Typical Post Processing in the Making of a YLF Photo

Several people have asked me about my approach with the photos, so I'm going to use my lookfab blog to document aspects of the workflow. I'm kicking off with the simple post processing that I did for one of the photos in today's post on Angie's outfit for the Tokyo wedding.

My primary goal with outfit shots is to accurately capture how the scene looked to me when I took the photos. So I do want to faithfully represent the colors, but I will also use post processing to get the right "feel" into the picture.

  1. Original Photo: I always shoot in aperture priority mode (more on that in the future). I let the camera choose the exposure. "Exposure" is the amount of time the camera needs to keep the shutter open to get enough light to make the picture. For dark scenes, the camera needs more time. For bright scenes, it needs less.
  2. Adjust Exposure: The camera under-exposed Angie because the bright trench made it think there was more light in the scene than there actually was. I can easily correct that in the first step of post processing on my Mac, raising the exposure a little, effectively brightening the image.
  3. Rotate & Crop: First, a small rotation to correct the horizon because I have an aversion to slightly rotated scenes (intentionally rotated shots can be quite nice). Second, a slight crop to frame Angie a little better.
  4. Add Drama: Finally, a subtle filter that adds a touch of drama to the shot. In this case I am just overlaying 10% of a black and white version of the image with the original.

I chose this as the first example because these steps are very typical of what I do for photos on YLF. There are other examples where the processing is much more extreme (for example, when I have to deal with white balance issues).

(By the way, if you are reading this post in the YLF forum, try viewing it in my lookfab blog to get a better side-by-side look at the different stages. The differences are quite subtle.)

This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.


  • Sarah A replied 12 years ago

    super interesting! thanks for sharing greg!

  • ironkurtin replied 12 years ago

    I wish someone did this for me in real life.

  • Greg replied 12 years ago

    ironkurtin, you mean you need a real life "Add Drama" button? :-)

  • Sarah replied 12 years ago

    Wow, this is so helpful! I really struggle with my photos.
    Is this an appropriate place to ask camera advice? I got a Nikon D40x awhile ago as an upgrade from my digital point and shoot.
    Up till now I just leave the settings on automatic and take TONS of photos and cross my fingers that some will turn out.
    The manual settings are overwhelming. But looking around, I'm sort of learning that this is not the best camera for blog photos. Thoughts?
    Also, what editing software do you use?
    Any other photograph tips you can share or resources you can point me towards?

  • HelenInCanada replied 12 years ago

    Tips from an amazing photographer - thank you! I can see how your process subtly improves the shot. I love learning a bit of the lingo!

    I use Microsoft Photo Editor to tweak family photos, especially if they were taken on a grey day and I want to spice them up! ;) I think I abuse the "saturation" feature, though. It really intensifies the natural reds (like in people's skin) and can look unintentionally hilarious!

    Really looking forward to the rest of your photos from Japan!

  • Greg replied 12 years ago

    Sarah, a Nikon D40x is a great camera and TOTALLY up to the task of blog photography. You definitely don't need a different camera.

    Although your photos are already good, there are two things you can do to immediately get better ones or more good ones.

    First, stop shooting in automatic mode and get to know aperture priority mode. Instead of everything being automatic, you will have control over one thing (the aperture size) and this will make all the difference. I will write a post on this next, but just give it a try. Put that circular dial on "A" and use that thumb control near the back top right to vary the aperture size.

    Second, the lens can make a huge difference. Which one are you using now?

    Editing S/W: I use Photoshop for everything, but it is overkill. There are good, inexpensive alternatives, depending on whether you're on Windows or Mac. Photoshop Elements is good and is available for both platforms. On the Mac there is a nice new photo editing app called Pixelmator.

    A good online resource is Ken Rockwell. I don't agree with everything he says, and he's a little out there sometimes, but most of the advice is solid. http://www.kenrockwell.com/

  • Diana replied 12 years ago

    This is interesting, Greg. I can see that the post-processing does improve the photo, but I can also see that the change is very subtle and the original image is already stunning. I always enjoy seeing the process and I really appreciate that you have a very light hand with the photoshop.

