjust it with the start of the graph. That should deepen your image. Visually check how good it looks and adjust accordingly.

You need to hold down the key (or Option key for mac users) and drag the left or right triangle to make adjustments. When you use the slider, small amount of details will start to appear and you need to stop there.

You can use the centre slider to darken or brighten up the image.

Step 4: Vibrance (or Saturation)
Use the Image->Adjustment->Vibrance (or Hue/Saturation in case vibrance is not available) to increase the vibrance. In case you do not have vibrance, then use saturation. If you have vibrance slider, keep it to 22 or below and if you use saturation, keep the amount to below 13.

Note: DO NOT make the above correction if you have already done this as a part of your RAW processing.

Step 5: Sharpen Image
1. Go to Filter->Sharpen->Smart Sharpen
2. Enter the radius as 0.3 for web based posting and 1.3 for print (processed at 300dpi)
3. Now, keep incrementing the amount based on how much sharpening you need. Typically an amount between 70-100 is fine depending on how sharp or unsharp your original image is.
4. Keep “Remove” drop down option to Gaussian Blur.
5. Rest of the values – keep it to default.

Step 6: Saving for e-mail/Web
1. Once the image is ready, go to Edit->Convert to profile
2. Make the “Destination Space” profile: sRGB IEC61966-2.1
3. Keep the others to default.
4. Hit Ok.
5. Now File->Save As, give the file name, keep the Format to JPEG. Make
sure under colour, you see the ICC Profile as sRGB IEC61966-2.1, if you dont
do a convert profile, it will be your working profile, which is ProPhoto RGB or Adobe RGB.
6. Once you say ok, in the JPEG Options, change the quality to 12 depending on the Size which is displayed below.

The above steps are the ones which I have been following. There are other ways to achieve the same results recommended by other photographers. Feel free to choose the steps comfortable for you.

Happy Processing!