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Photography - Image Processing - Technique

While I don't use all of these steps for every photo I process,  I use them in this order.
  1. Make copies of the pictures you plan to work on and work on these copies, not the originals. This way, if you make a mistake, or latter learn a better technique, you still have the originals.
  2. If you took the picture in the RAW format, open the file with the RAW converter of your choice and do your initial edits using the RAW converter.

    Note: Some converters allow you to edit a lot of parameters at the RAW level. Others offer more limited capabilities. That said; to fully utilize the potential of RAW;
    1. ALWAYS adjust exposure and white balance using the RAW converter because there are changes you can make with these two adjustments that can only be done in RAW.

      Note: When setting White Balance with the Photoshop CS or Elements 3.0 converter, in addition to picking around with the eye dropper, I try the auto selection. In many cases it does a better job than the eye dropper, particularly when there are no true gray objects in the picture. And even when it doesn't get me what I want, it sometimes gives me a better starting point than the as shot setting for twiddling with the sliders.
    2. NEVER adjust the sharpness if you plan to do additional processing in Photoshop or any other photo-editing program because sharpening should normally be done as the last step in editing.
    3. As for the shadows, brightness, contrast, and saturation; if you made major changes in exposure, you should make the rest of the changes using the RAW converter. If you did not make major changes in exposure, you can make these adjustments using the RAW converter, or you can make these adjustments later with your favorite photo editor.
  3. Correct for wide angle distortion if necessary. Wide angle pictures suffer from distortion. With a flat port you get pincushion distortion and with a dome port you get barrel distortion. And the wider the angle of coverage the more distortion you get. This distortion can be software corrected using the PanoTools plugin. Click here for details.
  4. Rotate the picture if needed. For underwater pictures it is seldom necessary to rotate the picture to square it up. But if it needs rotating, rotate it before going any further.
  5. Crop the picture if needed. Whether a picture should be cropped or not depends on the original and what you are attempting to accomplish. Perhaps you have a picture of a diver that you shot from too great a distance and you want to correct the problem by cropping just the diver. Or you want a moray eel's right eye to fully fill the picture. Or??

    Tip. Don't get carried away when cropping pictures. True, you can fill the picture with the subject.  But in the processes you will loose pixel density if the picture is resized to a larger size. Carried too far, the picture will appear grainy.

    Furthermore, some subjects look better in context than they do when enlarged to the maximum. A fish, for example, may look better in it's setting than it does as just a fish alone. In fact some people call full picture fish shots "fillet shots" and they don't mean it as a compliment.

    Tip: When cropping, pay attention to composition. Try to have fish swimming into the picture instead of out of the picture. And use the rule of thirds if you can i.e. place featured items or action items at one of the intersections that would result from dividing the page vertically and horizontally in thirds.
  6. Crop the picture to a standard aspect ratio. Think of how you plan to display your finished pictures. Then crop them so that the ratio of the width to the height is the same as the planned finished product. For example;
    • If you plan to display your pictures on the web, or as screen savers, or slide shows on a PC, crop the picture so that the width is 1.333 times the height. This is the standard aspect ration for most  screen sizes e.g. 640 x 480, 800 x 600, and 1024 x 768 other than the new large screens e.g. 1280 x 1024.
    • If you plan to have prints made of your pictures or print them from your computer, be warned. There is no standard aspect ratio for photos. For example the aspect ratio for 3.5" x 5" prints is 1.43. For 4" x 6" prints it's 1.5. And for 5" x 7" prints it's 1.4.

    Tip. Standardize your aspect ratio at 1.333. This way your pictures will display perfectly on any computer. Your pictures will still print fine with slightly differing border widths depending on the size of the print. And also, this is the ratio of your original image e.g. SHQ and RAW as shot are 2560 x 1920 pixels.

    Note: Not everyone agrees with cropping to a standard aspect ratio e.g. Ansel Adams cropped for optimum creative effect. So if you ignore this guideline, you will be in good company.

  7. Resize the picture to it's final largest size. Typically, I size my final pictures from an as taken size of 2560 x 1920 pixels to 1024 x 768 pixels since this is the screen size on my desktop and laptop computers. This way I can make screen savers and slide shows for my own enjoyment that will fill my screen.

    Later, as the last processing step, I make smaller versions for use on the web and for slideshows on smaller computer screens.

    Tip. You can find out the pixel size of a Windows screen by right clicking on your desk top and selecting Properties and then Settings. Typical settings are 640 x 480, 800 x 600, and 1024 x 768. Whatever your setting is, just write it down and use it as your largest size setting.
  8. Remove unwanted sand specs, flock, etc. with the dust and scratch remover. Use care when applying this filter to not remove the fine detail from the picture. In particular, be careful not to remove the gleam in peoples eyes and the fine scale patterns on fish.
    • Use the Magic Wand to select large areas of similar color, for example the background water. The advantage of the Magic Wand is that it selects the area to be filtered right up to the objects in the foreground thus avoiding an unprocessed area next to the foreground object. And it's faster than outlining the area with the lasso.

