Postprocessing: Robin’s approach

I do minimal post-processing and very quick edits for images used in articles published here and on my own blog. Strangely, many readers have asked me for my “secret sauce” that I apply to my images and requested for a video showing my usual post-processing routine. Before making that video, I asked for specific requests from my readers via a post on my own Facebook Page. Taking into consideration the numerous questions, I have made a short video.

A quick disclaimer: I am not associated with Capture One Pro, the only reason I am using this software is the efficiency of handling Olympus RAW files. I still prefer Olympus Viewer 3 to optimize my Olympus RAW files (color balance, sharpness/details, noise reduction, etc) but that software is just unbearably slow for anything practical. I found the Capture One Pro to work significantly faster than Olympus Viewer or Lightroom. You can see how short the previewing and processing time of Capture One software is in the video above.

Disclaimer #2: Let it never be said mingthein.com is not democratic even though one of us works for C1’s competitor 🙂 In all seriousness, workflow is a very personal and goal-oriented thing: depending on the task at hand, I might make one pass through PS, tether/convert in Phocus, use a combination of Autopano Pro and/or Helicon and PS, IG’s filters, LR mobile, or even Olympus SOOC JPEG. Best tool for the job as always… -MT

This is not a tutorial on post-processing techniques or a how-to-use-a-photo-editing-software video. I believe this is easily available with a simple search on the Internet, and I do not intend to repeat the same. Ming Thein also has an extensive, almost fail-proof approach to post-processing which you can find out about here. Instead I am taking a batch of fresh images from a recent street photography session in Pudu, Kuala Lumpur and show you my image curation process, and demonstrate my simple and straightforward post-processing steps to get the final images shown in this article. I keep my editing as minimal as I possibly can.

All images in this article were shot on an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and M.Zuiko lenses 45mm F1.8 or 25mm F1.8

To keep the video short, I intended to demonstrate 5 images only, but I thought it would be great to show my complete routine for a complete series of images used for an article in one video. I tried to answer as many questions as I possibly can in the video (eg. how to achieve incredibly sharp images while maintaining a visually pleasing look, how I process the colors in my images to look very natural etc.). If I had included all the questions in that video it would run for an absurd amount of time. Therefore, I will answer the remaining questions in the following list.

Matti Sulanto: How do you determine the overall tonality of each image and why you did what you did?

I generally like a lot of contrast in my images, that is just a personal preference. I will generally find subjects in good lighting (side, directional uneven light) to have distinct highlights and shadows within a single frame. In post-processing, I simply boost the contrast of the image to achieve the look that I want.

Rusty Trust: How you get that crystal crispness but natural looking sharpness and details in your images?

I never apply any additional sharpening (beyond the default sharpening of the software) to my images. The trick is simply shooting discipline. Make sure your focus is accurate. The images are sharp straight out of the camera. Even a slight miss-focus, will cause a permanent, irrecoverable loss of sharpness.

Soumya Mukherji: I too like the vibrant colors in your images without them looking over saturated. How did you achieve that?

An important lesson I have learned from my many years of post-processing is to not tinker with the color unnecessarily. I will adjust the white balance of my images (color temperature) and usually that alone is sufficient to achieve the color I find pleasing. Selectively adjusting different colors may achieve specific results (redder strawberries, or bluer skies) but it also will affect the overall balance of your images. I also rarely boost saturation of my images, especially when human subjects are present. Olympus files are also known to produce natural looking skin tones, which I find very easy to work with.

Low Soon Teong: What kind of monitor and how to choose the right type of computer to do the post processing? Windows or Mac?

I use an Acer E322Q 31.5 Inch Curved LCD monitor. I am running an aging AMD based PC (Octa-Core FX8350 on 16GB RAM). I will not go into the PC vs Mac argument, but I found my setup efficient for my needs.

Davin Boo: What are layers and how do u use them? How do u do a ‘preset’ and apply it to a number of photos at the same time?

I am sorry I do not use layers and I certainly do not have presets. I assess each image individually and process them accordingly. There is no one size fits all solution.

Bharathi Vengadasalam:  Want to know more about black and white processing, overall workflow, how you use gradient layers and masks and how to achieve your color tonality.

I don’t do a lot of black and white these days, but I do use the color filters to selectively darken or brighten certain regions in the image. It is important to have a lot of contrast to work with when shooting black and white to prevent flat and uninteresting looking image. I hope the video shows my overall workflow! I do not use gradients or masks, these are advanced steps that I do not need for my simple street images. And I hope I have answered the question on colors.

