I’m a shooter first, editor second. But the modern era has provided such great variety of different software programs to use that it’s impossible to ignore the obvious: post-processing is important. We have available to us a virtually limitless supply of different editing treatments, and images can be manipulated to a degree never imagined by photographers of the past.
You can add or subtract major elements to your photo, merge as many different exposures as you wish, overlay all sorts of treatments that can make it look like a painting, etching, ancient film photo, etc. Oh, and you can even strive to faithfully replicate what was in front of you.
Before you read this post, you may want to check out Part I. It goes into the things you need to think about before deciding how you wish to approach post-processing. Editing software costs real money, and it will take real time to learn it. More time will be spent editing your photos.
It’s important to be realistic about how much time & money you want to invest, and to get a handle on what sort of payoff there might be. For example, if you decide you want to learn Photoshop, how proficient do you want to get? Do you want to become an expert, and how much time will that take? More important, how much of a difference will it ultimately make to the quality of the sorts of images you want to make?
I’m going to recommend an approach here that in my opinion keeps things simple, and yet allows you a lot of room to explore your creative side. In no way am I trying to convince you this is hands-down the best way to go. One thing that has always bugged me about education in general, and photography education in particular, is that so many teachers try to pretend they are presenting things in a totally unbiased way.
That’s nonsense. We all have biases, and no matter how much we try to remain impartial, those biases remain the moment we open our mouths. I think it’s best to be honest about that. If you’re pushing one way of doing things over another, fine. Just don’t be self-righteous or ideological about it. If you’re pushing a product or service you really love, just admit it and move on. Honesty is always the best policy.
JOB ONE: GET ORGANIZED
What is the first thing you want to do with your photos after they are recorded onto a memory card (SD, compact flash, etc.)? Make them look pretty? Share them? You may choose to shoot in Jpeg and share you photos instantly via Instagram. Of course that’s fine. In fact it’s very popular. But it’s also a fairly casual approach. If you’re more serious about your photography, I recommend doing the following before you do much (if any) shooting.
BUY LIGHTROOM (LR): Most professionals either use Photoshop Lightroom or Photoshop CS or a combination of the two. To start out you only need Lightroom, which is currently in version 5. Optionally you can add Photoshop Elements (the cheaper pared down version of Photoshop). Lightroom is the best general purpose software program made for photographers. You can also use Aperture, which is similar but not quite as versatile. Some Nikon shooters swear by Capture NX, which is that company’s in-house program.
TO CLOUD OR NOT? For better or worse, Adobe is trying to push us all onto “the cloud”. In fact, the latest version of Photoshop CS is only offered on the cloud, as a pay-per-month service. For Lightroom, you can still buy the standalone program for about $135, $79 for students & teachers. Photoshop Elements (version 13) is also available in non-cloud form, for about $80. How long will Adobe continue to offer these two in stand-alone form is anyone’s guess. They’re having a lot of success getting people to switch to the cloud.
Buying the cloud version means you get free upgrades whenever the new versions come out. You can also store files online and work on them from a different computer. But this isn’t strictly cloud-based software. You still download the software to your computer like normal, so you don’t need to be online to use it (a common misconception). You do need to have web access at least once every 4 months to confirm your subscription.
Another common misconception about the cloud is that you’re automatically sharing your work with strangers online: not true. While sharing is a breeze, you can still save any or all of your images on your own personal hard drives. Cloud storage actually makes a handy option for backing up your edited selects, though speeds aren’t quite to the point where it’s a realistic offsite backup option for RAW image catalogs.
You can get both Lightroom and the full version of Photoshop CS as a cloud-based package for $10/month, which isn’t such a bad deal if you’re the type who’s likely to buy the latest version anyway. I haven’t jumped to the cloud yet, mainly because I don’t do a lot in Photoshop and don’t always upgrade when a new version of Lightroom comes out.
LEARN LR BASICS & SET UP A FILE STRUCTURE: Learn something of how Lightroom works to organize your photos. Learn about catalogs and the Library Module. You can learn about the Develop Module (editing) and all the other stuff LR does as you go. Decide on and set up a file structure on your computer. Make it simple and make sure it fits your way of thinking.
Make sure you have enough storage space for the first year or so of image files plus their (multiple) backups. Depending on your camera, images take up more space than you might think. If you’re going to shoot video as well, that takes even more space.
Also decide on how you will be naming your photos. The names your camera gives them are just meaningless numbers. Books on Lightroom cover naming and file structure, but it really is a personal thing.
SET YOUR CAMERA TO SHOOT IN RAW: This will enable you to edit and save various versions of the image, all the while keeping the original file untouched. You’ll also have greater latitude when it comes to editing. You can also shoot in RAW plus Jpeg if you want. Always choose the highest quality and for color space choose either Adobe RGB (or ProPhoto RGB if it’s offered), not sRGB. Later, after editing, you will convert to the narrower color range of sRGB if the image is to be displayed on a digital screen.
UPLOAD & BACK UP
This is something you should do as often as possible, preferably after every shoot. Memory cards do fail (or get lost), and you don’t want to experience the frustration of capturing a great image only for it be lost before it can even be viewed. Save the original RAW files to a hard drive separate from your working drive, which is the one that runs your software. You might make this drive a fast, solid-state drive, in which case it’d probably be too small for an image catalog anyway.
Back up these files to a separate hard drive onsite, then mirror that to another drive, giving you three copies of each image file. You can keep this drive offsite or make yet another copy (for a total of four) and store that offsite. If your internet speed is fast enough you can consider cloud-based offsite backup. In most places that’s impractical, so what do you do if you’re traveling? Of course this limitation will disappear soon enough.
Next time we’ll continue with what to do once your images are uploaded to the computer. Have a great weekend!