Post-process this!

In my last post I talked about my equipment. I carry prime lenses exclusively. One of the advantages of prime lenses is they usually have wider apertures than zoom lenses. The wider the aperture, the more light allowed in to the sensor. Unfortunately, with a wider aperture, you have a shallower depth of field and more margin for error. This and other reasons are why you use photo-editing software.

What photo-editing software do I use? I use three programs exclusively. The first and foremost is Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. The word “Lightroom” is a play on the word “Darkroom” (Good job Captain Obvious), and in theory Lightroom allows the same visual function for digital photos as a darkroom would for film processing. I don’t know about darkrooms, but I do know Lightroom does 99% of what I need it to do.

I could write a book on all you can do with Lightroom, but there are an abundance of books out there already and I don’t like to use books to learn how to use software. I will say, there are two core functions of Lightroom I use. The first function of Lightroom is organization. Lightroom has a very intuitive interface for sorting, keywording and cataloging photographs. The example screen shot below is a built-in function. I didn’t do a single thing other than upload photographs to produce these sorting results. The Library filter as I enclosed in the red box below can take the EXIF data on the photograph, or keywords added by the user, and use all of it for sorting. EXIF data is the specifics of the photograph as provided by the digital camera, which include date and time stamps, body and lens data, and specifics on the camera settings. EXIF data can also contain things like GPS coordinates. The example below, I am looking for all photographs taken in September 2012 with the Sony A77, regardless of the lens used, at any aperture.


Click on the photo to see a larger example.

I’ve outlined the Catalog function in the orangish-yellow box above, which is another sorting mechanism. Say you upload 200 shots, knowing you need to process 10 immediately; you can tag the ten photos, putting them in a quick collection, and have only those show up in your view so you can focus on those. Outlined in pink I have shown a few photograph thumbnails in the Library, the little circle on the upper right hand corner of some of the thumbnails show I have marked those to be placed in the Quick Collection. The first thumbnail has a 2 on the upper left, signifying I have made a virtual copy of the photo next to it. The little boxes in the lower right all mean something. The first one looks like a cartoon bubble, it signifies GPS coordinates are available for the photo. The second one shows the photo is in a collection. The third one shows the photo has been cropped, and the fourth one shows the photo has been edited. A lot to remember, but after you learn it it becomes second nature.

Almost everything is adjustable in Lightroom when it comes to the view you get of your photographs. You can make the thumbnails bigger or smaller, change the sorting, hide panels, and more.

The second core function is the obvious one. Photo editing. The Library module has quick adjustment settings, however the Develop module has the advanced settings.

In the example screenshot below, the pink outlines some of the basic settings in the panel on the right side for editing. There are many more potential settings, including lens profiles for certain camera/lens combinations, adjustments for any and everything you can think of from individual color adjustment, sharpening, noise removal, and more. I have outlined the most important function of the Develop module, for me, in red. Lightroom keeps a history of all of the edits you’ve made on any given photograph. Lightroom doesn’t adjust the original file.


Click on the photo to see a larger example.

This is very important. It keeps track of the changes and you can export a file based on the changes, however the original file is left intact. So if you want to revert a change, or go back to the original, you can do so. You can also toggle between changes to make sure the change is the right one to make. Below I have shown an example of the same photo as above reverted to the original photo as uploaded.


Click on the photo to see a larger example.

As you can see, as I outlined in red above, I made a lot of changes but comparing the two samples the differences are mildly different in comparison. Where the history is important is when you’re able to achieve results you want, you can make a note of the changes you made, and Lightroom allows you to copy those changes and paste them to other photos. So if you take a dozen shots in the same environment, similar lighting, similar camera settings, you can apply those changes to all of the shots, which can speed up processing or create a new baseline for editing the next shot.

One thing I can’t emphasize enough is the wealth of options for editing your photo. You can remove facial blemishes, whiten teeth, remove or add individual colors as well as change hues. One of my favorite things to do is remove color to isolate a subject. Below I take the same photograph, make no exposure or light changes, I just straighten it, remove green, yellow and aqua, and increase blue, red, orange, purple and magenta. I also used a brush to reduce saturation on the fence in the background which appeared blue once the green and yellow were removed.


Click on the photo to see a larger example.

Notice the orangeish-yellow box. I used these sliders to make the color adjustments. The subject now pops out of the shot.

I’ll reiterate what I said above. I could write a book. But this is a blog where I explain what software I use. The second piece of software I am reliant on is Microsoft Image Composite Editor (ICE). Microsoft ICE is a free program which does photograph stitching for panoramas, or to upload to their PhotoSynth viewing service. So what I would do is take a few pictures to stitch using identical camera settings, edit one to my liking in Lightroom, copy the editing settings, paste them to the other photos, and use ICE to stitch them together.

Microsoft ICE is the main reason why I carried an 85mm lens exclusively for a long time. As nice as it would have been to have something wider, I could take multiple shots with the 85mm and use ICE to stitch the shots together.

In the screenshot below, I have uploaded 26 shots to produce one large panorama, as shown outlined in pink.


Click on the photo to see a larger example.

Outlined in red, the camera motion dropdown gives you a couple of options based on how the individual pictures were taken; three different planar motions, a rotating motion, and an automatic option where ICE will guess. If the stitch you wanted doesn’t appear as you would like it to, you can adjust the camera motion as shown below.


Click on the photo to see a larger example.

Notice the Rotating Motion setting is different than the Planar Motion 3. The shoreline appears to rise and then drop left to right in an arc, where the first panorama has a shoreline which is relatively flat. Since I used a tripod, I am thinking the Rotating Motion is the right one, but the Planar Motion looks better.

Microsoft ICE is simple, and it is free. Two of my favorite qualities also displayed in the third and final program I use. Microsoft Paint. Yes, the paint program included in Windows. All of the screenshots above were cropped and edited in Paint. Paint also allows you to select rectangular or free form portions of a photograph, copy them, and paste them. This is good for blemishes which are much larger than smaller spots. Lightroom can remove small spots, where I can use paint to remove large areas.

Let me be perfectly clear. Of these programs, I use Lightroom 98% of the time. All of my photos are imported using Lightroom as RAW files and converted to JPG files to be used in other programs or uploaded.

I’ve ran out of time here on this adventure. My next post will be more educational. It will show all of the differences when ISO changes in a controlled environment. I hope to learn more and hopefully show someone new the benefits and costs of raising or lowering ISO.


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