Basic Post-Processing Techniques For Macro Photography

Liphistius cf. murphyorum trapdoor spider

A before-and-after shot of a trapdoor spider (Liphistius), showing how post-processing can affect a photo.

Hello guys, today I would like to discuss a little bit a bit about post-processing and perhaps, equip the beginners with some basic editing skills for their macro photographs.

Post-processing basically refers to image-editing in photography, which is done after you have taken your shot. And YES, applying filters to your selfies is also considered a form of post-processing :p This image editing can be done either within the phone or camera itself, or for more intensive editing in notebooks or desktops.

If you have been into Photography for quite some time now (or you simply read a lot of fashion or cosmetic magazines), you would probably noticed how important post-processing is to the world of Photography. In fact, photo manipulation has become so widespread that it is often considered as part of photography now. Of course, post-processing can be a rather controversial topic among photographers: Proponents believe that post-processing can help to minimize flaws in a photo, and can be used to make photos more attractive; Opponents on the other hand believe that photo manipulation is considered “cheating” as it distorts the reality of things (i.e. color, looks, shapes etc.), and most agree that you are a noob if you cannot take good photos straight out of camera (SOOC).

Taiwan 93

Post-processing may produce great results, though not everyone agrees in its application. Regardless of your stand, it will still be beneficial to learn what image-editing is capable of.

Well, whichever group you are in, post-processing is here to stay, and it would be good to at least learn a little bit about it, though the final decision on whether you want to apply it is entirely up to you.

Anyway, here are some of the instances where post-processing can come in handy in Macro Photography:

i) You cannot control where your subject rests or what it does in nature. This means that you don’t always get the perfect shot. By cropping, you would be able to remove areas of the photo that are less attractive. Also, as mentioned in How To Overcome Shallow Depth-of-Field (DoF) In Macro Photography, by shooting from a farther distance followed by cropping, you would be able to reduce shallow DoF.

Copera marginipes wheel position

A shot I cannot miss! Yellow Featherleg damselflies are not uncommon, but finding a pair in a mating wheel position within camera distance is downright rare since they tend to be very alert! Managed to take this special shot thanks to cropping. It’s not perfect, but at least its better than not getting a shot!

ii) Again, you cannot control wind and the positioning of your subjects, which means that sometimes your shots might not be 100% sharp. You can try sharpening your photos via post-processing.

Nephilengys malabarensis  ♀

This shot of a Malabar Hermit Spider (Nephilengys malabarensis) was taken during sunset, and the background was pretty dark even after increasing ISO sensitivity. By brightening the “shadows” of the photo, it turned out better than it originally was.

iii) Especially during the night, you cannot control the brightness of the background, which will often resort in photos where the subject is properly exposed, but with an entirely black background. Depending on the background (e.g. whether there are leaves which reflect, even slightly, the lights from your flash), you can bring up the shadows of the background via post-processing.

iv) Sometimes you might have to really bump up ISO values, resorting in photos that are noisy. Post-processing can be used to reduce noise, thus making the photo slightly better despite losing some details at 100% crops.

Carrhotus sannio 2 (Black and White Jumper)

Post-processing will help bring out the colours in a photo, thus making it more attractive.

v) Depending on where your subject resides, sometimes the colours may not be that attractive or colourful. Post-processing will allow you to bump up contrast and saturation for a more “eye-popping” effect. Of course, there are many ways to edit the colours, it all depends on the intention of the photographer, as mentioned earlier in Macro Photography: Scientific and Artistic Shots.

vi) We don’t always get the exposure right, and post-processing fixes that.

vii) Sometimes our lens or DSLR sensor might get smudged or dirty with dust particles, especially so if you shoot a lot outdoors. These will show up in the final photo, but can also be easily removed via image editing.

Diamond Ring 3

This diamond ring was photographed by putting in on a pink, reflective card. There were quite some dust particles visible on the surface of the card, but no more with the spot removal tool.

These are merely some of the times where image-editing can really help, but I am sure you got the picture on how important post-processing is now.

So now, how do you go about post-processing?

Shoot RAW

Before you take any photo, please be sure to switch to RAW image format. All DSLR supports RAW format and should be accessible via the DSLR menu. RAW format contains minimally processed information (colour, exposure etc.) generated directly from your DSLR sensor. All these data-rich information means that your photos will be much larger in terms of size (~15MB to 70MB per photo depending on your DSLR), but they do provide a lot more versatility in terms of post-processing when compared to, say JPEG (default image format). JPEG images are much smaller in size since a lot of the raw information has been removed, with not much left to post-process.

