Post-Processing Tips for Beginners

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They say photography is an art form, and I couldn’t agree more. There are so many elements that go into making a great piece of art. Not only do you need to know your gear and the environment you work in, but you also need to know how to put the finishing touches to your art, that takes it from good to great.

This can be quite challenging especially to a beginner. But like any great artist would say, all of this can be done with a lot of practice and patience. Great photos tend to have universal appeal. They are technically sound, and also have an editing style that appeals to the mass majority. While most photographers, including myself, advocate getting it right in camera, there are some basic steps that you may need to follow just to add the right amount of oomph to your images in the post-processing stage.

Choosing the right type of editing software

The type of editing you apply to your images does depend on the type of software you use. There are many different options for editing software on the market. Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are two of the most popular ones for serious amateurs, and professional photographers. But if you are an absolute beginner they might be cost prohibitive for your needs. There are some good free editing software, like PicMonkey and Picasa, that work great at a basic level. If you are a cell phone photographer, then most smartphones have built-in editing software that does the job fairly well too. Apart from the basic editing steps they also have a ton of filters for adding some really cool effects to your images. But just be careful of the audience and the purpose for these cell phone images before applying funky filters.

For the purposes of this article, I will be using Lightroom. Most of the steps are common to all editing software, just choose the one that works for you and your photography needs.

Adjust the horizon

One of the first things I do to any image is to adjust the horizon, also known as straightening the image. I am not a fan of tilting my images. I find that when I look at tilted images, I don’t know which way is up. Am I supposed to turn my head to the right or the left? Crazy tilts make me dizzy. I don’t see images in tilts in my day-to-day, so why would I want to click images that are tilted. This is just my personal preference. I know some photographers who consider it very artsy to have tilted images. If that is your thing, then go for it and do what makes you happy. For images that have the horizon or leading lines in them, getting the horizon level is an absolute must.
Memorable Jaunts DPS Simple Processing Tips Before-01

This was taken from the passenger side of the car – I really loved the leading lines but knew the horizon was way off.

Memorable Jaunts DPS Simple Processing Tips After-01

In Lightroom, I adjusted the horizon, increased the contrast gently, and warmed up the image by adjusting the temperature slightly.

Adjust or crop out any unwanted elements

Nothing can be more distracting than an unwanted element in the frame. Before cropping or removing unwanted elements ask yourself whether the object is actually adding value to the image, or is it competing with the subject for attention. Removing unwanted elements can be done by using the clone/stamp tool in Photoshop, the spot healing brush Lightroom or a simple crop function in your photo editor of choice.
Memorable Jaunts DPS Simple Processing Tips Before-2

I loved the texture of the brick wall but hated the stains on the wall right near the chair.

Memorable Jaunts DPS Simple Processing Tips After-2

I chose a closer crop for the chair, and cloned out the stains using the spot removal tool in Lightroom. I also brightened the image a tad.

Remove any dust spots

This is something that is prominent if you are photographing against a light background, or when converting to black and white. If your sensor is dirty or has minute dust specks, they appear in your photographs. You can use the clone tool or even the patch tool (Photoshop) and clean out these dust spots in the image.

Adjust the exposure and contrast

After you have straightened the horizon and removed any unwanted or distracting elements from the frame, next adjust the exposure of the image. This adjusts the brightness. If the image is too dark, add light in and if the image is too bright, reduce light. Keep in mind that often times adjusting brightness will affect the contrast of the image as well. This can be fixed by adjusting the Contrast Slider in Lightroom. It makes the brightest parts of the image brighter and the darkest parts darker, and improves the overall look of the adjusted image.
Memorable Jaunts DPS Simple Processing Tips Before-3

While I adore this pose of my clients, the image is a little too dark (underexposed) as the light was changing very fast.

Memorable Jaunts DPS Simple Processing Tips After-3

As part of my edits to this image, I increased the exposure, warmed up the image by increasing the temperature and also adjusted the contrast a bit to add a little more umph (punch) to the image.

Adjust saturation

Typically if I have adjusted temperature and contrast in an image, I do not adjust the saturation slider. But this is a personal preference for most people. Adjusting the saturation value of an image can add a certain punch to an image, but use this tool with a light hand as you don’t want you image to look too processed.
Memorable Jaunts DPS Simple Processing Tips Before-4

I love this image of fresh snow on the blades of tall grass near my home. But, because everything was so dark and gloomy due to the snow, the image appears a bit flat and dull.

Memorable Jaunts DPS Simple Processing Tips After-4

I wanted to exaggerate the colors of the blades of grass to show that they were extremely dry and also pop-out the white snow on the grass. So I adjusted the saturation and vibrance sliders in Lightroom, and also warmed up the image by adjusting the temperature.

Export for web or print

Depending on what is the final treatment for your images, you can either save them as low resolution JPEGS or high resolution JPEGS. There are many other formats as well like TIFF, BMP, and GIF. JPEG are more universally accepted, and is the format that I use for all my images – the ones for print as well as for the web. Typically an image approximately 72PPI (pixels per inch) is considered as a low resolution image, ideal for the web (but on the web only the actual pixel size matters so 1000px on the long side is usually a good choice for the web). An image of 150DPI or 300DPI is considered a high resolution image ideal for print. DPI stands for Dots per inch. Per wikipedia, it is used to describe the resolution number of dots per inch in a digital print.

Ultimately how you process your images is an extremely personal decision. Choose the style and the tools that best describe your photography style. It is okay to experiment with the latest fads, filters, and looks but keep in mind that you may want your images to have a timeless look and feel so that years from now when you look at them, they still evoke an emotion.

Read more from our Post Production category

Karthika Gupta

is a lifestyle, wedding, and travel photographer based in the Chicago area. Her images are fun, fresh and natural and her love for nature makes it way into most of her images. She also has a Free Travel Photography Demystified E-Course a 5-Day video series to help you improve your travel photography.

  • Thanks for this great article! I like the one of choosing whether to export for web or print, I always export for print but might start doing it for web as I upload a lot of images to my website and the larger files take more time

    Thanks
    NVeal
    http://www.solihullphotography.com

  • Martin Schiffer

    Just to correct a very common mistake. An image with a width of 1000 pixels and 72 dpi will be displayed as big(!) as an image with 1000 pixels width and 300 dpi on the web. Both are 1000 pixels wide and the dpi are only relevant for printing.

    For the web you should ideally check how big you can display an image in pixels and then scale the cropped image accordingly. Ignore the dpi setting. Lightroom gives you the possibility to set a ‘long edge’ value when exporting to jpg or tif format. It affects portrait and landscape shots equally so if you set it to 1000 pixels (to stick to the above example) the portrait shots will be 1000 px high and the landscape ones 1000 px wide.

  • freeopinions

    I wish I could understand the fascination with Lightroom…

  • What do you use?

  • Lawrence Harman

    More than Adobe for post processing, personally I use capture one, and dx0 is another alternative.

  • freeopinions

    I use Photoshop and Bridge.

    I have tried Lightroom, when it first came out, and again when it became part of the photography package in CC. The second time I made a real effort to utilize it, but I just can’t get around the fact that it is just a glorified Camera Raw. You still need to go to Photoshop to do manipulations, text, etc. and it even has a Camera Raw filter n the Filter dropdown.

    I know that Bridge is a browser, not a database, but it has never failed me, and I like being able to move files on disc right from Bridge.

    I once had both Photoshop and Illustrator installed, but as I am not a designer, I left Illustrator once Photoshop began to include many of the vector and text features I used. I’ll bet that as time goes on, Adobe will begin to put actual photo manipulation capability into Lightroom, and those who do only the occasional eye opener or head swap will be thrilled.

  • freeopinions

    Darlene, I posted this above by mistake thinking it was in a answer to your question. I then re-posted here, and deleted the one above, but now I can’t post it again. I hope this edit fixes it…

    I use Photoshop and Bridge.

    I have tried Lightroom, when it first came out, and again when it became part of the photography package in CC. The second time I made a real effort to utilize it, but I just can’t get around the fact that it is just a glorified Camera Raw. You still need to go to Photoshop to do manipulations, text, etc. and it even has a Camera Raw filter n the Filter dropdown.

    I know that Bridge is a browser, not a database, but it has never failed me, and I like being able to move files on disc right from Bridge.

    I once had both Photoshop and Illustrator installed, but as I am not a designer, I left Illustrator once Photoshop began to include many of the vector and text features I used. I’ll bet that as time goes on, Adobe will begin to put actual photo manipulation capability into Lightroom, and those who do only the occasional eye opener or head swap will be thrilled.

  • Yes that is very true and correct. It’s pixel size only that matters online not DPI

  • I’ve used LR since version 0.9 beta testing. The thing that sold me on it is the archiving and database function that PS does not have. As a portrait/wedding photographer at that time I was filling at least one hard drive a year with client images. I would label them with the year and put on the shelf and back up online. But if a client from say 4-5 years ago calls me and says they want another print, how do I find the images if I do not know the date they were shot? When doing 50+ portraits and 25 weddings a year – there is no way to remember all that.

    But in LR I keep separate catalogs – one for portrait clients, one for weddings. I just open the appropriate one, do a search for the clients name (I tag and name all my images with their surname) and LR finds them. A quick right click shows me what drive they live on, and I can see the thumbnails so I know I have the right ones. I go grab that drive from the shelf, plug it in and have access to the files in about 2 min.

    Can’t do that with PS.

    Also history in LR last forever, as it does with RAW processor in PS. But I can reopen any file and tweak it and LR saves that automatically without me doing anything. I can make “virtual copies” which are just a new thumbnail, so I can process an image 3 different ways – then export (save as) all 3 as JPGs when ready. It saves a lot of hard drive space that way.

    I do 90% of my edits in LR and only go to PS for anything needing layers which is less and less now. Texture overlays, head swaps, HDR combining layers, etc. But for most things – LR only.

  • I have edited it to be more correct thanks for mentioning that.

  • The actual pixel size is what you need to look at for online sizing, and yes it will take a long time to upload and make your site load slower for viewers also.

