Post Shoot Workflow ~ Part Two of a Three Part Series

Due to the length of this entry, I've broken it down into three parts. Part 1 will deal with importing images into Aperture. I will address setting up a Project, adding preset Metadata and sorting / ranking images.

In Part 2, I will discuss some of the basic steps I use in processing or adjusting images intended for distribution. This will address Aperture's adjustment panel and using the basic adjustment tools.

In the final installment, Part 3, I will discuss applying keywords and the logical sequence I use to create a consistent and efficient process. To wrap things up, we'll talk about exporting images.

Number one question I get is; "How can I get my images to 'pop' like yours?"As we begin Part 2, I'm going to break in the workflow timeline here to talk about adjustments. If there is a single question I get asked the most it's "How can I get my images to 'pop' like yours?"

To me, I see what I see. I don't really see 'pop'... it's become second nature. But if others see it, that's great. So, I don't know if what I'm about to describe will give you 'pop,' but this is how I approach the Adjustment tools.

It's the post-processing part of our workflow where Aperture or Lightroom go head-to-head with Photoshop. That's not to imply they're as powerful as Photoshop. They are not. However, they do manage 99% of the adjustments that "most" photographers do (or even know how to do) in Photoshop. I don't want to debate the pros/cons of using Photoshop, but for me, most traditional types of post processing requires only a small segment of Photoshop's capabilities.

It's the post-processing part of our workflow where Aperture or Lightroom go head-to-head with Photoshop. That's not to imply they're as powerful as Photoshop. They are not.I describe the switch as merely an adjustment in your mental muscles. All three programs have similar tools that will make similar (if not the same) adjustments. For the most part, the difference lies in each tools "feedback." Brightness, contrast, saturation, levels, sharpening... they're all the same function, it's simply a matter of YOU finding the feel in each and developing your mental muscles to find your comfort level in attaining the "look" you want from your post processing. For years, I had my post processing down pat in Photoshop. Today, for the life of me, I can't duplicate my Aperture "look" in Photoshop. This is the part you need to give yourself time and experiment.

The wonderful part of all of this is that Aperture is a non-destructive tool. In other words, your Master file remains EXACTLY as it came out of the camera. Any of the adjustments we make in next section will create a Version of the image. A Version is nothing more than a small text file listing all the adjustments we made. When we click on the thumbnail of that Version, Aperture applies the changes listed and we see our adjusted image. If we don't like it a few months from now, we can just do another Version.. and another, and another. We're not even using additional hard drive space by creating a Version. It's roughly an 8K file consisting of text instructions. So experiment and have fun.

Again, I stay in the full screen view. I'll hit the H key to bring up the Adjustment Panel overlay.Again, I stay in the full screen view. I'll hit the H key to bring up the Adjustment Panel overlay.

The Adjustment panel is a group of tools separated into "bricks." Each brick addresses an adjustment group with a few tools in each. Aperture allows you to add or delete bricks to the panel. In the top right corner, there is a + sign where there are other tools. These may not be used as frequently, but can be added to the panel.

You will also notice that some of the bricks have a small arrow next to their title. This a reveal arrow and when clicked will open up advanced functions of a particular tool. Open or close them as you need to. And, keep in mind, you can slide the adjustment panel around to different areas on the screen. Put it where it's comfortable for you.

The Adjustment panel is a group of tools separated into "bricks." Each brick addresses an adjustment group with a few tools in each.Lastly, each brick has a rotated arrow on the right side of the panel. This is Aperture's "undo" tool. By click on the rotated arrow, you can remove any adjustments you've made with that tool. You can also "globally" remove ALL adjustments by clicking on the rotated arrow that is stored in the pull down menu marked with a sprocket icon in the upper right corner of the Adjustment panel.

One final note; Aperture knows the difference between RAW and JPEG automatically. While the browser is always displaying JPEG images, if the Master file is RAW you'll automatically see the RAW adjustment brick become available in the Adjustment panel. What you see on-screen is Apertures default conversion to a jpeg preview. I shoot in jpeg, so we'll not discuss RAW today.

First thing we see is a histogram and two Auto adjustments. Feel free to give those a try and see what you get. Sometimes, you get lucky and they make a nice improvement. You can always undo them.

Next we have the White Balance brick. You can use the eye dropper to click on a neutral grey area to adjust the white balance. Then you can use the two temperature sliders to tweak it a little more. Obviously, this is all trial and error and only you will know if you have it the way you like.

Aperture's Exposure brick has become much more useful for me than the Levels tool. I find I don't work the levels like I used to do in Photoshop. I primarily rely on the Exposure brick using the Exposure slider and the Brightness tool. In an average situation, I'm going to bump the Brightness down a bit and push the Exposure up. If there are highlights that are slightly hot or blown, I'll bump the Recovery slider... but ever so gently. It tends to dull things.. so be careful.

