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Keeping it real with post-production.
May 1, 2009 3:15 AM   Subscribe

What sliders should I focus on when doing basic touch-up with programs like iPhoto?

As a follow-up to this previous question of mine, I'd like to explore the optimal, most efficient was to enhance RAW digital photos with programs like iPhoto, Aperture and Photoshop.

I'm not looking for complex post-production or fancy-pants special effects such as HDR. I'd simply like to make basic adjustments to exposure and saturation to make the photos more appealing and attractive. Yet I find that once I begin to adjust sliders, I fall into a "slider K-hole," in which I become obsessed with achieving perfect results. Inevitably, I go overboard, and the photos are overprocessed and unnaturalistic.

1. How can I upgrade the efficiency of post-production to achieve great results on the quick?
2. When I launch iPhoto or Aperture, what's the optimal order for making adjustments? Which should be first, which should be next? Which should I ignore altogether?
3. Given that I'm only interested in basic touch-up and enhancement, is there value in springing for an (expensive) copy of Photoshop? Can professionals with needs like mine get by with iPhoto or Aperture?
posted by Gordion Knott to Technology (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
RAW can be a bit of a rat-hole for the enthusiast with high aspirations (a class of which I consider myself a member). The advantage is that you get what amounts to a digital "negative" out of the camera; this is also its disadvantage since it requires some post-processing, it can tempt you into too much.

After much frustration of trying to coax a better image, I found that limiting my options actually yielded better results. The first thing to remember is you can rarely make a bad image better through post-production, your goal should be making what you did capture correct. White balance needs to be correct, waste an image on a neutral target under the ambient light of a shoot if needed to determine the color cast.

Allow yourself to fix the exposure, but only with the coarse adjustments. I'm not familiar with Aperture, but a quick look shows an exposure slider and also an auto exposure button. Try letting the auto exposure do its thing, it may be "smarter" than you. If you chronically have to use "highlight recovery" because of blown-out detail, you should fix that when shooting. Chronic underexposure warrants similar shoot variation but is slightly worse because there is less detail to be recovered (for niggling technical reasons). I found that hours spent fiddling with exposure/aperture/speed settings shooting the same (preferably non-sentient) subject to be quite valuable in training myself to make the right choices at shutter time.

Photoshop operates at a level below the adjustments that programs like Aperture provide; you'd be making life harder for yourself by using it for whole image processing.

Oh, and never bump the saturation.
posted by fydfyd at 4:28 AM on May 1, 2009

I use iPhoto for all my adjustments, and only use Photoshop when I need to make composites or if I want to mess with the filters available. iPhoto does an amazing job.

Here's my process. Whether or nor it's optimal, who knows, but it works for me, and I am very happy with my results.

In the editing mode, I open the Effects and Adjust palettes. (First I straighten and crop if needed.) If I want a black and white image (or sepia, etc.) I use the Effects palette to choose that option before making any other adjustments.

Next, in the Adjust palette, I start with the Levels. I bump up the shadows and highlights if needed, then get the midtones where I want them.

I rarely need to adjust white balance (Temperature), but if I do, that's my next step.

I almost never use the Highlight and Shadow sliders. They tend to introduce too much fake-looking noise or flatten things out.

I will occasionally bump up the Sharpness slider, but only rarely, and then only a tiny amount. A little bit can help, but just a little too much can ruin it. The same with Reduce Noise. I hardly ever touch it. (I think most photographer freak out too much over "noise," especially when viewing the image on screen, zoomed in.) If I really need to take care of noise, I use Noise Ninja.

I disagree with fyfyd on the saturation. I hardly ever use the Saturation slider, but I often use the Effects palette's Boost Color command, which does a better job. I find that even with images I have converted to black and white or sepia, the Boost Color command can be very helpful.

That's about it for most of my images.
posted by The Deej at 5:22 AM on May 1, 2009

Quinn Mallory
posted by nomad at 11:22 AM on May 1, 2009

Quinn Mallory

Not that kind of slider. Nor a tiny burger.
posted by The Deej at 11:29 AM on May 1, 2009

Exposure. Color correction. Curves. Saturate. Resize. Unsharp mask. But - I really don't know what I am doing.... I could have written this exact post myself, and have wasted days optimizing images in a way I am unhappy with later.
posted by xammerboy at 10:01 PM on May 1, 2009

Oh, I use GIMP.
posted by xammerboy at 10:02 PM on May 1, 2009

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