After the Shot

Back in the olden days with film cameras, once we had finished the 24 exposures on the roll of film, the process would be something like this: 

  • Send the canister off the to one-hour prints place
  • Wait
  • Look at prints
  • Choose all, or most, to be included in the album.  Assuming there was an album, otherwise just file them in the shoebox with all the other photos.

With digital the process is more of less the same, but a lot more immediate and somewhat more hands-on.  This article gives a general overview of the components of post processing.  We will look at some aspects in more detail in separate posts.

The digital process is something like this:

  • Load the images from the camera onto your computer
  • Look at them on the screen
  • Choose one or two for sharing on Twitbook
  • Forget about the rest.

So not a lot has changed.  Or has it?

The biggest difference is that we are no longer sending the photos out to someone else to do the processing.  The skill of processing or developing the images is something we do ourselves with software rather than chemicals.

First we need some software to manage all this post-processing.  We need a program that will help us keep track of all our photos in a library or catalogue (aka asset management), allow us to tweak and edit the photos, and have a facility to output the finished results in the format we want - prints, book, Instagram, etc.

Here are just a few programs worth mentioning:  

On Apple, Aperture used to be it, but has been discontinued in favour of the Photos app.  I've never used either (not being much of an Apple person).  The Photos app lost some of the functionality Aperture had, but is easy to use.  It is aimed at average Joe photographer.  As far as I know it is free and built into OS X.

On Apple or Windows, Adobe Lightroom is the product almost everyone is using.  As an Adobe product, is builds on the Photoshop heritage and services to be a both a catalogue to manage your photos and a tool to edit them.  You can buy the latest version of Lightroom for about £100/$150.  Or you can subscribe to what Adobe calls the Creative Cloud Photography package and get Lightroom and Photoshop for less than £10 per month.  The latter option is better value for money because you get two pieces of software, and they are always up to date with the latest version.  (As I write this, I've just seen a pop-up notifying me that updates are ready to be installed for Lightroom and Photoshop.  Coincidence?)

A new-ish product that is attracting the attention of professional photographers is Capture One Pro from PhaseOne.  The pedigree of Capture One stems from very high end pro cameras and services.  Not resting on those laurels though, the software is well respected and has all the features you'd expect.  With a price tag of over £200/$300, it is perhaps more suited to those who get paid regularly for their photographic work. 

What about the software that came with your camera?  I encourage you to try it.  But be prepared to be frustrated and/or confused.

What about mobile / iPad apps?  Yes, there certainly are a lot of good, useful apps, but consider the storage of all your photos over time, and you will likely need several different apps to do all the functions involved. 

I'm going to base the rest of this article on Lightroom because that's what I know and use.  Lightroom also seems to the most pervasive application for photo management and editing.  While I've not worked with Photos or Capture One, I am fairly sure you could do all I describe below using them.

Now that we have the software, we use it to copy the images off the memory card onto your computer.  One of the most important features of this step is that the software will rename the files while it is copying them.  Instead of filenames like "IMG00137" I get the software to change it to the date and time the photo was taken in the format YYYYMMDD_HHMMSS.  And it creates a new folder for every day, similarly named.  This means that even without the software, I can get to specific images.  I know I went on holiday to Rome in October 2011, so I'll know where to find those photos easily, both on the computer's disk, and in the Lightroom catalogue.  Also, I could be shooting with multiple cameras which may have different naming and internal numbering.  This approach of using the date-time ensures all photos appear chronologically. 

Lightroom Import function copies the photos into folders by year and by date, and renames the files with the date and time.  The first file here was taken on 4th January 2016, at 5:50 am. The last four digits are from the camera's internal numbering.  Can you see some are in the 2000-range while others are in the 5000-range?  Two different cameras.

Lightroom Import function copies the photos into folders by year and by date, and renames the files with the date and time.  The first file here was taken on 4th January 2016, at 5:50 am. The last four digits are from the camera's internal numbering.  Can you see some are in the 2000-range while others are in the 5000-range?  Two different cameras.

