Hi there! If you’re a digital photographer, you’ll know how important post-processing is. Post-processing is the process of touching up your raw photos in a photo editor, removing blemishes and making tweaks so that you get a better photo.
These steps for post processing need to be standardized. A photography should know exactly what to do when faced with a raw camera image – removing red eye, color balancing, evening out shadows, etc. Now, most photographers I know don’t have a standardized process for doing this. It’s all random to them – sometimes they do this, sometimes they do that – not a good idea!
In this article, I want to share with you my personal workflow for touching up photos. I apply these tips whenever I finishing taking my photos – no questions asked. This makes for a much more consistent quality in every photograph I take.
One point to note – some people argue that post processing should be kept to a minimum – the trick is to take a good photo in the first place. I certainly agree – you should always learn about good photography technique. However, in cases where your raw photos really need some help – a post processing is a must.
1. Get Your Tools Ready
Ok, the first thing you need to do before touching up any photo is to get your tools ready. You need a good, versatile photo editing program to do the trick. My suggestion is not to scrimp and save – get the best one your money can buy – it does make a difference.
There are many photo editors out there, targeted at beginners, intermediate and advanced level users. Some popular ones include Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Photoshop Elements, Corel PaintShop Pro, etc.
My personally use two tools. One is Corel PaintShop Pro, which is very versatile and meets all my photo editing needs. It costs some money but it will serve you very well in your photography hobby. The other tool I like is GIMP, an excellent freeware program – which I tend to use more for simple, straightforward editing.
Now, before we begin editing anything on your photo – make a backup copy of your original image! Some editing effects (e.g. rotation) will result in a loss of quality and you’re also never sure if you made a mess of things and want to revert to the original.
2. Red Eye
The first thing I do in my photo editing workflow is to remove red eye – one of the most common bugbears in photos. In case you’re not familiar, red eye refers to the red-coloring over your subject’s eyes – this is common if you use your camera’s flash a lot.
The good photo programs out there allow you to specify “Remove Red Eye” in a menu and bam, that’s all you need to do (Paintshop Pro has just such a tool). In the old days, I remember you had to zoom in on your subject’s eyes, use a coloring tool and remove the red color – not very convenient at all!
3. Smooth Skin and Remove Blemishes
The second thing I do in my photo editing workflow is to remove blemishes. Many of my subjects in portrait shots are most concerned about a pimple, a blemish or “spot of bother” on their faces. Some are also worried about oily skin and shine.
What I tend to do here is to use a “softening tool” or a “blend tool” to remove the blemish. Most photo editors have such a tool and you should zoom in the offending spot and edit at the pixel level. Sometimes, you can also pick up the surrounding skin color and do a color replace on the offending spot.
Incidentally, Adobe Photoshop has a fabulous feature called “Content Aware” that’s great for removing spots and blemishes.
4. Rotate and Crop
The next thing you should do to clean up photos is to rotate and crop your image. Often, some of our pictures are in the wrong orientation. You should use a Rotate Tool in your photo editing program to get it right. Rotation usually results in a loss of picture quality, so make sure you save a backup of your original image.
As for cropping, my suggestion is to always give more attention to the subject in the middle of your photo. What I usually do is to remove extraneous, distracting background elements in the photo and blow up the subject in the photo where I can.
Case Study. You know, 80% of the time, I use Corel Paintshop Pro for my photo editing workflow. The other 20% is filled by by a combination of GIMP, online photo tools like Pixlr and phone picture editing apps like iPhoto. Usually you’d find that you need a number of software programs in your photo editing – feel free to try them out and find one that you get comfortable with. For me, in most of my casual photo work, I find Corel Paintshop Pro to be more than sufficient.
5. Shadows and Color Balancing
Shadows and color balancing is often ignored by photographers in post processing, but it’s important!
Your photo can be overshadowed in places without you realizing it. I always run a Contrast tool check on my picture to see if these shadows can be removed.
For color balancing, you can go into detailed RGB analysis, hue and saturation, but I typically don’t do that. I simply try using an Equalizer tool or a Color Replacer tool to smooth out and make colors a bit more balanced in my pictures.
6. Online Photo Retouching Tools
One point to note is that there are a large number of online photo retouching tools available to you these days. Should you use them?
Well, in my opinion, you should, especially for simple edits like red eye, rotation and cropping, etc. Two of the best online photo tools I use are Pixlr and SumoPaint. Some of these sites are so good you’d think you’re in the Photoshop user interface while using them!
For me, I find that for pictures taken on my phone, I tend to use apps to do simple edits too. Aviary and iPhoto come to mind – both are excellent tools for photo editing.
And that’s it! 6 essential tips for retouching your photos – which you should apply often and make a standard part of your photo workflow.
One thing I’d like to mention is that a full photo editing workflow could be much more complicated – in the above, I’ve just highlighted some “must-dos” in your editing.
Those of you who are at the professional level may even go into toolkits like Adobe Photoshop LightRoom to get industrial grade photo editing processes in place.
That’s all I have for now. Until next time, have lots of fun editing your photos!