Have you found yourself cranking up the contrast slider and running a sharpening filter just to end up with a shot that fell short of your initial vision? Here are two editing swaps that you can make that will help your post-production be more precise.
1. Swap the Contrast Slider for Editing Your Tones Individually
One adjustment I use very minimally in my editing is the contrast slider. The contrast slider adjusts the overall tonal range in your photo, making the lights brighter and the darks darker. The reason I don’t like the contrast slider is that you don’t have control over the proportions by which you want to brighten the highlights or darken the shadows individually. The contrast slider often affects the color also, as you can see in the comparison images below. The image on the left is with only the contrast slider used. The darks around the chin of the man got lost, and the image took a turn for the orange.
The middle picture only used the highlights, shadows, and blacks sliders. These give you much more control over your tonal range, setting it exactly as you want. The last image is the finished edit to which I added color correction, frequency separation, and selective sharpening.
These are the settings that I used in the middle picture above instead of using the contrast slider. My aesthetic is to pull up the shadows and pull down the highlights and the blacks, but you can find what look you like. Whatever look becomes your signature, this approach allows you more control than the contrast slider alone.
2. Swap Full Image Sharpening for Sharpening Selectively on Focal Points
Have you ever walked into a store like TJ Maxx to do some shopping, but there were so many clothes everywhere that you turned around and walked out because you were overwhelmed by it all? Images can quickly become like a TJ Maxx store on Black Friday if you don’t compose and edit them with focal points. Not everything in your images should be fighting for attention. Your eyes need places to rest. This is one of the main criticisms of HDR photography. It’s just too much visually. Choose a focal point and emphasize its crispness, sharpening, and texture rather than the entire image.
Below is an example of each: the left is the straight-out-of-camera shot. In the middle image, everything is sharpened and defined equally from the foreground to the background. Finally, the right image is edited for sharpness and definition on the main subject, but not on the background.
Editing is a very subjective art form, and there's no one way to do it. These are two tips that you can explore, however, to create your signature look with as much precision as you need.
What look is your favorite? Do you have your own "swap this for that" technique? Leave a comment below and share.