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Sunday, May 12, 2013

How to Make your Post-Processing Serve Your Images: Photoshop and Creative Thinking

It is ironic how we often talk about things like White Balance and color accuracy and this and that, then we spend hours upon hours on messing up the colors anyway, in order to give our photos a unique, characteristic look. In a sense, we degrade an image to give it a certain mood.

Not only is there nothing wrong with that, but it is often an integral part of the post-processing workflow. Some images need to appear contrasty and harsh; others smooth and soft and dreamy. However, the important thing to remember when it comes to post-processing is this: Never do things randomly. Sure, you might accidentally come up with something that looks nice, but that's the equivalent of the "spray and pray" technique: you keep the shutter button pressed, take 40 pics in random, hoping one of them will look OK.

The proper way to do post-processing is to know what you're after.
  • Know what kind of mood you're trying to achieve
  • Know what kind of method you will need to use.
  • Know what kind of procedure you will need to use.

Example (and answers to the above): I have the image shown below. I want to make it look a bit old-fashioned, and traditional; I will use color and tone manipulation; and I will use curves to reduce contrast and introduce color casts.

The original image

Using a curve adjustment on RGB as shown below, I slightly reduce contrast. Notice also how I lift the black point a bit:

Reducing contrast

Now, notice my manipulation of color, to give the image this old-fashioned, traditional look:
Notice how this color manipulation emphasized the traditional look I was going after very obviously

Here's the same image, with the addition of a bit of noise - remember, we're degrading the image to get a certain mood!

The final result

As a conclusion, I will repeat what I said earlier - and I can't emphasize it enough: Never do things randomly in post-processing. In our "filled with plugins" era, we are often given tons of ready-made solutions. Sometimes, these can be helpful. But only if you know what you're after, and you know what you're trying to achieve. Otherwise, it's no different than spraying paint randomly on a canvas. Painting it might be, art it ain't (with apologies to fans of Jackson Pollock).

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