5) Miscellany

The role of post processing

I'm going to go out on a limb here and state that all digital images you have ever seen are in some way post-processed.  Sometimes this post-processing is performed directly in the camera because the manufacturers decided that the sharpness or colors need to be tweaked.  Other times it is done by the photographer or someone else after the fact.

The question then becomes how much?  In general, I'm fairly minimalist in changes to images.  Small ones that I make to every image are:
  • Crop - Often my original is close, but not exactly where I want it.
  • White Balance - My camera's auto mode is good, but not perfect.  
  • Exposure - Correct any over- or underexposure.
  • Dust and Spot Remove - Any pieces of dust on the sensor are my enemy.
  • Rotation - Correcting all the horizontal and vertical lines as required.
Corrections that I make for more artistic reasons:
  • Vibrance/Saturation - More saturated images appear brighter and many people like a more saturated appearance.
  • Sharpness - In some situations it's good to increase the crispness of an image.
  • Vignetting - Sometimes adding a little vignetting can make the image focus more on the subject.
  • Colors - Black and white, sepia, etc.
Advanced corrections that I've started using
  • Lens profiling and barrel distortion correction - Very subtle changes to correct lens aberrations.
  • Perspective corrections - Good for squaring up windows.
  • HDR - High Dynamic Range allows me to combine multiple images into one with even larger number of colors.
In general, I prefer not to "Photoshop" out objects in the image.  This could be because I'm not very good at it, or that I'm lazy.  Whatever the reason, I don't really do it much.

Regarding post-processing tools, I've used Picasa, iPhoto, and Lightroom for organizing photos.  Aperture is also available for Mac.  For my photo management, I use Lightroom now and find it an incredibly powerful tool that lets me very rapidly manage my photos.  It has amazing processing abilities, but the downside is that it's expensive.  I know people who use Aperture and really like it.  If you want a fairly powerful tool, but aren't prepared to pay the price for Lightroom, I'd say Aperture is your tool.  The nice thing about both Aperture and Lightroom is that they obviate the need for any additional tools like Photoshop.  Picasa and iPhoto are also respectable photo management tools, but they simply do not have the power that Lightroom and Aperture have. 

So, if you're just beginning, iPhoto and Picasa are fine.  Aperture is a relatively low-cost solution with more power for Mac users.  Lightroom is the heavyweight if you need to do more serious photo management.

 before after

Organizing your files

With file naming, I'm a bit pedantic.  If you're using iPhoto, then there's not much to this section.  I personally don't really like entrusting all my file sorting to a database like iPhoto because it makes it very difficult to change programs in the future.  One thing I like about Lightroom is its ability to allow you to keep files wherever you want.  I use Lightroom for all my serious photo work and then export slightly lower resolution JPGs to iPhoto for posting on the web or making slideshows.

Where I want them is in folders that start with the year-month-day and then a short description of the folder.  I usually keep an entire year's photos grouped together in a folder named the year.  So a typical folder structure might look like
  • 2010
    • 2011-06-22 Istanbul
    • 2010-07-08 Hiking
Please, please, please zero-pad your dates.  Instead of 1 for January, put 01.  This makes the folders and files sort much better than if you didn't.  Actually, you should always zero pad file and folder names.  It pays off in the end.  Trust me.

Camera settings

 SettingMy Defaults
 ISOAUTO, adjust as the situation requires.
 BEEPON unless in a situation where no sound is allowed. The audio cue allows me to focus on what's happening in the scene.
 WBAUTO.  This doesn't really matter that much when you shoot in RAW.
OFF.  I can always quickly hit the play button if I want to look at an image.  By defaulting this to off, you save a lot of battery power.
2 MIN.  The 5D powers up almost instantly.  On a trip, I'll often leave the camera turned on for the entire trip and just allow it to sleep as able.
 DATE/TIMEGMT.  We travel a lot and it's just easiest to keep out cameras in GMT, so that the images sort themselves correctly. 
CENTER.  Unless I'm forced to move the focus point, I won't do it.  It's much easier to focus in the center and then recompose the shot.  I think moving the focus point can cause some serious problems for people new to photography because they aren't focusing where they think.
CONTINUOUS.  In burst mode, I can take one photo by briefly holding the button down, or hold it to capture up to 20.  By leaving the camera in this mode, you can sometimes capture a moment that would have otherwise slipped by.