Next I'll drop down to the Enhance brick. Here I'll maybe work the Contrast slider up or down a bit. With mid day shooting, I find things get a bit too contrasty, bumping the contrast down can help soften that up. The next slider is the Detail slider. This is an important tool. Bring it up 25% to 50% of the way. This acts a little bit like sharpening... but very fine. Don't worry, you're not going to get an crunchy over-sharpened nastiness. It's a good tool.

Saturation tends to bring in reds where you don't want them. It can also make your greens (like grass) a little too electric looking.Also in the Enhance brick you'll see the Saturation slider and the Vibrancy slider. These two can manage your saturation in tandem. Saturation tends to bring in reds where you don't want them. It can also make your greens (like grass) a little too electric looking. The Vibrancy is better to use in those instances. Use it with moderation though. I've found that if you've got some reds that getting closed up in your detail areas, back the saturation slider down a bit... same with flesh tones that look sunburned. Pull down the saturation and watch to see if some of the red clears out.

The next brick is your Levels adjustments. You can choose from Luminance, RGB or Red, Green and Blue individually. As I said earlier... I'm using this less and less these days. And when I do use it, I only use it for the Luminance. In that mode it is very similar to Photoshop.

The Highlight and Shadow brick is next. DO NOT overlook this section. It can be used VERY effectively... in moderation. As you know, I shoot cars. If I get a little too much shadow around the inside of a wheel well and around the tire... bumping up the Shadow slider a touch will help separate the tire and the wheel well. If I've got a driver's face buried inside the shadows of his helmet, I can carefully pull it out a bit and bring back the driver's eyes.

The Highlight slider is much better than the Recovery tool for bringing down hot spots. Push the slider up and watch the area you're trying to adjust... if it starts to grey out on you, back up a bit. Now, clicking on the "reveal" arrow at the top of the Highlight and Shadow brick you'll see Advanced and another reveal arrow. Open that up and you'll see a few more adjustments. Using the High Tonal Width slider, move it to the right and what the highlights you're adjusting. They should come back to a natural color. Try a little back and forth with this slider and the highlight slider until you see what you're trying to attain.

Again.... USE IN MODERATION.

I'm not going to get into the COLOR brick here. It's simple enough to use... but I'm not sure there's an "average" use to describe. And, I rarely find the need to use it.

Aperture's Noise adjustment brick is a bit of an odd one. It's hard to see changes, but I can tell you, it does reduce fine noise. If I use it at all, I push the top slider up about half way. For real noise reduction, I use Noise Ninja.

The wonderful part of all of this is that Aperture is a non-destructive tool. In other words, your Master file remains EXACTLY as it came out of the camera.Aperture's Edge Sharpening tool is BRILLIANT. It does a terrific job. You'll need to play around with the settings to suit your taste... but keep in mind, each camera is different. You can create presets and it's a nice idea to do one for each camera you have. Just checking the box will give you a very nice subtle amount of sharpening. So, you may want to start there. If you find a setting you like, click on the little sprocket icon to the right and save it as a preset. Name it something you'll remember. I have a mild setting pre-set for my Leica. It is:

  • Intensity: 0.85
  • Edges: 0.27
  • Falloff: 0.69


The last brick in the Aperture adjustment overlay is the Vignette tool. For me, this is a personal favorite. It's a one click process, inasmuch as the default settings are usually just right. It is going to darken the corners of the image ever-so-slightly. If the image is dark, you may want to back it down a bit. For the most part, though, it's just right.

There is also a Spot, Clone and Repair tool, a Red Eye tool, Cropping tool, Rotate tool and Straightening tool. These can be accessed under the + icon at the top of the Adjustment panel.

The Spot, Clone and Repair tool is great for getting rid of sensor dust. Red Eye tool works extremely well. The Cropping tool works just like all the others you've ever used and has a panel that provides preset aspect ratios.

The Rotate tool is for rotating Portrait or Landscape orientation. You can hit the R key and it will turn your cursor into a rotated arrow. Just click it on the image thumbnail and it will turn it 90 degrees. (Tip: Some tools turn your cursor into a purpose specific tool pointer... such as crop, spot or rotation, to revert the cursor back to a standard pointer at any time, just hit the A key.)

The Straighten tool is a dream to use. A grid will appear over your image simultaneous with your movement. Use the grid to align with a horizontal horizon or vertical plane in your image. The Straighten tool is a dream to use. When you access the tool it turns your mouse cursor into two back-to-back vertical pointing arrows. Position it to the left of right side of your image, click down and drag your mouse either up and down. A grid will appear over your image simultaneous with your movement. Use the grid to align with a horizontal horizon or vertical plane in your image.

Those are my adjustments. You should experiment. There's a monochrome conversion and other things to play with and don't forget, you can add or delete any of the bricks to change the default layout. The other thing to remember is you can always undo your changes individually using the little rotated arrow on the right of each tool or globally using the Remove all adjustments command under the sprocket icon in the top-right corner of the Adjustment panel.

Finally, there is never any reason to "save" your work in Aperture. It is always saved and updated in real-time. 

In the final installment, Part 3, I will discuss applying keywords and the logical sequence I use to create a consistent and efficient process. To wrap things up, we'll talk about exporting images.

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