What do I do with my photos after I've taken them? What's my general approach to processing?
The first thing to know is that I shoot RAW and I frequently “shoot to the right”. In other words, I deliberately overexpose the image to get as much information as possible. I make sure the histogram is as far to the right as possible without overexposing (clipping) the highlights.
Next, for my editing, I use Adobe Lightroom 3.0 (LR). While I have Photoshop CS installed, I hardly ever use it because I find LR gives me all the tools I need. Note, if you don't have Lightroom, you can still follow what I'm doing in Photoshop because Camera Raw is the common engine in both Lightroom and Photoshop.
When I import my photos I apply a medium level contrast level curve which I’ve modified to add more contrast in the mid-tones by increasing the steepness of the curve.
I also use, what I think used to be, a common import setting for blacks, brightness, and contrast.
I’ll then try the Auto tone setting just to see what it looks like. What it does is essentially:
- Set the black point by increasing the Blacks until the LHS of the histogram starts to clip
- Increase exposure (or decrease exposure and add Recovery) until the RHS of the histogram starts to clip
- Adjust Brightness to suit.
Next, I’ll add Noise Reduction because I find that, even at 100 ISO, I get noticeable noise since I often shoot in low light conditions.
After that I’ll add a bit of Punch (a predefined setting in LR):
Then I’ll play around with the White Balance to see what I like best. I’m a sucker for reds and yellows, so I’ll often increase the WB.
Finally, I’ll probably add more mid-tone contrast (this is what makes things “pop”). I’ll typically push Lights and Darks to 50 (+/- respectively).
I’ll also play around with Clarity (which is all about local contrast) as this adds more texture (increase) or softness (decrease, especially if combined with low sharpness). I may fiddle around with local adjustment depending on the image, but that’s basically it in a nutshell.
I found David duChemin’s book Vision and Voice to be an excellent reference on the effective use of Lightroom – all about what you are looking for in the image and not just a technical manual. I strongly recommend it.