Paul Rodden:  If I focus on white and adjust my exposure to ‘0’, is that ‘white’, or ‘18% grey’ in the camera’s mind? I also notice that if I set White Balance manually, it gives me a ‘brighter’ white, rather than simply removing any color cast. Is adjusting the white balance, in this instance, the equivalent of removing the ‘18% grey’, so if I added around a stop, would that just overexpose the white, but still with a ‘grey’ cast, or give me ‘true white’?

It is true that the white balance engine (most cases, but not all) is calibrated to 18% grey instead of full white. However, I have never given it that much thought! I adjust my color balance instinctively and I do not claim that my images have accurate color representation. They have the color that I like and want to show. I prefer a little bit of warmth in my images, and I like my images to look natural and pleasing at the same time. There is no exact formula to achieve this, I just need to adjust the images on the go!

To Aaron Quinn who requested for demonstration of landscape, indoor and other variety of images, I shall have that in future videos.

Steve Hoge: A side by side comparison between Olympus Viewer 3 and Capture One Pro to show the differences, and does Olympus algorithms have some “secret sauce” based on their inside knowledge of the sensor and image pipeline that allowed them to render with extreme sharpness and local contrast that I didn’t see from other RAW processors?

The side by side comparison is a good idea, I may do that separately. I agree that Olympus has the secret sauce to achieve a special look that other software cannot quite get. The Capture One comes very close, and honestly I am happy with the results.

I hope you find the video useful. Do let me know what else you want me to cover (maybe how to process low light high ISO images?). I do not hold back when it comes to sharing and I hope that more and more people will find the joy in photography and be happy with their images.

The truth is there is no secret sauce. Simplicity and minimalism helps me accomplish the look in my images. Most importantly, get as close as you can to the final output while shooting in the field, especially when it comes to nailing your focus.

I believe in spending less time post-processing and spending more time shooting.

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We are also on Facebook and there is a curated reader Flickr pool.

Images and content copyright Robin Wong 2018 onwards. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. Guenter Rohde L. says:

    Hey Robin, glad I followed your advice, now checking routinely… Great approach and your additional recommendations for a simple but effective workflow. I like it a lot. Keeps the fun intact and liberates more for shooting. Very healthy concept for me. Looking forward to your further postings and images!!
    best, Guenter

  2. John Joyce says:

    This is seriously very good work (despite an otherwise admirable Confucian modesty).

    At what size have you successfully printed it?

    • Robin Wong says:

      The largest was somewhere almost as tall as I am (don’t the exact dimensions), so it was well over 5 feet in height (portrait orientation). Quality was still reasonably good, but printing is another universe which I am still not too well versed in.

  3. I thought I responded to the brightness query a few days ago but the post may not have succeeded. It had urls in there so maybe this website’s spam filters killed it. It appears Lightroom once had a brightness slider. This was in LR 3. I started using LR seriously from CC edition. SLR Lounge article has this to say about the old LR brightness slider:
    ———–
    The question I hear most often regarding the Basic Panel’s develop settings is, “What is the difference between Exposure vs Brightness, don’t they do the same thing?”

    While in general, both the Exposure and Brightness settings act to brighten or darken the exposure of an image, they both do it in a different manner.

    In short, exposure has a heavier bias to highlight tones, while Brightness has no bias and affects all tones equally. This means that adjusting Exposure will affect highlights more in brightening or darkening an image than Brightness.
    ———–

    • [Nothing in spam, just checked]

      Thanks for chiming in!

      Exposure should be nonlinear if correctly implemented.

    • Robin Wong says:

      Thanks Ananda for the help! Appreciate it.

      • No worries Robin and Ming Thein, You know you have my support and attention. By the way, I tested again. When I put a url into a reply here, press Post Comment, my web browser (Chrome on Windows 10) does the right thing and it appears to have submitted but somehow doesn’t appear on this website. It may not be into the spam folder but something just throws the response away.

        By the way, I have low experience printing but it seems to me that printing tech has advanced even more these years. The most important thing has always been “shot discipline” and getting the photo sharp. In the old days we would see fractal resizers to increase the number of pixels by enlarging a good image so that you get more dots per inch. They are still around but this week Topaz is advertising that they have this AI Gigapixel? where the program uses a lot of computation and artificial intelligence to generate an enlargement with more pixels than the original. I haven’t tried it, I don’t have a PC with that kind of grunt.

  4. Hi Robin, thanks so much for taking the time to do this – it is wonderful to see your signature look appear so simply! It is clear now that your interaction with the subjects and environment is where the magic lies – to marry light and human subjects in such a dynamic is a hard won skill.

