This is not a rule book, and who knows if this advice is even sound (I'm hoping one of you readers will let me know), but in my recent more in-depth exploration of photo editing I've found that these steps can produce some pretty cool results.
I'm hoping this post will shed some light on what buttons and sliders do what, and how to achieve more vibrant and compelling photos. *Keep in mind - every photo you bring into your post production workflow will need a different touch.* With that, here are the steps I took to achieve the look I wanted on a photo taken on my recent trip to Washington D.C.
*Downloadable raw sample image can be found at the end of this post.*
I use the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite for editing, more-so their proprietary program for editing Canon raw files, Camera Raw.
First step in my (I want to emphasize my) photo editing workflow is adjusting exposure, highlights and whites. Sometimes in your hurry to capture a moment the technicalities of shooting in manual mode fall by the wayside and exposure adjustments need to be made in post, no shame in that. You'll notice for this photo (Step 1.) I bumped up the exposure, while bringing down the highlights and whites as to not completely blow out the detail in the brighter parts of the image.
*Keep in mind - adjusting your exposure to higher levels can introduce unwanted noise and "artifacting" into your image, so don't push them too far.*
After increasing the exposure you'll notice in the histogram (the colorful thing in the top right) that your low end (on the left of the histogram) is nowhere near where true black should be, which is to the far left. Which leads us to the next step, adjusting blacks, shadows, and contrast.
Shooting in raw (as opposed to jpeg) will give you far more information to play with in post. This gives you the ability to push your shadows higher while still retaining detail and minimizing noise, revealing details in the image that would otherwise go unnoticed with simple contrast adjustments (pay attention to the jacket).
Pushing your shadows up will leave the blacks looking washed out, so bring your blacks down (up on the slider) until you're happy with how the darker parts of your image look. Then play with the "Contrast" slider to give the image a little extra punch if you'd like.
In this next step (Step 3) you'll notice the "Clarity" slider being pushed. In all honesty I have no idea what Camera Raw is doing in the background but I know it looks awesome, just don't over-do it.
*Keep in mind - every adjustment you make affects the previous ones, so adjust the other values accordingly. Which is why you'll see the Shadows, Blacks, Highlights, and Whites all being moved in this step.*
In the icon tabs under the histogram you'll find an icon that has three alternating grayscale gradients. This is used to single out certain hues in the image to adjust them to your liking. In this case I thought Matt's skin tones looked a little orange, so I played with the red and orange sliders in the "Hue" tab until I got something I thought looked alright.
Finishing up in camera raw I'll add a little sharpness as well as noise reduction, found in the tab with the two triangles. 50 in the "Amount" box (Sharpening) and 30 in the Luminance box (Noise Reduction) seemed to be the sweet spot for this image.
If you're like me, you like the slight faded "VSCO" type of aesthetic. And that brings us into Photoshop. Click "Open Image" and it'll take you in.
Add a "Curves" layer, put a point in the middle of the diagonal line, then another between your middle point and the bottom, then crush the hell out of it till it's uncomfortably ugly. In this case I put another point in the top half to keep the highlights relatively even as to not lose the detail.
Last, add another curves layer on top of the one we just created, add your middle point, and grab the existing very bottom point and push it up slowly until you get the wanted fade effect. Again, every adjustment affects the previous ones so you'll probably be switching between your curves layers for a bit until you're happy.
*Note - If you want to give your photo a bit of tint you can select Red, Green or Blue under the "RGB" tab on your second curves layer and take the bottom most point and push it up for the desired effect.*
And that's that, my post production workflow, try it out and if you've got any questions feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email. Thanks for coming by and don't forget to subscribe for future content!