Every aspect that goes into creating a dynamic image is imperative. As a professional photographer, the process begins with planning, conceptualization, understanding the intention of the project, connecting with the subject, composition, lighting and…I could go on.
Oftentimes it is argued in the photographic community that we tend to rely too heavily on post-production. The claim is that we ought to present the image as it was captured as opposed to manipulating the details. However, editing programs such as Lightroom and Photoshop were created using the same techniques that were once applied in film processing and print development. Dodging, burning, exposure and contrast adjustments allow the photographer to both control and promote their vision for that image.
As the majority of the work I do is for commercial and editorial projects, the post-processing stage is of critical importance. The changes may sometimes be minimal but the impact in making the photograph better than reality helps to create an emotional response that engages the audience. In order to take full control of all of the variables, most professional photographers, including myself, shoot in a RAW workflow where the greatest benefits include:
- The highest level of quality -this format records all of the image data captured by the sensor. Unlike JPEGS where the information is compressed and interpreted by the camera settings, RAW files leave the photos “visual branding” up to the eye of the photographer.
- Non-destructive editing – when making adjustments to a RAW file, the original data goes unaffected. JPEGS however, lessen in quality every time they are manipulated which is why they are referred to as “lossy” file formats.
Below is an example of the RAW dialogue box in Photoshop CS 6. Keep in mind, there are several more panels in this software that are not pictured here but provide additional enhancements such as lens corrections and sharpening.
Though I am not a huge fan of showing my out-of-camera- originals, this shot is a great example of the benefits of post-production. As you can see, there are plenty of options to play with here including white balance, contrast, exposure, highlights, shadows and my favorites: clarity which controls the contrast of the midtones in the image and vibrance which boosts saturation without affecting those colors that are already bright.
After playing with the sliders and processing the image, here is the result:
Note that the photo was cropped, the contrast adjusted to create deeper shadows, and the table in front of the subject was exposed to create more texture.
Now, when I took this photograph, I had an idea in mind: high contrast and over-exposed background highlights that would then essentially frame my subject. In order to finalize this, the rest of the editing was completed in Photoshop CS 6. Check it out:
In the final image above, I used a diffusion filter to overexpose the highlights. Also, the breaks in the frosted glass where you could see into the room behind it in the original photo were edited to remove the distractions. Finally, the image was also cropped and rotated slightly to remove the ceiling.
Although, I initially began with a properly exposed image, the colors and contrast were not as interesting as I had intended. Seeing beyond this and having an end result in mind, the benefits of post-production created a more dramatic and powerful photograph that corresponds with my vision for the image as well as with my clients’ overall view of what the end result should look like.