Feel free to try shooting in both RAW and JPEG formats and see for yourself what I mean in terms of editing versatility 🙂

Get An Image Processing Software

After taking some photos, it is time to try out some post-processing using a suitable image processing software. Personally, I think Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (as of now, the latest version is LR5) is one of the best software out there for Photography, offering superb editing features for the price. You should be able to get a genuine one for ~RM500 from Adobe’s website. Adobe Photoshop is a good software as well, though it is a whole lot more expensive, and harder to use. Post-processing in this article will be demonstrated using Photoshop Lightroom 5, and will only be focused on the basics. Advanced techniques will be covered in upcoming articles.

LR5

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is one of the most versatile photo editing softwares out there! Definitely worth getting!

Okay, so here’s a step-by-step guide to how to post-process (assuming you have already installed Photoshop Lightroom):

SD/CF Card

Before you begin, transfer all your photos from your camera to your laptop. Most DSLR nowadays run on SD cards which most notebooks can directly read.

1. First of all you should transfer your photos from your DSLR SD/CF card to your computer or external hard disk. Most of the time it is better to copy (instead of cut) your photos so that you have one extra copy as backup.

2. Open Lightroom

3. Create a new catalog under File> New Catalog. Assign a name for this catalog, which will store all your editing information.

4. Select Library (top right of the screen). Press “Import” (lower left of the screen to import your photos.

5. Go to Develop (top right of the screen). You are ready to do some post-processing!

6. The first thing to always do is to crop your photo, if necessary. If you have photographed a very small subject, it is likely you will need to resort to cropping. This can be done by pressing the default “R” button. You would want to retain the original aspect ratio of your photo (maintaining the rectangular shape of the photo), all you need to do is ensure that the Lock picture (blue circle in photo below) is in the locked position.

Crop

Cropping can be done in Lightroom via pressing the shortcut “R” button, or you can press the dedicated button (white text box). All you need to do now is adjust the box until you are happy with the outcome.

8. You will be able to see the Spot-Removal Tool (shortcut = “Q”) beside the Crop Overlay tool. This tool is good for removing undesired spots on your photos. This includes pimples on faces, spots caused by dust particles on your lens etc. Don’t be shy to use it whenever applicable.

8. On the right panel, you will have access to a lot of editing sliders. Although it might seem a little daunting to beginners, basic macro editing techniques only require you to play around with sliders under (A) “Basic” and (B) “Details”, though you can try out the other sliders just to see what they change.

Color tones combined

Two common Basic editing regimes: Contrasty (Left) and Soft (Right). Position of each slider is shown on the lower left of each photo (click to enlarge). Which one to use depends entirely on you. Of course, the exact settings will be slightly different for your own photos due to variation in terms of shooting conditions.

A. Under “Basic”, you will be able to adjust simple tones, exposure, contrast, clarity etc. Try and slide the bars around to see how it affects your photo. How much to actually adjust for each bar depends on what you desire of your final photo, which often comes with experience. Just keep practising! The following are two of the most common Basic editing themes commonly used by Macro shooters: (i) Contrasty and (ii) Soft (made up the names myself, lame I know haha XD)

B. Under “Details”, you get to directly sharpen your photos, or reduce noise, depending on which is required for your photo. If your photo is not sharp at 100%, then you might want to adjust the sharpening (Amount, Radius and Detail) slightly to the right; if your photo is quite noisy at 100% (obvious when shot with high ISO values), then you can try adjusting “Masking” under Sharpening, or the sliders under Noise Reduction. Please do note that the Sharpening and Noise Reduction will cancel each one out.

Sharpening

This photo was actually taken when the spider (Argiope versicolor) was busy trapping a prey with its silk. Was lucky to even get this moving shot. However, as you can see, it is not very sharp at 100% (photo of the one of the spider’s eye), so quite a lot of sharpening is required. Sharpening will increase the amount of “interference” of a photo at 100% magnification, but it’s not that obvious when viewed at normal magnification.

9. As aforementioned, feel free to play around with the bars and sliders on the right panel- it is a good way for you to learn some new techniques! Of course, you could always revert back to your previous settings by pressing Ctrl + Z (undo) if you do not like the new settings.

10. Once  you are done, you could just export your edited photos into a designated folder. You can do this via File > Export (designate destination folder) > Export. Your resulting photos will be in JPEG format. Do take note that although you have exported your edited photos, your original photos SOOC will still remain untouched.

Trithemis festiva ♀

A beautiful Indigo Dropwing made even more beautiful with post-processing. There are countless more techniques for improving your photos, so be sure to keep up-to-date with them 🙂

Ops, looks like I got a little bit too long-winded this time haha… I apologize for the long article. Still, I hope by reading this you would be able to appreciate the importance of post-processing, and use it to your advantage so as to produce photos (macro or not) that are much better than your usual. Needless to say, the post-processing techniques do not just stop here, there are A LOT more out there that are worth learning and applying to the betterment of our photos, so try and learn as many of them as possible!

Got to go guys! Cheers!

** All photos in this website are taken and owned by me. The use of any photos here is not allowed without my permission.