While there is a plethora of ways one can edit a digital photograph, I find that there are a few minor tweaks that I make on a regular basis and this is what I consider my post processing technique. While this is something that will definitely change gradually over time, particularly as new methods are introduced and skills are learned, I do think it is something that should be changed only very thoughtfully. It is almost like there are a couple of core techniques that are in my post processing quiver and I don’t add any without considerable thought and consideration.
These are the techniques that I consider to be within the bounds of normal photographic editing and that I utilize on my photographs. I listed them in the order that I usually apply them to a RAW file. While I don’t always use every single one of these adjustments, these are the maximum adjustments I would make to a RAW file and still consider them a photograph and not a piece of Digital Art. I prefer to err on the side of less adjustment and my goal is always to recreate what a viewer would have seen at the time the photograph was taken.
Adobe Lightroom Adjustments:
Camera Calibration Profile Adjustment
This is a section in Lightroom that applies a preset algorithm to the RAW file based on the type of camera that was used to take the photograph. I utilize either the Camera Neutral or Camera Flat preset as these seem to alter the image the least. Other options include Adobe Standard, Camera Portrait, Camera Landscape, Camera Vivid, and Camera Monochrome. This setting can also be adjusted in the camera, I just choose to make the adjustment in Lightroom as it fits my workflow habits.
White Balance Adjustment
This again is a setting that can be adjusted in the camera, and can also be referred to as the temperature of the photograph, but I choose to make the adjustment in Lightroom. I rarely set a custom white balance, but rather either take what the Camera decided to set it to or choose something that is closer to the lighting as it existed. For instance there is a Daytime preset that tends to set the temperature to a place that accurately reflects colors as they are in daylight. There is a setting for cloudy, different indoor lightings, etc. The main goal in my mind when making this adjustment is to have the image represent the White Balance / temperature as it existed at the time of the photograph.
There are three sections to this adjustment tool in Lightroom: Clarity, Vibrance, Saturation. The clarity adjustment increases local contrast in the midtones. Vibrance and saturation affect color as one would expect. I do not adjust these by more than + or - 10, and most of the time not above +5 when it comes to vibrance and saturation. I like to utilize natural light, the right time of day and physical filters to accentuate color, but shy away from strong color adjustment in post processing.
This is a pretty straightforward adjustment. The tone curve is layed out over a histogram of the photograph. There are three preset adjustments: Linear, Medium Contrast, Strong Contrast. I tend to either leave it at Linear or move it to the Medium Contrast preset. I do not make custom adjustments in this section. If I want to make a custom adjustment to the Tone Curve I will utilize Photoshop as it has an easier to utilize interface to make the correct adjustments. Color Adjustment This section allows adjustment of Hue / Saturation / Luminance to specific colors. I rarely use this adjustment. If used I will not adjust any slider more than + or - 5 as these adjustments tend to alter the nature of the image too much. Even at this, these minor adjustments must have a strong impact on the image in order for me to make the adjustment as in my mind this can tend to skirt on the edge of digital art and beyond photography; thus I tread very lightly.
Split Toning / Detail
I do not use these sections of the Lightroom Developing module.
Lens Profile Correction
I do always check the box to allow the program to make profile adjustments to the photograph based on the lens that I used to take the picture. These adjustments include vignetting and distortion. But again, the reason I really like these adjustments is the simply make up for flaws introduced by the photographic tools and bring the image back to what the scene looked like at the time of the photograph.
I will utilize the cropping tool if I messed up the horizon when taking the photo. I try to line things up well at the time of the shot, but I’m not always spot on as it is much easier to line up the horizon on a large computer screen vice a small LCD on the camera.
I utilize this tool to remove dust spots as they come and go. These dust spots appear as small dark specks on a photograph, and this happens when dirt gets on the sensor. Keeping the sensor clean is a constant battle.
Graduated Neutral Density (GND) Filter
I utilize this tool when I take a photograph with my wide angle 14mm lens that I don’t have physical GND filters for. I do not apply more than a 1.5 stop filter in any circumstance, and I only adjust exposure (thus keeping the Graduation Neutral). I would much rather utilize a physical filter, and do so on my non-wide-angle photographs, but at this point in time I simply don’t have the funds to purchase a set of filters large enough to perform this task.
Adobe Photoshop Adjustments
If necessary I will adjust the levels in Photoshop to slightly increase contrast. I do this by selecting the Increase Contrast Preset, and then cutting the adjustment in half so that only a slight adjustment in contrast is applied. I do this by making the number on the left side of the histogram a 5 and the right number on the histogram a 250.
I utilize this tool in a similar manner as the levels tool in Photoshop. I find myself selecting the Increase Contrast 1 preset and then drastically reducing the adjustment. I reduce the adjustment by finding the high point in the dark side of the histogram and move the adjustment point in line with that high point and just below linear. I then take the middle adjustment and drag it to the center of the histogram, on linear and take the high adjustment point and drag it to the inverse of the dark side adjustment. This creates a very subtle contrast curve that only slightly moves from the linear profile line.
The above adjustments are the most post processing I will apply to a photograph, but again most of the time I apply quite a bit less than the above; this is merely an all inclusive list of the techniques in my post processing quiver when it comes to photography.