This post was originally published on Medium.com
When I first started to take my photography seriously, I wasn’t sure if I needed to go to the trouble of using a post-processing software to finish my photos. But, when I eventually signed up for Photoshop, and decided to learn something useful about it, I was hooked.
That’s one of the problems with using such a masterpiece of computer software. You get hooked quickly and forget why you’re using it. There are so many options about what’s possible with Photoshop that instead of processing a photo for light and darkness, maybe a little colour balance and that’s it, you can become mesmerised by the array of ideas about what used to be called “trick-photography”.
This isn’t a tutorial, so there are no step for step procedures described here. At the end of the article there is a link that takes you through to a really good tutorial on retouching a portrait.It’s more of an introduction and warning about how to keep your focus on photography rather than becoming beguiled by the possibilities, then end up becoming an image editor.
All those possibilities, HDR to make your photo look so intense, colour adjustments that were never possible before, isolating parts of an image so that you can adjust, remove, or simply darken just a small corner of the photo. It all adds up to a lot of time and energy, followed by over interest in how to manipulate a photograph instead of time spent behind the camera where you should be learning as much as possible about photography.
It took me a while before I could get my perspective on using software to process my photos, then it occurred to me that what we are doing in Lightroom is more or less the same procedure that film-photographers do in the darkroom.
Getting back to basics and making sure that I spend more time concentrating on good camera abilities to get the best possible shot I can, helps me to spend less time mucking about in Photoshop.
If you’re just starting out, or are already a photographer who knows that you spend too much time with post-processing, here are a few tips about your approach to using image software.
These days when you pay the monthly fee for Photoshop, you get both Lightroom and Photoshop, plus a couple of other options for processing video with it. It’s a big package, and as a photographer you don’t need half of it.
- Your camera can do everything you want it to do, if you have learned how to control it properly. Always work in Manual mode and keep learning, and watching how the slightest adjustment can make an enormous difference to the outcome.
- Use Lightroom to adjust light and darkness, sharpen areas of the image if needed, then take it across to Photoshop.
- Photoshop is more powerful and doesn’t slow down the longer you are working in it. Many of the functions in Lightroom are also in Photoshop, except they are more accurate and precise.
- If you don’t like Lightroom, try to open each image in RAW Image first, you’ll discover that the options are similar to LR and you can then quickly open the image in Photoshop — avoiding the “heaviness” that Lightroom seems to experience.
- When you start using Photoshop or similar for the first time, the first things that you should really learn about are Layers. Using layers can save you time when you make a mistake — it’s really like a transparency that you work on and lay over the original photograph. If you make a mistake on an adjustment, instead of trying to jiggle it into looking like you want, delete the layer and start a fresh one on top of the others that you have.
Best Approach to Learn the Best Techniques
Learning about post-processing a photograph can become an intensive hobby in itself. Read as much as possible, there are some great books to be found on the subject, just be sure that they are very up to date and relevant to the latest versions. Watch videos — you will find top quality tutorials all over the internet which you can bookmark and listen to a bit at a time, and again and again.
Always practice a procedure on Photoshop as you learned it, there are a multitude of ways to achieve the same effect. Its a complex programme, and as you begin to get a grip of it you will realise that it isn’t all about just pushing a button here and there and seeing the same results again and again. It’s a versatile programme that has been carefully developed by passionate image makers over the years.
There are several ways to adjust light and darkness — no matter whether you are working on a Black & white photo or colour.
Protect your original photo by creating a copy immediately on starting work. The work you do is often destructive to the image layer, so you don’t want to work on your original image at all.
If you stick to the basics you will discover that the various methods open to you for adjusting light and darkness ( contrast and brightness) offer the ability to become more accurate in shifting things in minute detail.
That’s one of the subtleties of photographic processing software, the ability to do things your own way once you have grasped the various methods.
Try increasing brightness and then raise the contrast and see how intense your photo becomes. This is often missed by beginners who try to lower the light and contrast to get solid tones.
Understanding how to use procedures in image software will lead to better skills than simply believing that their is a series of buttons to click to get an effect. Don’t miss out on the possibilities that come with proper understanding.
That’s it, take it one step at a time, and be patient about everything, then you’ll get there faster.
Here is a video tutorial that I totally recommend for you on processing a portrait — all of the techniques involved can transfer to any type of subject in photography.