Lesson 70: The Rule of Post-Processing

I mentioned in Lesson 40 that post-processing is the stuff you do to your photo after you take it to make it look the way you want.  Something we don’t always remember is that back when photos were taken using film, part of how a photo turned out was determined by the mysterious person who developed that film and printed our photos.  Unless you had a dark room, you didn’t have any control over how those final steps were performed, yet there is a considerable amount that can be altered in the developing and printing process.

Since that’s about all I know about developing film, let’s talk about how this translates into “developing” digital images.  Back in Lesson 40, I also mentioned that the iPhone (or whatever camera you’re using) makes a lot of decisions for you about how much to saturate the colors, how bright to make the image, how to balance the whites, etc.  For you to have control over what that final photo looks like, you need to change those decisions to your liking.

What you should not do is spend a lot of time trying to fix things that can’t be fixed.  So here are some of the things not to waste your time on:

  1. Focus.  If the focus is very slightly soft, you might be able to sharpen it slightly.  In most cases, it will still make your eyes cross and the photo will look “crunchy” (to borrow a term from photographer John Greengo).
  2. Bright spots that are completely and totally white.  There’s no getting that data back in JPEG photos (which is what you get with smart phones).  If the photo is still tolerable with those blown-out areas, keep it.  If not, toss it.
  3. Dark spots that are completely and totally black.  Just like #2, there’s no getting that data back.  It’s called “clipping” when the camera can’t record the details in dark areas and just records solid black.  Once again, decide if you can live with it or toss the photo.

Proving I am a hypocrite, I was able to find an example photo that contains all three of these problems (yet, I did post-processing on it and tried to save it anyway):

IMG_2809 - Version 3
Blown-out white around the left eye, clipped black in the black on his side, and definitely not sharp!

What can I say–I really love my dog, it’s hard to toss photos of him no matter how bad they are.

We’ve been using Snapseed for editing so far in this series of lessons, but there are other options.  In fact, there are over 2000 photo editing apps in the Apple App Store.  Plus, many of the camera apps (including the iOS 7 Apple Camera app) also have some level of editing capability.  Before you get too crazy looking at different photo editing capabilities, just take it one step at a time.

Your Assignment:

  1. When you take a photo that you thought was going to be really cool, but it’s not quite what you wanted, try the adjustments available in the camera app you’re using to see if you can get what you wanted.
  2. If you can’t, that might be a good time to invest some time using Snapseed.  It’s pretty intuitive once you get through one or two edits and there are plenty of lessons to help you along in this blog (do a search on Snapseed from the iPhonography Lessons page).
  3. As you start getting comfortable with a few adjustments, you’ll find yourself wanting to use them more and more often.  You’ll start recognizing when a photo needs a contrast boost, for example.  Post-processing will become a quick and easy workflow you can apply to the photos you want to keep.
  4. When you have something your really can’t get what you want out of, it might be time to investigate what other photo editing tools are available and what you might be able to do with them.  I’ll be doing some lessons on PhotoForge in the near future.

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