Post Processing

Magic Of Adobe Lightroom

When I started my journey in digital photography ten years ago, I didn't have much interest in post processing. I was more focused on learning photography techniques, know more about the camera controls and the settings and get familiar with the gears, lights and other accessories. As I started gaining more experience with the camera setup and the gears, I felt more comfortable with the technical aspects of the shooting. Slowly, I started learning about the composition technique and used my technical skills to capture the image on various situations. The more I shoot, the more I felt that the camera was not able to capture all the colors I see through the lens. This is when I started to explore the possibility of introducing post-processing tool in my digital photography career. When I was shopping around for my first full frame but third DSLR, Nikon D700, I got introduced to Nikon’s own post-processing tool, Capture NX2, and without putting too much thought into it, I started using it. Since it was my first experience with any kind of post-processing tool, there was a steep learning curve for me but I enjoyed the process. After I started using Capture NX2 for a while, I felt like I was missing a big part of digital photography by overlooking the editing process in my early days of photography. Within a couple of months of using the software, I realized that, when post-processing is applied carefully and skillfully, it can completely change the look and feel of the picture and make it more alive again. But, suddenly, when I was just getting the hang of it, Nikon decided to discontinue the Capture NX2 software and stopped releasing the future updates and the support for the new cameras. I was still able to use the software (to process RAW files from my D700) for a couple of years even after their announcement but it became completely useless when I upgraded my D700 to D810 in 2017.

I had no choice but look for the alternatives which would support the RAW files from the Nikon D810. After doing much research, I decided to go with Adobe Lightroom. It's been little over a year since I started using the Lightroom and I couldn't be more happier. It is lightweight and very powerful program which works well with the varieties of RAW files. When I download the pictures on the computer, I import the RAW (NEF format) files directly into the Lightroom library and edit them when I want to. Besides Lightroom, I don't use any other tool to process my pictures. In terms of editing the picture, what I can do with the Lightroom, I could also do with the Capture NX2 but the process was complex and time consuming. In my experience, I found Lightroom to be much faster compared to the Capture NX2 and provides various powerful tools to edit the pictures with much more ease than it’s competitors. All of the edits done inside the Lightroom are non-destructible, which means Lightroom doesn't modify the original RAW file but only adds the instructions on the file based on what settings were applied during the development of the picture and renders the image by layering up those instructions step by step. You can always go back to the previous steps and undo the changes you made in those steps. However, Lightroom being a linear program, what you can not do is; you can not undo or erase one particular step in the middle and keep rest of the edits intact. For example, after applying 10 steps of editing (changing any one setting is one step of editing), you can’t undo only the 7th step and preserve the changes made in 8th, 9th and 10th steps. If you do so, it will delete everything from the 7th step up-to the 10th step and you have to progress the future editing from the 7th step again.

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Moving From Capture NX2 To Adobe Lightroom

If you are following my blog since it's early days, you probably know that I started my photography journey as a hobby with a Nikon D60 back in 2010. My choice of Nikon camera as a first DSLR was purely accidental. I was shopping for DSLR camera in my local Best Buy store where I came across Nikon brand, and having minimal knowledge about other DSLR brands during the purchase, I came home with the Nikon D60. Since then, I am shooting with Nikon camera. It took me few months to get familiar with different camera settings but after knowing how it works, I found it very easy to use and never thought of switching to another brand, not because I hated other brands but simply I started loving Nikon cameras, it's controls and settings and the wide varieties of lenses it offers. After playing with the D60 for a year, I upgraded to D90 and then after couple of years, I bought my first full frame DSLR, D700 (one of the best camera I ever owned), which I am still shooting with happily. But I think it's time to upgrade my D700 (to get more dynamic range and higher pixel in the image sensor) to either D750 or D810 which I haven't decided yet but I am leaning towards the D810 for few reasons which I will share with you once I pull the trigger. Initially, during my learning phase, I used to shoot only in a JPEG format but later when I discovered the advantage of shooting in a RAW format and post processing techniques, I started looking for good post processing software. After doing some research on the software and since I was already shooting with Nikon camera, I went with Nikon's image editing software, Capture NX2. It was a good choice and working great and most importantly, I was very happy with it until Nikon pulled the plug and announced that they are not going to update the software anymore and released their newer editing software, Capture NX-D, instead. I never tried using Capture NX-D (I was kind of mad with the Nikon) and still use Capture NX2 to edit my pictures. But since I am thinking to upgrade my camera, Capture NX2 wouldn't be able to process the RAW images from new DSLRs since it doesn't recognize the image format (thanks to Nikon). I had no choice but look for alternatives and thought of giving a try to Adobe Lightroom which is probably the most popular image editing software in the current market.

