Photography 101: Over Baking in Post

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Stephen F. Dennstedt

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.

Acrylic or Metal Print

Atacama Desert in Northern Chile

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11 responses to “Photography 101: Over Baking in Post

    • I remember when I came upon it, not too long ago, I was kind of stunned with its simplicity. As you can appreciate it’s only a guideline, but it really holds up. 🙂

  1. Mea Culpa. My rule has been to process it until you think it looks great, walk away for 30 minutes, come back and dial it back 10-20%. Your way might save me a few cups of coffee (am) or glasses of wine (pm). I’ll try it.

    • I was skeptical when I first learned of it, but after trying it a few times it seems to work pretty good more often than not. It’s only a guideline of course but a nice starting point. Like you, I have also learned to step away for awhile before posting it everywhere. Live and learn I guess.

        • You will enjoy it. I’ve been snapping shutters for almost 63 years now (will be 70 in May) and I am still learning. That is part of the fun. Things continue to change. When I switched from film to digital in 2009 it was like starting over again. 🙂

          • I have always loved photography but have only been serious about it for about a year and a half now. I don’t know why it took me so long to buy a decent camera. I can imagine switching from from film to digital was quite the change. Learning Photoshop and Lightroom is not the easiest haha.

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