One of the great and terrible things about digital over film is that we generate a gazillion more image than before, and the vast majority are useless.  But that's okay.  Using the software we can flick through the images quickly, and mark each one as a "yes", "no", or "maybe".  In Lightroom, I tag my usable images with the Flag as Pick (pressing the P key), and the really bad ones I'll never use I'll Flag as Rejected (pressing the X key).  This is just a rough selection in order to bring the number of images down to a reasonable, workable amount.

Once I have filtered so that I only see the Picks, I go into the Develop module in Lightroom and make each photo acceptable for public viewing.  This probably means cropping the image, tweaking the exposure, contrast and vibrancy, and attempting to clean up any digital noise from higher ISO settings.  Of course there is a lot of other lightening, darking, colouring, sharpening and effects one can do, but that's a subject for another time.  Many of these "tweaks" are analogous to developing film in a darkroom.

When all the photos are edited to my satisfaction, I'll go back into the Library module and give keywords to each of the photos.  So if it's a photo of a gull at sunrise, I'll tag the image with keywords that include the specific type of gull, the place, and "sunrise".  This will help me in future to find any "sunrise" photos.  Or photos of a "Lesser Black Backed Gull".  The search facility in Lightroom is powerful, and I could even ask for photos taken with my 50mm lens, in 2014, of a sunset.

Also during this round, I may also apply a star rating to some images.  One star meaning it's quite a good photo that could be printed, all the way up to five stars that will win me awards, accolades and earn me much money.  I don't have many 5-star photos.

Depending on the event, I sometimes also use colour tags to group photos.  Red for bride and groom, yellow for ceremony, blue for reception, green for guests.... or something like that.

An important thing to note about Lightroom and some other photo editing applications is that they are non-destructive.  This means that they do not apply all your editing changes directly into the photo file you Imported.  Rather, they store these changes elsewhere and merge them on screen.  So if you want to use the image (with your changes) outside of Lightroom you need to Export it.  

Exporting saves a new file - a copy of your photo - with the changes applied.  You also get the option to choose the format (eg: JPG) and size of the image. Size in important.  How many times have you received an image from someone else and it is either tiny and blocky, or way too large to view comfortably on your screen.

As a rough guide:
If your image is to be printed, then use TIFF or JPG with no compression; do not resize; and use 300dpi.
If your image is going onto the Internet, then use JPG format with a compression factor of about 7 or 8; resize the Longest Edge to between 800 and 1200px; and set the dpi to 72.

What does all this mean?  In essence, when printing you should have as much information in the file as possible.  But on the web, smaller files are better an optimal setting is adequate.  Don't worry about this now.  Just remember that you read about it here, and at some point in the future when you are actively Exporting your images come back here and review these suggestions.  You are always more than welcome to ask me for advice for your specific requirements.  Use the Comments below, or drop me a personal note using the Contact button.

Lightroom (and some of the other applications) also have features to create books, print directly to your printer, or make slideshows.  Topics for another day...

We've not mentioned Photoshop at all.  Surely editing photos is synonymous with 'Shopping?  Lightroom was born out of Photoshop, so all the photo-specific functions are there, and presented in a way that flows with the normal tweaking of photos.  It is rare that I will open an image in Photoshop.  I only go there when I need heavy lifting.  One example, I did a family group shot with 14 bodies ranging from 2 to 86.  Of course no-one was posing at the same time as anyone else, so I fired off many shots, and then in Photoshop afterwards I merged smiling faces from several of the photos into one image, so it seems everyone was behaving and paying attention to the camera.  It took hours.

In summary then, After the Shot requires some software to manage all the images you have ever taken, as well as being able to crop, correct exposure, tweak contrast and colour balance, and clean up noise.  The process has steps for

  • Importing all the images and renaming them to the date-time the photo was taken;
  • Selecting the "good" ones;
  • Developing or Editing each of the selected images;
  • Categorising the images so they can be found easily in the future;
  • Exporting in a format that is appropriate for the specific use.

The great thing about the software is that it allows you to perform all these steps in minutes, and you get to apply your own artistic touch in the "Developing" stage too. 

Find out more about Lightroom and the Adobe Creative Cloud here:

Apple Photos:

Capture One:

Last word:
Perhaps the most important thing here is not the editing of your photos.  Rather it is securing all your photos in a common storage so that you can find individual photos and appreciate them.  And of course having a backup for when your laptop dies.  But that's another topic.