For me, post-processing is equally as important as capturing the image in the first place, and some judicious editing can elevate a mundane photo into something that’s of greater aesthetic appeal and so, hopefully, of at least passing interest.
I’ve decided to begin participating in the weekly After Before Forum, hosted by Aperture64. This entails posting two versions of the same photograph: the ‘before‘, as shot, and the ‘after‘, once that original has been edited. Here’s my first contribution.
The Original Image
This was taken on the Sir Bani Yas Island nature reserve in the United Arab Emirates and is of a pair of Arabian oryx, a previously endangered species that now roams freely on Sir Bani Yas, thanks to some major conservation efforts. What lifts this particular shot out of the ordinary, for me, is the matching ‘pose’ of the two animals.
For editing I principally use Lightroom. I have a Creative Cloud subscription, which also gives me access to Photoshop, although I use this comparatively rarely (I keep telling myself that one day I’ll get to grips properly with Photoshop, but it hasn’t happened yet).
I always begin the editing process with some straightening, when necessary. This eliminates what can be an irritating distraction (especially in landscapes and – even more so – seascapes). This particular image has been very slightly levelled out.
After this comes cropping. The purpose of cropping is to remove, as much as possible, anything that detracts from the actual subject of the photograph. There was a case for leaving the oryx in a more expansive landscape, but having taken the view that the pose was the real subject, I decided on a closer crop with clear focus on the animals themselves.
Only when you’re happy with the composition of the image is there much point, in my view, in trying to get it to look as good as possible.
The enhancement of the image is very largely a process of trial and error. The camera’s own settings – other than in special circumstances I use Aperture-Priority mode – almost always deliver a correct exposure, so it’s really a matter of working through the Menu items in Lightroom’s Development mode.
Of these the first is the most important, so I spend the most time on playing around with the various Tone sliders – Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks – while keeping one eye on the histogram and the other on the image itself (no mean trick if, like me, you’re basically one-eyed). It’s fascinating to see how much more detail can be coaxed out of a RAW file (I always shoot in RAW) with these adjustments.
Occasionally, this process throws up some jarring colour casts, which I’ll correct using the individual ‘Color’ sliders. As it happens, there was an odd blue tinge to the white fur, which I eliminated by taking down the Blue saturation. Since there’s no real blue in the image – none that ought to be there, at any rate – this doesn’t detract from anything else.
Once I’m happy with the result of all this, I move on to the Presence part of the Menu (Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation). To be perfectly honest, I find that the ‘Punch’ preset in Lightroom does a pretty good job. That’s +30 on Clarity and +25 on Vibrance. Of course, it can be tweaked further from there.
Likewise, since I’m not sure I really understand Sharpening, I tend to defer to Lightroom’s ‘Sharpen’ pre-sets. Finally, I might experiment with the Noise Reduction sliders, but noise isn’t usually a problem in even halfway decent light conditions. I think it’s important to remember that even though you have a lot of adjustment tools at your disposal, you don’t have to use them all, just for the sake of it.
The Final Image