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   Post Processing + Adobe Lightroom Software!

 

 

                                                                                                                                            
 

Last Updated - 14th February 2014

 


With the advent of the digital age, the post processing of photographic digital images has increased dramatically. The debate of photography without post processing versus photography with post processing is alive and kicking...........I suppose it matters just how much PP is applied before it becomes an art form or simply a disaster?

I have to hold up my hand and admit that when I first started this article back in 2010, I was very cynical regarding digital post processing. I felt that images should reflect the actual scene as captured by the photographer through the camera and without any post processing...........any image that did not come up to that standard, should be rejected and binned. After spending some more time investigating various professional websites and a great deal of forum discussion, I changed my opinion (to some degree) deleted parts of the original writing and started again.


Taste is a funny old thing, take Marmite, you like it or loathe it but in a strange way and with the passing of time, Marmite can become very tasty but then again what you like, you might later loathe.

Photographic images are more complex than Marmite, the image that you post processed and finally rendered appears perfect, then a year later, you revisit it and the desire to change it is strong, especially if you have spent a great deal of time learning how to use your post processing software. Your experience sways your opinion and now that perfection is no longer perfect. To make matters worse, you may be swayed by examples of other photographer's images that you have viewed on the
internet and then unease with your post processing skills sets in.

Sometimes, a photographer will purchase new software in an attempt to establish a style, a rendering that can be finally maintained and in truth some photographers hit the
sweet spot although this is more down to perseverance with the software than actually replacing it. Some photographers abandon post processing and return to a more conventional method and use a hardware colour filter screwed or adapted onto the front of their lens to produce the effect they desire, although it can prove an expensive exercise before you find the right one. 

Unfortunately rendering and colour are not everything and whether it is accomplished in post processing or through a hardware filter, the subject material has a great deal of bearing on the taste of the final image. I love the The Godfather movie (watch the trailer) with it's 'classic 1930s' colour rendering with that deep burnished look, the vignetting and reduced dynamic range
in some scenes and the glow in the lighting but if you place modern day subjects into the frame would that look work? I suppose the material for the scene has to come first then the choice of rendering, either through the type of lens, a hardware filter or perhaps later in post processing a 'RAW' image file.

Recently, I sent an email to Lee Filters asking them for advice on a hardware filter that could emulate that 'burnished glow' seen in the Godfather movie and they replied that they were aware of a resurgence in the 1930s 'classical colour look' and expected to have perfected a filter to emulate it by July 2014. At present their existing filters were not quite there and required additional work in post processing.

I am unable to emulate (at present) the 'Godfather Look' in post processing but here is a Canon 5D MK I DSLR camera image with different temperatures, different tints and vignetting applied in post processing -
 

Colour Faithful

 

Colour Faithful + Antique Gold

Colour Faithful + Sepia

Colour Faithful + Marine Green

 

Marine Green + Light Contrast

Reduced Colour + Antique Gold

Colour + Light Contrast

Colour Standard - Heavy Contrast and Vignetting


Weather changes fast in Scotland and this image of highland cattle was shot using a Panasonic G6 compact system camera and a Lumix 20mm f1.7 ASPH prime lens on a very wet and rainy day. To add to this I was standing on the verge of the road with heavy lorries passing feet from me and throwing up even more spray. The combo held up well despite all this and I was able to grab this image before the cattle moved off on seeing me.

The 'RAW' image file was post processed and converted to various styles of jpeg for the web using Adobe Lightroom software and I have softened the (larger image) PA version.

Please click on the images to open up 1300 pixel variants -

 

 

   


My Photographic Style & Post Processing Software

My favourite 'photographic style' is still to project plan the location/subject and to use a tripod, camera and prime lens, shutter remote release and Lee filters to achieve a good tonal (DR) range in the captured image. I apply these disciplines more for landscape photography but when necessary, they are also applied for my other types of photography. For those special 'RAW' images, I always take 3 'bracketed' shots - the same frame but 3 different exposures to capture the 'optimum' exposure of choice. Post processing is a last resort to make very 'subtle changes' where required and this is usually limited to dust cleaning, saturation, brightness, sharpening/softening, noise reduction, contrast and cropping modifications. Adobe Lightroom is now my post processing software of choice and I no longer use image blending software.

 

Types of Camera Files
The majority of serious amateur and professional photographers capture images which are usually in 'RAW' or 'Jpeg' format and come straight out of the camera. The RAW format is the digital equivalent of a 'film negative' from film cameras. Software on a computer is used to edit (post process) the RAW and/or Jpeg files to achieve the 'look' of the then converted jpeg image required. This image of the cows on the field near the Black Mill in The East Riding of York is an example of this type of converted jpeg file. Professionals tend to process part of their work in RAW files and then convert them to 16bit tiff files where they are then taken to a higher level of post processing using even more powerful software.

