Before you begin post Processing digital images, you must calibrate your computer’s monitor! There are no exceptions! If you don’t calibrate your monitor, the colors and exposures in your final image will not be accurate. Companies such as Color Vision and Colormunki make excellent calibration software. I personally own Color Vision’s Spyder Elite 3 software.
Post processing digital images – I use Adobe PhotoShop CS6 for all my image editing and workflow, plus I use PhotoShop CS6 Bridge for my cataloging, filing and sorting of all my images. There are other companies that also perform these tasks pretty much with the same results, including ACDC, Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Elements (very similar to PhotoShop CS, but much cheaper, around $100.), Aperture, and IView, to name a few. This is just a matter of personal preference.
Camera RAW – First thing to do when post processing digital images is to open your image in your chosen camera RAW converter software. I use PhotoShop Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). Make Exposure, White Balance, Color Adjustments, etc., until you’re happy with the results. Adobe Elements opens in RAW automatically, as does PhotoShop, once you’ve checked off that box in the Preferences dialog box.
PhotoShop – Then open the image in PhotoShop (or another program) and select Image>Duplicate. Once the dupe image opens, close out the original image so as to save it in its’ original form by clicking on “No” when it asks you if you want to save the changes to the original. This is an important step! (Elements automatically saves your original).Then click on Image>Adjustments>Shadow/Highlights on the duplicate image.
Here are the default settings I use for Shadows/Highlights that seem to work 90% of the time:
Shadows: Amount 50% Tonal Width 19% Radius 300 pix
Highlights: Amount 22% Tonal width 50% Radius 101 pix
Adjustments: Color Correction +20
Midtone contrast 0
Black clip 0.01%
White clip 0.01%
In Elements 6, click on Enhance>Adjust Lighting>Shadow/Highlights, move sliders to suit your tastes.
Then adjust Contrast, Brightness, Cropping, Saturation, etc., to your liking. (In Elements , click on Enhance>Adjust Lighting or Adjust Color> gives you contrast, brightness, and saturation adjustments). Cropping the image is basically the same in either Photoshop or Elements.
Once you’re happy with the final result, give it a name and save it as a TIFF file. Do not sharpen this file yet. Each output (internet, digital slide show, or printing) will require a different amount of sharpening. Each time you wish to use the image for either the internet, digital slide programs, or final printing, for example, simply open the file , create a duplicate (click Image>Duplicate), give it a name and close out the original TIFF with no changes to preserve it. Now you can work on the dupe without working on the original RAW image or the revised TIFF.
Image Sizing – After you decide how and where you want to use the image, open the duplicate TIFF image in your editing software, and re-size as needed (such as for the internet).
For the internet, click on Image>Mode>8 bit. Then click on EDIT> Convert To Profile>Destination Space Profile>sRGB IEC61966-2.1>OK. .).(In Elements, click on Edit>Color Settings>Allow me to chose.). Then click on IMAGE>Image Size>Resolution>72 Pixels>then set the pixels to 800 pixels or less on the longest side, for a nice size for viewing on the internet. Photoshop also has a “save for web” dialog box to automate your settings for saving as a jpeg for the web, and is a time saver.
Sharpening to output – Now you can open Filter>Sharpen> Smart Sharpen and adjust sharpening to suit. I set amount to somewhere around 50-70% usually, with the Radius set to 1 pixel and set to: Remove Lens blur. (In Elements, go to Enhance>Adjust Sharpness). Once this is all accomplished, and you’re happy with the overall look of the image, save it as a smaller resolution file (JPEG), anywhere from 100 pixels to 800 pixels on the long side total (at around or below 500 KB’s resolution), so it loads quicker for fast viewing on the internet.
Re-sizing for a digital slide show is very similar to the internet, except that the sizes will be different in that for the slide show, the resolution will be set at 100 dpi, with pixels on the width of the image not to exceed 1024 pixels (most current digital projector’s native resolution), while the height should not exceed 768 pixels. This is the standard settings for most digital projectors. Sharpen basically just like you did for the internet, then save as a JPEG in sRGB at 8 bits and maximum resolution. Basically, these numbers and settings are good starting points for both the internet and digital slide shows, and normally your own settings will fall within these suggested numbers. Sometimes you’ll need to tweak the settings even more, but that is quite normal to have to do.
For actually printing your images, again make another duplicate image from your original TIFF file, close out the original TIFF, open Image>Size>, set dpi to somewhere between 200 and 360 dpi (normally 240 or 300 dpi for prints). Leave the Adobe RGB setting for color space, and set the bit setting to 8 bits. This will produce the best color rendition and clarity in your final print. After you set the resolution and the actual size of the print in inches you’ve chosen, open the Smart Sharpen dialog box and view the image at 100% on the monitor, then sharpen until the final image looks good and sharp without any sharpening “halos” around the main subject. Sharpening for printing is a completely different animal, in that the image will require even more sharpening, sometimes going as far as 2 or 3 on the Radius, and 200-250% on the Amount. When you’re happy with the image, click “O.K.”, then save again (“Save As”) using the final size and given name in the title (such as “Great Gray Owl Portrait, 11”x14”) as a TIFF so that it is easily found later on when you decide to either print it yourself (another workshop!), or have someone else print it for you. I put all my final print TIFFs in a separate folder in the computer and on external hard drives named TIFF PRINTS where I can easily find them later on.
Conclusion – I know this all sounds complicated, and to some extent it is, but once you’ve learned your image editing software and become familiar with it, you should be able to perform all these tasks in five minutes or less per image. As a final note, back up your images! Computer internal hard drives fail! External portable hard drives fail! All brands, all models! I have four external hard drives that redundantly contain all my images. I keep one hard drive out of the house in case of fire or theft. I back them up regularly. Besides, it’s one of the most inexpensive file storage systems you can buy. Today, a 500 gigabyte hard drive (thousands and thousands of images) of storage space costs around $100.