PhotoBotos would like to welcome Joe Kashi. Joe received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and his law degree from Georgetown University. He has published many articles about computer technology, law practice and digital photography in national media since 1990. Many of his technology and photography articles can be accessed through his website, http://kashilaw.com/newcontent.aspx
Below is an article that Joe wrote on photo processing for the Redoubt Reporter that we found especially interesting. We hope that you will also!
Plugged In: Perfect Photo Processing Before Printing
By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter
Correctly printing your photos is the last and most important stage of turning your image files into expressive photographs that evoke a “Wow!” response.
Rather than piling more words on words, let’s look at some photographs. After all, this is allegedly a photography column. These are color images converted into black and white to illustrate why good printing is so important. The default images as stored by a digital camera often are not a good match for what we wanted to achieve when taking the photograph. Reaching that goal is the point of post-processing and carefully tweaked printing of the final image.
Proper control of exposure, tonal quality and contrast are critical to the success of any final image, whether color or black and white. It’s easier to evaluate these important underlying factors in a black-and-white image where color does not distract us. Besides, this column runs in the paper’s black-and-white section. Newsprint does not accurately reproduce a good photograph’s nuanced tonal range, so these photos can only generally illustrate our points.
Most of us remember the 2009 Redoubt eruptions (the volcano, I mean, not our long-suffering editor when I’ve pushed my deadline right through the outside of the envelope). One of the eruptions occurred just as dawn was breaking during a cloudy day, an inherently low-contrast situation.
Our first frame is as it came out of my camera. The contrast is too low to show much detail in the ash cloud, which appears to fade into the dark, early morning clouds. The tonal range seems quite flat, with almost the entire photograph consisting of middle grays that are scarcely differentiated from each other. Not only does this photo look insipid and drab, but it doesn’t reveal much information about the eruption or the structure of the ash cloud. It fails on all levels. Because the images were shot in an RAW format, I had much more leeway to make later corrections using Lightroom or Photoshop.
The second print has been post-processed in Adobe Lightroom to produce a better-looking final print. It also shows much more detail in the ash cloud and mountain. It’s thus also more successful on a factual level.
What are the differences? I increased micro contrast between adjacent fine details using Lightroom’s “clarity” control. Doing so brings out fine detail in the ash cloud and mountain. Be careful, though, not to overdo micro contrast. I also increased overall contrast from the default “linear” setting to “strong contrast.” Doing so darkened the deeper shadow areas and brightened highlights, making the overall tonal range more dramatic and satisfying.
Lightroom also allows you to selectively brighten or darken both the overall tonal range as well as specific areas of the image. Because the brighter areas of the ash cloud still did not have quite enough contrast and brightness, I used Lightroom’s paintbrush tool to selectively brighten that small area. Doing so is similar to the common darkroom practice of chemically bleaching too-dark areas of a silver-based traditional photographic print.
In our first article about making good photo prints, I mentioned that Ansel Adams famously compared making the final print to the performance of a musical composition. That makes a good deal of sense to me because, when printing, we must make a number of decisions that affect the emotional power and expressiveness of a final photograph.
Those creative decisions go well beyond ensuring basic technical quality. They can be summarized in three apparently simple questions: 1. What expressive result do you want to achieve? 2. Did you achieve it? 3. Was it worth the effort?
At this level, we must make at least a basic decision about what we want to convey before making the final print, although that expressiveness usually evolves along with our attempts to get the best possible print from a particular image. Among the factors to consider at this stage are exposure and density — do we want our image to have a bright or a dark sense to it? Which details do we want to show and which do we want to suppress?
Our second pair of photographs addresses these decisions. Although I much prefer the actual image in full color, the black-and-white version here nicely shows our points. It’s a fairly simple photograph taken in July 2010 at the Dimond Center Hotel in Anchorage as the late afternoon sun streamed behind a partially closed blackout curtain and illuminated a chair from the side. The original RAW image as it came out of my Pentax had a great deal of detail everywhere in the image. The image looked cluttered and commonplace. I particularly found the white vertical area along the left edge, the table in the lower right and the picture on the wall to be distracting.
I had in mind a much darker image, emphasizing the empty chair and the single bright light shining on it from the side. To achieve that image, I had to darken the entire image as well selectively darkening the areas of bright detail on the left and bottom edges as well as the bright lines of the picture frames.
Darkening the overall image is easy — just reduce Lightroom’s exposure slider. Darkening those distracting areas along the edges is also fairly easy using Lightroom’s “graduated filter” tool. That has the same effect as “burning in” an edge by giving the areas to be darkened some extra exposure while enlarging, a very common chemical darkroom practice.
Although it took time and a few test prints, I was happy with the final print. Apparently, the juror in last year’s Rarified Light statewide juried photography exhibition felt similarly because this final image won Honorable Mention. I doubt that the original bright, thoroughly detailed photo would have been accepted at all.
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