Post Processing your digital images is, in many ways, like problem solving. Actually, in photography, the entire process of image creation is pretty much an entire problem solving exercise from start to finish. When shooting, we have to get the exposure correct. “Are my highlights going to be clipped?” “Will I have detail in my shadows?” “Is the lighting correct on the subject?” – All problems that take place before we even press the shutter release. Maybe that is what is so appealing to many photographers.
Anyway, once we have the 1’s and 0’s of the digital process written to our memory cards and we import the files to the computer, the real problem solving begins for MANY images. It is very rare that you get a RAW image (We are all shooting RAW, right?), pop it into Lightroom, review it and make just a few minor tweaks and all is well. This happens more often in studio controlled lighting situations where the photographer has a very tight grip on all aspects of the image from subject, composition, lighting and everything else.
But what about the 95% of the other images we shoot? They must be analyzed, edited and corrected before we release them digitally or to be printed. Adding creative flare and correcting technical issues are all part of the process. Here are some randomly assorted tips & techniques to help your image making.
1 Creating Shadows To Create Depth
There is nothing like an image that has depth and with depth comes more realism and feel as though you can almost walk into the image. In Photoshop, we can great great depth with dodging and burning. This is a great trick which I have played around with that makes shading and tonal gradients produce nice shading. In this example, I will use a simple B&W image of a lighthouse. WATCH THIS VIDEO I made to show you, visually, how to easily create some added light and shading to an image.
First, use the quick selection tool to select the lighthouse or whatever structure or object you wish to add some shading effect to. With this selection active, grab your “B”rush tool and select black as your foreground color. Create a new blank layer by hitting the new Layer Icon (Near Trash Basket At Bottom of Layers Panel) while holding ALT/OPT or SHIFT+CMD/CTRL+N and name your layer “SHADING” if you wish. I advise keeping layers labeled.
Now paint over the structure with the brush or simply hit OPT/ALT + DELETE to fill the selection with foreground color which should be black. It will be fully black now but don’t worry. When done, hit CMD/CTRL + D to deselect the selection.
Now go to the ADD LAYER MASK icon. Hit the “G”radient tool icon to activate it. Go to the side of the structure you want the light to be coming from, in this case the right side. Your color should be black. If not, make sure to make it black. Now click and drag to create a gradient in the mask so that there is a very smooth and transitional feather from light to dark. This will sell the illusion that there is light on one side and shadow on the other. You can then simply add in other shading by making selections, filling them in with black and then lowering the opacity and finally going to FILTERS>BLUR>GAUSSIAN BLUR to add a little soft edge to the “Shadow” you just created. This is a very basic and dull image but it gives a good example on how to apply it.
2 One Click Color Correction
Color casts can be a real pain. Many times when using ND filters, especially ND filters with stronger light blocking characteristics such as a 10 Stop ND filter, a color cast will be very evident in the image. This can also happen when using cheaper, lower quality ND filters. However, even top brands have color cast issues when in the 10 stop range. Lighting situations, environmental factors, etc – many things can cause a color cast. The problem with this is sometimes the simple eye dropper neutral seeker in Lightroom doesn’t seem to to the job.
Before I go any further, and this is very important, please make sure you have a properly calibrated monitor. This will help tremendously with colors and tones in your images. There are so many factors to image creation. So many users have their monitors turned up way too bright in rooms that are too bright. I plan on doing an article on the perfect environment for digital photo editing but for now, if you’re getting serious about your image creation, a good color calibration tool for your display is a great idea.
…Ok, back to the color correction task…
Since this is a destructive adjustment and not a layer adjustment, make a duplicate copy of the image by hitting – CMD/CTRL +J
Go to the IMAGE>ADJUSTMENTS>MATCH COLOR option within Photoshop. It will open a dialog box with several adjustments and clickable buttons. The one we are interested in is the NEUTRALIZE checkbox. Click this box. Photoshop will miraculously Neutralize your image. Reviewing your histogram will show that your image is balanced and colors neutralized.
