Today, I’ll be sharing with you 5 unique post processing tips that you should know. You’ll learn helpful tips to improve your post processing skills and also tips about ethics and protecting people’s privacy. There are a lot of post processing tips but I picked the ones that aren’t talked about a lot or is something that more people need to know about.
1. Start with a purpose
One of the most embarrassing questions people can about your photo is, “Why does your photo have that look to it?”. A lot of times, people color grade or add effects without a purpose. They’re either trying to look for the best Lightroom preset or randomly mixing adjustments hoping that they’ll get something that looks cool. But they’re not focusing on the reason behind it.
Before you start post processing, you have to know what you’re trying to achieve. And I’m not talking about the small and obvious things like fixing the exposure. I’m talking about color grading and filters. For example, here’s a wedding photo with a grungy effect. It doesn’t make sense because the effect is extreme and loud – not something typical of weddings.
Here’s another example. This video clip from a product review has a fancy aspect ratio and faded film effect to give it the cinematic look. There’s no reason for making a review video look cinematic. With both of these examples, the first thing people will notice is not the photo or video, but the post processing applied to it. And it makes them ask in their head, “Why does it have that look to it?”.
Think of color gradings and effects as music. When you combine music with video, it changes the way people feel. Your post processing style does the same thing with your photos. So before you start post processing, know what you’re trying to achieve and have a clear rationale for it.
2. Maintain a consistent noise pattern
Not all photos we take are shot at a low ISO setting. A lot of times, there is grain. And if you’re working on a high-ISO photo, you really have to pay attention to the noise pattern. When we manipulate a photo, for example, I blurred the background of this photo, the noise pattern changes. So the subject in the middle is grainy but the background is smooth. And this looks unnatural.
In Photoshop, you can use the Lens Blur filter which will let you add noise to your blur. But for better results, I prefer to add the noise manually.
To do this, add a new layer and then go to Edit > Fill. Select 50% gray then click OK. Right-click on the layer then choose “Convert to Smart Object” – this will let us apply a filter that is fully editable. Now go to Filter > Camera Raw Filter. In the FX tab, you can add grain and adjust the size and roughness of it to match your photo. Don’t worry about getting the exact settings, you can always go back and change the settings at a later time. Click OK when you’re done. Set the blending mode to Hard Light, adjust the opacity, and you’re done. If you need to adjust the grain, you can do so by doubleclicking on the Smart Filter.
3. Avoid Overprocessing
The most common postprocessing mistake is overprocessing. Sometimes an effect might look good and people will push it further thinking it’ll be even better. But if the effect is too strong, it’ll overpower the photo and can even bring out some overprocessing effects such as halos, clipped shadows and highlights, posterized colors, solarization etc.
Sometimes these effects can be caused simply by using too many layers. Try using more efficient techniques like the tone curve which can replace multiple adjustment layers.
A good way to test your effect is to use a tone and color chart. This chart is free and you can find the download link in the video description below. The chart makes it easy to see any potential artifacts. If you get anything like this, it means that you’re going to get some posterization.
If the tone chart looks like, it mean that you’re going to get solarization. The gradient should be smooth and gradual.
4. Is Your Photo Truthful?
The type of post processing you do can change the story of your photo. Sometimes it’s good and makes a photo more interesting. But sometimes it might not be so ethical.
Some people think that the only way to manipulate the story of a photo is by cropping out or cloning objects. But the way you stylize your photo can have the same effect. For example, here’s a photo of an elderly person. If we apply a dramatic effect like this, it completely changes the story. Now you might think that it’s simply making a bland photo more interesting. But how does does it make this person look? Does she look poor? Does she look stressed out? Is she starving? It looks like she went through a lifetime of problems right?
This effect turns a bland photo into something that makes you ask a lot of questions. Now I don’t know who this person is, but what if she’s incredibly wealthy, has an wonderful life and is happy about everything. Then you’ll feel deceived. When you use an effect like this… which I like to call the poverty look… you’re twisting the story and your photo is no longer truthful.
5. Protect People’s Privacy
A common technique to hide a person’s identity is to create a silhouette effect where the background is visible but the main subject is dark and hidden. If you’re doing this, you need to ensure that the black tones are properly clipped away. Sometimes the silhouette is dark enough that you can’t make out any details. But if you brighten the shadows, you can often restore all the details in the photo or video – especially if it’s taken with a high quality camera with a large dynamic range.
To prevent this from happening, you can use the Curves tool and drag the top-right node towards the left until the silhouette becomes visible. Then drag the bottom-right node as far to the right as you can. Drag the top node back to the top-right position and you’re done. Before you publish the photo, do a test to ensure that you can’t recover the details anymore.
6. Use Geotagging with Caution
I know this video said 5 tips. But there’s one last thing I want to talk about. It’s not really about post processing but it’s so important that I just have to tell people this. It is the GPS data. Many cameras now have geotagging which tags your photos with a location of where it was shot. A lot of times, this is a very handy feature especially for travel photos. But if you’re doing anything like investigative journalism, it’s very important that the photos you publish don’t have the GPS coordinates because you can seriously ruin a person’s life.
If you’re publishing a photo, make sure that you’re removing all of the metadata. If you use the save as command in Photoshop, won’t do this . The correct way to save a photo for web use is to go to File > Export > Export As. For older version of Photoshop, you can go to File > Save for Web. And there will be an option for you to remove the metadata. Always doublecheck to ensure that the GPS coordinates are removed. A better solution would be to just get in the habit of disabling geotagging in your camera before you start shooting.