    (As an OT aside, I think about this kind of thing a lot even though I am not a photographer because there is a lot of debate in the scientific world about what constitutes "acceptable manipulation" of digital images in publications. It's clear that doing things like selectively erasing parts of images is not OK, but things like changing saturation levels and color balance is a bit of a grey area. Things are further complicated by the fact that all of the initial microscopy and photography is controlled by a computer anyway, so you can adjust things like exposure and gain at the point of acquisition and that is generally considered OK but not every publication allows for post-processing along those lines.)

  • Sarah replied 12 years ago

    Wow Greg, thanks so much!
    I'm using the lense that came with the camera. I understand I may want something additional. Suggestions?
    I'll certainly play around with the manual settings more now that I know my camera isn't a complete waste. ;)
    I use Gimp as a free editing software, although my sister gave me her PS. I'm currently editing on Windows, but with us now owning every Mac product but a desktop, I see that in our near future. ;)
    I'll check out Ken Rockwell's site for sure.
    Thanks for all the tips!! And I'm looking forward to future posts on this topic.

  • Greg replied 12 years ago

    Diana, that is a fascinating question. But to take things to an extreme, a camera in automatic mode is already doing a TON of processing that changes saturation and color balance. In a sense, there is no such thing as an unprocessed picture.

    But I do get the point, that you wouldn't want to see something that is somehow mis-representing the scene. That seems dishonest.

    Although the example I used above is subtle, there are also times when I need to do far more drastic processing to make the picture usable. And sometimes it is fun to do something more dramatic. I really enjoy what the Glamourai's photographer does, for example, and that is quite heavy post processing.

    I will happily photoshop things out, but only certain things. We don't "enhance" Angie, for example, but I have removed ugly things in the frame that bothered me, like wall warts or rubbish bins in the distance.

    Sometimes a heavy hand with photoshop produces wonderful art. I met one particular photographer, Doug Landreth, at a recent arts festival who's work made me look at photography in a completely different way. At first glance, his works looked like fine art paintings, but each one was the combination of many photographs with a lot of photoshop post processing.

  • Sylvie replied 12 years ago

    So cool Greg! Thanks for sharing. It did help to view it on the blog and I was really able to appreciate the subtle changes that took it from a nice photo to a great photo.

  • Greg replied 12 years ago

    Sarah, I'm not sure how to express how far your camera is from a complete waste without using expletives. :-)

    I could totally get by using your camera for YLF. You wouldn't notice the difference.

    I would suggest investing in one "prime" lens. This is a fixed focal length lens -- no zooming. Or put differently, you zoom by moving yourself forward and back. Primes do just one focal length so you get much better quality for the money.

    Here are two good options that are not cheap (about $200), but not expensive as lenses go. The difference is that the 35mm has a slightly wider angle. For your camera I would get the 50mm.


    I use a more expensive 50mm prime for 99% of the photos on YLF. This one:


    A prime lens, together with aperture priority mode, will do 100 times more for your pictures than buying a $6000 professional Nikon D4. I'm not exaggerating.

  • Laura replied 12 years ago

    Greg, this thread is incredibly helpful - It looks like Sarah's camera cost about $500-700? Do you have any recommendations for cameras in the $200-300 range? Or lower for that matter. I'd like to dabble in taking better photos but I'm not committed to spending the big bucks.


  • JennyAnne replied 12 years ago

    Thanks for sharing this! I always fly by the seat of my pants when I go to the trouble of editing my photos (which I should do more often), and I think I tend to over-correct.

  • nicoleb replied 12 years ago

    Love this post! I'd love to improve my photos but I currently have a point and shoot and use Gimp to edit (I normally just crop, resize and adjust levels). So I don't know if there's a whole lot more I can do without dropping more $. :( Aka, I'd love to be able to background defocus but my camera will only do this if I am SUPER close or zoomed in to the subject.

