One of the most frequently asked, I often get at Photography Life is related to post-processing images. Specifically, our readers want to find out how they can make their images look good without spending too much time post-processing them. After all not everyone has the skills or the patience to learn how to use the many different tools in different software packages like Lightroom. I thought of things that I normally do to my images when I want to make quick edits and came up with a few steps that I consistently apply to all of my images. In this article, I will provide these steps, so that you can quickly make changes to your images and make them look good without having to go through a lot of learning. I will highlight the steps using Lightroom, but you should be able to imitate similar steps using other post-processing software as well.
Before I show you the exact steps, let’s first highlight the several reasons why many images end up looking unattractive. This will explain the steps I go through further down below. Now keep in mind that if you are looking at a RAW image and wondering why it looks flat and dull, that’s because it has not been processed yet! Remember, each and every RAW image must be post-processed in software to make it look its best.
- Image is Too Dark – modern cameras are designed in a way to preserve as much highlight information as possible, which ends up with images often looking a bit too dark when shooting with a semi-automatic camera mode. In many cases, if it is not the camera, photographers themselves often end up making images darker to preserve those same highlights. Unless it is the photographer’s specific intention to communicate a specific mood in an image by making it darker, photographs typically need to be adjusted in post-processing to look brighter and more lively.
- Image Lacks Contrast – this is a very common issue that I see in many photographs. When an image lacks contrast, it often looks bland and unattractive. In many cases, even a slight boost of contrast can make a huge difference.
- Colors are Over-Saturated – many photographers often make the of over-saturating images in-camera (via camera color profiles / presets) or via post-processing software, which makes colors appear unrealistically rich. While it is tempting to make photographs appear vibrant, one should be very careful about the danger of over-saturation.
- Subject Lacks Clarity – when a subject is smushed into a scene and there is no separation of subjects or tones, the image is probably low on clarity. Adding clarity to a subject helps boost its presence and allows it to clearly stand out from the scene.
- Image Lacks Sharpness – a good amount of sharpness on a subject emphasizes it and makes it stand out, which can be an effective way to draw viewer focus. While sharpening is important, one must know how to properly apply it to images without adding too much noise, artifacts or halos around the subject.
Obviously, the above list does not include many other factors such as light, subject, composition/framing, and camera technique because those are factors one must consider at the time of taking a picture, not afterward. If an image is no good to start with, no amount of post-processing can save it!
Let’s take a look at a couple of sample images and see what specifically makes them appear attractive when compared to their unprocessed, or camera-processed counterparts. Below is a “Before” and “After” image of the Blue Mosque. The “Before” image is an unprocessed RAW image, whereas the “After” image was processed in Lightroom with a few simple steps that took me no more than a few minutes: