7 reasons why you should post-process your photographs

Post-processing is the final step between when an image is envisioned and till it comes alive. Pro photographers and serious hobbyists alike run their photos through this stage before sharing the final outcome. Why? because even the most skilled photographers cannot overcome the limitations of the camera sensors such as large differences in exposures levels between skies and landscapes or lighting a subject that is backlit. Moreover, If everything seems to be perfect about your photo on first look, a closer look may reveal imperfections. Issues such as noise, purple fringing, crooked horizon line, distortion and vignetting are commonplace and need to be ironed out before revealing the final result.

Further, every image should be subtly post-processed so that you can apply the effects that truly brings out your vision. In this article I shall be looking at some simpler aspects that usually ruin an otherwise good photo and how to correct those issues in post-processing.

1.     Crooked images

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Crooked images are not that easy to spot, at least not to the untrained eyes. The horizon line however is a good indication whether your images are crooked. However, what if your images don’t have an easy way to spot the horizon line? What if the composition is of a flower or a portrait or even a plate of food? Look for anything in your image that can be used as a straight line and then orient the image using it as a guide. In Lightroom it is easy to do.

2.     Convert an image to black & white

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Two habits I’ve trained myself to adopt when I’m about to snap photos is to set my camera to shoot in RAW and my picture profile to neutral. The neutral mode allows me the greatest flexibility to work with color tone, contrast, sharpness and other refinements while post-processing instead of letting the camera’s processor make the call on my behalf. Another reason I use these settings is so that I can post-process in black & white whenever required. Even if I don’t eventually give the image a black & white treatment, it is always a good reference point to see if my image has what I refer to as ‘compositional value’ and can hold its own without colors. Believe it or not colors can sometimes suppress a poor composition. Great photographers often shoot and process in black & white to emphasize on composition and subject.

3.     Spots on your image

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Spots in your images can happen because of a number of reasons. Primary among them are dust on the sensor and dirt on you lenses. Dust particles on your sensor can be easily removed if you use the self-cleaning feature of your camera. Make sure the camera is fully charged when you do this. The mirror flips away and the camera gently shakes the sensor to clean it. Attempting to manually clean the sensor is only advisable if you are absolutely sure what you are doing. It takes extremely agile fingers. Lenses can be easily cleaned with micro-fiber cloth and special lens cleaning fluids. If you forgot cleaning your camera sensor and now stuck with spots in your images, don’t worry. Photoshop and Lightroom has spot removal tools that can take care of almost anything.

4.     Chromatic aberrations

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Also known as purple fringing, and usually appearing on the edge of your subjects. It’s noticeable when you zoom in to your photo or when you print. These chromatic aberrations happen when the different wave lengths of light are not perfectly focused on the same image plane. This is a lens issue. Cheaper lenses tend to suffer relatively more from chromatic aberrations. There are some ways to counter this in camera but the easiest method is to do so in Adobe Lightroom. Simply check ‘Remove Chromatic Aberrations’ and you are good to go.

5.     Barrel Distortion

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Wide angle lenses tend to suffer more from this type of distortion due to their inherent built characteristics.  Telephoto lenses suffer from what is known as pincushion distortion, which is the opposite effect of wide angle and lines tend to be distorted toward the inside of an image. Barrel Distortion is named as such to signify the effect that this distortion has on images (as is evident from the above image). The simplest way to correct this with one simple click on ‘Enable Profile Correction’ in Lightroom.

6.     Remove elements from your image

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How many times you have taken a beautiful image and only later to find out at the corner there is an element that sticks out like a sore thumb? A beautiful landscape image with a telephone post at a corner, a lovely fireworks image that caught the camera flash by another photographer, or a breathtaking waterfall with an ugly looking signboard peeking from the corner? Don’t worry, Photoshop has some of the best tools in the business to take care of all these? The best thing is all these tools are now available in content-aware mode and can be automatically removed.

7.     Final Word of Advice

Once you have finished editing your image (or a batch of images), step back and review it in full-screen mode. Turning off the room lights and leaning back is a good idea. Without the mouse and keyboard in your reach, think about the image critically. Sometimes even walk away and let the image lie there for some time before returning for a fresh approach.

Whether you are a beginner or a professional, after putting effort into post-processing, you tend to think that you have done enough to make the image ready. You focus on certain areas too much, and your mind forgets to tell you that you need to look in other areas to see if the image is balanced and harmonious. So, take your time and allow the image to fully absorb without patience in the post-processing phase. A lovely image can be converted into a magical one by proper processing.

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5 ways to improve your photographic vision

These days, with everybody wielding expensive professional photography gear it is easy to think that in order to make better images you’ve got to have better gear. If you think this way you would be far from the truth. For as long as photographers have been shooting, the eye for a great shot, the understanding of finer details as to what makes a shot stand out from the average ones has remained the benchmark of good photography. Better gear comes a long way after. You can replace expensive gear with cheap cameras and still manage to get good images. But if you don’t have photographic vision, you will never make great images; regardless of the gear you own.

So, how can one create better images? In other words how does one acquire the power to envision an image? Here are five tips that should help you – 

1.     Pick one lens and make it an extension of your eye

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This is easier said than done and takes a considerable amount of practice. When you hear a professional photographer speak about developing your vision, what s/he invariably suggests is to know how to make unique images of a scene using your tools, until that becomes your signature style. Great photographers such as Ansel Adams, Josef Koudelka, Robert Capa and Fan Ho all have their own signature styles. A significant part of that style is attributed to using a single lens and seeing the world as it unfurls through it. When used over a period of time, like the memorable combination of a Leica 35mm and 50mm prime used by Henri Cartier-Bresson, the lens becomes an extension of your eyes.