Likewise a 'film' negative can now be scanned on a digital scanner to create a Tiff and/or a Jpeg format digital file which can also be post processed using software on a computer. The Jpeg is a compressed file which has lost some of its content with the scanning whilst the Tiff is a lossless file, which retains the maximum content and is nearer to a RAW equivalent.
Most photographers will scan a film negative to a Tiff file format and from there make any 'post processing' adjustments and convert to jpeg for normal size prints and web images.

This 'film' image of the Waverley Station in Edinburgh and the taxi was taken recently with a 40 year old Zenit-E Film 35mm SLR Camera using Kodak Ektar 100 Colour Film. The negative was scanned to jpeg at a local Jessop's Store and then edited by me using Canon's DPP Software. The post processing was no more than trimming up around the scanned edges and applying very slight saturation and sharpness. Film images are very underrated in this digital age and the end results in the conversion from a film negative to a digital tiff/jpeg file can be substantial and very rewarding.

 

Most digital photographers will produce RAW and Jpeg files from their cameras, whereby they have the 'maximum flexibility' for their post processing. Likewise they always scan film negatives to Tiff files, which also offer the maximum in PP.

 

Arguments for Post Processing v Against
The arguments for PP versus no PP, rage across the internet and at photographic club meetings. Some almost regard it as 'Photographic Heresy' to apply post processing to any image, never mind a digital one. Usually the core of the arguments are centered around the 'great photographers' of the earlier 20th Century who 'tweaked' their negatives when they were being printed and this is the justification for 'digital' post processing.

 

The photographic camera equipment of today is much more sophisticated and should be capable of 'capturing the moment' and producing a clean image? However, just like the photographers of old the modern day digital photographer still has to get his digital sensor ISO (similar to film speed) correct, along with the correct aperture setting in relation to the shutter and still has to take into consideration the light conditions and the ability of the camera sensor and electronics to apply the correct dynamic range to the final image. To obtain the optimum dynamic range across an image the photographer invariable has to use different types of filters but the favourite, is the '2 stop graduated gray' filter which allows dark foregrounds to become more visible against the bright sky and avoids the sky being 'blown' whereby the sky section is lost and unrecoverable in the camera. The earlier 'film' photographers all had similar problems and addressed them in similar ways, either by careful calibration of the camera and it's additional filters or by recovering/tweaking images in the darkroom during printing.

 

Is the modern argument 'for and against' post processing really an argument about 'lazy photography' versus the professional photographic approach? The problem with software digital post processing is that it encourages a lazy approach to photography. The professionals do not approach it in this way, they have to get their images correct, it is their business and a money making concern but for many others, when you realise that you can clean up that blown sky or open up the foreground and the dynamic range or even completely change the image using digital tools on a computer..........well what is the point of carrying around filters and having to fit them on the camera? Worse, were the old 'film' photographers just as lazy in their approach...........human nature does not skip generations.

 

Digital Cameras & Dynamic Range
There are digital cameras that do have a problem with dynamic range and despite all the best efforts the image eventually ends up in 'intensive care' post processing. This 'blows away the myth' that a good photographer can capture a great image no matter what camera he or she uses...........as long as they can 'PP the image' on a computer to get it right. I use a Nikon '35mm Film' SLR camera and it does produce images (even after scanning) straight from the negative that clearly display a greater dynamic range than my digital SLR cameras. As we move forward with digital photography, I am sure that the problems associated with dynamic range will disappear, even to the extent that a form of 'expanded dynamic range' will be blended within the camera at the time of exposure and/or in the software 'RAW' post processing.

 

No matter how good the photographer, the camera, the lens and the digital technology, there are some scenes that just cannot be balanced..............where the foreground is heavily shadowed and the skyline is excessively bright, the metering in the camera just cannot deliver. With the best will in the world, even using exposure adjustments the photographer will end up with an image where the sky has lost part of its colour, is 'washed out' as he strives to open up the shadows for some detail or the sky is correct but the shadows are dark, without much detail and excessive noise has crept in. Every digital camera suffers from this problem, even 'film' cameras.

Many photographers will take 3 'RAW' exposures (dark, normal, bright) and blend them in HDR software to open up the dynamic range. Other photographers will take their best shot and use Adobe Lightroom software and attempt to recover the dark foreground or bring back the sky by applying a 'software graduated filter' to the top of the image. Either method can often produce an final image where the viewer will immediately sense that there is a 'falseness' and this is usually where the foreground appears unnatural to the eye. In the worse cases, especially with HDR software, the entire image appears 'overcooked' and it is obvious that it's structure has changed.

