Lately I've found that I can usually capture the image the way I envision it as far as exposure and composition but I begin to flail around in getting it from RAW file or negative/transparency to final output. I look at what other photographers are doing and can identify aspects of the photos I like (changing exposure/contrast/color/saturation/sharpness/DR/WB/etc) but I'm having a problem translating those things to my photographs at a high level. And by that I mean I know how to twiddle a slider in any given app but just increasing contrast or just desaturating doesn't do it, there is some interplay between these adjustments or reason why they were used that create the style and thats what I'm missing.

I'm finding that most books or websites in this area come in one of two flavors:

1) A compilation of all the features/sliders/toggles of a particular program and what they each do which is irrelevant to this particular line of question


2) A compilation of looks or styles and how to accomplish them using a particular program but get bogged down in how to accomplish them with that software instead of why the adjustments are being made which is the cart leading the horse.

It might sound like it but I'm not looking for a book on color theory or the emotional impact of different whatever on the viewer :) I'm looking more for something that discusses why it seems like desaturation is often coupled with lightened exposure and a blue shift in WB? And what other groupings of adjustments work well together independent of what software/hardware your doing it with or on.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The thing is, most of that is software-specific. Even going from, say, Lightroom 3 to 4 changes the way the sliders work and interact. There's no fundamental reason why decreasing saturation should cause overall lightening or a WB shift; it depends on the specific method/algorithm used. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Sep 8, 2012 at 6:31
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Exactly, I agree there is no fundamental reason that it has to happen but it seems to be a 'thematic element' in desaturated photos. It seems that many styles are each based on a group of adjustments for that style, what are they and why? If we grabbed 100 of each group desaturated photos or 'cool' photos or B&W photos or high contrast photos I bet we'd see common processing elements... \$\endgroup\$
    – Shizam
    Sep 8, 2012 at 22:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to clarify, you are looking for a text or website that explains why some algorithms in different software have certain traits in common? My initial idea would be that what works well was also implemented by the next guy, perhaps using the very same base algorithm. Some effects try to mimic what occurs when using different analogue developing techniques, so there might be a chemistry answer in the history to some things you are thinking about. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alendri
    Sep 8, 2012 at 23:26
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Alendri Nah I'm not looking for the base algorithms software uses, I'm looking at the 'recipes' one would go into creating these looks independent of what software you're doing it with. And by that I mean: LR, PS, Aperture, GIMP, etc all have similar tools to accomplish a goal so instead of discussing how you'd do it in that software, how would you do it in general? \$\endgroup\$
    – Shizam
    Sep 9, 2012 at 0:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Shizam: If you are looking for the artistic, stylistic reasons behind why certain techniques are used, I am not sure you are going to find what your looking for in a general sense. I've often looked for the same thing, but producing a subjective resource like that is difficult, which is probably why it doesn't exist (at least, not the way you and I would prefer it to). To exemplify...there are many professional photographers that I admire that have the ability to produce this sublime "look and feel" or style to their photographs that I just LOVE. I've searched for years for an explanation... \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Sep 9, 2012 at 3:44

1 Answer 1


I feel your pain. Far from being in situation that I can always achieve in file what I have in mind (and went to hell of reading and researching similar to yours) I got to the state where I'd say that only way to master postprocessing is spending hours and hours of experimenting. Nothing beats the experience and practice, eh?

Having that in mind, couple of things might be useful:

  • Always use the same software. As Stan said, they differ from version to version (let alone among different software) so try to keep one until you have a firm grip on the things.
  • Use the same monitor as well.
  • Take one image and torture it for days. Yes, it is boring some times, but then you'll see all the possibilities. And, with a bit of practice, it won't be boring anymore as so many doors will open to you. Not only that you will find the ways to get what you want, you'll find new styles that you've never thought about before.
  • Write everything you do. People who started photography back in analog days remember too well that each shot taken was followed by taking out a small notebook and writing down every parameter of the image. (Blessed be the EXIF files!) Sure you will save different versions of file you work on, but make sure that you also write down what you tried to achieve. You'll thank yourself for this diary one day.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.