Storytelling with Photography: Post Processing Decisions
Great post processing decisions help to make your photos into powerful stories. I rely on a set workflow to help me make those decisions which I will share later in this post. But rather than the usual technical wonky and geeky kinda boring or confusing piece, let’s try a different approach.
We started this series with the big picture of knowing yourself and your message before you shoot. And up to this point the focus has been on shooting with an admixture of good composition, inspiration, self awareness and personal vision. That is our big picture.
Big picture for sure! With self awareness being the key. Now it is time to take that same awareness into the post processing world.
First, let me address the whole idea of post processing. If you are someone who feels that whatever photo the camera records is reality, and the result is how it is period, you may have a hard time with post processing. You are probably happy to set the camera to shoot on Auto and record jpeg files. All you want to do is be honest and authentic in presenting a scene. Altering the result is somehow…cheating!
Let me gently disagree with that.
Ansel Adams spent days in the darkroom processing a single photo to bring out it’s best effect. Wait, that is altering the photo! Well, if it is good enough for Ansel, who am I to argue? So don’t get mad, just keep an open mind.
Peace on the Water
First, reality is relative. Really. Two people standing together will not see the same scene in exactly the same way. Our brain is capable of interpreting the nuances of the scene based not only on what is visible, but also with an invisible admixture of emotion and personal interpretation.
If someone has just endured a loss, the beautiful sunrise scene below may be seen in the deep shadows and contrast, with perhaps a bit of hopeful promise. Someone who just won the lottery will rejoice in the bright colors and glorious light. Dreams realized! So reality has been altered by emotion and experience.
You also must realize that the camera does not see the same way as the human eye. No way near the same! Which is why it’s easy to shoot in jpeg and auto. A camera in jpeg on auto mode lets the camera guess what the eye sees. The photo is then processed by camera software and presented to you. Which is another version of reality.
But camera software cannot interpret your emotion, nor see into the shadows. It certainly does not know your story. Plus, a jpeg file throws away a lot of sensor data it considers as non essential. Wait, there goes more reality! I always shoot in RAW mode. A RAW setting simply tells the camera to keep it’s software hands off my sensor and just give me every bit of photon data available. I then can use the data as I see fit.
A quick story…
An excellent pro photographer I know submitted a photo to National Geographic. Nat Geo loved it and offered to buy and publish the photo in the magazine, so asked for the RAW file. Sadly, my friend had to admit he had shot in jpeg, which resulted in the magazine giving his photo a pass. No Sale!…No Fame!…DANG!
Back to our story…
When I post process I use Lightroom 90% of the time with a bit of Photoshop added in as needed. If you use other software for post processing you should have tools that do the same things but with different labels. Here I will be using Lightroom speak.
In Post Processing my first thought is always my Story.
Keep in mind: As I go through the following steps remember these are my adjustments. You need to experiment with these to find the best settings to fit your story. Here we go…
I identify the light that attracted me to compose the scene. If I didn’t do so when I composed the shot, I straighten and crop.
Then to the sliders…
1 Highlights: Bring down…Takes out glare and distracting light.
2 Shadows: Bring up…You find a lot of detail in the shadows that photo RAW has preserved for you.
3 Whites: Up to clipping…Use your histogram if you have one, otherwise just try not to blow out detail.
4 Blacks: Down to saturation…Again, use your histogram.
5 Clarity: Either up or down depending on the photo content and message.
6 Vibrance: Up slightly.
7 Saturation: Keep as shot or sometimes up or down very slightly. Avoid anything that looks HDR! Now that’s just me, if you are an HDR lover you can go to town here.
8 Illumination: Use the slider and choose bits of light to bring up or down. This will be an overall adjustment.
9 Exposure: Only use it if the above adjustments do not give clarity to the photo.
10 Vignette: I usually add a hint of vignette, not enough to be noticeable.
That’s it, just ten steps to storytelling photos.
Before and After using just My Ten Steps
Notice the rich color and inviting detail of the result. This took me less than 3 minutes to do. And if I had a bit more time, I would probably use Photoshop to erase the downward pointing branches in front of the mound. In fact, there are a plethora of tools available in Lightroom and Photoshop such as noise reduction, sharpening or de-hazing that useful for nuance or detail. But these ten steps are Power Steps to tell your story in a powerful way. Just like when a guitarist that learns some power chords his friends think he is a rockstar. Wwhen you use this workflow your photos will Rock!
Good news! If you don’t have the time or inclination learn, there are third party apps with preset finishes galore.
One of the best I have found is On1 Photo RAW 2018. Tons of editable photo filters and presets. Or try the new NIK DxO which has taken an old photographer favorite to a fresh new look. But I strongly suggest you resist using third party presets to any extent. And edit that preset to suit yourself. You want to use your own voice, not the voice of some programmer in a nameless cubicle.
I hope you are enjoying this series on Storytelling with Photos. My next will wrap it all up. Watch for these blogs every Thursday. Until then…
Go on out and Play with your Post Processing!
Oh, by the way. If you are looking for some ways to jumpstart telling your photo story take a moment to look around this site. You will find some compelling photos to use for inspiration. If you would like to purchase a piece, simple click on the thumbnail of the photo and a price list with sizes and print media will appear. Use the coupon code WELCOME20 at checkout to receive a 20% discount on your order. Plus free shipping as always. Merry Christmas!
To Follow and Share LightFinder Photography