Ten Common Digital Darkroom Mistakes
Photography today is all about digital, and digital photography doesn't end when the shutter release button is pressed. Here are ten of the most common post-processing mistakes. Being aware of them is the first step towards avoiding making them.
Not Profiling Your Monitor
If you want to know what the images you shoot actually look like, you must view them on a monitor display that has been profiled. Otherwise, whatever biases and defects it may have will affect how your images appear. If you have an image that appears too green, it may be a fault of your monitor not the image itself. If you then adjust the color on that image so it looks better, you may be doing more harm than good if the image itself was fine all along. You may eventually figure out what the problem is after wasting time printing your images or sharing them with friends who all give you the same feedback, but the surest way to tell what's what is to start with a profiled monitor. And today, this can be done easily and inexpensively. Just do it, and do it regularly.
Using an Old, Slow Computer
Technology continues to improve, and the computers of today can run rings around ones manufactured even a few years ago. A new multiple-core CPU with plenty of memory may be just what you need if you shy away from digital editing because it takes so long. If you want, you have my permission to rationalize the purchase of a new computer by telling yourself that time equals money and that you'll save enough time on your editing chores to pay for it.
Even if you are careful not to overexpose an image in-camera, it's all too easy to clip the highlights later during editing. Due to the on/off nature of digital, a burned out highlight lacks all detail. The eye accepts dark, featureless shadows, but bright areas without any detail or even any hint of color look wrong. Pay attention to the histogram or better still enable the clipped highlight overlay display while editing to keep an eye on things.
Emailing Huge Image Files to Your Friends
Most people have bigger monitors than they used to, but almost any camera takes far bigger images than even that. Sending multi-megapixel, multi-megabyte images your friends and family won't impress them any more than if you sent them more appropriately resized images, but it will clog up their email inbox and their internet connection. A mere two megapixel image can completely fill even a huge 1920 x 1080 monitor. Any more than that is likely overkill.
Not Backing Up Your Images
If you've never had a computer hard drive fail, you will eventually. Nothing lasts forever, and failing to back up your images to a second or even third copy is a recipe for potential disaster.
Not Organizing Your Images
As you take more and more digital images, it can be increasingly difficult to find the one you are looking for unless you take steps to organize things. And if you wait until you have enough images to notice this problem, you will have waited long enough to make it quite time-consuming to get out from under the mess you've created. A word of advice: if you haven't done so already, develop an organizational system now. It's up to you whether you create folders by location or by subject matter, but pick something and stick to it.
Buying Photoshop Because "Serious Photographers" Use It
For quite some time, Photoshop was the standard of excellence in digital image editing tools. Sooner or later, most users of cheaper alternatives upgraded to Photoshop when the weaknesses in the program they were using became apparent. But times have changed. Today, most photographers will be better off with Lightroom, leaving Photoshop for specialty cases rather than general use. Lightroom is built specifically for photography and can be purchased for about the same price as a single year's subscription to Photoshop in the Cloud.
Playing With Every New Filter, Plugin and Program
Just as photographers looking for a magic bullet have for years lusted over every new lens, filter and gadget, digital photographers today often think their images could be improved if they had just one more plug-in, filter or program at their disposal. A tweak here, or an optimization or effect there might be fun to play with, but will rarely be the most effective way of improving your images. The truth is, the photographer makes the images – always has, and always will.
Over-Sharpening, Over-Saturating or Over-Editing
It can be tempting to think that if a little bit of added saturation can make an image more compelling, a little bit more will make it that much more compelling. But it's a slippery slope, and your eyes can fool you. It's hard to tell when you've gone too far. Each small tweak looks only slightly different than what came before it. The best way to tell is to compare against the unmodified original image, not just the version immediately preceding the current change.
Thinking That You Can Always Fix it Later
Perhaps the number one most common digital photography mistake is thinking that digital makes you immune from making mistakes in-camera. The common but mistaken wisdom is that you can always fix things later with digital editing. The truth though is that digital photography is very much still photography. What you do in-camera matters. Photoshop, Lightroom and other tools of the digital darkroom can enable you to make the most of an already good image, but they can do little to turn a bad image good. If the source material isn't there, you can't invent it later.