2.     Use the element of negative space in your image

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Look at the above image. The partially open window is placed towards one corner while the rest of the image is dominated by an empty space. This empty space is known as negative space. Invariably when you look at the image your eyes tend to roam around the vast emptiness and then come back to be fixated on the window. You may even start to look for details, the three potted plants, and the crochet work on the white curtains. This a clever way to focus attention of the viewer to the important aspect of an image which the photographer wants to highlight. Negative space simply helps him to achieve that more easily.

3.     Shoot or post-process in black & white

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Some compositions are best expressed in monochrome. Devoid of colors an image lacks the elements that sometimes be distracting. You can shoot in color and then post-process in black and white which gives you a greater tonal range. Black and white compositions have often been found to be more powerful than color. Back in the early days of photography when film was the dominant format for shooting, everybody had to shoot in black and white. Color film came much later. Photographers in those days relied heavily on compositional aspects to convey depth and dimension. Sadly, these days, the brilliance of colors often hide poor compositions.

4.     Incorporate repeating patterns in your image

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Repeating patterns and or shapes help you create a sort of order in an image. The human brain can perceive repeating patterns and shapes as something that makes sense. That is why repeating patterns in music create rhythm; and rhythm is harmony. In photography, when that same harmony is broken it becomes a point of interest in an image. 

5.     Incorporate lines in your images

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Lines, be it straight, crooked or curved has an effect on your images. I have already discussed the importance of using leading lines in a previous article on this website. Leading lines tend to draw the attention of the viewer towards the main point of interest in an image. Diagonal lines, especially those which travel from the bottom left of the image to the top right add an interesting dynamics to an image. I had discussed perfectly straight horizon lines in an earlier image. Such perfectly straight horizon lines can induce a sense of tranquility to an image. Lines which seem to be falling over adds a bit of tension in a composition. E.g.; a tall building shot with a slight tilt induces tension in the image. Curved lines on the other hand are frequently used as leading lines in composition.

The above tips are just a few ways to improve your photographic vision. Photography, however, is more about the practice than theory. What you learn on the internet or at a workshop has to be put into use to refine and then to adapt. Your style evolves over time as you shoot more and learn to make better images.

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Additional Reading

How to improve your travel photos by including people

While photography is being more and more accessible to everyone it has never been so important to take unique photos with an unusual perspective. With everyone shooting from a similar ‘view point’ everyone’s image is going to look alike. Hence, it becomes imperative to scout for rare locations to create unique images. In the 21st century, as a photographer, the biggest challenge is no longer how to make an image but how to stand out from the crowd by making distinctive images.

Vacations happen to be a time when the long lost camera all of a sudden becomes our best companion. They are cleaned, charged and primed for action. But more than half of the images shot on a vacation turn out disappointing. Poor composition is the primary reason. But it can also be bad lighting and incorrect exposure settings. The following tips will help you to realize some of your composition mistakes even before you make them and that way help you make better travel photos.

Include people to express scale

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Scale means when you have something in the photo that gives you a comparative reference of how big or small the scene / subject is. Let’s say you are photographing a beautiful landscape. It’s beautiful as it is and everything is perfect but without a point of reference the viewer has absolutely no idea how big the place is. What you need to do is allow someone to walk into the shot, just so that you can use that person as a point of reference. As a matter of fact, that individual will also become what is known in photography as the focal point or point of interest. The sweeping landscape and everything around that person simply converts into negative space. The viewer’s eye will invariably wander around and then get fixated onto the individual.

Images are just clicks if they don’t tell a story

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If you hear a National Geographic photo editor describe what makes a great photo worth publishing on their magazine, you would invariably hear him/her say that the picture must tell a story. Random captures often don’t have the value and depth in them which can capture the imagination of the viewer for long. Only when you go above and beyond and is prepared to go the extra mile in order to capture an unfolding moment will you ever achieve that in your photos. Sometimes the difference between a god photo and a great photo is simply is simply to include people.

Catch them in the act

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One way of capturing people, and this is only for those who would love to go the extra mile to capture a sense of the place they are visiting, would be in the act they are. I make it a point to visit the local market whenever I go to a new place. The market happens to be the most authentic place where you can really feel the pulse of the place. People buying essential supplies, busy going about their daily routine, vegetable sellers, fruit sellers, cyclists, pedestrians, sign-boards - it is a treasure-trove for those who love shooting street photos. I am not an ardent street photographer, but I have seen markets are one of the best places I can practice a bit of street photography and in the process capture off-beat images of the destination I am in.

Ask for permission

Photographing people at close quarters can be a problem in some places. Additionally, if you are like me it is a disconcerting thing for the first time. If you are unsure approach the person and ask whether you can take a photo of him/her. Explain that you are a photographer and you found him/her interesting and would like to take a picture for your collection. If you are just a casual travel photographer, which most likely you are, you can explain yourself and the reason you are taking the picture and most of the time it would be fine. It is all in the approach. A threatening and aggressive approach or a creepy approach would definitely be met with resistance. A smiling face can often mitigate the reason to worry.

Be aware of the local customs and practices

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Albeit what has been said above be aware of the local customs and practices. In some cultures aiming your camera at people is considered rude. In most western countries you are fine photographing anyone as long as you are standing on public ground and the person you are photographing is also on public ground. But always be careful photographing children. In any case, you don’t always need someone to be facing the camera to be included in the shot. This is especially when all you need is just a point of reference. A person sitting facing away from you is just as fine.