Making your photographs yours
Why do I need to edit my photographs? Well to start off, digital raw files straight out of a camera or phone photos are flat. It’s not the same as a film camera. When using an old school film camera, you purchase a certain type of “filtered” film roll. Each roll has it’s own distinct color tone, white balance, ISO, and so forth. If you wanted to shoot color, you’d buy a roll of color film. Or if you wanted Black and White with ISO 1600 to shoot very low light, you’d purchase that roll of film. You’d shoot 35 frames and then get the film developed or do it yourself. Post Production of old film would mean you’d end up in the darkroom putting your final touches on a print.
Pre & Post Production
Pre Production is the workflow of organizing a photoshoot. Picking a time and date. Getting a model, hair and makeup, stylist and so on to confirm for the same time and date. It also includes brainstorming an idea or vision of what your want your photograph or photographic story to look like. Production is the actually shoot day. Post Production is the workflow of time you spend improving a photograph after taking it. Aka post production editing and/or retouching.
Even nowadays you can download similar old film-styled filters for Lightroom such as Portra 400 or Ektar 100. Even Instagram has it's own distinct filters; I am sure everyone remembers when filters were introduced to make their photos pop.
Your post production of a photograph is what gives your photos life. It is ideal to shoot with your camera settings as flat or neutral as possible. That allows you to have the most flexibility with your file in post. Editing your photographs will challenge you, but it will in time create your own signature style. Sure, you can start off using filters and adjusting them until you’re happy. I challenge you to duplicate a photograph, edit one copy using a filter, and edit the other, trying to recreate that filter yourself. Pretty hard, but you’ll learn something.
RAW VS JPEG
First off, you should be shooting in RAW. RAW is the most flexible file for editing your photos. That means that if you under exposed the image, you can boost the exposure in post without any destruction of information of the file.
A JPEG file is already compressed, so when you go to edit it, the file has little to no dimension. You can’t boost the exposure or change color temperature without it looking weird real fast.
RAW isn’t compressed and allows you push the boundaries of the file without crunching it. An unedited RAW will look flat and lifeless. Check the photo below. One is very dull (Raw file straight out of the camera) and the other, deep and rich in color and textures.
A histogram is basically a heart line of your photograph. You want it be smooth. The far LEFT of the histogram represents Pure Black. The far RIGHT of the histogram represents Pure White. The histogram is a story of the exposure of your entire photograph. In the example below, the histogram on the left is for a photo has a lot more black in it than white, but also has a solid medium hold with plenty of information. The histogram on the right is an example of one confused file and probably looks crazy. But hey, crazy can be cool sometimes too. Ideally, you want a pure white and pure black in your photograph or at least close enough (depending on the mood of the photograph.)
Photography Editing Programs & Organization
I personally use Lightroom and Photoshop. It’s important to keep your library organized. I always have each photo session labeled as YEAR/MONTH/DAY_SHOOTDESCRIPTION. I import all the photographs to said folder. I start by going through and editing the photos first with a one star rating. I then apply my general filter look to all the one star photographs. It makes it easy to see the “feel” of each even if that is not the final “feel" I want. I then look at only one star ratings and give the best ones two start ratings and so forth. I then highlight my favorites in yellow so I know to retouch/edit them.
Create drama, intensity or a story
You can take your photographs from okay to really pushing it to create a story, intensity, emotion, and drama. I first start in Lightroom. I set the white balance, exposure, and all basic settings. Don’t be afraid to experiment and see what happens. You always have a copy or can reset your edits.
After Lightroom basics, I edit a copy in Photoshop.
Always work from a duplicated file in Photoshop. It is much easier to delete a layout then go back in history enough to fix a mistake. Never work off the background image. If you want to manipulate the background file make a copy of it. That said, experiment, you can use curves, layers and/or textures. Try seeing what different opacities do, or try layer styles. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
For skin retouching, I always recommend a blank layer that you can turn off and on and see your progress.
For Dodge + Burn technique. Set a new layer style to soft light, fill with 50% gray (EDIT->FILL->50% Gray), Now you can dodge and burn. Think of dodge and burn similar to makeup, but go light. Always set your opacity low. You can always build up slow. You don’t want it to look like weird HDR.
WOAH! Way tooooo much Dodge and Burn. Subtlety is a virtue. (See below!)
After playing with all the layers you want. You end up with a final product. I try to keep the final photograph similar to the original, just enhanced. I added some Before and After of some of my photographs. Notice how flat and bland the Raw file is right out of camera. Also notice how sometimes the edits are very subtle, sometimes more.
(See arrows to see Before and After)