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Photography Tips - photo editing

 23rd Sep 2010

post-productionWe’ve had a lot of people use the form on our photography videos page to ask about post production and photo editing, what programs to use and where to begin.

Post production is nothing new. It’s generally thought of as a digital thing because the computer has opened up soooo many possibilities, but trust me - post production has been going on since the earliest days of photography.

As high street consumers we never noticed it before digital because it was done when our films were printed. Even the most basic mini-lab would adjust brightness and colours and how they ‘came out’ depended a lot on how good or bad the operator was.

If you sent your negatives away to have a hand print made they’d always selectively brighten and darken areas of the image as well as fine tweak colours, contrast etc.

So where does that leave you with digital? I think there are two photo editing stages.

  • Post production: ­ Adjusting brightness, contrast, colour correction and a little selective dodging and burning to make your image come to life.
  • Image manipulation: ­ Adding or removing items from the image, making people look slimmer, HDR imaging and full blown creative art work.

Neither of these is right or wrong by the way - ­ they’re just things we can do to achieve the results we want.

Choosing software

There are many many photo editing programs out there and you have to choose the one that’s appropriate for what you’re doing.

For example as a professional dealing with hundreds of images someone’s paid me money for I have to use the best. ­ I have full version Photoshop for tweaking and Adobe Lightroom to process RAW files - I'm not going into them here but we are making a video all about them.

Why would an enthusiast need to spend £800+ on software? Free or low cost programs like Gimp, Photoshop Elements or PaintShop Photo Pro would generally be good enough. All I'm saying is you don't need to get too hung up about it. Most photo editing software will do the job.

My recommendations would be Photoshop Elements for the hobbyist and full-fat Photoshop for the advanced amateur / semi professional and above.

Search for cheap image editing software on Google and check out a few - ­ most have a free trial download.


Here are my favourite basic post production / photo editing adjustments. I’m using full Photoshop - your software might have a different name for some of these ­ but have a dig and I’m sure you’ll find them.

  • Calibration: This isn't photo editing but If you intend to print your pictures through a proper lab you must first calibrate your monitor with a proper Spyder or you’re on a hiding to nothing. An un-calibrated monitor won’t display anything accurately.


  • Levels: Check to see if there are gaps at the ends of the histogram graph. If there are, dragging the little triangles (ringed in red) in to the ends of the graph will increase the image’s punch.
    Do it a bit at a time because you might not need to go all the way
    stop when you think it looks post-colourright. Use the ‘Preview’ tick box to go back and fourth between the adjusted version and the original.


  • Colour Balance: There’s no right or wrong with colour because it’s subjective. If you think the colours could be improved open the colour balance tool and move the sliders accordingly. If you want to make the picture warmer then drag the sliders more towards yellow and red. If you want it cooler then do the opposite. If you have a green cast then add magenta to get rid of it etc.


  • post-saturationSaturation: This is just like turning the colours on your TV set up or down. If you shot is of something colourful like a fair ground then a bit extra saturation could work well. But supposing it’s a shot of a misty morning then subtle colours might work best. If you pull the saturation down far enough you’ll have a black and white image.


  • Brightness and Contrast: If your image looks a bit grey, dull and kind of foggy you might need a bit more contrast ­ especially if you’ve chosen to make a colour image into a black and white. The brightness control is self explanatory and it’s unlikely you’ll need it if you’ve checked your levels.


  • post-contrastSharpening: Digital images are a bit soft by nature and your camera generally takes care of sharpening for you. Sometimes an image can need a bit of sharpening but be careful with this one because an over sharpened image looks horrid. If you’re going to print ­ sharpen the image whilst viewing it on your monitor at the size you’re going to print at. Large prints (20x16) need more sharpening than small ones (6x4).

The next tip will be about why calibration is so important, how to do it right and why you can’t trust your own eyes.
There’ll be much much more about all this as our photography videos area goes live and grows each month as we add new films.

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mike-courses-gifHappy shooting till next time ….



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