  • Sarah replied 12 years ago

    Well that puts me at ease, thanks! I really appreciate the time and effort you've taken to help me out.
    I've been told the D40x is a "bad camera". I was prepared to have to buy a new one, so a $200 lens is nothing. I've heard that about lenses, so thanks for affirming that.
    Now I'm excited to see how much better (and less stressful) our photo shoots will go. :)

  • lyn* replied 12 years ago

    Thanks Greg - you're amazing <3!

  • HeleenH replied 12 years ago

    Sarah, if you are uncomfortable going straight to the 'A' setting, the 'P' is a nice start.It doesn't allow you to determine which depth-of-field you have, but it gives you more freedom in editing the picture on the computer. When I shoot pictures in the 'auto' mode, I tend to forget to adjust the white balance and can mess up my pictures. If you shoot in P, you can adjust it later on, as the camera hasn't thrown away the data.

    Added later: this will only work if you set your camera to taking RAW or RAW+jpg images, as your camera will keep all information in the RAW image and throw away lots of data in the jpg image.

  • Diana replied 12 years ago

    This post is making me want an SLR. But that is SO not in the budget right now. I would kill for manual focus on my point and shoot.

  • Amy replied 12 years ago

    Haha...I don't need a drama button. It just seems to happen.

    Greg, this is great. While the photos I post here are often...subpar...I sometimes take more care with processing them. I do something similar as you describe above. I layer a black and white version over the original, and, instead of overlay, I use the "luminosity" setting. I sort of "equalizes" the darks and brights, but not in a flattening sort of way.

  • Greg replied 12 years ago

    HeleenH, that's interesting. How do you access the white balance info on the computer later?

    Personally I find 'A' easier because in 'P' mode, the dial changes two things at the same time (aperture and shutter speed). I prefer to just control the aperture and let the camera choose a shutter speed.

    BTW, this is related to Nicole's point about "background defocus". That is precisely the effect you get if set the camera to 'A' and choose a larger aperture. Of course, to make things confusing that corresponds to a *smaller* f number. But the point is that, as HeleenH says, controlling aperture is all about depth of field, and depth of field determines how much of the background is in (or out) of focus.

    Sarah, just to add... the great thing about lenses is that they can transfer to your next camera (as long as you stay with the same brand and continue to use an SLR of course). So even if the $200 lens doesn't give you the improvement you want, it will be useful for the next Nikon SLR you choose.

    Nicole, yeah, you need an SLR to get that depth of field effect. On the other hand, you're getting very cool results with your current camera. When you do have an SLR you're going to kick some ... :-)

    Tortoise, I'm sorry, but I have zero experience with cameras at that level. But I have seen that Ken Rockwell has some advice on good options at all levels. This page, for example: http://www.kenrockwell.com/tec.....ameras.htm

  • Greg replied 12 years ago

    Diana, do you mean completely manual focus? I must admit I hardly ever use that. But it is true that the automatic focus on a good SLR is much better than on a point and shoot.

    Amy, that's interesting. I'm going to give it a try.

  • Diana replied 12 years ago

    Greg, the camera I have right now (a Canon digital elph) has a weird quirk w/ regards to focusing and the self-timer, where it focuses when you push the button, not when the photo actually snaps. So I need to focus it on something in the background (the bookcase, in my photos) and then stand as close as I can to the bookcase in order to be in focus, so being able to manually focus it would be lovely. Plus, I think I am used to taking photos of things on microscopes where obviously the plane of focus makes a big difference, so I like to be in control of the focus. There are probably a million other things that I would love to be able to manually control but I just don't know about them yet!

  • rae replied 12 years ago

    Fascinating. I vaguely remember some of this stuff from when I took photography in high school - only back then we worked with film cameras! I don't think my little digital camera has an aperture priority mode.

    I'm really interested in how you layered the 10% b/w version on top. I've never tried this, but you can bet I'm going to go home and play on Photoshop!

  • Greg replied 12 years ago

    Rae, just...

