By Adrian Klein
If you are looking to increase your intelligence quotient then I will admit I am not sure how much this will help. What this may do is help you improve your overall image quality (IQ). There are the obvious answers while you are capturing the images like use low ISO settings, capture RAW files and more. What I will cover are steps that are not always standard in our thought process (mine included) or not always done in the correct order to get the best results.
These are pieces of the processing puzzle I think about when I get a print sale for a large image from an old relic on my site that probably should have been removed as my standards have risen. Most “offending” images are gone from my site today yet I am sure there are a few stragglers. When I fail to do some of what I note below as part of my initial image processing it can be much harder to do after the fact when I am preparing the file for printing (e.g. removing chromatic aberration as the last step). Now days I actually have a checklist to review each time.
There are other pieces to my processing, it’s never a standard process of do these 12 steps and your images is done. This is not my complete set yet these are main components in relation to where I try to keep them in the processing timeline. The decision of what to do early in the process or near the end is something that can impact IQ in the final result.
Top 4 – First
1. Remove Color Fringing: I saw color fringing yet it’s also known as Chromatic Aberration. This is no fun to remove at the end of processing. I have done it a couple times at the end where it can be very time consuming and tedious. Here are examples zoomed in showing with and without color fringing.
2. Remove Sharpening: There are those that prefer to leave the default that programs like Photoshop Adobe Camera RAW use. That was me. No I opt for no sharpening up front. Mainly I do this because it should be the last step. Additionally sensitive areas like the sky or dark areas don’t need any help getting noisy. They do a good job on their own already. Also removing the sharpening helps you understand what parts of the image might be having noise issues.
3. Noise Reduction: A small amount of noise does not normally have much impact or if you only create small images. Looking to go big and that noise on your monitor will be more noticeable in print. I do most up front yet will add a tad more at the end of if need be. Zoom in 100% minimum (if you are not doing this already). This is normally how you can spot the noise especially in the sky or shadows, and some of the other points in this post. If you notice it zoomed in 100% or less you will certainly notice it in a large print.
4. Highlights and Shadows: Doing your major work with highlights and shadows through painting or luminosity masks I try to do before working with the colors. Changing this after working through vibrance and saturation can make for a slightly different look than changing the colors and then working the highlights and shadows.
Bottom 4 – Last
1. Colors – Saturation and Vibrance: I usually do this shortly after the top four steps. At this point the image is ready to start work with what suites you’re fancy for adding color into the image. My personal preference being masks.
2. House Cleaning – Dust spots: The reason I leave this until the end of my process is because if I find during processing that I need to go back to the RAW file and pull something in (say from a sky with dust spots) then I am bringing those back to deal with again. I know you can remove these in RAW and Lightroom it’s simply my preference to wait until near the end.
3. Dodging and Burning: Any minor tweaking in highlights and shadows I wait until close to the end. If I am doing significant work with this aspect of processing then it should be earlier on with luminosity masks or the like.
4. Sharpening: This should be the very last step. The reasoning is simple. You want to sharpen the right amount based on the final output and size. How much you sharpen for a web size file vs a 20×30 inch print is significantly different. Note – your final file of which you produce desired web and print files should always remain unsharpened.
Next time you are opening a file to process maybe this will give you steps in the process to think about. Processing is a personal experience for many of us and I am sure there will be those that have thoughts that differ from mine. This is simply a moment in time of how I look at my image processing today. Like many aspects of photography it will likely change again. How about you?