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Can someone here please recommend a book or literature on photo editing/post production?

Mind you, I am not looking for lessons on how to use Photoshop or any kind of software. I can learn to use software by myself, there are manuals for that. What I'm looking for are basic and advanced notions on WHAT to do with a photo and WHY. For example, I would like to have a clue on how to edit RAW files. I do that, but I often don't really know what I'm doing. Or sometimes I apply some filter that improves the photo, but I don't really understand how. If I were to do the same by myself, I wouldn't know where to start, and it's not because I can't use the software, it's because I know very little about light, contrast and color adjustment. One of the programs I like to use is LightZone, but it's full of buttons, sliders and tweaks that I don't understand. I can tweak them at random until I get some kind of result I like, but the big annoyance for me is that I don't know what I am doing.

Books and web pages on that will be very welcome.

closed as off-topic by mattdm, Caleb, Philip Kendall, Hugo, TFuto Jan 15 '16 at 14:12

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There are a number of solid Lightroom- and Photoshop-specific resources online, but you're correct in that they tend to introduce specific features of the software rather than why and when to use each feature for aesthetic effect.

Although I'll recommend some resources that help with the latter, I think anyone reading this should learn both. The notion of what to do and when to use a tool becomes pretty intuitive after you've tried each of the adjustments a few times, seen what they do to a photo, and understood how they will help you achieve your artistic vision, if any. It's ultimately down to your personal opinion whether something should or shouldn't be done to a photo, and to suggest that there is a "proper" way to post-process is grossly oversimplifying the issue.

With all that said, I think Gavin Hoey's videos are great for learning at the intermediate level; he goes through entire photo shoots from concept to capture to post-production. You may also want to watch some photo critiques such as Scott Kelby's, where he makes adjustments to the images while explaining why each step enhances the photo.

  • OK, let me rephrase my request a little bit. First off, I completely disagree that aesthetics cannot be taught. If you're one of those who leave everything to subjectivity, we will never agree. I believe that the intention of a concept may be anyone's choice, but the means to achieve it not so much. One would be a fool to ignore certain rules or techniques. "Artistic expression" is a poor excuse for uneducated choices far too often. – user47818 Jan 11 '16 at 15:02
  • Second, there are technical aspects that cannot be subjective. For example, XnView has an "Automatic Levels" command. On some photos, it changes the prevailing hue considerably. On others, it seems to add a bit of a rosy tint. On others, it does nothing at all. Why? What is it doing exactly and how does that affect some colors? There is also an "Automatic Contrast" feature that can also affect hues, not only contrast. Why? That is not subjective. The software has to be doing something specific, even if it employs fuzzy logic. I can't seriously edit RAW without understanding things like that. – user47818 Jan 11 '16 at 15:04
  • Currently being edited. – James May Jan 12 '16 at 4:02
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    I now understand better what you're asking. When you said you were fine with the "how," I thought that included learning not just "how" to flip the switches, but also "how" each switch works in a technical sense. For example, if you use auto levels in PS, you should know that there are 4 algorithms that basically move the black/white/color clipping points until different measures of contrast are highest. Whether you prefer full-contrast to the "lifted blacks" popular on Instagram etc. is a personal decision. Another eg: HDR can be subtle or exaggerated, depending on your taste/lack thereof. – James May Jan 12 '16 at 4:14
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    On that note, I didn't have one authoritative source when I learned the basics of image editing, but try photoshopessentials.com and earthboundlight.com/phototip-archives.html – James May Jan 12 '16 at 4:15