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Whitewater Photography Tutorial #10: Post-processing

Post-processing, also synonymous with photoshopping. How much is too much? 

I'll be focusing on Adobe Photoshop CS4 and some unique features to it. Even if you don't use it some of but not all the technique can be applied via another program.

Some argue that photography captures reality and as such shouldn't be tampered with, calling this "journalistic integrity". Thom Hogan says it better than I can: "I have an easy answer to the question of manipulation. Photography isn’t real. Ever. It’s instead what a photographer chooses to show you, simple as that. It’s only one moment in time, taken from a particular perspective (position), showing only a part of what can be shown (crop via the angle of view of the lens chosen), captured at some resolution, with development settings often determined by someone else (processing lab or camera manufacturer). Colors aren’t accurate, they’re biased in some way. Dynamic range isn’t right, as it’s either chopped off or compressed into the output medium. "

My personal goal is to do my best to capture the feeling of a rapid or place, and occasionally the feeling of running one. Of course looking at a photograph isn't the same thing as being there, feeling mist on your face, hearing the roar of the water and being fully immersed in the experience. In light of this I have no problem pushing an image in photoshop to best capture how I felt about the environment at that moment. My personal taste is to keep photographs looking real while capturing the moment as well as possible. The end result is only as good as the original shot, heavily processing a mundane photograph gives you a heavily processed mundane photograph. 

Raw or jpg? This is a personal choice with advantages to both. Jpg's are much smaller sized files because just the information that makes it onto the histogram is saved, everything else is clipped off. They are much easier on computer resources to edit and store. Raw files save extra information and up the file size considerably. If you have a high end dSLR and shoot raw, you'll need a computer to match for post processing. I choose to shoot raw because whitewater exposure can be tough to nail and it gives you a little breathing room. I've also shot jpg only for over a year and sold  those too.

This section really applies to a basic edit of an image for web use. When it comes times for prints most (larger) companies just want raw files because they have people with a degree for getting shots perfect for their printing methods. There are some exceptions and this is more or less how I edit the final jpgs too, without the final resize, watermark and sharpening. 

First off you'll need to change an option in photoshop. I learned that you can open .jpg files with the more powerful raw editor. Go to: Edit > Preferences > File Handling. “Camera Raw Preferences” > JPEG and Tiff Handling > Automatically open all supported JPEGs. Now both raw and jpg will open in the raw editor. I'll do a quick walk through of a photograph that needs minimal work. 

Fantasy Falls of the North Fork Mokelumne. 

Go to the upper right corner and turn on "Highlight Clipping Warning". You'll see the washed out area on Chris's helmet turn red. The highlight clipping warning makes any area of pure white look red. It's hard for the human eye to differentiate when white washes out, but easy for the computer, so when there is no information and it's true white (255,255,255) it shows it as red. I leave this on for editing all whitewater shots.

 #1 Vibrance: I like a lot of color in my shots, and to test things out will put my "vibrance" at 50. Vibrance is a new saturation tool that does a great job of leaving skin tones natural while helping out other colors. Adjust to taste (mine is rarely above 50).

 #2 Exposure: Every shot gets just a small touch up or down as needed. I pushed this shot up .45 because Chris's face and the sky are pretty dark. This makes a few small spots of whitewater clip (wash out) and turn red. That's ok because of the next step. 

#3 Recovery: The recovery slider pulls back just the bright spots that have clipped. It's amazing and I love it. In this shot I set it at 25 to remove any red spots from the water. A small one still remains on the helmet but this is normal and would look unnatural to get rid of. 

#4 Fill Light: This adjusts the tonal curve in the shadows. Huh? Sliding it to the right makes dark sections of the photo brighter without affecting the highlights. For this shot I set it at 35, the sky now looks nice and I can see Chris's face.

Now the photo is where I like it, bright colors give it plenty of "pop" and nice lighting on the subjects face. Now I hold down the Alt button and open a copy of the file. If you ignore Alt the image will open and create a file of your raw preferences for the original. I don't want this extra file created since this is destined to be a jpg for the web. Now the file is open in regular photoshop and we're almost done. Resize the photo for it's final size in web use. I like to go 800 pixels on the long side of the image. Pull up the image size option by hitting Alt-Ctrl-I, or via the menu: Image > Image Size.

 Since this image is horizontal the width is the long side, so I put in 800 and make sure it says pixels and hit OK.
 (Note I've already selected the Type tool halfway down on the left) 

But the image looks tiny! Hit Ctrl-Alt-0 (zero) for the image to show at it's natural size. Now is when you add your watermark of choice if you want to. I like a simple "photo darin mcquoid" in white. To get the copyright (©) symbol either copy and paste it from a web page or after clicking on the image with the type tool, hold down Alt and type in 0169. Release alt and you'll have the symbol. Align your text where you want it, and if so desired add a style. Go to Windows > Style to open the styles window. I like a basic drop shadow. Now hit Alt-E to merge down or via menu: Layer > Flatten Image. Now for the last step!

 Watermarked image.


Sharpening an image should always be the final step, because any adjustments made after sharpening can soften the image. Resizing an image always softens it considerably. I like a little sharpening, but not too much, or you'll get an image that looks like it came from an archaic digital camera. There is no shortcut for the Smart Sharpen feature, so through the menu system go Filters > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen. Your first time some adjustments will need to be made. Be sure the "Preview" box is clicked. Set it to "Remove: Lens Blur" and set your Radius to 0.1 pixels. Make sure "More Accurate" is switched on and that you are previewing the image at 100%. Now adjust the slider until you see the desired result. The sharper the original image, the less sharpening you'll need. If the original is very soft you'll need to be much more aggressive with the amount and radius of the sharpening. For this photo I set my Amount to 30.


Save the file and upload to a site that won't resize automatically, and we are done with a basic edit. These steps may not seem like they make a huge difference while you're in the process, but if you compare the results side by side it's amazing. Here is what a direct conversion of the image would look like with no adjustments.


The same image with basic adjustments made.

Next Up: Putting together a sequence.

Whitewater Photography Tutorial  #1: Intro.

Whitewater Photography Tutorial  #2: What is the right exposure?

Whitewater Photography Tutorial  #3: Getting the right exposure. 

Whitewater Photography Tutorial #4: Low Light Action

Whitewater Photography Tutorial #5: Focus

Whitewater Photography Tutorial #6: Lighting

Whitewater Photography Tutorial #7: Composition 

Whitewater Photography Tutorial #8: Wide Angles

Whitewater Photography Tutorial #9: Panning

Whitewater Photography Tutorial #10: Post-processing

Whitewater Photography Tutorial #11: Sequencing

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