3 Get Straight!
There are many instances where you will be shooting and you’ll be at an angle, especially with wider focal lengths, and your vertical or horizontal lines may be way off. There are quick fixes for the common crooked camera while shooting where the horizon isn’t straight, for example. This is fixed quickly in LR or PS using the crop straighten tool. There will be other times where you have multiple vertical lines (think REAL ESTATE IMAGES) that you want to fix and this is tricky. Luckily for us, there is Photoshop and the Free Transform Tool with its SKEW feature. You don’t see many tutorials mention this in comparison to the warp and perspective options but by pulling and stretching the pixels, Photoshop can take more than one line and make them straight while keeping the image looking good.This is a nice approach when you want to keep your resolution in tact. The original image size remains the same.
With the image open in Photoshop, activate the FREE TRANSFORM tool by going into EDIT>FREE TRANSFORM or just hit CMD or CTRL + T to activate the tool. There a box will appear around your image with little control points on each corner and in the middle of the lines around image. Move your cursor inside the image area and right click and a pop up menu box appears with various options. Choose SKEW.
…Set Your Work Space
Now make sure you have your rulers showing. This is done by going into VIEW and choosing RULERS. Now go over to your ruler on the left and click and drag. This will bring in a guide line. You set this near the line that you want to make straight. Be reasonable. A drastically tilted line is going to require much too much stretching and will look way off. Set these lines around the image for various other marks where you would like to have straight lines. Once you have these set, click on the corner control points and drag to strech the image and you will see the lines become straighter. Go back and forth nudging and toying with them until you get your lines as straight as possible. Once you’re finished, hit enter and you will exit FREE TRANSFORM with straight lines. To clear the guides, hit CMD or CTRL and ; when done. To toggle the guides on and off, hit CMD/CTRL + ; again.
Using the warp feature is great when you have a horizon line that may be off. Just lay down a guide on the straight part of horizon. Click and drag the corner of your image until the horizon is in line with the guide. This is a good technique for lines that are just a little off and since you're not cropping, you are keeping that aspect ratio in tact and full image resolution.
If you don’t mind a crop, using the MANUAL Lens Corrections in Lightroom can fix the issue. Once you’re done making your corrections in that area, go to the “R” Crop tool and click the little box “Contrain To Image” and it will crop out the white area automatically for you.
4 Mid Tones Levels Adjustments – Bring Your Images to Life
Using levels adjustment layer in Photoshop with Luminosity Masks can make your images SO much better than just using the normal tools. Did that sound complex? Don’t let it. I have mentioned here before that Jimmy McIntyre offers a FREE Photoshop Panel that creates 18 Luminosity masks (6 in each range – Darks, Mids, Highs) just for visiting his site and registering and getting on email list. Whatever you do, getting the panel is a great idea so you can make these masks in a couple clicks. You don’t need to know much more about the masks but I feel it is VERY helpful to use these masks in conjunction with Levels and Curves in Photoshop.
It justs gives you such nice contrast – not too strong – not too weak – and it won’t blow out your highs or blacken your darks. It gives your images great saturation naturally and makes the image just THAT much better. You can experiment with moving the grey point around to emphasize more dark or light in the adjustment. I know this isn’t very specific but you must see it to know why I am putting this here! I created a video that simply shows the way to make these masks HERE if you want to create them yourself. It is just a lot of keystrokes and takes a while. If you're going to go that route, I would suggest the next tip.
5 Create Actions In Photoshop
I had to add this in here because I feel it is so important to have this as part of your workflow.
You've probably heard “Download my action set” or “I use actions for that” when speaking of Photoshop in many online video tutorals. An action is just a recorded set of commands in Photoshop that you can execute with the click of your mouse. Want to create a layer that is a transparent layer in the Overlay blend Mode to be used to dodging (lightening) an image? Record yourself doing this once and then you will have a one click shortcut to do it from now on. You can organize them into folders and make a totally customized actions folder for different adjustments.
It really is very simple. Check out this video here on creating actions in Photoshop – HERE! Aaron Nace has a knack for explaining things very well.
