DA’s 10 Good Habits for Post Processing with Potatochop

DigitalArtist Twin Screen Colour Calibration Chart

DA’s 10 Good Habits for Post Processing with Potatochop

by  Yusuf Hashim a.k.a. Digitalartist

Continuing with my 10 good habits series, here is another surge of inspiration from the Throne Room, done this morning with my cute new Asus eePC Netbook, connected by WiFi to my home Network. This one is about some good habits to develop for efficient Post Processing (PP) in Potatochop. I love my Asus eePC Netbook

1. Learn to use, and do as much of your Pre Processing in a Metadata processor like Lightroom, Aperture or ACR (Adobe Camera RAW).. Metadata Processors are non destructive, quick and efficient, and your processing instructions can be applied to batches of files shot under similar lighting circumstances. Unlike Photoshop proper, which edits a picture at the pixel level, a metadata processor does not actually change your files. They simply record your PP instructions and apply them to your file only when the file is exported. The thumbnail shows what the edited picture looks like, including your cropping, but the original RAW file or Digital Negative is still intact and unchanged on your hard disk, even though the thumbnails show the changes you have applied. Your processing instructions are saved, and it is a simple process to apply those instructions to other files, thus saving you a lot of time batch processing groups of pictures shot under similar shooting environment. This is a boon for proes like Wedding Photographers who often need to work quickly. And you can also add, or remove the PP instructions when applying them to other files. The screen shot below is my Lightroom Metadata processor. If you squint, you’ll notice that I have 223,704 pictures cataloged & keyworded in Lightroom. Lightroom’s quick develop module is accessed simply by clicking the word Develop at the top.

BTW, with a Photo Library of >220,000 mostly RAW images stored in 12 x 1 Tb online & Offline HDDs , a catalog of nearly 30 Gigs, and about 10,000 keywords, Lightroom is frustratingly slow in its image search & keywording function. I’m presently using 64 bit Windows XP with 8 Gigs RAM. I wonder if anybody has this kind of Library Size in Aperture. I’d be interested to hear how Aperture performs.

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2.Sharpening should be done as the last step in your PP workflow because processing a sharpened image will accentuate artifacts. A useful trick to know is that immediately after applying sharpening, and before doing anything else, hit Edit/Fade on the Menu Bar and a Slider box will appear where you can Fade the sharpening you’ve done, in case it is too much. Shift+Left click on the image will enlarge the image, while Alt+ Left click will reduce it again. This is almost similar to reducing the opacity of any Layer

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3.Once your file is opened in Potatochop, the first thing to do is to hit Ctrl+J, which creates a duplicate layer of your original photo. Do all your changes on this duplicate layer. With the Background layer still intact, you can always return to it in case you get over-zealous in your post processing. In fact after all the post processing is applied to your duplicate layer, it is often a good technique to reduce the opacity gradually and let some of the original imperfections show through, so that your picture doesn’t appear over processed.

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4. Always do your adjustments on Adjustment Layers. This makes non destructive changes to the appearance of your file. Your original file remains unchanged, and with Adjustment Layers, you can always come back to them later, and make more changes, or remove the changes completely by switching off the adjustment layer’s visibility. When using Adjustment Layers, try and learn how to use Masks on Adjustment Layers. Its a powerful tool for removing/reducing/reinstating the effect of the Adjustment Layer. Black ink with the Brush will wipe away the effect of the Mask. White ink will restore it again.
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5. Learn to use Shortcuts and memorize Shortcut Commands to speed up your work. Ctrl+J for instance, is the shortcut for making a new Layer via copy, which is the same as clicking Layer/New/Layer via Copy. You can see the shortcuts for specific commands when you access commands from the menu bar. It is very helpful if you locate all the shortcuts in the Help section, and print a hard copy of the summary for easy reference. You can see most of Adobe’s Shortcuts HERE
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6. After post processing an image, it is always a good habit to maintain 3 copies of your file. The first is the original unchanged RAW file which is your Digital Negative. Store this file in a separate external HDD, which becomes your Backup Drive. Store the second file which is the processed PSD file, complete with all Layers intact, into your Working HDD. By keeping the original PSD file intact, you can always come back to the file if you need to make adjustments, or if you want to output a file for specific use, such as printing, or for the web. You can make your PSD workfile file smaller by converting it into an Adobe Smart Object. The third file is your fully post processed file, which has been converted into its final format such as JPG, or Tiff or PNG etc.

7. Learn how to create and use Photoshop Actions. They are a very powerful tool for saving and automating a series of complex processing steps. A search result for Actions on Adobe Help yielded THIS.

8. Develop and adhere to a consistent digital workflow. Your images library will be better organized and it will be easier to find your image files. Everybody’s Workflow is different but mine is as follows:-

i) Shoot in RAW all the time. Although RAW files are bigger, memory media is cheap. RAW gives you the best starting file for image manipulation.

ii) After shooting, import the RAW files into your workdisk as Adobe DNG files. DNG is an open standard and can make your RAW files slightly smaller. Save the original RAW files in its native format into a separate external HDD which you can treat as your backup. A one Terrabyte HDD today is only around RM300, so you shouldn’t worry too much about space.

iii) When you import, rename your files in a consistent manner. Use the Year-Month-Date-Original Filename system, such as 20100109_IMG1985.Dng
This system lets you search for files very quickly.

