Without Post-processing Wizardry

If you spend time on social media today, you’ll quickly discover loads of information about post-processing and its importance. If you’re new to photography, it can be intimidating especially if you’re still developing these skills. It’s easy to believe that, unless you’re already a wizard at post-processing, you may never get a great shot.

This is far from the truth. Post-processing IS essential… but having limited post-processing skills will NOT necessarily keep you from creating a stunning image.

While I was leading a workshop in Nicaragua, I experimented with this idea. My class included some first-time students. While exploring the beautiful Mombacho Rainforest, I instructed them to use two specific camera settings in an attempt to capture the scene without much post-processing… or to at least make the camera’s Live View match up to what they were seeing in real life.

  • The first of these two settings was white balance. We were obviously in a forest region… and it was an overcast day with typical thin layer of clouds that always hangs around Mombacho. I instructed my students to set their white balance to Cloudy or somewhere between Cloudy and Daylight. With just that one simple setting, the colors matched up pretty closely between the camera’s Live View and what was really around us.
  • The second setting was exposure. I instructed them to adjust the exposure based on the histogram (again using Live View). Their goal was to match up the histogram with the scene they saw in front of them. As they worked with the histogram, their images progressed until they looked very similar to real life.
  • One caveat they had to deal with was the occasional spots of light that were peeking through the trees. Because these bright spots create highlighted areas in need of adjustment, I suggested that they simply use composition to minimize the amount of bright light.
Mumbacho Volcano, Nicaragua

Image 1: Final post-processed photo

Image 1 (above) is my post-processed shot. Image 2 (below) is the image that came straight from the camera. How much post-processing do you think I did between the original shot and the finished product?

Mumbacho Volcano, Nicaragua

Image 2: Straight from the camera

Most of the adjusted parameters were limited to the basic tab of Adobe RAW Converter. I also worked with the Tone Curve settings… I selected medium contrast curve instead of linear curve. These basic adjustments allowed me to create a photo with slightly higher contrast and richer colors. In Photoshop, the only function I used was cloning… I cloned out some of the dead leaves from the middle of the path. As you can see… very minimal processing.

Mumbacho RAW Conversion

Image 3: Adobe Camera RAW Settings

So remember… although you DO need to be a wizard at post-processing at some point, having limited post-processing skills does not necessarily keep you from creating a stunning photo. It’s important to be aware that a minimal amount of post-processing can produce great shots.