digital imaging

post-processing workflow: how to deal with color banding / posterization

If you’ve ever noticed banding or  posterization in your photos, where you’d expect solid colors, then there’s a relatively easy fix for it. This posterization effect appears as bands of colors, where the transitions between similar tones aren’t smooth, but have jagged edges instead.

It is caused by the 8-bit JPG not having enough data to give you a smooth gradient when large blocks of color slowly change. You’ll often see it in the blue sky in landscapes, or as in this case, with large areas of color in the background. Actually, the image above doesn’t show this – I fixed it. Here’s how.

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improving a photograph by finessing it in post-processing  (models: Yulia & Anelisa)

While I’m a strong supporter of the idea to get it right in camera (as far as possible), there are times when massaging a photograph in Photoshop, can greatly improve it. And ultimately, it really is the final image that counts.

As a kind of companion piece to the photo of Anelisa jumping, here is a photo taken in the same area with the same kind of strong daylight. In using off-camera lighting here, the look of the photograph is inherently different. When I posted this image on Facebook as a teaser, someone guessed that it took “very expensive reflectors and an army of assistants”. Perhaps that was meant as a tongue-in-cheek comment, since my lighting is quite straight-forward. Or perhaps it does look like an image that could pop out of a Fashion magazine. I’m biased of course .

In deciphering how the photograph came about, let’s look at the straight-out-of-the-camera image …

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a favorite image – before & after (and the how to)

There’s something about this photograph that I really like … aside from Anelisa being one of my favorite models. It is slightly surreal with Anelisa’s apparent levitation. The dress and hat is reminiscent of a 1950′s Fashion, and Anelisa’s mid-air pose is also reminiscent of Philippe Halsman’s iconic jumping images. All that, combined with the sun flaring across her face and the washed-out background, all adds to this wonderfully nostalgic mood.

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wedding photography: 3 tips to speed up your editing workflow

One of the questions that came up during the Q&A at yesterday’s presentation at B&H, was how long does it take me to edit a wedding. Well, the ideal is that it takes me less than a day. During the peak wedding season around September and October, it is easy to slip behind, but that still remains my goal – to edit a wedding during the week right after the wedding took place.

There are several things motivating this idea:

  • I am more likely to get print orders from the guests at a wedding if the event is still fresh in their memory.
  • In terms of your workflow as a photographer, it is imperative that you don’t fall behind. If you don’t edit a wedding *this* week, then you’re behind because you’re shooting further events.

The best idea then is to edit the wedding in the day or two directly after. Cull, edit, upload, and then you’re done with the immediate workflow. Keep things rolling.

Here are my 3 best tips for a faster workflow. Of course, this doesn’t just relate to weddings, but also to any event where a high volume of images need to be dealt with.

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Ulorin Vex bounce flash portrait

bounce flash portrait & Photoshop retouching technique

When we were done with the studio shoot with Ulorin Vex, we still had a few minutes left, so I thought I could do a bounce flash portrait as well. Just for a comparison of sorts to show that on-camera bounce flash can give interesting results too. Here is the low-key portraits we did with the Profoto set-up.

The only semi-interesting background I could find in the studio (that wasn’t a white wall), was this grungy green door to one of the store-rooms. I thought it might work as a gritty urban setting. I shot about eight frames in the tight corner, but didn’t like what I saw on the back of my camera, so called it a day. We were done.

Looking through the images again today, cleaning up my hard drives, I hovered over the first image I took and thought it might hold some promise still if I worked it a little bit in Photoshop. Here is where I started …

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off-camera flash for a photo session with a Vintage look

Anyone who regularly follows the Tangents blog or has my 2nd book, off-camera flash photography, might recognize Sarah. When she told me she was visiting New York, I made sure that I squeezed in a photo session with her in my schedule. The weather on the day was grey and drizzly … enough reason to juice it up with some off-camera flash. And then play with the images in post-processing a bit …

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Photoshop plug-in for a film look – Nik Color Efex Pro 4

For a part of the individual workshop we did yesterday, Anelisa wore this cute outfit with a bit of a retro look to it. I loved her spontaneous pose here as well. In editing the image, I thought that an “old school” film look to it might suit the final photograph very well.

In previous examples shown here with a vintage look to the photograph, I had used the Totally Rad action sets. This time I wanted a specific film look to it, so I went with Nik Color Efex Pro 4 (B&H). This Photoshop plug-in has a 55 different filters. And of course, I like things which are easy to use.

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Get it right in camera? … sure, but on occasion some post-processing helps

This photograph of the outdoor wedding venue gives a great sense of what it looked like there at the time. But the original image looked a lot more dull. There just isn’t a way to capture the deep shaded areas and the bright sky with a single capture, in camera .. without some post-processing work.

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Photoshop tip – easy effect for more punch

Here is a well-known Photoshop technique – one that I like and use on occasion. It desaturates the photograph, while also compressing the tonal range. It creates a modern look that also looks quite trendy. It is also quite easy to apply, by dragging the layers from a reference image once you’ve set it up.

Starting with the original image, I add these two layers:

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Photoshop fairy dust / Neil’s secret sauce

As much as I believe in the “get it right in camera” ethos, it is near inescapable that most images can use some sweetening in Photoshop. My own preference is for fairly subtle retouching of photographs.

The photograph above is one I’ve shown a few times as a great example of how good on-camera bounce flash can look. I did have to adjust the WB and exposure as part of my usual RAW post-processing workflow. And for the image on the left, I also removed some skin blemishes with the Healing Tool. So it does look pretty good .. but it can be subtly enhanced. And the keyword here for me is *subtle*.

My post-processing retouching for portraits involve some Photoshop plug-ins that I use, but there are some useful (and well-known) Photoshop techniques to make an image pop a little bit more. Over several articles on Tangents, I’ve referred to it as either “Photoshop fairy dust” or in a humorous way as my “secret sauce”. The techniques vary, depending on what is needed, and on what I’d like to achieve.  So the “secret sauce” varies from image to image by some degree. It really depends.

With the help of Photoshop wiz, Adrian (aka, Trev from the Tangents forum), we’ve put together two action sets that make these Photoshop techniques quite accessible … and more importantly, accessible in a subtle way. No over-the-top effect. Just that sweetening of the photograph as is necessary. The image on the right-hand shows the type of retouching that is possible with this action set.

The action set, called Neil’s Secret Sauce, is available for download for a $20 fee from that linked page. The zip file includes two actions as well as a PDF instruction sheet.

And of course, we’ll gladly help!

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