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    Take well-taken photos every time – Part three – Post-processing for exposure optimization


    The post Taking well-exposed photos every time – Part three – Post-processing for exposure optimization first appeared at Digital Photography School. It was written by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

    Digital photography gives us an incredible space to work on our computers to enhance and manipulate images. Optimizing your exposure during post-processing can make a dull, flat-looking photo a much livelier and more interesting one.

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    My approach to post-processing is usually to make my photos look the way they did when I photographed them or with some variation in the background tone. Because our eyes have a more dynamic range than our cameras, it means I'm balancing my exposure and the way the light in the photo looks.

    RAW or Jpg?

    If your photos are only saved as jpg ' s, your camera has already adjusted them slightly. Possibly it has added some sharpening, color balance, contrast adjustments and possibly manipulated in other ways. JPG images as designed to look good, and may require little or no post-processing.

    If you decide to work on your jpg files, you will experience limitations due to the file quality. As your camera saves jpg files, it compresses them and removes some of the information from the photos. Jpgs are technically of lesser quality, which means that they cannot handle as much post-processing as RAW files.

    RAW files contain all the information that your camera captured when you pressed the shutter button. They don't look great when you see them for the first time, because the camera didn't change them at all during recording and saving.

    If you want a RAW file to look good, you must make some adjustments manually or use a preset or action to make them for you. The technical quality of a RAW file is superior because no data is lost from what your camera has recorded. You have a greater capacity to manipulate these files without loss of quality.

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    Choose your best photo ' s

    From every series of photos ' s that you take I hope you have a number of exposure options to choose from when you sit down on your computer. Choosing the best images to work on is the first part of post-processing.

    Of course you want to pay the most attention to the main subject of your photo. Is it exposed the way you want it? Can you see that there are enough details in those areas of your composition?

    In some cases, such as when you have created a silhouette or use low-key lighting and high contrast, you may have little or no detail in your subject. This is good if that's what you want.

    However, if the intention was to reveal details, and there is not enough in your photo, look at the photos where you have used different exposure settings.

    Your background exposure is also important. Does it improve and support your main subject? Is it too light or too dark? Again, look to see if there are details. If there is no detail, due to overexposure or underexposure, it will be more difficult to manipulate these areas.

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    Use the histogram

    Your histogram gives you information about the tonal values ​​in your images. It shows you where the most details are and whether you have lost details in the clear or dark parts of your compositions.

    If your histogram is bundled to the left or right of the graph, with the image touching the top, it means that no details are included in those areas.

    If you see a histogram on the right and hit the top, you have lost details in the highlights. If it is bundled to the left and hits the top, you have lost the details in the dark parts.

    If your main subject is within this range and you wanted it to contain the detail, you must choose a photo with a different exposure setting to work on.

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    Use presets or manual manipulation

    Lightroom and Photoshop come with presets and promotions. These can be used to balance your exposure. You can also download many more or create and save your own. These tools can improve and speed up your workflow after processing.

    I often chose one of a variety of presets when I start processing a photo. Rarely do I apply a preset without further adjusting it. Every shot you take is different, so to make your photos look their best, manual manipulation is usually best.

    Edit your highlights and shadows

    If you have been careful to properly illuminate your main subject, you may already be satisfied with the tonal value. However, some parts of your composition still need to be adjusted to make them look the way you want.

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    Your intention is the most important thing. How do you want your photo to look?

    Here are two examples of different operations in the same RAW file.

    Example one: Dark background

    I wanted to make the background darker so that the roses would stand out. With the help of a preset that I made in Lightroom, I then made further manual adjustments. I checked the Blacks, Dehaze, Contrast and Shadows sliders.

    When you make such an adjustment to manipulate the background of your image, also pay attention to your main subject. With these sliders, universal changes are made to your photos, including your main subject.

    With a slightly tinted main subject and a predominantly dark background, the changes I made did not have much effect on the roses.

    How do you always take well-exposed photos & Lightroom Dark every time?

    I then opened the photo with the Lightroom adjustments in Photoshop. At this stage I have darkened the lightest part of the photo to lower the overall tonal range.

    There are many techniques that allow you to darken or illuminate specific parts of a photo. I prefer to use the Dodge and Burn tools that are set to low exposure to do this. I also used the patch tool to remove some of the brighter areas in the background.

    As a result, the background is darker and the highlights on the rose are not that clear.

    How to take well-exposed photos every time

    Example two: light background

    To get a lighter, softer look, I took the Dehaze slider to the left and the shadow to the right. I added a little more black and a little contrast, otherwise the image seemed too flat.

    I then used Photoshop and adjusted the highlights a bit so that they weren't that clear.

    How do you take well-exposed photos every time?

    In both examples my main goal was to improve the roses because they are my main subject.

    The background tone is also important. The difference between the two examples is the tone of the background. This has a major impact on the overall feel of the photo.


    As with all post-processing, there are various methods that you can use to get comparable results. Here I have shown a few techniques that I use comfortably.

    Focusing primarily on the tone of your main subject in relation to the background is a good place to start with post-processing. Once you have adjusted what you are happy with, you can continue and make other changes to your photos if desired.

    Try to show your main subject the way you want it when you take your photos. Doing this gives you more flexibility to make changes to post-production and not to lose quality. If you are stuck with a main subject that is either underexposed or overexposed, you will be limited in how much you can achieve.

    Experimenting is the best way to discover how you enjoy working with photo manipulation software. There is no good or bad way to work with your photos as long as you achieve the desired result.

    You might also like this

    • How to take well-exposed photos every time. Part 1 – Seeing the light
    • How to take well-exposed photos every time. Part two: manage your exposure

    The post Taking well-exposed photos every time – Part three – Post-processing for exposure optimization first appeared at Digital Photography School. It was written by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

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