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Photo Processing in Photoshop

06.10.2007 Category: Photoshop
Here I discuss digital photo processing in Adobe Camera Raw 4.0 and Adobe Photoshop CS3 Extended. I will discuss my typical digital photo processing techniques. Some people argue that one shouldn't process photos but instead leave them as they are. Let's talk about this for a while. Most digital cameras do digital image processing inside of the camera and the photo you see on the LCD display of your digital camera is already a photo which has been processed in several ways. So anyways, even if you wouldn't do any digital post processing, chances are that your digital photos have still been processed.

Photo Processing

Picture without any photo processing

Picture 1. The photo above is non processed photo straight from the camera. The contrast of the scene is very high and therefore some areas of the photo appear too dark.

Personally I like to turn off all processing in my digital camera and do all the digital photo processing later with Adobe Photoshop. Picture 1 is an example of photo that has not been processed at all. Most of the time I shoot in raw format. Raw image has 12 or 14 bits of intensity information which provides flexible photo processing capabilities. Raw image lets you more accurately adjust highlight and shadow areas of the photograph. Since I shoot primarily in raw format, my digital workflow consists of two main parts:

Photo Processing in Camera Raw

A photo processed with Exposure and Fill Light in Adobe Camera Raw 4.0

Picture 2. The photo above has been processed with Exposure and Fill Light adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw 4.0. Now none of the highlights are clipped and the dark shadow areas have more light.

A photo processed with brightness, contrast and temperature

Picture 3. The photo above has been processed with Brightness and Contrast adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw 4.0. Now the photo is more alive.

A photo is processed with saturation in Adobe Camera Raw 4.0

Picture 4. The photo above has been processed with Saturation in Adobe Camera Raw 4.0. Now the yellow areas of the photo are just a little more colorful.

The scene in the photograph (picture 1) has a very high contrast which made it challenging to achieve a good exposure. In this case it looks like the highlights are clipped just a little and the darkest shadow areas appear almost black. These issues can be fixed by using the Exposure and Fill Light settings in Camera Raw.

Exposure and Fill Light (Basic tab)

First I lower the exposure somewhat (-0,80) to bring out more details to the highlights in the clouds. The sky is a very important part of this photo so I have be careful to retain all the details there. Next I bring out the color in the dark areas of the photo by making major (60) adjustment in Fill Light. In picture 2 you can see the effect of these two adjustments.

Brightness and Contrast (Basic Tab)

At the moment the photo lacks brightness and contrast. I set the Brightness to be +70 and the Contrast to be +50 to make the photo more alive. After that I also change the Temperature just a little (5500) to make the colors slightly warmer. In picture 3 you can see the effect of these three adjustments.

Saturation and Luminance (HSL / Greyscale tab)

At the moment I think the sky and forests look good but the hay could use a little more color. I click on the HSL / Greyscale tab and there furthermore I click on the Saturation tab. I change the saturation of the Yellows to be 50. I click on the Luminance tab and change the luminance of the Yellows to be 50. These are very slight changes and the effect of these can be seen in picture 4.

Photo Processing in Photoshop CS3

Final picture after photo processing in Camera Raw and Photoshop

Picture 5. The final steps in my photo processing were sharpening and cropping of the photo.

I made a lot of changes in Adobe Camera Raw so there are only few things left to do in Photoshop.

Sharpening (Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask)

In my opinion almost all non processed photos could benefit from a little sharpening. I think the best way to do sharpening is to use re-editable smart filter which is a new feature in Adobe Photoshop CS3. In order to use smart filters I must first convert the layer into a smart object (Filters > Convert to smart object). Now that the layer is a smart object I add the Unsharp Mask filter as a re-editable filter whose settings can be changed at any time. Since this photo is pretty sharp already I set the Amount to be 100% and let the rest of the settings intact.

Cropping the photo

I think that the composition of this photo can be enhanced by cropping it to a wider format. In my opinion there is unnecessary empty space in the bottom of the photo. Therefore I crop the photo to a wider format. In picture 5 you can see the sharpened and cropped photo.

Color Space and Color Depth

Whenever the photo is going to be used in the Web one should do a few things first. The color space of the Web images should be sRGB. In my case the color space of the photo was Adobe RGB so I had to change it before using the photo in the Web (Edit > Convert to Profile...). If I wouldn't have changed the color space of the photograph the colors would have looked very different in a browser and in the Photoshop.

The color depth of my photo is 16 bit throughout the digital photo processing. However if I want to save the photo to a JPEG format I have to lower the color depth to 8 bit first. I could display 16 bit photo as PNG format in the Web but it makes no sense because the difference could not be seen and the file size of the 16 bit image would be unnecessarily large.

Here you can see a bigger version of the photo which has gone through my photo processing workflow.