Updated: Jul 17
PROCRAFTINATION – HOW PHOTOGRAPHERS CAN BE MORE ‘CRAFTY’
There’s nothing like a well chosen mnemonic to embed something into our memories, and to this end I love a good acronym. Acronyms could save your life! P.L.A.N is used by survivalists in a disaster situation, and it stands for Protect, Locate, Acquire, and Navigate. What if you’re in a situation where you need to dig a snow hole? (Well you never know, don’t sneer!) C.O.L.D – Keep it Clean, don’t Overheat, wear Loose clothing, keep things Dry! I hope it never comes to this, but you might thank me for these mnemonics one day!
So there you go. Acronyms could potentially help to save your life, but I have come up with one which could save your photos! What I’m sharing with you here is an outline of my own workflow when editing photos, particularly in Photoshop, but the same principles can be applied to other software too although the execution of each stage will differ. I have sometimes used Affinity or Luminar, but for the purpose of this outline I’m using Adobe Photoshop. This is only a general outline of a pattern I follow and does not include more complex techniques like Luminosity Masks, Tone Mapping, HDR, Focus Stacking and Panorama Stitching, all of which I employ every now and then. I think many photographers reading this (I hope it is ‘the many, not the few’!) will know the terms, tools and technology referred to here, but if you start to read it and get a bit bamboozled, then please try and stick with me to the end where there is a great offer for you with a promise!
Right. Here is my acronym that I use to remember the best order of doing things in the editing suite. For those of us who shoot in RAW file format, I’ve assumed that you’ve done the necessary adjustments first in ACR or Lightroom, and your image is now in the Editor screen of PS.
The very first thing to do is to crop the image. There really is no point doing any of the following steps, or anything else to your image before you have it at the dimensions and aspect ratio of your choice. It might be just a case of using the transform tool to bring out a corner slightly to lose a distracting element, like a branch, a leg or half a person! Perhaps the frame needs straightening and balancing. More often than not I opt for a different ratio other than the default 3:2, and I reposition the image using either the Rule of Thirds grid or the Golden Spiral overlay.
Having cropped the image, the next obvious thing to do is to remove things like sensor spots and other distractions. Some may have been removed in the cropping stage, but if not, now is the time to deal with them. The most commonly used methods for this are the Spot Healing Brush and/or the Clone Tool. You could also use the Spot Removal tool in ACR before this stage, but if not it’s no problem to deal with it here.
Now we get to the really creative and often controversial bit! Let’s look at why it’s controversial first. Have you ever had someone tell you ‘Yeah ok, it’s a nice photo, but you cheated. You used Photoshop!’ Yes, I’m sure we’ve all met them, and quite possibly we have been that person ourselves before we got into digital photography and discovered the delights of shooting in RAW! The assumption is that if you manipulate an image in the way I’m about to outline, then that is cheating because that is not what you photographed at the time. Perhaps we should lay aside all the ripostes to this charge for another time, but one answer is creativity, and I’m not talking about composite images.
What I mean by creativity in this context is this. Tweaks to colours, hues, and shades can really lift an image from ‘er, it’s not bad’ to ‘wow! That’s a cracker!’, so long as it’s done subtly and selectively. When I first started in digital photography, I was guilty of over cooking images. Urgh! When I look at some of my early images I just cringe! Now I know how to use Levels, Curves, Hue Saturation, and other elements within the Layers Palette, as well as any necessary use of the Dodge and Burn tools. It’s also a matter of setting up the tools correctly, and knowing how to change the settings to suit the task you want to perform and get the result you want to achieve.
This is really about sharpening, but that begins with ‘S’ and CRAST isn’t the acronym I want!
Fine tuning with sharpening is almost the last thing to do when editing your images, and there are several methods that can be used. My preference for most images is to use the High Pass Filter which alters your image globally (the whole image), but there is a clever way to use it selectively (locally) so that only the parts of the image you want to sharpen are affected by the adjustments to make your subject stand out. Remember, this is about fine tuning the sharpness, not making a blurred picture in focus. If it’s out of focus there isn’t any redemption for it as a rule.
When I think I am happy with all the adjustments, I make sure by clicking the eye icon on and off on each layer. If any effect is too strong it can be modified by reducing the opacity of that layer, or even deleting the layer if I decide that effect is not working after all. After doing all that, the layers can be flattened into one layer and saved as a JPEG, or occasionally I’ll save as a PSD file so I can come back to the layers and make changes at a later stage. This method is usually for when I create an image with a border, key line, text or all three.
That’s it. C.R.A.F.T is my general order of editing most photographs. I’m really interested to find out from any other photographers who are willing to share their ‘trade secrets’ in editing if this is something you would use, or do you have a very different approach to your editing? My method is not THE only way to do it, but I find it useful, and I hope it will help somebody in their own continued learning in our craft. Leave a comment or question, (you have to sign up for that, sorry. It’s just the way this web host works), go to the CONTACT/ENQUIRIES tab and have your say there, or email me if you’d rather do that.
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If you are new to photography and especially editing/post processing, and you have read this far, well done! Thank you for sticking with it to the end. Would you like to see C.R.A.F.T in action on a 1-2-1 Zoom call where I can share my screen and talk you through each stage as I process one of my photos? Or do you have your own photo that somehow isn’t quite right and you’d like to see it transformed into an image with more zing? If so, I can edit it for you while you watch, listen, ask questions, and then the file is still yours to do with whatever you want at the end. Just make sure you keep a copy of the original file. My promise to you is that I will NOT retain your image in anyway whatsoever. The copyright still belongs to the originator (you) even when another person performs editing tasks on that image. Get in touch via the CONTACT/ENQUIRIES tab and let’s make it happen.
Thanks again for reading my blog. I really do love reading the thoughts and opinions on anything I write, and it’s great to get a different perspective on things. It’s all about sharing ideas and learning from each other.