A set-by-step process through the various stages of post-processing that the majority of my D800E colour images go through.
The RAW files are deliberately left very flat, and enhanced to make them fit alongside my film work, where saturation and contrast are highly distinctive characteristics. The tips here are a combination of various techniques I’ve used over the last few years, mainly from guidance in OnLandscape videos. The image chosen is recently processed work from my ‘Traces of Botany’ series, which is originally two files shot with a tilt-shift, blended together, for even more detail and a wider view. I’m pretty happy with the consistency of output with these steps, and feel that a bit of processing time reaps positive dividends, enhancing and elevating often relatively unprepossessing subjects.
Two RAW files in Bridge, after setting of black and white points in ACR (for D800E no capture sharpening at this stage):
Bridge->Photomerge (reposition: I normally use auto, but for shifted images with a PC-E, reposition is fine since nothing is changed apart from the part of the image projected by the lens onto the sensor)
CS6 Processing Steps:
1. Flatten, then duplicate background layer; trim; minimal retouching if really necessary (here, cloning out some of the ‘detritus’ around the edges of the frame with combination of cloning and healing brush).
2. Global enhancement/saturation of flat digital file:
On this new layer, change mode to Lab Colour from RGB, and pull in both a and b sliders to 40 and 215 at either end. Change back to RGB, but do not flatten. Adjust layer opacity to suit (here I set it to 60%, but only masked in the stems and leaves, to leave the soft background alone):
3. Luminosity Layers: Make a series of luminosity channels, covering Light Lights, through to Super Darks (following guidance in TK luminosity masks online tutorials). Make and select a mid-tones layer mask by subtracting light lights and dark darks from overall channel selection:
- Enhancement of mid-tones: New adjustment layer->Curves->Increase Contrast, using the selected channel mask. Usually I lower the opacity of this layer to about 30%, but for this image I left it at 100%, and worked on from there.
- Desaturation of darkest points: Make a selection from Super Darks luminosity channel, then open a new saturation layer, with -30 saturation and -40 lightness. Digital files often have the darker points on the curve far too saturated for my taste.
- Saturation: New adjustment layer->Saturation. Master Saturation increase +10, but work on the greens to “de-digitize” them (they’re standardly too yellow): Greens Hue+2, Saturation -5, Lightness -7.
- Colour Balance: Global contrast between cool of darks and warm lights. Shadows Cyan -5, Blue +5; Highlights Red +5, Yellow -15. Change the layer blend mode to luminosity so as not to affect the saturation any further in this step. For this image, makes things a lot brighter and warmer and makes the leaves stand out more:
8. Usually that’s where I leave things before sharpening. For this image I also added an extra duplicate background layer (Layer->Merge Visible), with blending mode set to Soft Light at 15% opacity. Added a very small amount of more contrast and luminosity to the scene:
- Duplicate Green channel
- Filter->Stylize->Find Edges
- Filter->Noise->Median 3px
- Image->Adjustments->Levels: pull in from left under end of curve slightly to enhance the edges
- Filter->Blur->Gaussian Blur 2.0
- Select as mask.
- Apply as mask over duplicate layer and invert mask
- Apply USM Sharpening 500/1/0
- Flatten, resize to output, and resharpen a duplicate layer at output size (a combo of USM at a lower level faded to 50% luminosity, along with a round of High Pass blended at soft light), with layer opacity adjusted to what I feel is right.
Only downsides to this process are 1) the time it takes (which I quite enjoy); 2) the file sizes (but storage is cheap these days, and they’re not in the same league as large format files!). Nothing that my 2-year-old Macbook Pro 15″ can’t handle with 16Gb RAM and an external hard drive.