The 'best solution' is one that you can use, even if you are a JPEG shooter and that is a 2 'stop' B+W graduated filter screwed onto the front of your lens. Now you can expose to the right, grab as much data in the image, open up the foreground and retain the correct colour in the sky. I use the following filter on the front of my 52mm Lumix 14-45mm zoom lens and with a 46-52mm step up 'Tiffen' adapter on my Lumix 20mm f1.7 lens.

The B+W 52mm 0.6/4x (502) Graduated Neutral Density Filter has a transition from clear to 2x neutral density. The neutral grey half of this filter transmits 25% of the incoming light, so that it darkens the respective portion of the subject by two f-stops without altering its colours. For example; when the sky is too bright in relation to the landscape, the filter ensures good detail rendition in the clouds and prevents the sky from being 'washed out' by over-exposure. The 502 filter is supplied in a rotating mount, similar to that of a polariser, so that the angle of transition can be altered to suit the subject.

I (mark) stick a small piece of white plastic tape to the outer rim of my filter (at the very top of the dark section) and in this way, I can rotate the filter and bring the dark part of the filter to the desired area of the scene.

 

My Conclusions on Post Processing
Having given this area a great deal of thought, I have broken post processing down to a logical train of events which encompass amateur and professional photographers along with their photographic methodologies.

Location, subject and (most important of all) light are the key ingredients that provide the material for a photographic opportunity. The actual capture of the image involves patience in some cases, such as 'landscape photography' to achieve the optimum light conditions. The photographers ability to use the camera is all important, not only to set it correctly but how to apply the proper accessories (such as light filters, flash, remote shutter activation devices, etc) and when to use a tripod to hold the camera and lens firmly for a steady shot. Lens or camera image stabilisation technology is important as it aids the photographer to capture 'hand held' lower shutter speed images and especially from moving platforms, such as boats. So the image is captured and to all accounts should be correctly exposed with the key points in the scene, for example the foreground and the sky providing a good balance of dynamic range.

At Stage 1, many photographers will simply use the jpeg image file that the camera produces and have some prints made from the SD/CF card to the standard wallet or picture frame size and invariably at that size it is very satisfying work. Some may take it a stage further and gently tweak their jpeg images in a software post processing package to lighten, darken, sharpen or add just a little bit of more colour saturation before it goes to the printer. Some may even post them on a social website for their family and friends to view over the Internet.

Moving up to Stage 2, there are photographers who prefer to shoot in 'RAW' file image format and to post process it in a software package. This provides them with a much greater flexibility to modify the image to their taste and in certain cases to recover a bad image and modify it to make it acceptable for print and display. The 'RAW' file is converted to create a jpeg file image which is then used like Stage 1 for standard prints and website displays. It is also preferable to use 'RAW' file conversions to 16bit tiff files for additional editing and making 'large' prints.

Stage 3 is where the post processing starts to play a greater and more important role in the development of 'RAW' file images. An experienced photographer and particularly one who is a professional and making money out of selling prints from a Gallery or on the Internet will use PP software at some stage with their images. Even the most skilled of digital photographers will encounter a scene which is extremely difficult to capture whereby the lighting of the image is accurate. Sometimes on such occasions, 'bracketed exposure shots' are used and the best exposure shot is selected. Sometimes even this is not enough as the digital camera cannot resolve the dynamic range (even using filters) and the photographer is faced with binning the work or saving it by blending (in software) the bracketed exposures together to create a single 'overall exposure' image. The final effect can be substantial, acceptable and natural. However, I feel that it is important to differentiate between the different type of photographers in this category and I have laid it out in a logical upward post processing path.


Category A Photographer
A photographer who desires that his work is kept as natural as possible will work very reservedly with post processing software. The original 'RAW' image that is captured will already be to a very high standard. The photographer can take it a stage higher by working in 16bit tiff file conversions and very carefully post processing certain areas of the image to 'enhance' them to draw the viewers eye and sometimes to change the 'mood' of the image to enhance the viewing feeling. Such an image will appear very natural, not over colour saturated and kept within the boundaries where the viewer will raise the question...........has it been post processed or not? Make no mistake, if a photographer is selling their images or prints, they have to commit to post processing at this level and it has to be professional in its appliance.