Camera/Lens advice

I'm often asked for advice as to what kind of camera to purchase.  Generally, my response is "what do you want to use it for?"  Do you want to do studio photography or take pictuers during a hike?  Will you be chasing a fast moving child or taking it under water?  These questions help determine the class of camera to buy.  I've hiked with 5 kg of camera equipment over a mountain with no battery (funny story, ask sometime and I'll tell you), and I can say that it would have been much better to have a compact camera with me that weekend.

What I can say is that many people with SLRs often have a smaller compact as well.  I think the prosumer cameras are a pretty nice blend between high image quality and portability.  I'm currently considering buying a used camera from the Canon G series.  I also think that used cameras can sometimes be an excellent blend of quality and value.  A high-quality camera that is a few years old will still take better photos than a newer cheaper camera, and probably cost roughly the same price.

Also, don't feel obligated to fork out 2,000 USD for camera equipment if you feel you want to take better photos.  The image at right was done by my brother-in-law with a fairly standard compact camera, and it serves to show you the results of attention to composition and a bit of post-processing.  You don't have to spend a lot of money to take great photos, and conversely just because you buy an expensive camera doesn't instantly make you a great photographer.

The one thing I would highly recommend for people looking at SLR cameras is spend the money to get good lenses.  I've talked to numerous people lately who were interested in buying a Canon 7D (most likely because it's in the middle of their SLR product line) and a standard kit lens.  For roughly the same price you can get a 600D and a very high quality Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM Lens.  Since the 600D has the exact same sensor as the 7D, the image quality of the body is the same, but the second option has significantly better optics.  Better to have one excellent lens than two lesser ones.  One of the main reasons to buy a SLR is the optics, so make sure to do your homework!

One more small item regarding lenses.  Make sure to buy a UV filter to protect your lens.  The filter is just another piece of glass that comes between the world and your lens.  I have one on my lenses all the time.  You can buy a multi-coated lens online for not much money, and it might just save your camera.  The multi-coating is a series of different chemicals that they treat the lens with to prevent glare.  Multi-coating is fairly inexpensive these days, so I buy all my filters with it.


That's pretty much all I've got to say on the topic for now.  If you've made it this far, hopefully there's been some valuable information in all this for you.  I'm going to extend and update this tutorial from time to time as more insight comes my way.  If you have any tips or suggestions, please send them my way.  As I said, I view myself as being technically proficient and artistically improving.  As with much that is art, there are many different perspectives.


Some of the figures in the first two sections are public images from Wikipedia.  Aside from the ones in the White Balancing section (thanks Chauncey) and Camera/Lens advice section (cool work Alex), the rest were taken with either my Canon 300D, 5D Mark I, or 5D Mark II.

I've been making my attempt at photography for around 10 years now.  In the early days, my friend Jay (and his unwitting sister, Megan) introduced me to the rule of thirds and the mantra "get close, then get closer."  Karl got me started with his old 300D (I bought it third-hand).  Felix has been a great friend for his insightful viewpoint ("never buy a lens you don't intend on keeping forever") and lending me his tele lens.  Thanks to Martin for giving me the idea to write this tutorial.  Astrid has been a great model over the years, and really helped my portraiture.  Thanks to everyone who requested this tutorial.  I hope it was of some use to someone, somewhere.

Portable guide

Here is a single A4 sheet of tips and guides that you can download, print, and throw in your camera bag for future use.

I've also included a copy of version 0 of the tutorial :) 

Photo library management tools


  • Digital Photography Review - Before buying a camera.  Go here.  Otherwise you're missing information.
  • National Geographic - Every time I think I'm a decent photographer, I go here for a dose of humility.  They also have great photos for inspiration and tips for photographers.
  • B & H - Quite possibly the coolest brick and mortar photography store in the world.
  • Photo.net - A good place for inspiration
  • Flikr - Another great place for inspiration