    For example: this article on your site http://www.solihullphotography.com/blog/5-must-know-tips-on-photographing-pets

    This image http://www.solihullphotography.com/uploads/4/9/8/1/49810077/7315669_orig.jpg is 1100×728 pixels. But the column on your site is only 680px wide. So the browser has to shrink the image to fit and it’s unnecessarily large.

    The two images side-by-side are also 1100px wide and are being displayed at less than 340. Save new images in the exact sizes you need for your blog and it will load way faster.

    Hope that helps.

  • Thanks Martin and Thanks Darlene for updating it.

  • freeopinions

    I can understand why a wedding photographer might want the database feature, because they will have a lot of files that may need to be referenced at a later date. but as a former digital retoucher in a pro lab, I saw too many screw ups to think that wedding and senior photogs never need Photoshop.

    I was never a professional photographer; considered it, but couldn’t find anything I really liked to do. Consequently I have disks full of various kinds of things, which I can search for quickly with Bridge. For folders that I use a lot, I have Favorites and Collections, and can move things from one folder to another right from Bridge, which then always know where it put the file. Corrupt or lose your Lightroom catalogue, and all your files are there, you and Lightroom just don’t know where “there” is.

    If it works for you, great. All I know is that every photo I ever imported into Lightroom ended up back in Photoshop eventually, where I have been working since v. 2.5. The controls are familiar, I have layers, I can try this or that and turn it off and on, and it just keeps getting better and better. The amazing content aware stuff is just outstanding.

    I tried it, I can’t make my self like it, it seems like it’s more hype than improvement.

    Best wishes.

  • Basically we each need to use what works for us. As for losing or corrupting my LR catalogue – that’s why I back up at least once a week, sometimes every time I use it, and have 2 backups. Even if it was corrupted (which has never happened in the 10+ years I’ve been using it) the most I’d ever lose is one day’s worth or work if that.

  • Olivia White

    I use PicMonkey.com all the time. It’s free. I don’t have the money to get LR or PS . . . someday 😉

  • Agreed — taking time to consider whether the end result is for the web or for print is an easily-overlooked step!

    Great article!

  • Blake Lewis

    I don’t get the fascination either. It’s like a hobbled version of Bridge and PS – doesn’t quite sort as well as Bridge, doesn’t quite edit as well as PS. Gave it a red hot go a while back when I got ACC, but just can’t see the point.

  • Nicole

    Fyi, you can move files from within Lightroom and they are moved in your actual file folders.

  • freeopinions

    Since when?

  • Rob Bixby

    I agree with all of these. In particular, the comment about tilting the frame. I understand the dramatic effect of a tilted image, just make it look intentional, and not like a sloppy shot.

  • Martin Schiffer

    You’re welcome. That article is very spot on otherwise and surely good advice for aspiring photographers! I know how long it took me to establish my editing workflow and I am still tweaking it every now and then when I find a better or quicker way to achieve the look that I want.

  • Mark

    My question is — is there a resolution at which to upload a photo so that the photo will look good on a website, but if someone were to right click and save and then print it, it would not look good? (or does it even make any difference) I suppose I could experiment with photos on my own website, but I thought I would just ask and maybe save some time and ink.

  • Don C

    I would say after adjusting these, or even before you just need to adjust Levels and Curves, light levels and colour curves.

    So light will make shadows / highlights more dramatic or softer and colours will get your white balance right or make your picture more natural / radient.

  • ethan Robinson

    For that I’d probably add a water mark or name at the bottom. Though 400-600 would be a good start if you didn’t want a water mark.

  • LR is a long way from “Hype”….I have not used Bridge in a long time but the cataloguing and Searching for an image are what sold me. History I have not used. I do like LR too as a RAW converter better than PS or Bridge. I know they are the same but the way they are laid out makes editing your RAW file easier….for me.

  • Karthika Gupta—“when you said that you needed to open the one image up because the light was changing fast”…why no flash as it looked to be the perfect setting. Maybe you are a natural light photographer but if the situation calls for a flash, M for exposure and M flash will solve it and keep the natural look….I was not there.

  • freeopinions

    The “hype” I refer to is the endless harping about Lightroom and how great it is, and how you no longer need Photoshop.

    There is no difference between Camera Raw and Lr as a “raw converter.” They are the same program, the same controls, and have the same effect on an image. Only the interface is a little different.

    Under the Filters dropdown in Photoshop you will find the Camera Raw Filter which is again the same Camera Raw interface for tweaks to an image already open in Photoshop. It is not available as an adjustment layer, so edits done this way are permanent, but if you like the controls in Camera Raw, it comes in very handy.

    Bridge is a browser, and not a database, but when I search my folders for an image, I can’t tell the difference. To me, a search is a search. “Find all files and folders with ‘bird’ in the name.” Or ‘Chevy.’ Or ‘2014.’ Done. What could be easier?

    If Lr works for you, fine, use it. Since I have been using Photoshop for almost 20 years and I am very familiar with it, I see no advantage to Lr for my own photography.

  • sathish

    I learned Post-Processing techniques from youtube videos…One of my Favorite Channel is this…
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cnDgNef2yd8

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