Category B Photographer
Another photographer who is in a similar position to the one in Category A, will take the entire process a stage further and process a 'full blown' High Dynamic Range image. This is where several images of different exposure are taken of a scene or in some cases converted from a RAW file to several different exposure jpeg versions.........in either case they are joined together to make a single image in special HDR software. This opens up the dynamic range of the final image but the post processing moves up to the next level and the final image can appear natural or in the worse case, 'overcooked' and unnatural..........although it has to be admitted that some can move into the realms of 'Fine Art' and look great. Usually professional photographers who prefer working in HDR will post process their images to 'Fine Art' and sell their images or prints on the Internet or at a Gallery............the viewer/purchaser is left in no doubt.


Category C Photographer

Finally we have a photographer who moves WITHIN Category A and into the realms of artistic expression. The image is dramatically altered by using drawing tools such as tablets/pens whereby the digital image work is instantly 'recognised as art' as opposed to a photograph.  Many 'artists' take this a stage further and they capture the digital image with a camera, post process it to their desired level, print it onto canvas and then draw/paint over it whereby it becomes a painting. Some go even further and only use the photograph as 'a visual aid' to create a separate painting.  


I aspire to move into the Category A section and I would love to be in Category C but you have to be an artist first with the imagination and skills to take a photograph and transform it into a 'professional' painting. I am slowly moving into a 'hybrid mode' with parts of Category A and parts of Category C. I am trying my hand at 'photographic art' without the actual painting. Please visit my Photographic Art article and my Photo Art Section.


Adobe Lightroom Software
Lightroom is a relatively easy software package to get to grips with or at least in my case, learn the basics without a manual. Adobe have an extensive help line on their website which is well worth visiting. For more information, visit Adobe Helpline & Tutorials

I always try to use the camera to achieve the 'correct exposure' before I apply post processing in computer software. If the exposure is correct across the frame, then what I see in the view finder or LCD is what I usually get in 'RAW' file post processing. I prefer to use filters to balance lighting in a scene rather than use the software to artificially apply it.........a 2 stop graduated grey filter is my favourite method of balancing a dark foreground with a bright skyline.


I shoot all my digital images in 'RAW' file format and I now use Adobe Lightroom and a camera profile as the base to process them to tiff, jpeg and to re-size and copyright stamp jpegs for my website. I prefer Lightroom, for although the software is extremely powerful, I tend to use it more for the flexibility it offers in gathering up all my 'RAW' images, my digitally scanned 35mm film negative 'Tiffs' and sometimes camera Jpegs to work on in a single environment and to create 'HTML' webs for my website. Using LR, I have cut my raw-jpeg conversion to website time by two thirds.

I try as much as possible to 'limit my LR post processing' adjustments to
dust cleaning, saturation, brightness, sharpening/softening, noise reduction, contrast and cropping modifications. One area that I always concentrate on is the 'dynamic range' with the correct relationship between dark subjects and light subjects. This can prove very difficult as the image when you first look at it may seem perfect but one small area which has bright sun glinting off it, might be blown and the resolution and contrast may be non existent. Finding the correct balance with this type of image can be extremely difficult but I try as much as possible to produce an image from the camera or at worst - later in post processing - that is correct to the actual scene.

The main key to using Lightroom is the camera calibration profile which sets up the base parameters pertaining to the camera you are using. I select the (camera type).dcp and then create my presets to suit different light conditions - thereafter, once you select a development preset - it automatically loads the .dcp camera calibration profile.
Once the camera calibration profiles have been properly set-up along with the 'Development Presets, it becomes a breeze to use.

A typical development preset 'base' set-up -

  • I install a (camera type).dcp camera calibration profile in the Lightroom software directory on my Personal Computer (Adobe usually provides a .dcp to suit a new camera, when they issue a revision update or often I can get one on forums, from 3rd parties)

  • When the camera image is loaded for development in Lightroom, I select the appropriate .dcp file in the camera calibration section and the image will assume the characteristics of the profile and the colours. For example a Panasonic GF1 profile might be called GF1.dcp and very often as in the case of a Canon camera, I might get variants of the profile - Neutral, Standard, etc.

  • I create a Lightroom Base PRE-SET to work with - which should have the minimum settings adjusted, saturation, brightness, contrast, etc, to suit my taste and most importantly, I zero all the noise and sharpness settings - I could call the PRESET  -  GF1 Base for a Panasonic GF1 camera. When making this Base Pre-set, I invariably zoom the image to full size to examine more closely the relevant settings and their effects. Especially the noise and sharpening settings. I save my preset in a subdirectory rather than in beside the Lightroom Development Presets (supplied in the software)

  • Once a Base Pre-set has been created for a particular camera, I can then open up the camera image and simply load it's Base Pre-set in Lightroom, which loads all the base settings and the camera calibration .dcp

  • From there, I can make more adjustments to suit prior to finally developing the image into a jpeg and/or tiff format. I can also from any extended adjustments, make more pre-sets, Landscape 1, Landscape 2, Portrait 1, Indoors Low Light, etc.

