7 Steps for Developing Digital Images
You should check these for every image
Prior to digital photography, developing images was best left to the experts. Today, with the intelligence built into modern cameras, the camera can handle the processing and do it fairly well. But once you progress to where you are truly getting it right in camera, the next step is to learn to develop your own images. Here are five steps to getting that done.
For post-processing, as they call developing now, you can use the software that came with the camera, Adobe Lightroom, or any of several others. Regardless of the choice, there are a few basic steps you can perform in all of them.
Open the Image in the Software
This can be as simple as copying the files from your camera or card to a folder on your computer and starting the software. But most software allows for more advanced features that you should take advantage of. Not only can the software handle the copying for you, but it can also add information to the image, such as title, keywords, descriptions, and other “metadata.” You can use this to add your personal copyright information. Learn how your software adds metadata and let the software do the work.
The first thing you should do once you have the images copied and are ready to process each one is to crop the image if necessary. You will fine-tune various parts of the image. There is no point in looking at or dealing with portions of the image you will throw away. Handle cropping and straightening the image first thing. Most software has tools to make leveling the image easy.
You also need to decide, when cropping, if you want to maintain the original ‘aspect ratio.’ The aspect ratio is the relationship in size between the height and the width. All cameras have a default aspect ratio The two most common aspect ratios are 4:3 and 3:2. You can have the software maintain that ratio while cropping, or crop how you like it, ignoring the aspect ratio. The decision is partially subjective, but also dependent on how you will use the picture. If you will print the image, you want to crop it to the aspect ratio of the final print.
The next step is noise reduction. If you have been letting the camera handle processing, then this is something you may not be familiar with. Underexposed pictures and darker areas of correctly exposed images can have digital noise. Zoom in on a dark picture and you will see what this looks like. Cameras will try to fix this for you but often leave the image blurry or pixelated. Handle this yourself before doing any more processing, using the built-in tool in your software. If your software doesn’t have such a tool, there is third party software made specifically for this.
Some photographers argue that you should do this later in the process, but I like to do both. Getting rid of the noise early means that I am not processing that noise or making it worse. But processing can introduce noise, so it’s best to double-check at the end of the processing. Be careful with noise reduction. The software is getting better all the time, but it’s still just blurring the noise. Too much noise reduction can make your image look plastic and fake.
After fixing any noise, adjust the total exposure. You will do this with a slider in your software, most likely named exposure. Be careful and don’t go overboard. You want an overall pleasing tone without blowing out any highlights or losing detail in shadows. You will fine-tune the exposure next, so just get an overall look that you are happy with.
Fine-tuning the exposure is where software packages differ slightly from one another, but most have tools to let you change only certain aspects of the exposure. These tools will be named highlights, shadows, whites, and/or midrange, etc. The sliders do the same thing that the exposure slider did, but only to certain areas of the image. Experiment a bit to get the look you are going for.
Most photographers like to set white and black points during this process. What this means is adjusting the blacks to where the blackest points in the image have just turned true black. Then set the whites to where they are almost pure white. Some things, like the sun, bright lights, and dazzling reflections, will go pure white or “blown out,” and that’s okay. This process adds contrast to the image.
Color Temperature and Tint
These two factors affect the overall tone of the image, mostly between warm, or yellow tints, and cool, or bluer tints. There are sliders for these as well, but until you get used to how they work, stick to the built-in temperature settings, such as daylight, shade, cloudy, etc. There is also usually an eyedropper tool, which when clicked on a neutral gray area in the image, will set the temperature for you. Experiment with the eyedropper to get unique looks. Within extremes, there is no right or wrong answer here. Just make it pleasing to you. Some photographers like to do this early, but I like to set the black and white points first.
Vibrancy and Saturation
Saturation pumps up the color and you can easily overdo it. Use that slider carefully or you will make the image look cartoonish unless that is the look you are going for. Most modern software has a second slider, named Vibrance, that does the same thing, but has built-in controls to keep you from going crazy, or turning people’s faces red. Use both with caution.
This should be the last step in any processing. There are entire books written on sharpening, but for now, it’s enough to be careful and conservative. Just like with saturation, it’s easy to go too far. If you think you have over-sharpened, then you have. Use the slider with extreme caution with the image zoomed in 100%. And remember, no amount of sharpening will fix an out of focus or blurry image.
You should always strive to get the image right in the camera and keep post-processing to a minimum. But rather than let your camera decide how to process your images, do the job yourself. It’s the only way to get the picture on the screen looking like what you had in mind when you shot it.