Post-processing walkthrough: European Robin

Post-processing is the final step in the creation of an image. It is the point where the photo truly comes to life, and it often separates artists from journalists.

One major point to note is that image correction is not the same as image manipulation. The former relates to the minor adjustment of brightness, colors, sharpness, and contrast, whereas manipulation is the addition to or removal of objects from the picture. Neither correction nor manipulation is completely avoidable. However, it is always best to keep both to a minimum whenever possible. On that note, let’s jump right into the processing of this European Robin image.

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This is the RAW image that was captured by the camera. No adjustments have been made to this image and it represents what the camera saw at the time of image capture. However, what the camera sees always differs from what our eyes see, which is what makes post-processing such a vital part of image presentation.

Before we begin our processing workflow, it is important to look at what needs to be corrected. In this image, the Robin is a touch underexposed and, as is always the case with RAW files, the colors are slightly flat.

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These are the default editing tools available in Adobe Lightroom and they usually form the bulk of the image correction that is needed for a well-exposed RAW file.

I generally start by correcting the white balance and the vibrancy of the image.

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White balance, in a nutshell, is how warm (orange) or cool (blue) the image is. In this case, the white balance set by the camera is 5350 Kelvin. At this setting, the image appears a little cool, so I increased the white balance to around 5900 Kelvin to make the image warmer and to eliminate the blue cast. The camera nailed the tint – the amount of greens and pinks – so I did not adjust that setting.

At first sight, the colors looked slightly dull, so I increased the vibrancy by +14.

The second step is to adjust the exposure and contrast of the image.

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Exposure controls the brightness of the image. In this case, I’ve dragged the slider by +0.63, which is the proper exposure for the bird.

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Next, I added a bit of contrast for some much-needed ‘pop’. The Robin was perched on a tree with lovely white flowers, and they occupy most of the background in this image. As I previously increased the brightness of the scene, the flowers became slightly over-exposed. In order to compensate for the over-exposure, I shifted the highlights slider to the left by 72 points, and the whites slider to -37. This ensures that the flowers remain properly exposed while maintaining the right exposure for the bird. I also shifted the shadows slider to the right, increasing the brightness of the branch the bird is perched on, while I introduced some additional contrast by increasing the blacks level by 15 points.

At this point, the image is looking pretty good and there is just one adjustment that is better performed in Adobe Photoshop.

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There are a couple of distractions in the image, highlighted by the red circles. They can be easily eliminated by Photoshop’s clone stamp and spot-healing brush tools.

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I also reduced the image size to 2048 pixels on the long end for web use. Always apply sharpening to the image after, not before, downsizing to maximize the effect of the sharpening tool.

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The final step is the addition of a watermark to prevent/discourage image theft.

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That’s the end of my processing workflow for this image. It’s a pretty significant change from the RAW image straight out of the camera to the final edited version, but keep in mind that it is a combination of various minor adjustments and corrections that led to the huge difference between the original and the edited photo, not just a few major changes.

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