6 Eliminate Banding In Your Images
We have all seen banding in digital images. It is that unnatural look we usually see in skies and it is caused by colors and tones being pushed just a little bit too far. Many people try to remove this stubborn problem using an adjustment brush in Lightroom and playing with the adjustment controls such as clarity (reducing) and the contrast slider.
A great and effective way to reduce or eliminate banding all together is to add noise to the banding area. Yup – add noise – a small amount.
Go into the Filter Menu in PS and select Noise>Add Noise. Usually 1-3% should be good – just enough to break up the banding. You can then apply a black layer mask to make this adjustment invisible and brush in the noise in the banding area since you don't want to add this noise to the entire image – of course! To create a black layer mask, simply click on the little APPLY LAYER mask icon at bottom of LAYERS panel while holding OPT/ALT down.
7 Quickly Switch Crop Views In Lightroom
When composing an image, it is best to use the entire frame (or most of it) to capture the scene. This keeps your image at the maximum resolution and this in turn gives you best possible image quality. There will be times, however, where you just need to crop your images. And example below is when I was just at the zoo with a 70-200mm lens. 200mm was simply just not enought on many shots and to get the subject to be prominent in the scene, cropping was needed.
Cropping in LR is very simple and straight forward. You can activate the Crop tool by clicking on the Crop Icon or hit “R” on the keyboard. A crop overlay will appear. You have a few options in the Panel shown in this image.
With the crop overlay visible, you can toggle vertical and horizontal view by hitting the “X” key. This is great when trying to crop out a vertical image from a horizontal one. Also, and this is really nice and I am amazed how few people know this, you can toggle through the various overlays by hitting the “O” key. It will show several options as you toggle through them and will guide you on good composition.
If you have the little lock “unlocked” this gives you free control to crop however you would like. But pay attention while you are moving the crop margins. You will see the “CUSTOM” flicker back and forth between custom and a certain aspect ratio. It is good to keep standard aspect ratios, namely when printing. This way you have free control but can also keep a standardized crop ratio!
8 Selective Noise Reduction
Digital noise can be very bothersome to images as it just looks bad. A good clean, crisp image just looks so much better. There are some great noise reduction PLUG INS that work very well. Photoshop and LR alone have noise reduction built in that does a fairly good job. The digital noise is mostly found in the shadow regions of the image. That is simply the nature of the digital image sensor. It is a piece of modern technology that works best with more light rather than less. It is all about SIGNAL to NOISE ratio but that is another subject for another time.
I personally use Topaz Denoise as I have found it to be the best noise reduction product I have used thus far. Regardless of what you use, this will allow you to choose only the parts of the image you want the noise reduction to work in. This is very important because often times noise reduction will kill detail in certain areas. By utilizing a layer mask and either masking out the noise reduction using a white layer mask with a black brush OR brushing the noise reduction in using a black mask with a white brush, you control what you want cleaned up or not. Using luminosity masks is a great way to achieve results in certain tonal areas.
9 Clipping Mask With Text
Have you ever wanted to add text that has an image inside the text? It is very simple in Photoshop. Here is what you want to do. You will need at least two layers to start with. They can even be the same layer copied but two must be used for this to work.
If you have two layers, go to the bottom layer and hit “T” to activate the TEXT tool. Begin to type your text in. When done typing, it is best to then select ALL the text and make the changes to your text using the various fonts and sizes in the text toolbar. Once you are finished, hit enter or click the CHECK mark at top of tool bar.
The image that is on the top layer is the image that will show through the text. Simply HOLD DOWN Option/Alt while hovering between the top layer and the text and a little arrow and box will appear. This is the clipping mask icon. Click when you see that and the image will CLIP only to the text below and the image will show through only where the text is. You can then double click the TEXT layer and play with layer styles and get countless combinations of great looks! Try it out! It is very much a lot of fun!
Here in North America, it is Summer Time and many of us have vacation time and there is lots of time to get out and shoot or sit back and learn. The key is if you're not doing one of them, make time for the other. It is the best way to Improve your photography. We have all gotten in a rut here and there as our lives and day jobs can really put a strain on our passion for photography. Keep shooting and sharing and you can only get better!!
Please share anything new you may have learned below so we can all learn more together! Have a great Summer!