  • Once I have created many types of pre-sets from the BASE master, I can pick one to suit the image, I am working on, or if need be - use the nearest and make further adjustments.

 

Adobe Lightroom - Web 'HTML' Galleries
I can create a main directory (e.g. Istanbul) put my RAWs, scanned Tiffs and camera Jpegs into a sub directory (called Original Images) or individually into separate directories each bearing a catalogue number, create a Lightroom 'Istanbul' Catalogue in the main Istanbul directory, import the files for development into this catalogue in Lightroom, save my titles, captions and all other metadata to the images, develop and convert/create jpegs, tiffs (rename images if required) to sub directories off the main Istanbul directory.
I also use Lightroom for resolving images that are heavily distorted and for all my night 'RAW' image conversions.

I can also output different styles of Lightroom Webs into sub directories off the main Istanbul directory and copy them for linking into my main website. The web output is great because now I can pre-set my web development to display title, caption, metadata settings and any copyright pre-set under and on the images. A Lightroom web directory consists of the stored re-sized jpeg image data and a main index.html file that you link to to start the web, which in reality is a sub web of the main website. I usually start a LR web in another window so that the original page is left open for returning to.

LR 'HTML' Web examples of GF1 images - Istanbul Lightroom Web and National Museum of Scotland Gallery. I now create Lightroom HTML webs as they take up much less data capacity and are easier to work with. I used to create 'flash' webs but they consumed far to much data space as they required 3 different sizes of files to work on all sizes of screens.


My Own Plate Web Galleries
I also create my own plates for my Main 'Plate' Gallery Webs and I can still use Lightroom to develop my RAW, Tiff and Jpeg files to create web ready and resized jpeg images stamped with metadata as well as permanently stamp a copyright directly onto the image. The only provision is that the conversion must be saved in sRGB format to display the correct colours on my internet web. I have also found a quirk in that if I apply sharpening with any other (non Adobe) software package to a Lightroom image, I have to ensure that the new jpeg file is inserted into my web with the correct .jpg or .JPG to match the original hyperlink as my website is CASE type dependent.

I have started to change my Stock image webs to Lightroom 'HTML' Webs, especially all the webs that pertain to work in the UK and to which images are added to on a regular basis. This is reducing the data capacity on my internet web and freeing up more space for more images.

 

Adobe Lightroom Software - Web Image Sharpness
All my Lightroom HTML webs are created straight out of Lightroom with 'standard sharpness' applied and the images are not re-sharpened. As well as creating a web from Lightroom you can also create a re-sized single jpeg for using in an article to link to.............for those single images that I display in my articles at 1,000 Pixel size, I very often re-sharpen them for the web using Canon DPP Software but there is no noise reduction applied.

Web images often lose their 'pop' when re-sized for the web and a good software package can be used to 'sharpen' the re-sized image by viewing it at web size and gently bringing 'back' the sharpness without bringing up the noise. I tend to overdo the sharpening at times but people have different tastes regarding sharpness and even noise.

 

Moving Lightroom Catalogues - Data - Webs
Using the above techniques, I can move the main Istanbul directory around my drive or other drives and load the Lightroom Catalogue Name 'Istanbul' into Lightroom to re-start at anytime.


In a scale of 1-10 for Lightroom expertise, I am probably at 5. It is an extremely powerful software package but I understand the professionals tend to take it a stage further and use Adobe CS software to take their RAW to 16bit tiff converted files from Lightroom to CS for an even higher level of post processing.


Adobe Lightroom - Image Recovery Test
Some time ago I did an experiment with Lightroom when I used one of my REJECT raw files and tried to RECOVER it as best I could. You can use this link to jump to the
TEST Page.

 

Guilty of Lazy Photography
I can......at times......be guilty of 'lazy' photography but as I move forward, I continually strive to take more time in my preparation and my appliance in capturing the moment and to reduce my RAW conversion post processing to the absolute minimum......... unfortunately, I do have the odd lapses!

 


Adobe Lightroom Software
is available for
download - You require to sign in or if you are new to Adobe you will have to register.

A video on Lightroom 'New Features' from Adorama -

Associated Articles -

 

If you have enjoyed this article - please donate to my Charity of Choice   -   The Sick Kids

 

Richard Lawrence
Scotland
United Kingdom

 

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