Friday, September 6, 2013

Post Processing Series: Episode 2

I promised you 6 months ago that I'll be posting a bi-weekly "Post Processing" episode, but I didn't keep my promise. I am really sorry, but things have been hectic both on the personal level, and on the country level. However, I promise to make it up for you, and I promise to keep this series alive, especially that I am now using a nice AutoHotKey script that makes it very easy and quick to take screenshots from Lightroom and save them.

You can see above the image we're going to edit today, and this is how it originally looked like, don't be shocked.

I took this image during a boat tour around Stockholm, I didn't have much time or chance to capture the tree from a proper angle, the boat was moving quickly, and I decided to capture whatever I can. I was using my Zuiko 12-50 zoom lens, aperture priority mode, f/8 in order to get maximum sharpness out of this mediocre lens, and to have proper depth of field. ISO was set to 400, and I was getting fast enough shutter speeds.

What drew me to this tree, was its unique shape, protruding out of the water-side at an angle, with the lowest branch submerged in the water. It looked like it was drinking water. I took a couple of shots, with the second shot looking better composition-wise, but I used this one instead because of the lucky rainbow just below where the tree touches the water.

NOTE: You can click on any of the screenshots below to see the full 1920x1080 picture.

So here is how it looked like in lightroom, you can see a few parameters of my default preset (Contrast +10, Highlights -10, Blacks -10, Clarity +10, Vibrance +10) that are applied automatically to each OMD image imported into lightroom. Remember the previous post in this series when I mentioned that subtlety is important when using the sliders to get good looking; realistic effects?

Not this time though, I usually use the sliders aggressively when I am processing a landscape shot with no people, especially in this picture where you can see how cloudy the sky was, lighting was very flat and there was a lack of contrast due to the lack of direct sunlight, so I had to punch the colors and the contrast a bit.

Here's how I reached the values you see above, which is what I do almost in most of my processing:
  1. I usually start with the 2 most important exposure sliders, highlights & shadows, even before the exposure itself. So here I brought the highlights down to have the clouds look more dramatic, then I opened up the shadows until it looked ok to my taste, and not flat.
  2. Next I used the blacks slider, I hit the "Alt" key and move the slider to the left until I see some blacks in the image, then I release the "Alt" key and check the image visually, sometimes I will see it better to reduce the blacks a bit.
  3. Clarity and vibrance are always bumped for outdoor scenery pictures. I never push the clarity beyond +40, but here I pushed the vibrance up until the green in the tree looked where I wanted it to be. Notice that saturation is not used yet, this is my least used slider, and I keep it to the end, and use it sparingly, as it really saturates all the colors making them look ugly sometimes. Vibrance; on the other hand only punches those muted colors in a less extravagant manner.
  4. Finally, I check if the image could use an exposure (or the "whites" slider) boost, which is not really needed, and the same for contrast, which got bumped slightly.
There is no certain guidelines for this, I move the sliders to taste, and that's why having a calibrated screen is very important. I will post about that soon.

Next I opened up the shadows a bit more. After adding blacks and contrast, the image had good contrast, it was too dark, so I opened up the shadows more. Now here is where the Sony/Nikon sensors excel the most, in shadow recovery. If I were using an image from my Canon 60D, there would be a lot of color noise and banding in the shadow areas, and it would look ugly. And to be fair to the Canons, they have incredible highlight recovery latitude, I was just using both the 60D and the OMD to shoot product shots, and the difference in highlight and shadow recovery between both was like day and night. That's why I used to expose to the right (ETTR) in my Canons, and that's why Mic never seemed to understand what I was on about, exposing to the right on the OMD (and I expect the Nikons as well) doesn't seem to work as well as it did on the Canon.

I was happy with the image at that stage, but before I finished it, I decided to push the saturation a bit and see what happens. Good things as it turned out.

Now a square crop to really emphasize that tree, and cut out the distractions at the background and the sides.

And one of my favorite tools, "Post Crop Vignetting", I am sorry the screenshot doesn't show the slider, but I pull it backwards (-ve numbers) very slightly until I like the look. Be careful with that slider, you can get carried away very easily, I use it just to give a little bit pop to the center of the image.

Finally, a small crop adjustment to get rid of the column at the bottom right. And we're done, here's the before and after once more. I hope you've enjoyed this post, and please don't hesitate to ask if you have any questions. Keep the comments coming.


Post Processing Series: Episode 1 - Indoor Portrait
Post Processing Series: Episode 3 - B&W Macro