Picture Perfect - Basic Post Processing Workshop

A few helpful tips on post processing to make a good picture really pop.

Yesterday we showed you a few simple tips to help you take better pictures and today we’d like to give you a few tips on how to make a good picture better in post processing. As the terms suggest, post processing is the cleaning and enhancing of images to make them ready to use for high quality print, web publishing or just look great on your mantel place. In this workshop, we’ll be using Adobe Photoshop to show you Step-by-Step guides to various techniques to quickly and seamlessly enhance portraits, landscapes and indoor product shots.

When you shoot a product, even with a white background, the backdrop isn’t always appealing, which is why cut-outs are used. The idea with cut-outs is to get only a product without its jarred background so that you can place the product onto a fresh white backdrop or another background of your choice.

Picture Perfect - Basic Post Processing Workshop

Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Open the image in Adobe Photoshop, zoom in to it (100%), and select the pen tool from the tool bar on the left. Create a digital trace along the edges of the product, we’ve used a laptop for illustration.
Step 2: Look for the edge of the product that runs in a straight line, and click on it to create your first node. Instead of creating multiple nodes, go to the end of this straight line and click to create the second node. Ensure that the line joining these two nodes matches the edge of the laptop.
Step 3: If the line doesn’t match, click in the middle of the line to add a new node. Hold down the [Ctrl] key and drag this new node to adjust the line. The same technique is used for curves.

Tip: Use the [Ctrl] key whenever you would like to re-position or adjust a node. To delete a node, click on it and hit [Delete].

Step 4: When you come across a curve or a protrusion, click on the last node in the row, and click on the other end of the curve to create a new node. You notice a line running across the curve, where part of the product is falling out of the trail. Here, use Step 3 to bend the line and match it with the curve.
Step 5: Now click on the last node to continue the trail along the edges. When you are nearing completion, at the starting point (the first node), you’ll notice a tiny circle next to the pen. Click on the starting point to close the loop. You’ve just created a cut-out path for the laptop.
Step 6: Now, go to the side panel, select the tab ‘path’, double-click on the work path, rename it, and save the file.
Step 7: Press [Ctrl] + [Shift] and click on the renamed path to activate the cut-out selection. Now press [Ctrl] + J to duplicate this selection to a new layer with a transparent background. Press [Ctrl] + [Shift] + N to turn this into a new layer and click OK.

Tip: Since the cut-out path gets saved along with the file, you can re-open the file and start from Step 7, if an error occurs.

Step 8: In the side panel, switch to the ‘Layers’ tab, and press [Shift] + F5 (you’ll be prompted) to fill this layer with ‘White’. The canvas will turn completely white. From the menu bar, go to Layer | Arrange | Send to back. You now have the laptop with a clean white background. Go to file | Save as, and save the file as a PSD (default).

Tip: At this stage if you want this laptop on another background, import the background (File | Open | background file). Revert to the saved laptop document, right-click on the cut-out layer, and select ‘duplicate layer’. Here, in the ‘destination’ drop down menu, select the document that contains your background image, and click ‘OK’.
Retouching and enhancing images is perhaps the most common practice in photography. Be it for product or glamour photography, all images are cleaned before they get published. Using the stamping tool is a very quick way when there is very little correction to be done. But what really makes a huge difference is the layer masking technique (especially for human faces).

Let’s look at each of them Step-wise.
Step 1: The clone stamping tool is useful for removing tiny marks, such as a finger print or stain, but it is tedious task when making major corrections. To use it, select the tool, push the [Alt] key and click on a clean area close to the mark. Then release the [Alt] key and paste the cloned portion onto the mark.
Step 2: When cleaning images with uniform colors, the spot healing brush tool is even more effective. It quickly and automatically cleans tiny spots. All you have to do is use it as an eraser.

Tip: If you’re looking to smoothen the skin texture, layer masking along with gaussian blur can prove to be magical.

Step 3: To use layer masking, first let’s duplicate the original image and turn it into a new layer. Press [Crtl] + J or go to Layer | Duplicate layer.
Step 4: Go to Filter | Blur, and select gaussian blur. Keep the pixel count at 5.
Step 5: Select the blurred layer, go to Layer | Layer Mask, and select ‘Hide all’. In the side panel, next to the blurred layer, you’ll notice a black (masked) layer. This layer acts like a coin under paper (original image), so when you shade it with a pencil, you get the impression of it.
Step 6: To reveal parts of the blurred layer, which is underneath the original image, select white from the color palette and the paint brush from the tool bar, and start painting the marks on the original image. You’ll see the blurred layer partly surfacing, which makes the marks magically disappear, hence giving the face a smooth texture.
Step 7: Do this carefully so that the details and sharpness are not lost, especially close to the nose and eyes. You can even control the opacity to give a more realistic look to the picture.

Tip: In case the blurring goes out of proportion, you can reverse the painting by switching to black (to retrieve parts of the original image).

Step 8: To give a more vibrant look to a face or to tone it down a bit, press [Ctrl] + [Shift] + I and adjust the tones accordingly. You can also change the brightness and contrast level by using Curves. Simply press [Ctrl] + M to get the option on screen.
Step 9: To flatten the image before saving it, go to Layer and select Flatten image. Now, to Image | Mode | CMYK and click Ok when prompted for conversion.
Step 10: Finally, save the file as TIF if it is for print, or JPEG for the web.

Artificial DOF (Depth of Field)
Layer masking along with gaussian blur can be helpful in achieving artificial depth of field. The only addition would be that you’ll have to change the pixel count of the gaussian blur for different areas of the picture. The area in full focus remains sharpest (unchanged). As you move away from the focus point, you increase the pixel count for gaussian blur. For instance, in the closest area you can keep it at 2 pixels, and the most distant object can be blurred with about 5 or more pixels. It entirely depends on the perspective and how the image is shot.

Printing booklets
We checked with a couple of photo studios in Mumbai for printing prices. The starting price for a 10-page (20 sides) photo-booklet of 6 x 6 (inches) dimensions is approximately Rs 500 (the better the quality, the higher the price). Studios even take up printing jobs for pamphlets, brochures, etc, which can cost less because the pages could be fewer and they are usually printed in bulk. Also, in this case, you can ask for discounts of up to 10 percent.

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