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How To: Digitally Improve Your Travel Photos (Part 2)

by September 2011 - last edited January 2013 by Moderator

In part one of this series, we looked at the basics of travel photography post-production. This time we're going to explore RAW processing and simple post-production of JPEGs. It's obviously a huge, complex topic but this is just a simple guide and introduction to how to improve your pictures on a computer.

 

Software

If your camera has the ability to shoot RAWs then it should come bundled with some basic software that allows you to open and make simple edits to your photos. Whilst it will usually be somewhat limited, you can often achieve very good results.

 

You may well decide that you want to supplement the bundled RAW processing software with something a bit more sophisticated. iPhoto, the bundled picture management for Mac OSX can read and make simple edits to many cameras' RAW formats. It also has the advantage of being fully integrated into the system, so the processed RAWs can be available in many other programs and even on your iPhone.

Another option that works on both Mac and PC is the free Google Picasa. This can process RAWs from some of the more common cameras, so check to see if yours is one of them. Picasa is not great, but it does have being completely free in its favour.

The most well known of the image programs is Abode Photoshop. This uses the Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) plug-in to process RAWs. Photoshop can be prohibitively expensive for amateur photographers, but there is a very good alternative. Photoshop Elements is about a tenth of the price and comes with a cut-down version of ACR that is perfectly adequate for the majority of users. If you have a lot of images to manage then consider Adobe Lightroom which is essentially an image management program, with RAW processing built-in.

There are, of course, many other options for RAW processing and imaging. Some are free, others charge a nominal cost. It's worth experimenting and seeing which is right for you.

 

Image formats

There are essentially three image formats that you need to consider, and it helps to know a bit about them. More sophisticated cameras will allow you to shoot in RAW or JPEG. Simpler cameras will just shoot JPEGs.

 

RAW is a high quality format, which offers a great deal of flexibility for adjustment and even recovery of poor exposures. It will need post-processing though to create a finished image. A JPEG is a finished picture, but all extraneous information has been deleted and the image file compressed. This is a lossy process: you lose information every time you edit and save the image.

 

If you shoot a sunset with the White Balance on auto, it will often take out much of the warmth. You can warm up the image and increase the vibrance (saturation) in RAW processing

If you shoot a sunset with the White Balance on auto, it will often take out much of the warmth. You can warm up the image and increase the vibrance (saturation) in RAW processing © Steve Davey

 

There is nothing wrong with saving a high quality JPEG once you've finished editing the image, but if you make a lot of different corrections to a JPEG the quality will start to deteriorate. I always export RAW files to the lossless TIFF format, and if your camera shoots JPEGs, convert them to a TIFF file before you start editing them. A TIFF is a full resolution file, which can have some compression, but it won't lose image quality like a JPEG does.

I always keep a master file of a full resolution TIFF file, and then create lower quality JPEGs to upload onto social media sites, or send to friends.

This approach will take up more space on your computer, but space is cheap these days and there's no point in throwing away quality from image files, especially after you've paid for a more sophisticated camera to record it in the first place.

 

RAW processing workflow

Most software will offer a plethora of options for RAW processing, but it's possible to achieve a profound effect with only a few commands. These are the commands found on Adobe programs, but you will find equivalents on all programs, although the names may be slightly different.

 

 

It is far easier to remove colour casts caused by artificial light in RAW processing than working with a JPEG as there is a colour temperature slider and no loss of quality

It is far easier to remove colour casts caused by artificial light in RAW processing than working with a JPEG as there is a colour temperature slider and no loss of quality © Steve Davey

 

1. Adjust the white balance using the colour Temperature slider.

2. Adjust the tones using the Blacks (shadows) and Exposure (highlights) sliders.

3. Adjust the midtones, using the Brightness slider.

4. If necessary, recover highlights that are still too light using the Recovery slider and lighted shadows using the Fill Light slider.

5. Slightly increase or decrease the Vibrance (or Saturation) slider.

6. Tweak the White Balance, as the other commands might affect this slightly.

 

If there are harsh shadows and you don't use fill-in flash, you can improve the image using the Fill Light slider to give an improved, yet natural shot © Steve Davey

If there are harsh shadows and you don't use fill-in flash, you can improve the image using the Fill Light slider whilst RAW processing to give an improved, yet natural shot © Steve Davey

 

If you are not confident with these edits, then you can try the Auto White Balance and Auto Tone commands, either as a starting point, or just to have the software's best guess for your image.

 

Post-processing JPEGs

If you're shooting JPEGs you can still improve the image although you won't be able to do as much, or achieve as good a result as if you were shooting RAWs.

 

Although the commands will probably be called something different, you should follow a similar workflow for editing JPEGs as that above for processing RAW files. You will often find many of the tone functions under the Levels command.

 

Mont St Michel. Even subtle changes can have a profound effect. Here the vibrance and contrast has been increased, and the white balance warmed slight to give a more pleasing image

Mont St Michel. Even subtle changes can have a profound effect. Here the vibrance and contrast has been increased, and the white balance warmed slight to give a more pleasing image

 

Programs aimed at JPEGs will usually have a range of auto-correction functions, and semi automatic functions, such as those for straightening horizons, cropping and functions for removing the red-eye effect, caused by using a direct flash.

Header shot: Rio de Janeiro - the coolness of this shot has been enhanced in post production for creative effect, by altering the white balance.

Steve Davey runs a range of London-based courses and international tours to help everyone to improve their travel photography. More information on www.bettertravelphotography.com.


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