    1. Create a new "Black & White" adjustment layer on top of your photo layer
    2. Choose blend mode "Overlay"
    3. Set opacity of the layer to 10%

    With higher opacity, you'll get more drama. I have added a version with 80% opacity here.

  • Greg replied 12 years ago

    Diana, my word, that sounds painful!

  • Ana replied 12 years ago

    Wow, this thread is fascinating! Thank you, Greg, for the technical rundown and the thorough responses. Everyone's comments have been really interesting to read through as well.

    Sarah, I would happily take your camera, you know, if you couldn't stand to even look at it anymore or something. :P You have a lot of skill too. I was always really happy with the photos you took (thank you). : )

    My camera is just okay. Actually, I'm thinking of upgrading to the iPhone 4S and if I did, the phone would actually be a better camera than the point and shoot I use. Heh.

  • sarah replied 12 years ago

    Greg, I really appreciate this. You'd never know it by my posts, because I'm too embarrassed about the neighbors to take outfit photos outside, but I actually do try to pay attention to the details of photography, and learn as I go, so I'm really excited that you're going to posting these tips. I already shoot in aperture mode, when I'm taking "real" pictures (as opposed to outfit pics to post!), so, yay, I can check that one off!

  • Amy replied 12 years ago

    Greg, maybe Helen shoots in RAW format and edits the white balance there...the plug-in I have in photoshop for RAW files allows me to do that.

  • Greg replied 12 years ago

    Amy, that's exactly what I do, but I wasn't sure why shooting in full auto made it impossible to adjust white balance on the computer. Perhaps I misunderstood.

    White balance is a whole other topic!

  • Jenava replied 12 years ago

    The F number is actually the bottom number of a fraction, right? That's why the BIGGER the f-stop, the SMALLER the hole...because 1/16 is smaller than 1/8.

    Also, don't you mean you let the camera pick the SHUTTER SPEED? I think exposure is the total amount of light let into the camera (shutter speed/aperture combo).

    I need to work in Photoshop a little more. I think there are tons of things I could do to improve my photos if I just took a little time...

  • Greg replied 12 years ago

    Jenava, I meant what I said, but we're kinda saying the same thing. :-)

    The F number is the whole fraction f/D where f is focal length and D is aperture diameter. That's the number you see on the camera readout. So yes, the bigger the F number the smaller the aperture size (D).

    Before we got into the complexity of apertures I did say "choose an exposure", which in 'A' is equivalent to "choosing the shutter speed" because the aperture is fixed and, as you say, the exposure is the total light coming in and therefore a function of aperture size and shutter speed.

  • nicoleb replied 12 years ago

    I want to be able to background defocus so badly sometimes i do it section by section in Gimp. It takes forever. How nice it would be to simple use a certain lens and press a button. :P

    And you can still tell i did it by "hand" if you look closely. -_-

  • Aida replied 12 years ago

    Great post Greg! I do exactly this process with my own photos! But I don't do the overlay with a b&w version of the image, just the original image; I'm going to give that a try, looks like it would give me a bit more depth as opposed to contrast with the way I do it now.

    Since I use my little point-and-shoot with the self timer instead of hubby's SLR, I shoot in full manual (I picked my PnS specifically because of this feature) and leave the aperture at f/8 all the time so I don't have to pop in a focusing object, and then set the shutter speed myself. But anyone who wants to shoot something lower in aperture mode, like f/2 or f/4, you can place in a focusing object when you click the timer and then throw it out of the way when you move into frame so the right place gets blurred.

    I also do minor photoediting as needed, almost always for things related to using a self-timer instead of a human photographer; small things like a hair that blew in my face right as the timer goes off or an unfortunately located clothing wrinkle that I happened while running into frame. Very very occasionally I will do heavier editing (usually to combine successful elements of different poses when I'm having a particularly non photogenic day), but for the most part I try to leave it alone and I would say 95%+ of my photos have no retouching.

  • Mellllls replied 12 years ago

    Very interesting, thanks for sharing.

