Have you ever taken once-in-a-lifetime photos only to load them onto your computer and realize they all have a problem? You can energize your photography with a good post-processing program.
You’ve landed on one of 28 posts about photography and how to improve your skills. If you’re a creative, blogger, or photography enthusiast, you’ve landed in the right spot!
How to Overcome Disappointing Results
“Guess what I saw today!” I asked my husband when I called him for my evening check-in.
I’d already seen 15 bears on my drive from Arizona to Alaska, so he had a high chance of guessing correctly.
“Not just a bear, but a grizzly bear. And not just a grizzly bear, but a grizzly bear in a field of flowers with a blue lake in the background.”
“That must have been amazing. I wish I could have been there with you.”
“Yeah. Me, too. I can’t wait to load the photos on the computer and see how they turned out.”
“What? You can’t tell by looking at your tiny camera screen whether or not they turned out?” he joked.
Two days later, when I arrived at my daughter’s house, I finally loaded the photos onto my computer. They looked better on the tiny camera screen. I tried not to feel too disappointed. After all, how many people get to witness a grizzly feeding of bright pink flowers in front of a lake? Or hear the snuffles of said grizzly when he decided to cross the road three feet in front of my car?
Fortunately, I have a good post processing program on my computer—Adobe Lightroom—and I made some adjustments and worked at lightening the area around the grizzly’s face. The bright noonday sun had cast harsh shadows on the bear’s face. Not to mention the bear kept his nose buried in the posies most of the time.
But no matter what I did, the photos seemed dull and didn’t meet my expectations. I didn’t trash them all, though. Because I knew, eventually, I would discover a solution.
Steps to Energize Your Post-Processing
Over two and a half years later, I finally figured out how to fix my grizzly shots. Fortunately, I always shoot in camera RAW (I’ll explain this later, in case you don’t know what it is). It turns out, all I needed to do was change the white balance on the photos.
By making this one simple change, the photos lost their greyish cast and took on a warmer, more natural tone.
I also bumped the shadow’s slider to bring out the detail in the shadows, and BOOM! The photos looked 100% better.
Choose a Post-Processing Program You Think You’ll be Able to Learn
Back in the olden days of film cameras, we had to take our roll of film to a processor such as WalMart, Costco, or the local pharmacy. The results would either energize or disappoint us, depending on the skill of the person developing the photos and the care they took in making slight color adjustments. One-hour photo processors didn’t do this, though, so the results depended on how well a machine read the first negative. I had to return a roll or two for reprinting back in the day.
Now, you have the ability to make the color corrections yourself on your post-processing program. I use Adobe Lightroom about 90% of the time, but other good processing programs exist. This post lists other quality post-processing programs. The other 10% of the time I use the Photos program on my Macintosh computer.
Whatever you choose to use, remember it needs to feel user-friendly enough that you’ll actually use it. You can find hundreds of free tutorials on using Lightroom or any other program on YouTube. You’ll just need to make a commitment to learning something and using it often enough that you don’t forget what you’ve learned. I took a class in how to use Adobe Photoshop once upon a time…
Shoot in Camera RAW
If you really want to improve the quality of your photos, you’ll want to shoot in camera RAW. RAW files take up more megabytes of memory on your SD card—but in return they allow you to make more adjustments in post processing.
Different brands of camera call this feature different things. Canon adds .CR2 at the end of each RAW file, and Nikon adds .NEF.
Camera RAW saves the most amount of data for each photos—things like light, color, details, shadows, and highlights. If you’re a fan of the Great British Bake Off, maybe this will help you understand Camera RAW. For most of the challenges, contestants use their own recipes, and some even bring ingredients from home. That’s like shooting in Camera RAW.
But for the technical challenge, Mary Berry gives them a recipe with a name, such as ‘Victoria Sandwich’ and very little instructions. That’s like shooting with JPEG.
When it comes to post-processing, the results will turn out wildly different depending on the skill of the photographer and the post-processing program. Shooting in Camera RAW will give the post-processing program the greatest number of ‘instructions’ (data) and you will have a better chance of producing the results you want.
Edit with a Light Hand
Once you have all the ingredients for the best results possible, you need to take care to not overdo your post-processing editing. When I took a digital photography class a decade ago, the professor told us to try to keep things natural. He said we could change the vibrance slider, because that adjustment brings out the colors that already existed. But he warned us about using the saturation slider, because that can give the entire photo an unnatural cast.
I use these sliders the most:
[exposure]—this allows you to compensate for the exposure of the photo. It’s something we did back in the photo lab in the olden days when printing photos.
[highlights]—this allows you to darken the washed-out areas.
[shadows]—you can control the shadows.
[blacks]—you can us this one to adjust shadows as well.
[whites]—play around with this one as well as [blacks], [shadows], and [highlights] to find the right combination that makes your photo pop without damaging the quality of the photo.
[white balance]—you can change the overall temperature of the photo with this adjustment.
With all but the last adjustment, try to not move the numbers above or below 20 for the most natural look.
Your Homework for Today
- Determine if you can shoot in Camera RAW on your camera. I already shoot this way with my DSLR, and I discovered today that I can’t shoot in Camera RAW with my point-and-shoot. I upgraded my Yamera app for my iPhone (a $1.99 investment) so I can choose to shoot in Camera RAW on my iPhone. Yes, you’ll use up more space when you take and process photos. But, you’ll have more options and you can learn to toss the photos that didn’t really turn out that well.
2. Figure out what post-processing program you want to invest time and money into. You don’t have to invest a lot of money, but you WILL need to invest time to learn how to use the program. Schedule it into your calendar.
3. Take some photos in Camera RAW. Load them onto your post-processing program and practice using some the adjustment sliders I mentioned earlier. Make a photo look as unnatural as possible, download it, and then make it look as natural as possible. Share your results on the Self-Care Hacks Facebook page (hey, taking care of our creativity is a form of self-care).
Come Back Tomorrow
The next post in the 28 Days Behind the Lens series will address what to do in a predicament.