I downloaded a 7 days free trial version of an Adobe Lightroom and started playing with it. Among many other features, I loved how it handles the creation of an HDR (High Dynamic Range) image. Capture NX2 couldn't create an HDR image out of multiple exposure shots by itself. If I wanted to create an HDR image, either I had to use an HDR Efex pro from Google Nik Collection and then export the TIFF file and import it back to Capture NX2 for further processing or use other third party HDR processing tools. Since I would like to keep things simple and make life easier, I was looking for one stop solution to edit RAW images and create an HDR image out of multiple bracketed shots as well if I ever wanted to. When I discovered that the latest Adobe Lightroom does both effectively, first thing I wanted to try was to create an HDR image with it. The process was very easy; import all the multi exposure files into the lightroom and then right click those files to merge them into an HDR (it also had an option to merge into Panorama if you want to create a panoramic image using multiple shots). And to be honest, I got really impressed with all the tools it provides for color controls, image sharpening, dealing with noises, lens error corrections and various other touch up tools.

Here is a single shot of Boston downtown (non HDR version) which I took few years ago and processed using Capture NX2. If you want to see the camera settings I used for this shot, please read my earlier blog post about Setup I used for Night Cityscape Shots 

Boston Downtown (click the image to view full size)

And here is an HDR version of same shot created in a Lightroom by combining five exposure shots (-2 EV, -1 EV, 0 EV, +1 EV and +2 EV). After creating an HDR image, I also added some color tones to highlight some of the image area, sky for example. You can see more range of colors and visible clouds in an HDR version whereas those details were lost in a single exposure shot (above).

Boston Downtown HDR (click the image to view full size)

The beauty of the Lightroom is that while creating an HDR image, it creates a DNG (Digital Negative) file which is also non-destructive RAW file and you can edit it further if you want to adjust more color tones or any other settings you like.

I am not writing this blog to favor one software over another but after using Capture NX2 for little over five years, I think Adobe Lightroom came out as the best alternative for me. If you are already using Lightroom or any other image editing software, please share your experience in the comment section below.

Happy Shooting!

Redefine Your Photographs With Post Processing

When I bought my first DSLR back in 2010, I didn't know much about composition, basic camera settings or any post processing techniques. I was happy taking random photos and thought if I could somehow produce the pictures with shallow depth of field (making background blurry and foreground in focus), I would master the photography. As I started taking more and more pictures, I wanted to share it with more people and get some feedback. I then joined one of the leading photography community forum of that time and posted few pictures. I was expecting to get some nice comments about my photographs which I did get few but also got lots of critics and what could I do more to make it look better. They were gracious enough to take their time and pointed out my mistakes and suggest me for the improvements. That's when I realized I know nothing or very little about photography. I didn't take any pictures for few weeks and started to explore my options to learn more about photography. I started reading about composition, basic camera control and settings and apply them into practice. I slowly started understanding the basic concepts of photography and various composition techniques. As I started learning more and more, I realized the mistakes I had done in the past and tried to be aware of it in my next shoot. Sometimes, I used to manage to take well composed photographs, but lighting would go off. Sometimes, I would get well balanced picture but unwanted objects inside the frame would create a distraction. It is not always possible to re-shoot and produce the result as you wanted; you can't re-shoot the sunset after sun goes down, for example. Sometimes, distraction is a part of the frame when you compose it and there is no way to remove it during the shooting. That's when I started realizing the importance of post processing in photography. Well, post processing has always been an important part of photography even in film era but it has been completely revolutionized with the introduction of computer and software.

It might be very confusing to choose one particular software out of many available in the market. But, in my case, since I was shooting with Nikon DSLR and it also offered a professional photo editing software, I went with their editing tool, Capture NX2. Ever since I started shooting RAW and editing with Capture NX2, I realized that modern digital photography is incomplete without these post processing tools. Camera cannot always predict the right color-tone or temperature of the subject and that's when you need a software to balance it during editing. Even though most of the times I use software only to balance the color tones, straightening the pictures and crop it, I also use it occasionally to remove the unwanted objects in the photograph to minimize the distraction. Let's discuss more about the importance of post processing with this example below.

