Top 5 Post-Processing Tips for Nature Photographers

When we talk about post-processing mistakes, the first thing that comes to mind are things like overcooked HDR, too much color saturation in Photoshop, or wrong color balance. These may be considered post-processing mistakes but oftentimes they are not. They may be creative post-processing choices that a photographer decided to make.

So, what exactly am I referring to when I say post-processing mistakes? These mistakes clearly cannot be classified as creative choices and can often result in final post-processed photos looking less than optimal. Let’s take a closer look at the mistakes that nature photographers should avoid.

Back Up Your Photos

The single biggest expense for a landscape photographer is travel. The cost of travel in any given year for professional photographers like us exceeds the cost of all the equipment we own. Even if you are an amateur photographer and take just one trip per year to capture landscape photos, you will likely spend over a couple of thousand dollars in travel expenses. For this reason, we take extra precautions to ensure that we do not lose the photos we capture. In order to do that, we back up photos regularly. Here are some things that will ensure that you minimize or eliminate the loss of your photos:

  • Back up our images right in the field on a portable hard drive.  We create multiple copies of our photos almost daily when we are on location to ensure that we don’t accidentally lose the photos.
  • Use a local redundant backup (using RAID technology) at home to ensure you create a fail safe and automated backup all the photos on your computer.

    Storage strategies overview

  • Use off-site backup and make sure that you store multiple backup copies. This will allow you to recover most of your files even if they get corrupted over time.

Learn more about proper ways to backup your photos:  A Photographer’s Guide to Image Management & Backup tutorial.

Set Up Your Post Processing Environment

Before you start using Photoshop or Lightroom to process your landscape photos, ensure that your post-processing environment is set up correctly. This includes selecting the correct working color space in Photoshop as well making sure that room’s ambient lighting is correctly set up so that, when the photo is used by others, it retains the brilliant colors and details that you saw on your own monitor.

Why is this important? Because the ambient light and background colors on your screen both have a dramatic impact on how the colors and luminosity are perceived by our eyes. A good color management practice requires the awareness that your background colors and luminosity impact how your image appears. Consider a simple example of two grey circles on black and white backgrounds.

  • Color Management Impact of Background on your photos.

    Image #1: Grey circle on the right appears to be darker then the one on the left.

  • Color Management Impact of Background on your photos.

    Image #2: When combined, both circles have same luminosity.

In Image #1 above, the grey circle to the right appears to be darker then the the one on the left because it is being viewed against a lighter background. When we move the circles closer together, you can see that the luminosity of both the circles is exactly the same.

Similar effects also occur with background lighting. If you are processing an image late at night with very little light, your images will look exceptionally bright and colorful even if they are dark or under-exposed. You should process the images in a controlled lighting environment using a neutral dark grey background.

Learn more about setting up your post processing environment:  Optimizing Images for Social Media tutorial.

Calibrate Your Monitor

Another critical part of setting up your post processing environment is to calibrate your monitor. In today’s world, your photos will be viewed online more than in print. It is critically important to make sure that your photos retain the vibrant colors when viewed on other monitors, tablets, and smart phones that you see on your own monitor.

Here are two of the most popular reasons as to why nature photographers don’t calibrate their monitors:

  • Some nature photographers assume that a good quality monitor is automatically calibrated right out of the box.
    This is not always the case. Some monitors have calibration software build into them, but most do not.
  • I can hardly see a difference between a calibrated and uncalibrated monitor. Sometimes the difference is rather minor, but other times the difference can produce dramatic results.
  • Post processing on an un-calibrated brightly lit monitor

    Image #1: Processed on an uncalibrated, brightly-lit monitor

  • Viewing on an properly calibrated monitor

    Image #2: Photo looks under-exposed and poorly processed in a normally-lit environment

I processed the first image above using  a monitor whose brightness was turned up high because it was located in a bright room with lots of windows. Everything in the photo looks great when viewed on the monitor. However, if you share this image on social media and view it in a normally-lit environment, the photo looks under-exposed and poorly-processed as seen in image #2.

You can see that a monitor or LCD calibration is essential even if you are just going to share your photos on social media.

Learn more about calibrating your monitor:  True Colors Photoshop tutorial.

Optimize Your Nature Photos

Once you correctly set up your post-processing environment and calibrate your monitor, you can take an additional step of optimizing your images for online sharing. This optimization not only requires you to be aware of the background colors used by various social media sites, but it also requires you to pick the correct colors space, add appropriate sharpness, and fine-tune your images so that your nature photos look the best on any social media website.

For example, using the wrong color space makes your photos look flat; they will not display the rich colors that you can see in nature. While processing our images, we set our color space to either wide gamut color spaces Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB. These color spaces gives us the smooth gradation in color during our post-processing workflow. However, when we share photos, we convert the photos to sRGB color space because most devices are unable to handle wide colors spaces.

  • Color management example of Pro PhotoRGB Color Space viewed on sRGB Device

    Image #1: Pro PhotoRGB Color Space viewed on sRGB Device – Red Sand Beach, Maui, Hawaii (HI), USA

  • Color management example of ProPhoto RGB converted to sRGB Color Space

    Image #2: Example of ProPhoto RGB converted to sRGB Color Space – Red Sand Beach, Maui, Hawaii (HI), USA

The first of the two images above shows a photo processed in Pro when viewed in sRGB. The same photo (Image #2) when converted to sRGB retains its vibrant colors across the devices that can view only sRGB photos.

Learn more about setting up your post processing environment:  Optimizing Images for Social Media tutorial. 

Keyword Your Photos

Keywords help you find your photographs when you need them – and they are often uploaded as metadata when you use your photos online. We get lots of questions about how and why we even bother key-wording our photos. Here are a few good reasons why we keyword our photos:

  • Maintaining a searchable collection: If you visit my website, you’ll find a search box at the top of the page. You can search for any photos using keywords such as waterfalls, river, Ohio, Yellowstone, and more. Smugmug’s Smart Gallery allow us to automatically create galleries from the keywords and make our websites very user-friendly.

    Jay Patel Photography Galleries Web Page

    Jay Patel Photography Galleries

  • Searching for photos with a specific theme: Sometimes, we get requests from clients for images that match a specific theme. Maybe a publisher needs a series of images from national parks to illustrate an upcoming magazine article – or maybe an interior designer is looking for calming photographs of waterfalls for the lobby of a hospital. We can search for waterfall photos in Lightroom and every photo with a matching keyword shows up.
  • Keywords for stock agencies: Stock agencies usually require that I include keywords with photos I upload. If I keyword my RAW files right away, I can send those keywords along with my finished files when I upload them later.

Key wording your photos becomes more critical as the size of your portfolio grows over time.

Learn more organizing your photos:  A Photographer’s Guide to Image Management & Backup tutorial.

Whether you are seasoned nature photographer or just starting out, following these simple steps ensures that, not only do you not lose your photos, but your photos are always organized and look their best when you share them on social media or your own website.

About Author Jay Patel

I could startoff like this – “Seeds of Jay Patel’s appreciation for beautiful places were planted early in his childhood….” but it would get boring really fast. I will just sum it up and say that I am a Landscape and Wilderness Photographer who loves to capture dramatic light. My photographs have been published in various magazines, calendars and advertising materials throughout the world.
Patience is a virtue...unless you are chasing your dreams