Have you ever arrived from a trip excited about your pictures, only to find they don’t exactly look right? You shot what you wanted to capture, the light conditions were perfect and you got the frame just right but somehow the resulting picture looks dull, dark or not perfectly focused. Although there’s some debate about how far one should go when editing your pictures, I don’t know of any photographer or travel blogger who doesn’t include post-processing as part of his/her workflow.
Before you start editing your pictures there are a couple of things to take into consideration:
- Start with a good picture. Any good picture can become a great picture by means of post-processing but a bad picture can only aspire to be an average one. Post-processing can be very time-consuming so why waste your time with a shot that’s not worth it?
- Never work on your original. Always keep a copy of your original shot before you start editing in case something goes terribly wrong. Some programs like Ligthroom or Aperture use a non-destructive workflow, which means that they never modify the master file so you can always revert to the original version without having to duplicate your picture.
- RAW is better. Your camera doesn’t always know how you like your pictures to look like so it’s better to keep all the information in case you need to change something later.
I will be writing more about post-processing techniques in future posts but for now I just want to introduce 5 of the most useful tools that you can find in almost any photo editing software.
Table of Contents
This is by far the simplest adjustment you can do to a photograph composition. Any photo editor features a crop tool of some kind and you would be surprised by how much a picture can be improved just by removing unnecessary elements and/or fixing the frame. With the high resolution of modern digital cameras, you can easily remove 60% off a picture without even noticing a reduction in quality. So next time you are going to edit a shot, the first thing you should do is think of what can be taken out of it and don’t be afraid to cut it off.
Sharpen (or Unsharp Mask)
This adjustment makes the image appear sharper by adding definition to the picture’s edges. Most pictures improve with this so it is something you should apply to every single image. If you are not working with a non-destructive program though, you should only apply this setting once and at the very last editing step. The reason is that some information gets lost every time you apply it so if you do it too many times you will end up with a dark, blurry bunch of pixels. The same concept applies to saving JPG files, each time you compress and save an image, you are losing detail, so repeatedly saving a JPG file will eventually destroy your picture (another good reason to work with RAW files).
Shadows & Highlights
When a scene has a high contrast between the dark and bright areas, it is normally quite difficult to get a proper exposure for the whole picture. Sometimes you will get a really dark area but if you adjust the brightness, the rest of the picture will get over exposed. This is where the shadows & highlights tool comes in handy. With this tool you can adjust the brightness selectively to create a uniform exposure. There are plenty of wrongly exposed shots you can save thanks to this tool.
Sometimes no matter how much you adjust, there are some elements in the pictures that just shouldn’t be there. Be it a dark spot from a dirty sensor or a stubborn tourist who wouldn’t move out of your shot, this tool will help you get rid of it. This tool basically allows you to remove unwanted objects from your pictures by replacing them with information similar to the pixels around them. This is obviously not a perfect solution and the bigger the object is, the lower the chance for the tool to do a good job removing it. It takes some practice and patience to get good results when removing big things out of your pictures and there’s no guarantee that the end result will look natural so use this tool at your own discretion.
Any picture can improve a thousand times just by correctly adjusting the colors. There is usually more than one tool that can help you modify the color information of an image (colors, curves, levels…) and for best results, a basic understanding of the histogram is required. There really is no golden rule for this since each photo is a different world and color preferences are a very subjective matter, but if I had to give you one advise it would be to try to make the colors of the picture look as close to reality as possible. After all, your pictures should reflect what you saw and felt when you took them so use these tools to correct the interpretation that your camera made.
As you can probably tell by now, post-processing takes a big portion of a photographer’s time, some can spend hours processing each of their pictures. That is why many professional and amateur photographers prefer to outsource the post-processing part of their workflow to get the best results possible without wasting any time on it.
What about you, do you use any other post-processing tool that I haven’t mentioned? Do you shoot in JPG and you like it?
Feel free to share your thoughts on the comment section below!
If you’re interested in reading more about travel photography, here are the other posts from this series:
- Part I: The Basics
- Part II: Photo Composition
- Part III: How to Take Great Photos from a Moving Vehicle