Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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I love photography; I hate postprocessing.

Seeing that I am an amateur, not just by virtue of not getting paid for it, but also being rather new to the whole affair, I already am used to most of my shots just not being that great. While reading blogs and websites I get the impression that condensing ~100 frames in maybe a handful of shareworthy photos is not rare.

But even so, after a vacation quite a few photos have accrued. What is a common workflow to sort, post-process and share photographs for a beginner? What are common postprocessing steps? What kind of automations do people use?


Edit: I phrased the question generically so that it can be of use to as many people as possible. But I understand that without anything to go by, it might be a bit hard to answer. Therefore, while I own no paid-for software, this is what I use:

  • I have an EOS 500D crop camera as picture source and
  • I use RawTherapee for development,
  • GIMP for any touching up I need to do. (Which is not much, so far.)
  • DigiKam (in a VM) is my photo catalog.
  • My destination is my Flickr stream for the most part, sometimes I send photos directly to family and friends.

On the input side, I mostly am in practice mode; shooting whatever I can place in front of my lens. I have not yet picked a specialty. I would like to minimize time spent fine-tuning photos in software. These sort of "batch processes" are a part I realize is important, but not much fun to me.

I am quite computer-literate, so I am not afraid of piecing together tools that can be of use, but the more "OOTB" this can be, the more people who don't spend their life in front of a PC can benefit too. :) If spending money on something will make my life easier, I am quite willing to consider it. However as photography does not bring any income, something as large as Photoshop (for example) is somewhat hard to justify as an investment.

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2  
What makes you think there's a typical work flow? :) It might be useful to know what tools you have, such as Lightroom or iPhoto, etc. –  John Cavan Jan 26 at 19:13
1  
Laws of large numbers. :) They make it likely that there are archetypical steps/flows for nonprofessional photographs. In the spirit of StackExchange I tried to keep the question somewhat generic. I will add some details about my own tools/gear. –  Cornelius Jan 26 at 23:25
    
There is no typical amateur workflow just as there is not a typical professional workflow. My workflow changes depending on the subject matter, the volume of images, and the turnaround time required. I think you will find most amateurs who own no expensive post-processing tools such as LR, PS, or CS shoot straight to jpeg and use the images SOOC. I think most amateurs who save files in a RAW format probably own one or more of those tools that you consider too large an expense. –  Michael Clark Jan 27 at 0:46
    
What is a typical post processing you do with most of your images? –  Jakub Jan 27 at 3:17
    
@MichaelClark Well if 600+ EUR is not a large investment, I am not sure which software would qualify. I did say PS, afterall, not LR. –  Cornelius Jan 27 at 7:57

5 Answers 5

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Really, the workflow shouldn't be that different between a serious amateur and a professional. If anything, professionals need to be the most efficient because of how many photos they take and how often they take them.

The first trick is to reduce the number of photos you have to look at. I take a quick pass through all my photos. I rapidly mark photos that are completely unacceptable for deletion and rate the remaining photos on a 1 to 5 scale based on the content (focus, composition, etc) rather than development settings (as long as they are within the range that can be fixed).

I mark average photos as 3, photos that have minor issues as 2s and photos that capture important things but have significant issues as 1s. On the other side, I label photos that came out better than average, but not quite outstanding as 4 and label the best of the best as 5.

After making my rating pass, I start triaging the images based on how much time I have available. I start with 5s and work down. First I make basic color corrections to however many images I feel like working on. This is generally a bulk process applied to multiple images at the same time to get white balance and exposure settings close, but not exact. This works well if you take multiple photos at the same place under similar lighting conditions.

In the next pass, which may not hit all the photos from my previous pass, I start and make detailed color and exposure corrections. I fix cropping issues in either this step or the previous depending on my mood.

Finally, I make a pass and do detailed touch up work on any photos from the 5s that I think particularly would benefit from it. I don't even always do this last step, but when I do it is usually very few of the images that get that level of treatment.

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To minimize the need for post processing it is best to get everything right in the camera. Beyond that, post processing can mean adjusting levels, sharpness or spending days working an image to achieve ones artistic vision.

If you want to spend as little time as possible on your computer you could try Google Picasa; it reads most raw files, has simple intuitive non-destructive editing capabilities, a solid organizer and allows for quick exporting and the sharing your images. It is possible to install some plugin, if I remember correctly there used to be a plugin that allowed for direct uploading of your photos to Flickr.

If you want to "kick it up a notch" I would recommend a Photoshop Lighroom which has some very sophisticated professional-level processing and editing tools, library and exporting features. Flickr publishing service is a deafault feature and most available plugins support Lighroom. Of course if you have or want to use photoshop for some intense work is can be nicely integrated with Lightroom and its library.

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Shoot your photos in both jpgs and cr2 (or raw). If the photo is ok, just copy your jpg in a work folder, where all shareworthy images reside. If the photo is under or overexposed or has other problems (red eyes, luminance noise, boring colors, wrong composition and so on) take your raw file in photoshop and start correcting things. At the end, save all your corrected files in another folder, so they'll be internet compatible. I'm thinking about a medium resolution with 72 DPI, 1500 px wide (if orientation is in landscape mode) and 80% jpeg compression. This can be a good starting point. Change parameters at your leisure.

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9  
DPI is meaningless in a purely digital environment. It only matters when scanning or printing a physical copy, in which case 72 is terribly low for a photo. –  Norman Lee Jan 26 at 19:00

My workflow is typically as follows:

a) Rate pictures. I'm using the following initial rating system. 1 - to be deleted 2 - keep but not good enough for publishing 3 - Good enough.

b) Then I start work on 3 rated pictures. This will involve cropping, white balance, saturation, dust removal etc. Usually some pictures move to rating 2 in this phase.

c) review 2 rated pictures to see if I've missed some really good ones. Do step b on these pictures.

When I'm happy with the selection I convert the files to .jpg and publish.

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Here's my basic flow:

  1. Upload to computer
  2. Deletions - I suggest being heavy-handed with deletions, since having too many photos is a waste of time, and only a few of your images will be of lasting quality.
  3. Select the best to edit - don't waste time on the mediocre shots
  4. Exposure and White Balance fixes - use Adobe Camera Raw or the GIMP equivalent. You want neutral color and usually a centered histogram. PS these fixes can be quite nondestructive (and powerful) if you shot in a RAW format.
  5. Crop and Distort - By distort, I mean you can add some vertical/horizontal skew to the photo to make some objects relatively bigger/smaller.
  6. Photo-specific edits - Here's where you just have to be an artist and know what you're doing. Sharpening, dodging/burning, skin smoothing, HDR-effects, split-toning, saturation, etc.
  7. Output sharpening
  8. Publish (Flickr, printing, etc)
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