What Is Image Post Processing?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Image post processing enhances the quality of a finished image to prepare it for publication and distribution. It includes techniques to clean up images to make them visually clearer as well as the application of filters and other treatments to change the look and feel of a picture. In digital photography, this can be accomplished in a software program. Print photographers use a variety of darkroom techniques for post processing activities.

Black and white prints can be made from color photographs.
Black and white prints can be made from color photographs.

Photographers work very hard to get the composition, exposure, and focus right when they take a picture. Some problems cannot be compensated for with post processing, so they want to start with an image that is as clean and clear as possible from the start. Some photography training puts a stress on these activities, encouraging photographers to perfect their work before they start to learn about post processing. Even the most skilled photographer, however, may notice problems with a picture that require some post processing.

Camera lenses that have several glass elements tend to naturally create lens flare -- often seen as scattered light circles or halos.
Camera lenses that have several glass elements tend to naturally create lens flare -- often seen as scattered light circles or halos.

Cleaning and sharpening techniques can reduce noise, increase contrast, tighten the crop of the image, and make other small changes to the way the picture appears. Image post processing can also involve removing things from the frame when they don't belong or distract. A wildlife photographer, for example, might not want a radio tracker implanted on a bird's wing to be visible, because it could take away from the image. In post processing, the photographer can carefully edit it out.

More advanced image post processing techniques can include the application of filters to make a picture look more grainy, textures to change the feel of the image, or transformations to change the color scheme. Color photographs can be converted to black and white or sepia, for example. The photographer might add distress to the image to give it an antiqued feel, or could create lens flares to generate more visual interest. Numerous image post processing techniques are available to allow photographers to explore various presentations for their images.

Tutorials and classes to learn how to use image post processing effectively are available. Some prepare attendees for specific activities like preparing for print publication or working on wedding photographs. All tend to stress the importance of not being too obtrusive with post processing. Overprocessed images can develop a fake, plastic, or busy look that may detract from the quality of the finished picture. For example, a photographer who applies a sepia filter, a brushstroke texture, and lens flare might end up with a muddled, cartoon-like finished image.

Image post processing can help adjust the colors in outdoor photographs that may be washed out by sunlight.
Image post processing can help adjust the colors in outdoor photographs that may be washed out by sunlight.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

Melonlity

Some of the better page layout programs out there do a lot of the post processing automatically. They can't do much for a low resolution photo, but it is incredible how much they can clean up images and convert them to ones that look great in print.

Still, anyone who does page layout had better get used to using some post processing techniques. Those are necessary every now and again for repairing old photographs, converting some images to black and white and adjusting them so they aren't too dark (a common problem when converting from color), etc.

Soulfox

Here's something post processing can't fix -- low res, tiny photographs that look fine on the Internet but don't translate well to print. Those have been the bane of journalists since people started maximizing photos for use on the Internet. It is far too common for someone to send in a press release or article, include a tiny, digital image and then wonder why it can't be used.

Do your favorite local publication a favor if you want to submit photos to it. Reducing images for use on the Web is fine, but always keep a copy of the full size original for print use.

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