Even if you can’t conjure up a beautiful image from a bad photo with post-processing on the computer, it’s still possible to create a fantastic photo from a well-taken one. Elementary image processing steps like noise reduction, cropping, brightness& Contrast or sharpening can help. The earlier one deals with the subject of image editing, the better. As with the actual photography, you will become more and more experienced in the use of the "digital darkroom" through frequent practice. On this page I would like to give some basic knowledge, which makes the start much easier. In addition, I will briefly introduce suitable image editing programs.
Excursion at the beginning: The RAW format in image processing
If you have higher demands on the subject of image processing from the start, you should probably start right away, in the RAW format to photograph. Instead of a compressed JPEG image that has already been processed by the camera, your photo is stored unprocessed on the memory card in a special raw data format. All processing steps are then 100% in your hands and you have full control over the digital image processing. Depths and highlights can also be corrected to a greater extent and noise can be removed more effectively. However, the format is very large (ca. 30MB per photo) and accordingly memory hungry. If you want to concentrate on taking pictures and use image processing only very discreetly, you may overshoot the mark by using the RAW format. Whether it is worthwhile for you to use the RAW format, you will find the answer in my extensive article on the subject of "Photographing in RAW format".
The dreaded image noise
Especially cameras with a small sensor have problems with the unpopular image noise above a certain ISO value. But even expensive SLR cameras with large full-frame sensors are no longer able to keep noise within a tolerable range after a certain point. Now when it comes to image processing on the computer, increasing z.B. brightness& Contrast makes the image noise even more visible than it already is.
Image noise of a full-frame camera – at extreme values of ISO 12500 and subsequent brightening, the limit is reached even with large sensors.
Therefore it is advisable, as a first step of image processing, a Noise reduction to make. Of course, this only applies to photos where image noise is really a problem – i.e. shots with a high ISO value or a long exposure of a few seconds. Most standard image editing programs offer a fairly satisfactory function for minimizing image noise. In many cases I use the internal noise reduction functions in Adobe Lightroom. Since I also do almost all other editing and manage my photo collection in this program, it is very conveniently integrated into my workflow. This saves time& nerves and is also sufficient in most cases. If you are not satisfied with the flexibility and quality of your program’s internal filters, you should take a look at special tools like Noise Ninja or Neat Image. However, its operation requires some experience and can quickly overwhelm beginners. You should not overdo it with noise reduction anyway. Because every noise reduction filter – no matter from which program – removes not only the noise, but sometimes also important image details. You always have to find the best compromise between too much and too little here. This requires some practice.
Crop and straighten images
Fact is: before Before releasing the shutter, you should think about which image section you select. A photo with a badly chosen crop can extremely rarely be turned into a really great photo by image editing. However, in some cases good photos can gain a lot in quality by cropping them. This mainly concerns minor corrections such as the removal of disturbing image elements at the image edge by narrowing the image section. Such details are easily overlooked when photographing. Also it happens very often that the image was not taken exactly straight.
By correcting the angle, the horizon can be corrected.
An (even if only slightly) slanted horizon at z.B. of a landscape shot is quickly perceived as disturbing. In such cases a little digital postprocessing works wonders. This editing step can be easily implemented in almost any program. But you should be careful here as well. Too much cropping automatically reduces the resolution of the image. At a certain point and in connection with high image noise the quality of the image suffers considerably. You can’t do magic here and turn a bad photo into a good one.
Contrast, saturation and brightness
If you have the impression that your pictures look a bit dull, flat and unspectacular, this may be due to too little contrast and saturation. Try to bring more "color into play" here in the image editing program of your choice at the corresponding sliders. Contrast and saturation sliders should be used carefully here as well. Too much contrast or saturation can quickly make colors look artificial and exaggerated. If you are faced with the problem that z.B. only the green tones are too weak, then you can in many programs (u.a. Lightroom or Photoshop Elements) can also use color-selective saturation. With these functions it is possible to.B. to increase only the green tones. This has the advantage that other colors in the image that are already strong enough are not oversaturated.
corrections of brightness, contrast& Saturation in Lighroom. Image: Maja Dumat (CC BY 2.0)
It also often happens that a photo is underexposed or overexposed. Adjusting the brightness settings can help here. In Lightroom, for example, in addition to the sliders of the same name for the Brightness & Exposure also the sliders for Depths and Highlights. Especially in connection with the RAW format, the high dynamic range of this format allows you to correct strongly overexposed or underexposed areas in the image. After a certain point you can’t save anything anymore – "eroded" white (overexposed) or black (underexposed) areas in the picture can’t be restored then. The only thing that helps here is to adjust the camera correctly before pressing the shutter button.
Which software to use? Gimp and Co. for the beginning
If you have hardly dealt with the topic of image editing and only want to take your first steps, you should not overdo it Freeware programs like Gimp well advised. This means that very extensive projects can already be processed. Also for home use and the quick project for in between are Gimp& Co. in most cases absolutely sufficient. Especially beginners can learn with these free solutions excellent the first steps in digital imaging. Detailed tips and tricks z. B. in dealing with Gimp can be found on various sites on the Internet. The page gimp-werkstatt.de offers for example a solid selection of various tutorials. In addition, there are z.B. on Amazon many books, which facilitate the entrance into various programs (see below).
May it be a little more? Lightroom& Photoshop Elements for ambitious beginners
Otherwise, the top dog of pixel-based image editing is still the company Adobe. Whose program specially tailored to photographers Lightroom I can especially recommend. I have been working with it for several years very satisfied and miss almost no functions. The balancing act between professional features and fast workflow is mastered by Adobe. Qualitatively, Lightroom also works at a professional level. Older versions of Lightroom can still be found occasionally as a purchase version. The latest version, however, is only available via a subscription model called "Creative Cloud. Lightroom and other Adobe programs can be rented for a more or less small amount per month:
I was very skeptical at first, but I can now recommend this version with a clear conscience. For just under 12€ a month you Always the latest version of Lightroom on his system. In addition, the well-known software Photoshop included in the photography subscription, which I now no longer want to do without. The subscription model is now available for purchase not only from Adobe directly, but also through Amazon:
An alternative to Lightroom is Photoshop Elements. The program is the little sister of Adobe Photoshop, but still offers you an extremely rich repertoire of features that are especially interesting for amateur photographers:
Both Lightroom and Photoshop Elements are also complete RAW converters. so you can also use these programs to process your images in raw format and take advantage of all the benefits of this.
Books to get started with Gimp, Lightroom and Photoshop Elements
Although many of the programs are quite intuitive in handling – but it does not hurt, especially for more complex tasks, to go deeper into the respective program. Here, an introductory book like the ones presented below can definitely save time and nerves when learning the functions: