Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

February 17, 2009

Minimum Processing

Filed under: Birds, composition, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch, style — richditch @ 9:59 am
White-crowned Sparrow juvenile

White-crowned Sparrow juvenile

I see a lot of beginning photographers struggle to make their images “better” in post processing. This shows up in many ways:

  • excessive cropping (trying to compensate for not using a long enough lens or not getting close enough to the subject)
  • using too high of an ISO (to get a faster shutter speed to allow hand holding instead of a tripod)
  • over application of sharpening in post processing to try to fix missed focus or subject motion
  • heavy use of noise reduction in processing (to overcome the noise introduced and emphasized by the previous factors)
  • cloning to remove unwanted content from the composition.
  • large increases in saturation to put color into images that didn’t have a lot of color to begin with

I think a lot of this happens because beginning photographers think that the quality in an image is somehow “put into” the image in post processing, rather than captured at each stage of the photographic process. They have bought into the advertising hype and think there’s a Magic Fix option buried in the overwhelming functionality of Photoshop and that if they try enough options they’ll find the magic combination that produces fine images.

Unfortunately that’s not the way it is. There are no after-the-fact fixes; no shortcuts to quality results. You need to pay attention to the details throughout the process and avoid the urge to “save” the results later by torturing the pixels in post processing.

  • Pay attention to the light. Avoid harsh mid day sun whenever possible. Avoid backlight unless you are after a special look (underexposed subject or overexposed background). Get out at dawn, or go back out near sunset. This will address color, saturation, and contrast issues far better than curves, levels, shadow/highlight, and saturation sliders in photoshop.
  • Learn to get close to the subject. Don’t rely on extensive cropping. This will avoid loss of detail and increased unnecessary noise.
  • Use a proper camera support whenever possible. Know the limits of slow shutter speed for  hand holding your equipment.
  • Pay attention to the location and recompose to avoid content that interferes with the subject. This eliminates the need to clone out branches, buildings, fences, trash, partial birds in the background, etc.

A truly good image doesn’t need a lot of work – just some fine tuning to show it at its best. If your shot doesn’t look pretty good when you first open it on the computer it probably isn’t worth spending a lot of time trying to make it look good in post processing. If it is a common subject that you can return to easily, then don’t waste time at the computer when you could spend that time with the real subject in the field trying to get it right in the first place. Save the heroic post processing efforts to those really rare occurrences where there is no chance to re-shoot.

This White-crowned Sparrow was photographed at the Gilbert Water Ranch in late afternoon on 2/13/09 with a Nikon D200, 300/2.8 lens with matched 2x converter at ISO 320, 1/320th second at f/10. Post processing is my normal minimum work (slight adjustment with levels, saturation, and curves). No cloning. No background blurring. No noise reduction. No color shifting. It would have been better if I could have aligned my shooting position to eliminate the out of focus branch behind the sparrow’s head, or if I’d have opened up the lens to the maximum f/5.6 for more optical blur. But I’m not about to try to “fix” that in post processing by applying Gaussian Blur or by cloning out the branch.

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1 Comment »

  1. nice information

    Comment by photoshop action — February 17, 2009 @ 4:52 pm


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