  • Jenava replied 12 years ago

    Aida, that reminds me of when I took my own photo senior portrait for the school yearbook...only that was a very old, very manual camera! I think I used F/16 just to make sure everything was in focus...which, BTW, nichole, you should be careful of using TOO low of an F-stop because srsly then your nose will be in focus and your ears will be out of focus! My experience playing around with this is that you have to be pretty far away from the background and use a pretty low f-stop to get it REALLY blurry. Also, I think higher quality lenses usually give you the option of lower/higher F-stops...something to keep in mind. You can also play with using a higher-speed film (crap, do they call it just ASA, now, since there's no film?? Like 200, 400, 800, you know what I mean) and using BOTH a slow shutter speed and low apeture, then add a flash and some movement...the flash can act somewhat like a shutter and helps make the background blurry (but the entire photo will also have a slightly blurred effect)...like this photo I took a while back.

  • Jenava replied 12 years ago

    Ohh, I just had a fantastic idea! What if we had a YLF Seattle PHOTO meet-up...all the folks interested in photos and editing could have a little pow wow over coffee and share tips!

  • Aida replied 12 years ago

    I'd so be down for that Jenava! :D

  • Amy replied 12 years ago

    Sign me up, Jenava!

  • Jenava replied 12 years ago

    Let's do it! I have a pretty good grasp on the technical stuff of photography, but not really with digital aspects. I don't get what RAW means, and even though my dad had a very early (1996) version of Photoshop I'm pretty illiterate with it today. At least I know how to use the rubber stamp tool (my brother gave himself a third eye for HIS senior portrait...boys...) and I know why the burn, dodge and crop tools have those funny pictures because I did that stuff in the darkroom! (-:

    But I'd be thrilled to learn even a FEW things from Greg, Aida and anyone else about the digital side, and I'd be happy to share whatever I can about the other side...Coffee shop, cameras, and a few laptops, I think we'd be set!

  • Amy replied 12 years ago

    Fantastic. I've worked with Photoshop quite a bit (both for photography and web design). While I wouldn't claim to be an expert, I have a fairly good handle on it and would be happy to share what I know.

  • Greg replied 12 years ago

    The photo meetup is a great idea.

    Nicole, your commitment to shallow depth of field is unprecedented. :-) And the fact that you have done it manually gives the picture a kind of surreal vibe.

  • nicoleb replied 12 years ago

    LOL thanks Greg :D

  • Elly replied 12 years ago

    I'm a long-time film photographer that used to process my own b&w film. Now that I'm back to renting and living in a community that no longer has a community darkroom to rent out, or even a photo lab that processes b&w it has really cut down on much I shoot . . . and finally after years of resistance I'm out of excuses and it is time to invest in a DSLR. Actually, it is supposed to be an incredibly expensive graduation gift.

    I've been curious a time or two about what the photogs on YLF shoot.

    I'd love to come to a YLF photo meetup.

  • replied 12 years ago

    This is a great thread Greg! I'd seriously ask a question if I knew what language you all were conversing in! My camera is dying slowly and now I know where to go for recommendations when it's time to replace it. :)

  • Kari replied 12 years ago

    A Seattle photo meetup would be great! I know my self-portrait photos are definitely subpar. A lot of that's related to the camera - like Diana, my point and shoot doesn't have capability for a remote, so I have to focus on a nearby item like a wall or a post and hope that the camera will be semi-in focus when I step in front. Messing with the lighting when I'm not even in the photo takes forever, and I don't have a full array of manual settings - they are all at least semi automatic. I've taken some decent photos, though, but not self-portrait shots.

    I dream about buying a good DSLR, especially after a neighbor/friend gave me a crash course with his Nikons a couple years back. Maybe later this year, budget permitting...

  • HeleenH replied 12 years ago

    That's right, Angie, I forgot to mention I take my pictures in RAW, which gives me the opportunity to change the white balance later. I always use that setting and if my DH changes the general setting to auto, it annoys me like crazy. My camera doesn't give me the RAW option in the auto. P is just auto with the added option of taking pictures in RAW.

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