Over the last few weeks I’ve been involved with three different conversations with photographers about when to crop a photo in post processing. One person suggested cropping at the beginning of the process, one suggested cropping at the end and the other just wasn’t sure.
I tend to crop differently depending on what software I’m using. The cropping process in Lightroom is different than in Photoshop because of the way they handle your image files. Let me explain:
When using Lightroom or Aperture, I can crop at any point in the process without really worrying about the workflow. The reason why is that all of the edits in LR/Aperture are applied globally and the crop doesn’t affect these settings. If you crop the image at the beginning of the process and then continue editing the image with saturation, contrast and noise reduction, then LR/Aperture allow you to change the crop later on while still applying all your settings to the entire photo.
In other words, crop instructions in LR and Aperture are only a virtual crops. They don’t really remove pixels or image data from the file. For this reason, I often crop at the beginning of the process in LR/Aperture because I know it can be easily changed or reversed.
The workflow in Photoshop is different though. When you crop an image in Photoshop, you are actually eliminating pixels from the picture. Let’s say that you decide to initially crop your photo in a square format, then convert it to black and white. Then, you do some more work on the photo such as cloning out dust or adding contrast. Finally, at the end of the editing process, you decide that you also want to create a 5×7 image with the same settings as the square crop. With Photoshop, you can’t easily to this because you cropped at the beginning. You’ll have to undo all your editing steps, crop it as a 5×7, then re-do all the editing steps. Therefore, in Photoshop, I recommend cropping at the end of the process. That way, all of your edits are in place and you can crop for output as your final step.
Take the image below as a workflow example. Notice the blown-out area of the sky in the upper right corner? I know that this isn’t going to reproduce well when printed, so I’ll need to crop it out. The question isn’t if, but when I should crop. In the Lightroom/Aperture workflow, it doesn’t matter when I crop. I can crop at the beginning or at the end of the process since all the edits I make are just instructions.
On the other hand, if I was working on the image in Photoshop, I tend to wait to the end of the process to crop. That way, my edits are applied to all the pixels, and my final step can be to crop the image for my desired output. This gives me the most flexibility with my files, since I might want to make one image as a panorama and another as a 4″x4″ square with the same settings.
Nik just announced the new version of Color Efex Pro 4.0. It is a wonderful upgrade to their current software and allows using multiple filters at one time.
Here’s the link: http://www.niksoftware.com/colorefexpro/usa/index.php?
There are many plugins and special software products designed to help you enhance your photographs. I use a lot of them and think they are extremely helpful for our digital workflow. However, I hear from lots of people that they don’t want to use all the fancy software. Rather, they just want something simple they can use to make their photographs look better.
One of the most widely available tools in photo software is the curves control. In fact, just about every piece of modern imaging software includes a curves control. Using the curve is simple and doesn’t require much knowledge to quickly improve the look of an image. The fundamental purpose of the curve is to adjust brightness and contrast. Since most images need just a hint of extra contrast in order to pop from the page, doing this with a curve is sometimes the fastest way to improve the photo.
To activate a curve in Photoshop, add an adjustment layer or simply type CMD/CTRL + M on your keyboard. In Lightroom 3, go to the develop pane and adjust the curve from there. With Nikon Capture NX2, add a New Step, then choose Select Adjustment –> Brightness/Contrast –> Curves.
When the curve starts out, it will be a straight line. Your goal is to make the darks (shadows) just a bit darker while simultaneously making the brights (highlights) just a bit lighter. You do this by making an S-Curve like I show in the examples below.
The lower left part of the curve adjusts the shadows and the upper right part of the curve adjusts the highlights. If you move any section of the curve down (below the diagonal line), it will make that brightness darker. The same, but opposite is true if you move any section of the curve up (above the diagonal line).
Moving the lower left portion down (darker) and the upper right portion up (brighter) adds contrast to your image. You are effectively making the darks, darker and the brights, brighter.
Here’s one more example on an old barn door just to make it clear.
Yes, that’s right. Convert JPG to RAW.
In my workshops, I show how it is possible to do this using Nikon Capture NX2 as well other software packages such as Lightroom and Aperture. I want to state up front that what I describe here isn’t truly creating a RAW file from a JPG. Rather, it is converting the JPG into a file that allows you to make nondestructive changes to it. Fundamentally, what you are doing is taking a JPG, which is a lossy file format, and bringing it into a new architecture that makes it a lossless format.
After you convert the JPG into a RAW, it still remains at 8-bits per color channel, versus 12 bit, 14 bit or 16 bit per color channel for RAW files. Also, even though this conversion doesn’t allow all the flexibility of RAW files such as white balance, it is still a worthwhile process because you’ll be able to make all kinds of changes to the image without recompressing it each time you save your changes.
How it Works
I use Nikon Capture NX2 and Adobe Lightroom in my workflow, so I’ll talk about both of them here.
In the case of Nikon Capture NX2, open up a JPG photo that was taken by any camera. Make any changes you want to it such as New Steps, Color Control Points, Hue, Saturation, Nik Color Efex Pro filters or anything else. Then, save the file as a NEF/NRW. The acronym NEF stands for Nikon Electronic Format and NRW stands for Nikon Raw.
This action takes the JPG and then writes the settings into an instruction set that only Nikon Capture NX2 can read. If you open the image in Nikon Capture NX2 in the future, then you can change or modify all the adjustments previously make inside NX2. If you want to remove an adjustment or even perhaps convert the image to black and white, then you simply make those changes with no detrimental effects on the image. After you are finished working on the image, if you save it again as a NEF, then the save is nondestructive. You don’t degrade the original JPG image because you are actually just saving instructions for Capture NX2 to read.
Lightroom (and Aperture) work in a similar, but slightly different way. If you import a JPG image into Lightroom, then make a bunch of changes, it saves the instruction set with the original JPG as a sidecar file. This sidecar is called an XMP file and all the instructions are encoded here for future use in Lightroom.
What I described above does not apply to Photoshop. For example, let’s say you open a JPG in Photoshop and make changes to it. If you save that JPG over itself, then the changes are applied directly to the file AND you will recompress the data. Therefore, this action is a “lossy” save and will degrade your image (albeit slightly) over time. My recommendation for working in Photoshop is to use the Save As command so you keep your original JPG untouched.
One more point I want to make here regarding this idea of converting your JPG into a “RAW” file. This conversion is only visible inside the original host program. In other words, if you convert your JPG into a NEF inside Nikon Capture NX2, then try to open your new NEF inside Lightroom, you won’t see any of your NX2 changes. This is because Lightroom uses different instruction sets than NX2. In fact, neither program can use the other program’s instructions. Kind of a bummer, but that’s the current reality.
Our July 2010 newsletter is posted. This month our topics are:
– June GOAL Assignment: Light Throughout the Day
– July GOAL Assignment: 50 Photos Within 10 Feet
– Digital Tidbits: Lightroom 3 Great Features
– Book Review: Adobe Photoshop CS5 for Photographers
– Workshop Updates