There are so many post-processing tools for digital photographers today that it’s easy to get seduced into thinking that this filter or that plug-in will solve all of our problems. In some cases, those filters and plug-ins can be a huge help. But there are a few tips and tricks I use to get the most out of the existing post-processing tools I have, that improve quality without extra add-ons.
These apply mostly to Photoshop or Aperture but may be applicable to other programs as well. They are very generic and intended to teach concepts, not specific push-button workflow.
1. Work with different size views. I’ve taught thousands of photographers how to use Photoshop and/or Aperture. One common mistake I see when looking over their shoulders is the failure to look at their image using different size views. They’ll work with the image that shows up on the screen and call it a day. It’s important to change your view size as you work. Sure many people know to zoom in for critical work. But fewer know to zoom out – past the normal view, to get a different perspective. Zoom in AND out. But most importantly, try to view your image at its final print size. See it as it will print. Some corrections that seemed like a big deal at 400% aren’t as important when viewed at print size.
2. Don’t over sharpen. Sharpen last. Sharpen for the output. The pixel peepers have pushed the photo community over the edge when it comes to sharpness. There’s almost a cult-like desire to have everything razor sharp. It’s not necessary or even helpful. When you sharpen a photograph, you’ll get the BEST results by sharpening for output. This means that if you’re sharpening for a 640 pixel jpeg that will only be viewed on a website, you’ll need a different amount of sharpening for a 30×40 canvas print that’s intended to hang in a museum. Don’t sharpen because you think you need to. Sharpen because you have to, and only where you need it, and only for output. Since you may need to make different size prints or prints that will be printed on different materials, how can you think that sharpening for a “one-size fits all” approach could work? It can’t. I know because I’ve tried. Sharpen carefully.
3. Think like a darkroom technician. I spent 18 years printing in a wet darkroom before I ever heard of Photoshop. This really gave me a leg up when it came to post-processing my first photos. Back then, there were no workshops, books, online tutorials or anything else to rely to learn Photoshop, etc. I tested everything. Today, when it’s much easier and less expensive to do so, few photographers test. I say test everything. Test every paper and ink combo, every profile, every filter and plugin you use in Photoshop or Lightroom or Aperture, etc. Test your brains out. Know your abilities and limitations. Then the creative side of post-processing can come out from behind the uncertainty of what’s going on.
Hopefully these three ideas get you going in a new or better direction. Instead of the usual – “Do this – then Do that” tutorial, I wanted to give you something to actually think about. Concepts can be much more valuable than workflows, sort of like seed corn can be more valuable than corn on the cob. Good luck.