We’ve all seen it: photographers who over process a great image in Lightroom or Photoshop and ruin it. The term most often used to describe this phenomena is over baked. Just like when you over bake something in the oven the result comes out burned and tasteless. This is typically an affliction of the Newbie but believe me it can easily rear its ugly head in the advanced amateur and even professional world too. The resulting photograph often garners oohs & aahs on social media like Facebook and Instagram but will make a more discerning critic cringe with unease.
I am not casting stones here (refer to your Bible) because I have been so guilty of this myself, especially early on in my post-processing experience with Photoshop. Initially it’s just more temptation than a photographer can resist but the sooner you get over it the better. Dialling it back is imperative to preserving realism and authenticity—I think virtually all digital images can benefit from some processing. If you are still shooting JPEG files your camera is doing this automatically with factory installed algorithms.
Hopefully your photography has advanced to the point where you’re now shooting CameraRAW files consistently. CameraRAW files are neutral (no in-camera processing) and require adjustments in post-processing. Most of us use either Lightroom or Photoshop for those adjustments. Common adjustments include: White Balance, Hue & Saturation, Contrast, Sharpening, Clarity and Vibrance. There are many others. My biggest downfall was Saturation, Sharpening and Vignetting. I over saturated, I over sharpened and I put a vignette on everything.
A very simple rule of thumb goes a long way to overcoming this tendency. It works. I can’t explain why it works but it works. I didn’t invent it but I will share it with you. The rule, simply stated, is this:
Move your adjustment slider to just where the effect is over the top and then dial it back to 1/3
Using the saturation slider as an example: slide it to the right (more saturation) until it just reaches the point of looking somewhat weird (you’ll know it when you see it). In this example we’ll say this occurs when the slider reaches 36. Divide the number 36 by 3 (basically 30%) and you have your new adjustment number 12. Dialling it back to 12 is better.
Again, I can’t tell you why this formula works in most situations—it just does. I use it mostly with Saturation, Clarity and Vibrance but it works equally well with other adjustment sliders too. Bring the selected adjustment just to the point of unreality and then back off by 2/3s. You will get a more harmonious outcome (paraphrased from the Tom Selleck western Crossfire Trail). I wish that I could include a link to the original source for this simple fix but I can’t remember where I found it—the challenge of advancing years.