Post-Processing a Band Photograph

Some friends of mine asked me to shoot a quick band photograph of them recently without any preparation or planning. Luckily, the location was pretty nice (we were at a hostel) and the weather was a bit cloudy so there wasn’t harsh sunlight.

I won’t really go into composition or posing the subjects in the photo… Just try to make it interesting and to have all the elements in the photograph “flow” nicely together. That’s a bit abstract, but oh well. Let’s talk about post-processing now. I used Adobe Camera RAW 5.5 (bundled with Photoshop CS4), but you’ll find the same tools in many programs (even online programs now).

Here’s what the original untouched photo looked like straight out of the camera:

What I wanted to do was have the photo “pop” (something you hear a lot, right?), with the slightly surreal look that you see sometimes in band or TV show cast photographs.

A lot of the “popping” is achieved through basic edits: warm up the photo a bit by boosting the temperature. After dealing with highlight and shadow clipping with the Recovery, Fill Light, and Blacks sliders, I dragged both the Contrast and Clarity sliders to max (+100). The Contrast slider will make it “pop” while the Clarity slider will provide a surreal, HDR-esque look.

Here’s what the photograph looks like after these edits (hover your mouse over it to compare it with the original):

Next I tweaked the color a tiny bit using split toning to give it a slight sepia tone feel, and added some strong vignetting to finish the look:

Here’s the final product (hover to compare):

You can also hover over this link to compare the photo to the original, unprocessed version.

  • Bas ter Beek

    Thats it? I still find the colors a bit dull, but I think it’s hard to do something about them in this image because the image itsell is a bit dull (imo)

  • Anonymous

    As an amateur photographer, it’s nice to see my ‘usual’ practices are in-line and similar. *Pats self on back* hah!

    Got a link to the band’s music? Can’t go wrong with an acoustic bass. :)

  • Melo

    The photo isn’t worth a post, and I could do more with one click in Lightroom. What is happening to PetaPixel? I used to find the posts unique and interesting… lately it seems like your mailing them in and the level is amateur at best. WTF?

  • lloyd

    You guys are late for April, the 1st happend 3 days ago. Aprilfools fail

  • Victor

    Unfortunately, I’m going to have to agree. This was definitely not worth a post.

  • Marc van der Veen

    Ow hell this is bad, best to delete this quickly before the rest finds out..
    Argumentation: Dull photo to begin with (best to begin with something worthwhile..), composition DOES matter, as well as the boring location (could be composition though) Nuff said.

  • Anonymous

    Michael, do you even give a shit anymore? You sold the site, so what, now its going to be an afterthought?

  • Ruben Lammerink

    When I saw the Top image I thought it was the starting point, but it’s not…..
    The photo is downright boring, if your feel sooo compelled to post this picture at-least try harder.
    I would expect a bit more effort in a PetaPixel Post, this is just lazy.

  • Dennis Marciniak

    I whole heartily disagree, and in the interest of leaving the keyboard warriors at bay, I’m going to leave it at that.

    Think this was an interesting post that showed some basic techniques. This is good because we now have a basis to build upon this and not just simply copy them to produce mass “single-effect” images over and over. Thanks!

  • Tom Blachford

    pumping clarity to 100 is beyond amateur, it NEVER looks good and never creates as much punch as careful sharpening.

  • Ryan Troop

    Playing devil’s advocate here…

    While it may be basic to you, there are a slew of others that this is new material. Remember, just because you’re at the head of the line, doesn’t mean you didn’t start at the back.

  • Anonymous

    put in a polaroid frame for another 1000 hits on flickr. that’s what you were going for, right?

  • John Henry Harris

    wow, what a mediocre image. my opinion of this site has really been dropping as of late.

  • Udi

    Hi Michael,
    Love it that you are sharing some of your personal stuff on the site. Regardless of how folks perceive the quality of the image, I enjoy seeing you as a photographer and not only as a blogger. KUDOS!

  • dan_f

    It’s really just a conflation of the title and what is expected. “Basic Post-Processing Techniques” -or- “An Introduction to Basic Camera Raw Editing” would be more appropriate. Calling full edits in only camera raw “post-process” is a severe disservice to the industry. But hey…sensational headlines will always get the click-throughs. Marketing 101.

  • Band Photographer

    I highly disagree to 90% of this post. Vignetting and clarity ruin the photo

  • JohnnyM

    What a bunch of babies… How superior to us they must all feel with their awesome skills. Get over yourselves…

  • Jyve

    Thoroughly agreed. I’m a photography student, still in my first 7 weeks, and basic camera raw is one of the first things you learn. This isn’t even a good example of using camera raw… clarity and contrast 100?

  • Anonymous

    Babies? If you’re going to run a blog and take the position of ‘teacher’ then you best have the skills to back it up.

    This is amateur crap and he shouldn’t be posting ‘how to’s’ if he doesn’t knwo ‘how to’.


  • Koke Momo

    While I appreciate that you’re trying to teach some basics, I do agree with some of the others.

    First of all you shouldn’t push the clarity and contrast to 100+, it makes it look horrible overall and you start to get over zealous with the contrast/clarity. Selective sharpening would have been much better.

    I don’t care for the vignetting, unless you’re using a film camera or a Holga-lens for your digital camera, it doesn’t belong there. It looks forced and frankly it’s over used like so many other “filters”.

    Second of all the composition is rather… Bland, as is the location and overall photo.
    The posing is, well, rather stiff and uninteresting. It actually turns me off even more. It’s like the models trying too hard.

    Further the use of the contrast would have been much better if used with an S curve- granted this is a bit more advanced per-say but still it would give it a more dynamic luminosity than mere sliders.

  • Koke Momo

    I appreciate the basic help, I really do.

    However he shouldn’t be teaching wrong information. You shouldn’t push the sliders to 100%, while it may look “okay” here- I guarantee you the large image looks off.

  • barb

    It all looks a little fake. Maybe wait for some better light instead?

  • Andrew

    People are so quick to hate.

    Michael, I think the blog is rad, and I appreciate the range of content you post.

    This post is not supposed to be about the only way to process your photos. It is one persons approach to photography, and a great insight into one persons workflow.

    Negativity just discourages the sharing vibe that has made the Internet such a great place to inspire learning in photography. If you’d do it differently, fantastic! Show us! You have the starting image. Why not use this as an opportunity to show what you will do. Help others learn by illustrating your approach.

    Just posting “urgh this sucks” is just another knife in the back of the development of aspiring photographers everywhere.

  • Concerned

    The composition is horrible what does the corner of a brown building bring to this image?