9. Calibrate your monitor, not once but periodically. Ideally you should use Hardware based calibrators like the SpyderPro illustrated below. If you are using Photoshop CS2 or earlier, you can use the Adobe Gamma Utility to calibrate your monitor. This software based calibration tool used to be automatically loaded into your computer when you install Adobe Photoshop CS2 and earlier versions of Photoshop.However, Adobe Gamma is no longer included in Photoshop versions after CS2 because of compatibility issues with Windows Vista.

10. Use a double monitor set up. I have 3 monitors on my workdesk. With LCDs being so cheap these days, a double monitor set up is an extremely affordable option. Its such a pleasant experience not to have a cluttered screen. I just bought another Dell 24 inch LCD for only RM615. That’s only about the cost of an average seafood dinner for a family these days. My twin 22 inch Sony Trinitron CRT Monitor 4 years ago cost nearly RM4,000 EACH. So in my book, today’s LCDs are extremely cheap (if you dont go for the Eizo, that is). But for us amateurs, a Dell 24 inch LCD is quite adequate. Here’s what my humble 3 monitor set up looks like. I also use a Wacom Intuos 12 inch Tablet, a wireless keyboard and a wireless mouse, for Potatochopping. The Asus eePC Netbook is for WiFi in the Throne Room where I’m writing this article.

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When trying to calibrate a double monitor set up, it is often useful to have a colour chart that spans both monitors. The Gretag Macbeth colour chart cost a shocking RM1000, so I decided to create my own, shown below. PhotoSafari Alumini members can  send me an email if they want a free  5MB copy of this chart for your own personal use only

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In use this chart is placed across your two monitors and it helps in ensuring that both monitors output the same colours. For a quick check of your monitor, look at the stepped grey scale bars. If your monitor is properly calibrated, you should be able to see ALL the shades . I’ve uploaded a rather large version of my colour chart here so that you can easily see the stepped bars for a quick and dirty check of your monitor. My original chart is about 100 MB in size, but the more practical JPG version is about 5 MB.

Colour spaces is often an intriguing subject for newbies. If you shoot in digital, you’d be well advised to google colour and read and understand as much as you can about it. If you are lazy, here’s a suggested (colour) regimen to follow when shooting in digital.

If your camera can capture in RAW, shoot in RAW format.

If post processing turns you off and you’d rather go partying, and you want a ready served JPG file, then at least shoot in simultaneous RAW and a JPG format. That way, when you download your files, you will still have the option to save the RAW files of those frames that you regard as special and have the potential for future post processing.

Set your in-camera colour space to the widest gamut colour space available in your camera firmware. That’ll be either Prophoto RGB or Adobe RGB. The rationale is that you’ll ensure all your captured images begin life with a proverbial widest colour space spoon in its mouth. If you then have that once in a lifetime shot, at least you’ll have the optimum file to start working on if you wanted to.

If and when you post process images, work in 16 bit and use the widest gamut colour space available, which would be ProPhoto RGB or Adobe RGB. This ensures that you are working at the optimum image quality settings available. The downside to this is that your working files will be fatter, and if you have only an ancient computer, the processing time will be noticeably slower.

If your images are intended for the internet or kapchai 3R printing at the corner kedai cuci gambar, when you finish post processing, convert your JPG output file to the sRGB colour space, but keep your archive files in ProPhoto RGB or Adobe RGB colour space, and save in Tiff, Photoshop PSD, or if you are using a metadata processor like Lightroom or Aperture, keep the original RAW or DNG format. Hard Disks and storage space are cheap, but nothing is more frustrating that to go through your archives 20 years later when you are ready to produce your first photography book, and you find that all those unrepeatable digital images you have in your DVDs or HDDs, are only miserable 150K JPG images in sRGB colour space. I know this feeling well, because I have some really great digital images shot with a Sony Mavica 18 years ago when I first rode my bike to China. My frustration is that 60 digital images sit in one 1.44 MB floppy Disk. And I have dozens of those floppy disks in my bottom drawer. I’m sure some of you still remember what a floppy disk is? We have moved on since then. Discard your floppy disk mentality.

After converting your output files into sRGB, its a good habit to recheck the onscreen colour and readjust colours further where necessary. When a wide colour space image in , say, Pro Photo RGB, is forced into a smaller colour space, the out of gamut colours converted by the computer are usually quite dull. You will need to run the file through another sequence of at least Levels and Curves. If they are still dull, then you’ll have to open aHue and Saturation Adjustment layer and boost the Hues and Luminence.

Lastly, do take the time and trouble to colour calibrate your monitors.

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  1. Merlin Kinningham

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