Processing … processing

From time to time I mention “post-processing”. This would more accurately be called “post shooting processing” because it is done after the picture is shot. For me it is only a ‘sometimes’ thing; often no more than turning the contrast up to compensate for a cloudy day, for example. For some people (and not just users of the RAW format) it is where the picture is made, as they go for that “other worldly” look. In any case it is easy to get stuck in it, to overdo it, and to lose track of what you’ve done. Step 1, even if there are no other steps you intend doing, is to make a copy of your original and keep it safe from accidental modification or deletion.

So here are some examples of what you can do with a picture and some pre-set modification processes using the software GIMP 2.8. It took me a while to find some simple subjects that responded significantly and yet not horribly to the changes. First up is the ‘straight’ shot, followed by ‘Normalize’, ‘Colour Enhance’, ‘White Balance’, and finally ‘Equalize’. They all give interesting variations on the original shot, and you can argue among yourselves whether any are better or worse or whether the series as a whole is the art and not any one image from it.

The Nissan Series:

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There’s almost no difference between the straight shot and the ‘Normalize’ image, indicating the original was pretty spot-on in terms of shooting. ‘Colour Enhance’ pushes and pulls the tones to extremes, giving the chrome a golden touch. ‘White Balance’ brings up the highlights and makes the chrome look more like chrome (this is my preferred version in this series). ‘Equalize’ takes every variation in shade and makes it stand out, giving the appearance of a vehicle that’s been left too long to the weather.

Now let’s go to the Red Door series for some real fun:

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The ‘Normalize’ image is the most accurate to how the scene actually looks; it manages to overcome the effects of the shade without making a mess of the colour. ‘Colour Enhance’ evidently thinks all barns are red! ‘White Balance’ is looking for tones that aren’t there, and the effect is like digital paint stripper; you can clearly see all the textures beneath. ‘Equalize’ again goes to the extreme, putting in colours that just aren’t there as it tries to cope with an essentially monochromatic image. Although ‘Normalize’ is the most accurate rendition here, I rather like the way ‘White Balance’ strips away the colour to show the texture.

This is all fast processing, done with preset functions within the program. If you have too much time to kill you can adjust all sorts of things in software – to the point where you might spend the rest of your life working on just one picture. Or perhaps making thousands of variations of it. How do you avoid this trap? By doing some experimentation; Start with one good, ‘balanced’ image to see what the effects of changing things are, and how you like them. You may find that a 30% alteration of anything is as much as your aesthetic sense can stand, for example. Or that there are some variations which simply aren’t to your taste at all: there are a host of filters I’ve looked at once and never gone back to again – they just aren’t ‘me’.

This is why I continually emphasize that getting what you envision out of the camera to begin with is best. Flipping a colour photo into B&W is one thing; spending hours tweaking every last aspect of the data is quite another. It doesn’t hurt to try various effects, but you don’t have to do it with every photo. In fact you shouldn’t.

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