Today an understanding of Photoshop is as important as being able to use a camera.
Capturing a photograph in-camera is just the first stage of a process. Having downloaded it onto a computer, you have the choice, depending on your preferences, of doing no further work on it, or a small amount of editing, or changing it beyond recognition!
If you shoot RAW files, then a certain amount of Photoshop work is necessary to make the most of your images. This is not changing what is there, or adding or subtracting anything, but simply making the most of the photograph that you have taken.
There are 5 steps that I would recommend you do to each and every image you decide to keep. This post-processing is called 'workflow' and is a term you will see often in books and magazines. This article gives you a 5 point guide to a basic Photoshop workflow.
For this article, I have used Photoshop Elements 9, but almost any image software will include an equivalent way to do the same thing.
1. Check the Levels of the photograph To do this, click on Enhance→Adjust Lighting→Levels. A dialogue box will appear with a histogram. If the edges of the “black mountain” do not reach the edges of the graph, move the black and white sliders in until they do. Make sure the preview box is checked so that you can see whether or not you like these adjustments. You can also adjust the brightness of the mid-tones by using the middle slider.
2. Colour Variations This may be necessary if you didn’t set your white balance to the appropriate setting for your lighting conditions, or just because you’d like to warm up or cool down your photo. Click Enhance→Adjust Colour→Colour Variations. Eight little preview boxes will appear, showing the effect of increasing or decreasing red, green, or blue, as well as lightening or darkening. The amount of change can be controlled using the slider. Two larger boxes at the top of the window will show you the Before and After versions of your picture. If you don’t like the result, click on Reset Image and try again!
3. Colour Saturation You may like to use this if the colours in your photograph are a little flatter or duller than you’d wish them to be. Do use it with care though – if you over-saturate, it can look very obvious! Click on Enhance→Adjust Colour→Adjust Hue/Saturation. Use the middle slider (labelled Saturation) and move it to the right to increase saturation, or to the left to decrease it. Once again, make sure the preview box is checked so that you can see the effect of moving the slider.
4. Cleaning If you magnify your image and view it at 100%, you may see soft grey spots, which are especially visible in plain-coloured areas of the photo such as a blue sky. These are caused by dust on the sensor, and can easily be removed from the photograph using either the clone tool or the healing brush. At this stage, you can also decide whether to remove blemishes on petals, signs on buildings, or tourists from a piazza, depending on your personal preference!
5. Sharpening Unlike Tiffs or JPEGs, RAW files are not sharpened in the camera, and so they will appear a little soft. Once you’ve made all your other adjustments, you can sharpen the image by clicking on Enhance→Unsharp Mask. A dialogue box appears with 3 sliders. Everyone has their own preferred settings for these, but I would suggest a starting point of Amount: 130, Radius 1.5, and Threshold 2.
Sometimes just a small tweak of levels and colour can really lift an image from ordinary to great – so it’s really worth becoming familiar with these basic Photoshop steps!