Saturday, February 23, 2013

Photo Talk: Processing

In late 2006 I began taking photos in digital format. For many years prior to that I shot with a Canon AE-1 Program and like many people before me, paid lots of money for film and processing, and wasted a lot of money to get those two-three "keepers" per roll of film.

For me one of the most exciting things about digital was that I learned photo processing was now in my hands. As I became more knowledgeable I learned that my first digital camera, the Canon 300D, only shot in the JPEG file format. As I learned more about the digital age I learned that JPEG is really a processed image. The processing is done by the camera in accordance to the JPEG processing the camera was designed to do.

So with my Canon 300D I began taking JPEGs (processed images) and entering them into software and processing them again. Once I was done processing I would save the image in a JPEG format which was the final product. To me the enhancing I could do the the image once I got in on my computer was totally exciting! years have passed and I have learned a few things. One, I no longer shoot in JPEG mode. JPEG is compressed and not all the data the camera originally captured is available once it is compressed.

In addition, when shooting JPEG the camera is deciding on lighting adjustments, shadows, sharpness, saturation and so on. In Canon cameras there are Picture Styles and these basically are presets and customizable settings that factor into the in-camera JPEG processing.

So, the second thing I learned over the years was to shoot in RAW format. By doing so I have all the data the camera captured so I can process the image the way I want it to be. I am the photographer, I am the artist. :-)

Since 2006 I have processed just under 2000 images. As time has passed I learned a few things about processing. Software like Photoshop Elements is a tool and within it there are many tools. Only with practice and a little education can one learn to use the tools more effectively. By no means have I mastered using these tools. However in looking back at some of my older work, I can say that I have learned a bit.

 I would like to share with you an image I took in 2007 of Romeo. This image was one of my first images of Romeo and he and I have taken many photos since.

When I dug into my archives and found the original JPEG image (from the camera) and then the original processed image I did in 2007, it was very clear I would be processing the image again and the results would inspire a Photo Talk blog posting.

The image is titled "Wicked Stare". It was taken on March 3, 2007 with a Canon 300D and a Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 II lens.

Original JPEG file from camera

The above image is the original JPEG that the Canon 300D processed.  If you right click the image and "Open in New Tab" you will see a larger version of the image.

Back in 2007 I was using Photoshop Elements as I still do today.  I think I was using version 5 back then and now I am using version 11.

My original 2007 processed JPEG using Photoshop Elements

The above image is the original JPEG I processed with Photoshop Elements.  Although it is much richer than the original file, I now see that it is a bit overdone.  The shadows are too dark, the colors are too saturated, and the tones not natural looking.

The 2013 processed JPEG using Lightroom 3 and Photoshop Elements 11

The above image is my latest version of "Wicked Stare" after several years of learning how to use processing software.  My hope is that this version exceeds the quality of the original camera image yet is not overdone like my 2003 processed version.

If you have not done so already, right click each of the images and "Open in New Tab".  When you select each tab you will see a larger version of each image.  As you go back and forth between the tabs, compare the images to see the differences between them.

The 2013 version was first processed in Lightroom 3.  In Lightroom I primarily adjusted the exposure a little, enhanced a little fill light, adjusted the blacks, adjust lighting tones, and added just a little bit of vibrance.

Once I made all the adjustments I wanted to do in Lightroom, I then opened the image in Photoshop Elements 11.  The final image consisted of five layers.  One of the layers focused on sharpening, the other on lighting tones, another on light rendering, another for a black & white soft light overlay, and the final for some fine tune tonal adjustments.

I am far more pleased with the 2013 version over the 2007 version.  I think the 2013 version is more natural in tone, lighting, and sharpness.

My goal with this Photo Talk blog is to encourage you to get to know your software.  The original file of  "Wicked Stare" is a JPEG coming out of the camera, and a rather inexpensive camera set up at that.  I like to think the 2013 processed image looks like it came from a more expensive camera set up and show just what can be done with processing.

Processing is significant in what the final product looks like.  Processing was significant in the film days, and it is still significant in the digital age.

Some may read this blog and take the "purist" approach and say they only post what comes out of the camera.  To get a final image the way you would like it to look, processing is necessary.

In Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin there is a museum dedicated to the work of H.H. Bennett.  Not only was this guy the inventor of the automatic shutter, when it came to processing this guy used every trick known at the time to help develop his historic images.

Through the years I have learned a bit about processing and I still have much more to learn.  I am never afraid to share what I have learned.  I enjoy helping others develop the kind of images they desire.

Get to know your software, research techniques, and experiment.  The images you desire are just a few clicks away.


Thomas Young said...

Thank you Scott for taking the time to write this. I so enjoyed reading this as i can relate so well.Photography like life is constantly changing and the way we look at the world is as well.Reminds me of the saying, i wish i new back then what i know today but there is no going back only forward.Who knows what the camera/software company's will come up with next?

Jeff Weymier said...

Nicely done Scott.