While the tools of digital processing look and feel much different than those of analog film processing, I utilize them to perform much the same functions as the post processing tools of darkrooms in the analog film arena. I utilize these digital post processing tools to dodge (darken), burning (lighten) and adjust contrast / tone just as was done in darkrooms with analog film.

Just as film negatives needed a darkroom to develop the product into a photograph, digital RAW files are very similar in that they require some amount of post processing to make them into a finished product as well.  The tools I utilize are:

Adobe Lightroom
This tool is at the center of my post processing and file management. It allows me to import/backup RAW files, apply minor edits to the files, and publish those files once complete. It does a lot more as well, but these are the basic functions that I utilize.

Adobe Photoshop
This is probably one of the most well known, and most misunderstood, RAW processing tools in use today. I utilize a very small fraction of the capabilities this tool offers. I do not always use Photoshop to develop photographs. Most of the time I can do everything I need to do regarding post processing adjustments in Lightroom, but there are times when I do need to utilize Photoshop.

When I do use Photoshop I have a very basic list of adjustments that I utilize. First, I will adjust the levels slightly to increase contrast. I do not apply these changes to any specific channel / color, but rather to the entire photograph. Second, I will adjust the Curves to slightly increase contrast as well. Again, I do not apply these changes to any particular channel / color, but only to the entire photograph. Third, I will adjust the exposure if required after checking the histogram. I can’t stress how slight these adjustments are. I will go through the particulars in the following section on post processing technique.

There is one other way I will occasionally utilize Photoshop and that is to assist in stitching together a panoramic image. This is not something that I normally do, but on occasion a scene works well as a panorama and Photoshop does a good job at stitching together that perspective.

NIK Collection (by Google)
This is a very powerful collection of tools. Just as with Photoshop, I utilize a very small portion of the capabilities this collection offers. Some of the tools that this collection offers go beyond what I would call basic editing. When these advanced editing tools are used a piece of photography is transformed beyond the realistic appearance of a photograph and into a work of Digital Art.

I think a critical piece of the digital photographer’s ethic is to make this distinction and to keep that distinction in the forefront of his/her mind when processing a digital photograph. It is also necessary to be open and clear about the adjustments that have been made to a photograph so that a viewer can trust when they are seeing. That being said, here are the portions of the NIK collection that I utilize.

This is a relatively straightforward tool that is used to reduce the amount of noise in a photograph. I will utilize Wikipedia to relay to you the definition of noise:

Image noise is a random (not present in the object imaged) variation of brightness or color information in images, and is usually an aspect of electronic noise. If can be produced by the sensor and circuitry of a scanner or digital camera. Image noise can also originate in film grain and in the unavoidable shot noise of an ideal photon detector. The original meaning of “noise” was and remains “unwanted signal”; unwanted electronic fluctuations in signals.

Basically noise looks like static and/or grain on a photograph. Usually the static is white, just like you used to be able to see when you tuned your TV to a channel that didn’t exist. That is signal noise and is basically the same thing as noise as it relates to digital (and analog film for that matter) photography.

While this is not something I utilize too often, I will use it when an image has a more than desired amount of noise. This happens, generally speaking, with longer exposures and/or High ISO photographs. To the extent that this process eliminated defects introduced by the camera itself and serves to help recreate the scene as it occurred in real life, I consider this approach a part of normal digital photography developing and not part of the process of making digital art.

Sharpener Pro 3
I really try to not utilize sharpening at all as I have seen it overdone and it tends to take away from the actual sharpness of a well focused image. That being said, I know that there are times and places where sharpening can have a positive effect. This depends on what medium the photograph will be printed on, the intended viewing distance and the size of the reproduction as it relates to the resolution of the image. I tend to leave sharpening to the experts at the local print shop.

But what I will say is that the goal of sharpening should be to be unnoticeable, and the goal of the photographer should be to make sharpening as unnecessary as possible.

Color Efex Pro 4
When I use this tool to edit a photograph, I consider the output of the process Digital Art and no longer a photograph. This tool is very powerful and can do a lot of really neat things to a photograph, but the reality is when one is done editing the photograph in this program it is all too easy for it to not resemble an exact replica of what existed but rather an enhanced version of that reality.

This tool is used by applying a combination of customized filters to a photograph. I find there are a few filters that work very well for landscape photography.

Detail Extractor
This is a filter that some have called “HDR Light”. While I’m not an expert on how this filter actually works from a programmatic perspective, it does seem to adjust the local contrast in a very dramatic way. I really like the effect this filter can have, but again it will bring to light an image that could not have been seen with the naked eye and thus I think this crosses the photographic line into digital art.

Polarizing Filter
This filter attempts to replicate the use of a physical polarizing filter. While I am often tempted to use this filter on images I take with my 14-24mm lens (as I don’t have a polarizing filter for that lens), I still don’t use it unless I’m willing to have the image cross the line in to digital art.

Tonal Contrast Filter
This filter adjusts tone and contrast, just as the name suggests. It is very interesting to play around with this filter and see what can be done. The photograph can be manipulated to be completely unrecognizable, but it can also be enhanced in a way that can make the photographed scene quite aesthetically pleasing. But again, this is definitely in the realm of digital art in my mind, and beyond regular digital photography editing.