Monday, 11 July 2011

Photography tips 3: Postproduction

After preparation and shooting, here we are with the third step in photography, a rather controversial one: postproduction. As I took for granted that a digital reflex be used, I’m also going to write about digital postproduction that, like it or not, is today part and parcel of the photographic process.
Provided that both models and photographers are human beings, and human beings are notoriously not flawless, the postproduction of a photoshoot is an unavoidable step. A photo that comes out of the camera already finished and ready for publication is a once-in-a-blue-moon thing, and only if the craters are pink. Provided that there is still a distinct line between photography and photomanipulation (you can add whatever you like which wasn’t originally present in your photo, but then you call it a photomanipulation, please), digitally postprocessing a photo is something as natural as breathing in 2011. Photoshop is one of the tools that our age provides us with, and considering it an aberration and deliberately refusing to use it is as anachronistic as deciding not to use Microsoft Word for writing because correcting mistakes is easier than with Jessica Fletcher’s old typewriter. Deciding not to use a resource is a choice, but not necessarily the best on, in particular when said resource is so precious and useful.
It’s up to each photographer to decide to what extent postproduction is licit, so here I’ll only speak for myself: I think it’s licit to fix things, both in the model and the surroundings, that spoil a good photo but did not depend on the parties involved, or could not be avoided while shooting, as well as things that just depend on the technical limits of the tools of trade. Trying to use heavy postproduction to make a bad or totally helpless photo look good at all costs, like trying to heavily alter the angle or such, is something I would not recommend. Same goes with trying to make a totally ordinary or uninteresting snapshot look interesting with tons of filters and textures.
Here are some tips that, if used to the right extent, will hopefully help you enhace your photos. Please note that this is not going to be a tutorial on how to actually do the postproduction, but just a series of tips I think might be useful.
I usually divide postproduction into two parts: the first step, when you fix little imperfections, and the second step, when you add some effects to the photo. Here we go:

1. Fix exposure, colour balance, horizon, cropping and such.
We all know: exposure is a bitch, white balance too, and horizontal and vertical lines may be forgotten when you’re looking carefully at the model. Provided that it’s better to get them right from the start, we are all human and thus not flawless, so some fixing doesn’t do any harm. In particular, if you are in the situation of having the right exposure in some parts of the photos while other are just off, there’s nothing wrong in fixing them either: once again, it’s something that was totally out of your control, so no need for qualms in these cases. Same goes for colour balance and so on: you have the tools to fix little mistakes, so use them.

2. Always use photoshop on your models.
Your models deserve to look their best, always. Make up and the right light can do miracles against a bad night sleep or a sudden skin imperfection, but what if those nasty eye circles or that bitch of a pimple show up in your photo? It’s not your models’ fault, nor is it a permanent feature, so just remove it mercilessly. But always remember that a face is tridimensional, so a certain amount of shadow under the eyes, the cheekbones and around the face, as well as the skin texture, must always be present (you don’t want your models to look like this, do you?). On older models, wrinkles can be softened, but remember they just have to be there. In this case, however, just remember to retouch not only the face, but also the hands, so that they won’t disclose your dirty little secret.

3. Respect your models!
Making your models look their best does not mean making them look whatever you think the best is. Altering your models’ features is deeply disrespectful towards them. Differently from temporary imperfections, their facial features are... well, their facial features, and if you want your models to look different from what they actually are, then you should have chosen a different model all along (same goes for their bodies). If you’re dissatisfied with a particular feature of your model, go back to point 5 of Shooting.

4. Take your secret to the grave.
“Of course no, dear: I didn’t have to use loads of photoshop on you! Look, I just removed that little spot on your chin and fixed the light, that’s it”. If your models ask, deny till the day you die that you had to do a lot of postproduction on them. Just minimize, if you have to. And never ever show them the original photo once you’ve edited it. You don’t want to shatter your models’ self-esteem, do you?

5. Take care of the environment.
Sometimes, you just can’t prevent all the unfitting stuff from being in your photo, even if you try your best with different angles and everything. In this case, just forget any guilt or qualms for covering that muddy hole in the grass, hiding that out-of-style trash been, killing the homeless man on the bench in the park or washing away that awful graffiti!

6. Combine different softwares.
While all softwares can do pretty much everything, you can try different ones to fix certain things. Personally, I shoot in RAW mode, so I take care of most of step one in Adobe Lightroom, which allows much more freedom than Photoshop’s Camera Raw, and then export it as a PSD and procede to retouch the rest in Photoshop.

7. Does the effect fit the image?Once everything is ok and you’re up to step two, be careful in choosing the additional effects you want to use. Textures, colour filters, black and white conversions, frames, writings and so on must be fitting, otherwise they would only look pointless. “Does this photo rely on colours to work? Or maybe on shadows and highlights? If I flatten the colours with black and white, of if I reduce the contrast, would it work well all the same? Does this texture valorize the features or rather cover them?” These are all good questions you should ask yourself in the second step.

8. Don’t overdo.
This is a piece of advice that works for both steps of postproduction, but particularly for the second. Even after you’ve found a suitable effect for your image, be careful not to overdo it. Many effects, such as highlighting a particular portion of the photo to emphasize the subject, work better the subtler they are. If the postproduction it soo heavy, it will only distract the viewer; on the contrary, if it is well balanced, it will act as a subliminar reminder pointing the attention to the right spots without the viewer even noticing it.

9. Always work on full resolution photos and save your PSD files.
The first part is obvious: working on full size images is easier and allows you to do an overall better retouch; I always resize the photos into web size once everything is done. As for the second part, you might want to edit something else you didn’t notice once the photo is saved to .jpg or .png format, or simply try and improve your editing after your skills grow. Rather than doing everything all over again, it’s better to have a PSD file with all your previous work totally editable. Also, try to use layers and masks as much as you can: the advantage is that you can undo whatever part of what you did whenever you want, even the smallest parts.

10. Be gentle with watermarks.
We all know some people steal others’ artworks, but let’s face it: if you want to be 100% sure your work won’t be stolen, then just keep it on your hard drive. If you publish your work on the internet, it’s because you want other people to see it, right? Then, what can they see if you put a big fat watermark on the most interesting parts? Too big watermarks would only spoil your work and distract the viewer from what you wanted to show. Again, it’s a personal choice, but I’d rather risk a theft while showing my work at its best than scar it. So, my advice is: let your name be clearly readable, but keep it mild and in some corner. After all, if thieves whant to steal, they’ll remove your watermark anyway.

Well, now you know everything you should and are ready ro go out there and rock. Just unleash your creativity and bring out your cameras!

1 comment:

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