      Note: After selecting the area with the Magic Wand, use the Remove Specs and Holes mask to deselect isolated particles in the area selected by the Magic Wand. If you skip this step, some of the particles to be removed will in fact be protected from removal.
    • Use the lasso to select the areas you can't select with the Magic Wand. Or select the whole picture and then set the lasso to remove area and lasso the areas you don't want the filter applied to.

      I often use this approach on pictures of divers. Specifically, I select the entire picture and then use the lasso to deselect details such as the divers eyes, chrome, wet suit logos, and gage faces. Then I apply the dust and scratch remover to all that remains.

    Tip: Learn to use the Magic Wand and lasso in both their additive and subtractive modes. For example, in the additive mode, you can use the Magic Wand to select an area and then click on an adjacent or other area to continue selecting all of the areas you want the filter applied to. In the subtractive mode you can select the entire picture and then use the Magic Wand to select areas you don't want the filter applied to.

  9. Fix large problem areas with the clone tool. Remove large chunks of stuff from the background. Remove a fishhook from a sharks mouth.

    While this tool can definitely be over used and misused, you can do some amazing things with it. So take the time to learn how to use it and the numerous settings associated with it.

    Tip. Learn to use the lasso to select areas you want to clone in without getting the cloned results on a bordering area. For example, to remove a defect touching the edged of a fish, lasso along the edge of the fish and the clone within the lassoed area. This will keep the fish from getting hit with the clone tool.

    Note: When cloning within a lassoed area, the clone tool can select the area to be cloned from, from any place on the picture. However, the cloning will only be applied to within the lassoed area.

    Tip. Set the cursor style to "precise" and "show outlines" for the lasso and the clone brush in the pallet options box. It's much easier to see what the tools are doing and to control them with this style cursor as opposed to the symbolic lasso and rubber stamp.

    Tip: Use Image Doctor 4.0 instead of the clone tool for large areas. In most cases it will do a MUCH better job.
  10. Adjust the histogram, color balance, brightness, contrast, and saturation of the picture.
  11. Sharpen the image if needed. For the best results use the Unsharp Mask instead of Sharpen. Using the Unsharp Mask is a bit more complicated because of the various settings required by this command. But these settings give you the control needed to get just the right amount of sharpening.

    Note: In general you should only sharpen once as the last step in processing your picture. Specifically, you only sharpen once/last  if your camera has already sharpened it. The only time you should also sharpen first is if you have sharpen turned off in your camera. For more on sharpening click here.

    Note: Sometimes better results can be obtained by sharpening an image two or even three times using progressively lighter amounts of sharpening, than by sharpening just once with an aggressive setting.
  12. Save your finished copy as a high quality JPG image. The file you opened had a file extension of JPG. Don't change this extension. But use "Save As" not "Save" so you can save the image at a high quality setting e.g. 10.

    Tip. Save the file with a new file name so that you can easily differentiate it from the original. I simply add an x to the file name. Thus P62900067.jpg becomes P62900067x.jpg Don't use P62900067.jpgx since files with this extension can not be opened.

    Tip. Avoid the temptation to give meaningful names to the picture such as trunkfish.jpg. While this may help you keep track of your pictures initially, eventually you will run out of names. In addition, you may well want to get back to the master of the picture which is hard to do once you have renamed the picture. If you feel a need for order like I do, set up separate folders for fish, creatures, coral, wrecks, people, etc. with appropriate sub folders and save the pics in these folders.

  13. Resize the picture to smaller sizes if you want smaller sizes, sharpen after resizing, and use "Save As" to save it with a different file name. For example, I initially resize my pictures to 1024 x 768 pixels (Step 6) for use on my own computer. Now, in this step, I resize the 1024 x 768 pixel picture to 533 x 400 pixels for use on the web. After resizing it I sharpen it and then save it with a new file name e.g. P62900067xs.jpg

    Tip. When resizing always use your processed master as the starting point.

    For example, suppose my processed master P62900067x.jpg is 1024 x 768 pixels and I want two versions, one at 800 x 600 pixels and one at 533 x 400 pixels.

    Use P62900067x.jpg as the starting point for both of the new pictures.

    Do NOT use P62900067x.jpg to make the 800 x 600 pixel picture and then use the 800 x 600 pixel picture to make the 533 x 400 pixel picture. The image quality of the 533 x 400 pixel picture will suffer if you make it by this route.

Wow! That looks like a lot of work Peter. Is it worth it?

To me it is. It takes me about 5 minutes per picture on average to get a picture the way I want it.  And, the pictures are so pretty as I work with them on my screen. I just love the colors. But hey, it's your choice. And you can do it latter, long after your dive gear is dry. When you want to. When it's fun.

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