Before Post-Processing

Before Post-Processing

Focal Length - 35mm     Aperture - f/16     Exposure - 8 sec     ISO - 400

This picture was taken at the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington DC. It was shot at night around 2 AM and there were some external lighting sources to illuminate the statue of MLK. Obviously, I had no control over those lights and wouldn't be able to manipulate them. All I could do is shoot with an angle that gives me the best possible result. So, I went little farther from the statue so that I could extend the focal length and minimize the lens distortion. While I was waiting for the crowd to clear the area (yes, there were quite a few people even at 2 AM in the morning), I adjusted the camera settings and took the shot in a long exposure mode. I took few more shots with different angle and camera settings and left for home. Next day, when I reviewed the photographs on my computer, I found many problems with it. Some of them I could possibly avoid during the shooting and some of them I wouldn't be able to.

Lets analyze what I think went wrong in the original picture. First, his face is the most important part of the frame and yet there are other areas that are as bright or even brighter which creates distraction. And I think because of the combination of long exposure and the external light source, lots of other physical distractions are also visible. I wanted to make the statue stand out in the frame and engage the viewers without having them wandered around all over the frame. And since his face should be the center of focus, I wanted to make other parts less bright and less visible as well. However, I wanted to leave the shadows untouched because it plays an important role to reveal the form of statue. I also wanted to keep the lights in the background to let the viewers know that this is not a black and white photograph.

After Post-Processing

After Post-Processing

Now you have seen the picture before processing it and after. Do you agree that post-processing enhanced the picture or I carried it to the excess? Do you think the final image does justice to the sentiment of the photograph or post processing killed it in someway? Please let me know what do you think about it in the comment section.

Is Post Processing Necessary In Digital Photography?

This post is a part of our Q&A section. If you want to submit your question, please use the form in the Contact page.

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Afrina (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia) asked : I am not a pro photographer but I enjoy photography. When I visit the flickr and other photographers' website or blog, they have a collection of amazing photographs. Some of the photographers also revel what editing tool they used and what was done on the picture during post-processing. Do you think it is necessary to use any software to make your photograph look good?

I have seen this confusion on many photographers from different level of expertise. I think this wouldn’t be that much of interesting topic when you are just starting photography but as you progress more on your composition skill and master your camera settings, the next stop would be the editing skill. I also went through the same situation a while ago and started looking my option for post-processing. When it comes to the editing, different photographers have different views about the process and the tools they would like to use. Even after reading many blogs and online tips, the answer was not so clear to me whether the editing skill is a must to have to enhance your photography or it is just an optional choice. Some of my friends jokingly say that, if you are using Photoshop to enhance your photographs then it's not a photography, it is a Photoshopgraphy. I find it funny but meaningful statement at the same time. When I see other photographers’ work, I forget all the critics and feel like editing is a must have skill set and is one of the important part of digital photography. After doing much research, I wrote a blog about post processing where I discussed more about the post-processing and listed down some of the best known post-processing software in the market.

To be honest, it is not always necessary to use a software and process the pictures but sometimes you find it necessary just to tweak some settings, adjust colors and lights or even crop the sides. Some people think cropping is not really a post processing but I would say, if you use any software to manipulate the photographs by any means, it is a post-processing because you processed the photographs after taking it out from the camera.

Let me present you an example of a photograph, before and after processing it, and you shall decide if post-processing is really necessary or not. And also, as always, I welcome your comments as well.

Before post processing

Before post processing

I took this photograph of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool last year. When I came home and downloaded the picture from the camera, I felt good about it's composition (symmetry) but felt like I was missing something on the picture. I was not really happy with the color contrast and thought of playing with the color tones and the contrast and see how will it become. I started editing the picture using Capture NX2, one of my favorite software to process RAW images. During the processing of the image, I increased the color contrast and adjusted the brightness of the picture which transformed the picture into the next level. Just a couple of small tweaks boosted the mood of the image and the result was very impressive. The picture looked more vibrant and lively after the post-processing.

After post processing

After post processing

The result is in front of you and I let you decide whether the post processing is really necessary in digital photography or not. But looking at the transformation this image got, I think you would agree that post-processing is an essential tool and may greatly help you to enhance the picture if done correctly. You just have to be careful about not doing it too much, otherwise it may not look natural.