Friday, December 27, 2013

15 Minute Workshop Series -- Leonardo da Vinci on Post Processing

Recently I have been reading the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci to understand painting theory. Back in his day, painters argued over how to create the best compositions based on theories about light and perception -- pretty brainy stuff and they fought like tigers over it.

Post-processing is where photographers become painters. "Post" is where we manipulate light, color, focus, and sharpness to get to our final creation.  My images might look different than what I took, but I may well have had a different visualization of the final image in the first place.

Post processing is makeup, not makeover. My bias is that the results of post processing must be plausible, not fantastic.

Most images are really improved in post processing, because no camera is accurate. I have really narrowed what I do in "post" and miss the last 5% to be gained by spending more time (unless I am grinding on an outstanding image). There are a few things I do that I think many do not do. Here is my short list:

  1. Noise reduction if the photo requires it. Sometimes selective to certain areas of the photo.
  2. I crop, and I crop shamelessly. I don't know why anyone cares if someone crops, and really, it is simply your choice (and none of their business). We sure don't need all the megapixels we have these days. Good crops make better compositions.
  3. "Values" matter more to me than anything else in post processing. Values are the tonal ranges in the photo, in my mind including saturation, sharpening and focus. In the old days it was dodging and burning, today we have more powerful tools like the NIK plugins and masking tools in PS and other programs to work selectively on areas in the photo.
  4. OK, what do I do with values? First, I subtly make the subject(s) of the photo lighter, more saturated, more contrasty, and sharper.  Second, I do the opposite with other aspects of a photo, the supporting elements and background, sometimes in stair steps from front to back. This pushes the less important parts of the photo "back". I will work with each part separately in many cases. This will give your photo depth, and make it more 3D.

    Think about this. Your final image is about both your subject and the background and supporting parts. The final quality of the image is about all these things working together visually, it is much more than the subject, good composition is the subject in context.
  5. I sharpen last. I also re-sharpen after I reduce or increase the size of a photo. I will sharpen selectively if it is indicated to my eye.  

What I found is that Leonardo's ideas on painting composition in the late 1400's tracked with what I have learned in hacking around in post processing. Guess I should have read his notebooks, would have saved me a lot of time.

I recommend reading books on painting to learn more about composition. Painters have been wrestling with composition for hundreds of years, they have a lot to teach us.

"Swiffer" is Cropped and Edited
Makeup, Not Makeover

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