Galina Mihaylova & Anton Ivanov

7 required skills in digital photography

There comes a time to download photos and so called “Postprocessing“.

Now what?

There is no cause for concern, but the time spent is definitely worth it.

I am a supporter of the idea that photographs should reflect reality and I will just mark the activities that are eligible for photoreports photos. This does not mean that I am denying the use in depth of software for photo editing and effects and other tricks, but for me it is a separate part of the photographic art and one day I will focus on it in a separate article.

I will not discuss here specific buttons, menus, etc. so the written here can be applicable for different programs.

That looks pane in Adobe Bridge CS6 when download photos
That looks pane in Adobe Bridge CS6 when download photos

1. Downloading photos from Memory Card.

I prefer using Adobe Bridge as part of Adobe Photoshop/Elements, but usually any other program that came with your camera could do it. In the downloading process several things are to be made simultaneously:

  • Backup of all files;
  • Rename files;
  • Mention of copyright;
  • Conversion to DNG (optional);
  • Delete the obviously unfit or duplicate images;
  • Set of keywords;
  • Rotating in the right direction (if not happen automatically);
  • Selection of the further fate of the photos by labeling and rating.
Window on the Adobe Bridge CS6 to write keywords
Window on the Adobe Bridge CS6 to write keywords

Surely someday you will understand how important it is to make backup copies of photos, hopefully not from personal experience. Start doing it from now on.

Renaming for me is also mandatory. I prefer instead of “very speaking name DSC_0003.jpg” to see (eg) “Maldives_2012_04.jpg”. It is good to point out for yourself any standards that you will follow.

Mentioning the copyrights is a good safety. Of course they can be easily manipulated too, but if you prepare a template you can use it repeatedly and automatically.

If you shoot in RAW, conversion to a digital negative (DNG) has several advantages but this needs a whole separate article as well. JPG files don’t need to be converted.

By deleting the obviously poor and duplicate images you save a lot of time for processing.

Setting keywords saves a lot of time for searching and sorting. I recommend making hierarchical structures by keywords such as “nature / flowers / roses.” When you ask for keyword “roses” it automatically adds and marks keywords “nature” and “flowers” also (depends on settings).

Rotating in the correct direction (portrait or landscape) saves sore necks of those who view photos on a screen.

With tags and ratings you can leave a note to yourself which photos are subject to further processing and which will be relegated to backup just in case, and various other situations – for example, which will be showed to a potential client, which will be published on the Internet, etc.

In the next steps I take a random photo of mine for demonstration. If any step of this process you find unnecessary for the photo, just skip it.

The photo happened to be “Troll of the shower Etropole Falls”.

Image downloaded from the camera without any processing
Image downloaded from the camera without any processing

2. Crop

Even a good photo framing (the framing during the actual shooting) could earn extra with proper cutting afterwards.

With the additional cropping the composition can be improved (for composition rules and their violations we need a separate article again).

When cutting a photo it is important to do the following:

  • Align to the horizon (if necessary);
  • Trim unnecessary elements;
  • Respect (or violate) certain compositional rules;
  • Set the size and the resolution (if necessary).

Depending on the software you use you may have different “extras” – such as Adobe Photoshop CS6 provides for ease of cutting compositional rule choice “rule of thirds”, “network”, “diagonals”, “triangles”, “golden section” or “golden spiral (Fibonacci spiral)”

Apart from these “extras” any other similar (even free) software offers a cutting tool.

It is on purpose that the crop is the first step of processing the image – it is useless to clean the defects and process areas, which will then be cut.

Image cropping in a composition
Image cropping in a composition “in the rule of thirds”
Image by cutting with composing
Image by cutting with composing “Fibonacci spiral”
Cropped image in the program window
Cropped image in the program window
Cropped image
Cropped image

3. Removing defects from dust on the sensor and lens or other small defects.

They are especially bad at photo shoots with small aperture (F/16 and below) or on areas with plain color, like cloudless sky.

In Adobe Photoshop/Elements the easiest way for correction is Spot Healing Brush Tool (which cover defect with a similar structure like the surrounding areas) or Clone Stamp Tool (with which you need to choose “manually” appropriate surrounding structure to cover the defects).

(The illustrative photo is not very good example of exactly this step because of the many water splashes.)

Similar instruments have also many free programs such as IrfanView.

The defect may be different from dust in the lens, such as freshly squeezed acne on teen’s face ;-).

Image after cleaning of dust and other small defects
Image after cleaning of dust and other small defects

4. Set the levels according to the histogram

This is done to improve the contrast. The easiest way to understand this is using Levels and histogram as continuously monitoring what happens to the image (in excess can escape the white balance, to lose details etc.).

In practice what you have to do most often is to move the left levels’ slider to the left beginning of the histogram, respectively right slider to the right end of the histogram, if applicable. Often there is a button “Auto“, but its use have unpredictable consequences sometimes. If you don’t like the effect, there’s also an “Undo” ;-).

Not all free programs have Levels, but most have menu commands such as Auto Adjust … or something similar that can work just as well.

The aim should be to get a good histogram at the shooting process itself, and this step can be skipped, but it is not always possible.

More details and how to use Curves to do this (alternative of Levels with a similar outcome) will be a subject of another article.

Levels window before setting levels
Levels window before setting levels
Levels window after setting levels
Levels window after setting levels
Image after setting levels
Image after setting levels

5. Improve color saturation.

You may need fine tuning of color. Increasing Saturation is tempting to get a colorful image, but here (as general with most corrections) you need to use very carefully and sparingly. Sparkling and exaggerated colors look awful or at least unnatural in most cases.

Hue/Saturation window
Hue/Saturation window
Image after setting the saturation
Image after setting the saturation

6. Convert to black and white

Some images look very different and / or they show a very different expression when being in black and white.

It is not necessary to understand why and how it is happening, but with shifting the sliders for the different colors you can get significantly better black and white image vs. the default positions of the sliders.

Detailed description of the conversion to black and white will be in another article.

Windows to convert to black and white
Windows to convert to black and white
Converted black and white image
Converted black and white image

7. Sharpen the image

Most digital images are enhanced by such sharpening. Like all corrections, it Is necessary to be used very sparingly and carefully so you don get unwanted digital noise and other defects.

Sharpen the image leads its name from the “conventional photography” because of the technology that has been used there – Unsharp Mask.

The window that Unsharp Mask opens has a lot of stress looking parameters, but you should not be afraid of them.

Normal parameters for sharpening:

  • Amount (amount, rate of application) – 50-150%;
  • Radius (number of pixels affected side) – 1-2 (maximum 4);
  • Threshold (difference between the surrounding pixels) – 3-20.

It can be useful after some more experience to make records of parameters values for different categories of photographs. Here are some sample values that can change depending on personal preference and experience:

Sharpen general – А=85%; R=1; T=4.

Moderate sharpening – А=120%; R=1; T=3.

Mild sharpening – А=150%; R=1; T=10.

Maximum sharpening – А=65%; R=4; T=3.

Sharpen to WEB – А=200%; R=0,3; T=0.

Sharpening also is “a native science” itself and may be good to write a whole separate article for it.

Here’s what you get with the post processing of the ‘‘Troll’’:

After postprocessing
After postprocessing

We hope that it have been helpful.

Anton Ivanov & Emily Ivanova

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