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Software Post Processing!




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 -




Types of Camera Files
The majority of serious amateur and professional photographers capture images which are usually in 'RAW' or 'Jpeg' format. 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 used for printing.

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 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. 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 the bracketed exposures together using software to create a single 'overall exposure' image. The final effect can be substantial, acceptable and natural BUT pushed to the limits, it can also look false, even unatural.


Guilty of Lazy Photography
I 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!




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


Richard Lawrence
United Kingdom


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