Post Processing Photos

Many people have commented that I seem to be able to get better photos with my camera than they get with theirs. I often hear – “you must have a really expensive camera”. That is not the case. However, I do use an extra step called post processing to get the most out of the images I record. Most people simply take a photo using the standard settings on their camera, letting the software inside the camera do its best job of averaging out the light to get a good exposure of the scene. The method to get the best out of a photo is to download the raw image from the camera before any internal software works on the image and then use a quality post processing tool like Adobe Lightroom to do a specific set of adjustments appropriate for that photo. Below are several examples of the advantages of doing photo adjustment inside your computer rather than inside your camera.

At  right is a nice photo of Blenheim Castle in England. It was a nice sunny day with a good sky showing the building at midday. I had no polarizing filter which would make the sky look darker and add some nice contrast. This is the photo that most cameras would produce as an even exposure.

This photo was processed in Lightroom. As with most daylight photos, the sky is brighter than the building. So the sky exposure was decreased and a little contrast added. Also, since it was midday, the color of the bricks appear a little washed out, so that color was remedied using more saturation. Finally, the distortion was removed by making the building upright.

In this photo, we have a wide range of light so the camera adjusts exposure dominated by the light of the molten glass. That leaves the faces of the people way too dark. In addition, the top left is an entry to another room that is too distracting. If we had control of the scene, we would have closed that door but there was no time for that to get the shot when it happened.

By using the raw image that contains a much wider exposure capabilities, we were able to balance the exposure for each part of the scene, taking the brightness of the molten glass down while increasing the exposure on the people slightly. Finally, we selectively killed the light from the room at the top left. Clearly we left the focus of the photo on the glass as it should be but we now have a photo in balance. And since our eyes are better at a wide range of light than our camera, this is actually very close to what was seen by the audience of people in the room.

One of my favorite places is Sedona, Arizona and the red sandstone rocks. Photos are best taken at sunrise or sunset to get the best light that accentuates the color of the rocks. This photo is taken right at first light before dawn as the sky starts to light up. This is the time to get the best sky colors, even though the sun has not yet hit the rock walls.  This photo was recorded by the camera processing software.

The version processed by Lightroom balances the exposure, adding more contrast to the sky and more exposure to the rock walls. More color saturation is added to enhance the red colors. Now we have the classic Sedona postcard type photo seen in all the stores in town.

The use of the post processing software in your computer greatly enhances all of your images. This is how professional photographers get those stunning images that you admire. It is possible to go totally overboard on this technique resulting in an image that people will say is “too Photoshopped”. But proper use the this technique strives to do specific adjustments in the computer than the camera software cannot. Finally, some say that “this is way too much effort” for photos. But my experience is that , with practice, a photo adjustment typically takes 2-5 minutes of work and that is well worth the time to get quality images.