    Your post-process is not a million miles from mine, but you are a little braver with both saturation and contrast, and it helps make the images eye-catching. I share your finding that with Olympus images a little warming helps, and that the default sharpening is about right. I use LR with an import process that gets me close to the SOOC jpegs, but prefer LR sharpening as I find it creates less smear and detail fattening (yes, pixel peeping!).

    I just have to work much more on the social interaction with subjects and that placement magic you seem to have!

    Thanks, Paul

  5. Can you tell me the equivalent slider of the C1 brightness to Lightroom? Thank you.

  6. Masaaki Takeda says:

    Thanks for nice video. One question please. What is the equivalent brightness slider in Lightroom? You are not using LR but if you can tell me I would appreciate very much.

    • Robin Wong says:

      It was my pleasure to share.
      Honestly I have not used Lightroom enough to know the similarities between the adjustments. Anyone else using both Lightroom and Capture One here? Help answer this question please?

  7. Very interesting, and very different from my laborious approach. It suggests that maybe I’m mostly indulging in salvage work rather than competent photography. Depressing. At any rate, the program you use really zips along — largely because of the quality of the images you present to it, I’m sure. It does appear to add a noticeable amount of sharpening after you hit the “process” button. Do you feel this is significant? Or is it basically the same amount automatically included in the Olympus in-camera JPEG process?

    • Robin Wong says:

      Hey Michael,
      Olympus does apply high sharpening in their JPEGs, but they always look good and never too much for me. Capture One does apply default sharpening but I never did anything more than the default. They usually look quite good already.

  8. Robin, thank you for this very interesting video with your explanation. As usual, I enjoy your photography,always perfectly sharp and well framed. I am glad that you have discovered Capture One, I have used it exclusively for the past several years and I am fully satisfied. Your processing is almost identical to mine, very quick and simple. Many of my friends were surprised that processing RAW files are not a big deal when using Capture One. Thanks again for your excellent presentation.

    • Robin Wong says:

      Thanks John, appreciate the kind words! Happy to hear that you are also using Capture One, I love that it optimizes RAW file handling and operates efficiently! Not much tweak is needed to get to the results that I wanted.

  9. SUPERB tutorial, Robin! You make it look so easy — and you reinforce my belief that our initial “gut” instinct is often our best. Thank you for taking the time to do this; I learned a lot from this post.

  10. William Ravenel says:

    I agree that getting the focus right at the time the picture is taken is critical. I have trouble with this, most likely due to my less than optimum vision. Do you use auto-focus or manual focus when you shoot your street shots? If auto-focus, what type of metering and focus spot settings do you use? I shoot with a OMD E-M10II. Thanks – your PP tutorial is very helpful.

    • Robin Wong says:

      Autofocus, always. Metering does not affect the focusing speed/accuracy. I use single-AF and I move the focusing point to the exact area in the frame that I want to be in focus.

  11. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Thanks Robin,

    I do agree that minimal post processing is often the best.

    I’ll certainly try your order of adjustments and compare with my use of DXO’s Smart Lighting – which is like adjusting the medium slider together with the shadow and highlight ones.

    As to sharpening, I use the Nik tools and when I’ve got the hang of it I’ll try DXO’s suggested sharpening and compare. (As a beginner with PP I still find experimenting with strength & radius a bit daunting.)

    • Robin Wong says:

      For both Olympus Viewer 3 and Capture One Pro, I never adjusted the sharpness setting and just left it as is. I have never had issues with the sharpness of my images!

  12. Ok lah, Now I know how your monochrome portrait signature works – firstly “shot discipline” which I have a high miss rate because my heart won’t stay still even after all these years, and the processing adjustments you just made. Oh, and making sure the subject stands in the light environment you want. Thanks so much for confirming my ideas and showing your style.

    • Robin Wong says:

      Hey Ananda,
      Shot discipline is extremely important! Never skip that, making sure image is critically in focus and exposure as close as you can to what you wish to accomplish in the image. Lighting is everything! Bad light means bad photo.

  13. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Comments? Robi, you’ve said it all. I do agree with your approach, and your final sentence. From time to time I get a photo (or group of shots taken under the same conditions) that do require some editing. Mostly, like you, I just adjust things like white balance – I also correct verticals and horizon lines, and sometimes shift perspectives (DxO ViewPoint is good for that)

    • Robin Wong says:

      Thanks Jean for commenting! Depending on your kind of work and photography, I acknowledge in situations when extensive editing and image manipulation are required. However, for street photography, this should not be the case. Also, if you are doing this as a hobby or just for fun, spending more time out there shooting is definitely the fun part!

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