21.2 POST PROCESSING: PART I – THE INGESTION PROCESS
In the digital realm the work that takes place after recording images in the camera is perhaps neither fully understood nor appreciated. Readers should find this outline of post-processing a useful introduction.
The Digital Realm
For the casual photographer digital photography has certainly unlocked it’s mystique over the last decade. The idea that anyone can take perfectly decent images with a mobile phone does not exactly enhance the status or need for professional photographers. Publishers, advertisers and magazine editors fully understand and appreciate that excellent photography is not quite as easy as it looks. This article will hopefully provide some basic information on the process that takes place after digital images have been recorded on the SIM memory card up to the time they are prepared for final processing in Photoshop. There are countless books on the topic available but for a full explanation you may wish to refer to The Dam Book: Digital Asset Management for Photographers by Peter Krogh and published by O’Reilly.
Tools and Creativity
I always like to be reminded:
“Architectural Photography does require some specialized equipment but the art of photography primarily depends upon the artistic ability and skill of the photographer. Excellent tools are just that – they allow the artist to deliver even more excellent images. But make no mistake there is no substitute for the creative eye of the artist”.
Before beginning I should mention that post-processing techniques are not enshrined in a fixed doctrine and are subject to many variables depending upon the software and hardware involved. I will try to keep the explanation as generic as I can but basically I am using RAW image files with Hasselblad’s Focus software by Hasselblad and Photoshop by Adobe.
The process begins by transferring the RAW images from the camera’s SIM memory card in the form of data to be processed and backed up before manipulating the final images. It is important to implant metadata into all images at the earliest opportunity that confirms details on the ownership and copyright of the images including technical information such as camera, aperture and shutter speed. It is also worth applying keywords in the IPTC Keywords field for all the images in the group that you want to have embedded metadata locked into the images. At this point the images are ready to begin processing.
Another very important first step is the file naming structure. When I create a folder I name it: date and project name – 20140510_Cornerstone_ƒ and then within this a series of subfolders for 3FR, fff, Output with subfolders PSD, Print and Web. This is an excellent file naming structure since all projects will line up in date sequence on your computer desktop and this makes it very easy to find projects.
The Ingestion Process
Usually RAW files need to be ingested into the specific software being used to process. In Hasselblad’s Phocus the RAW images are stored as ‘3FR’ files on SIM memory cards and once these are imported they become, by a process of ingestion, ‘fff’ files that allow the photographer to make basic adjustments to the image. If shooting tethered then images are downloaded directly to your laptop in the ‘fff’ format.
The first step to prepare images includes dust spot removal, preliminary sharpening and a focus check at 100% magnification [no point spending time on images that are not in focus]. Once the basic adjustments have been made it is a good idea to take a good long look at all the images taken to determine which ones should be developed further. On a typical one-day shoot I would make approximately 200 images so that it is necessary to have a systematic processing for eliminating and refining these to say 20 images to be processed further. In Phocus there are two methods for flagging images to assist with post-processing: colors and stars. My IAA rating is red = trash, yellow = unrated and green = outtakes. I use the stars in Phocus for assigning priorities to the images – *= fair images, **= better images of a shoot, ***= best images, ****= best of a collection and ***** = reserved for publication. It is really worth developing your own systematic method as this will save you tons of hours wasting time looking for images. The rule of thumb is one day processing for each day of photography.
Once all the basics are in place it is now time to make final adjustments to images. Depending on the software being used, most will allow an analysis of the histogram that will inform the photographer’s decision to adjust light levels, contrast, shadow fill, highlight recovery, clarity or to use the Curves feature. Phocus has excellent color correction, noise and moiré removal features. After all the basic adjustments have been made and the appropriate stars applied to the images it is time to export the images as 16-bit tiffs for final tweaking in Photoshop.