Street photography allows photographers to capture the essence of life in urban environments. However, taking a great street photograph is just the first step in creating an impactful image. Post-processing is a critical part of the creative process that can elevate your street photography to the next level. In this short, and by no means exhaustive guide, we will explore some of the basics as to how to post-process street photography effectively, from selecting the right software to enhancing your images while preserving their authenticity.
The first step in effective street photography post-processing is choosing the right software. While there are various options available, Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop are among the most popular choices for many photographers, and are indeed what I use. These programs offer a wide range of tools and features tailored to photographers' needs.
Adobe Lightroom: This user-friendly software is excellent for beginners and experienced photographers alike. Its organisational capabilities and non-destructive editing make it a go-to choice for many street photographers. You can efficiently manage and edit your street photography collections.
Adobe Photoshop: Photoshop offers advanced editing capabilities, making it ideal for those who want to take their post-processing skills to the next level. While it's a powerful tool, it can be more complex and time-consuming for beginners.
Other Software: Besides Adobe products, various other software options, such as Capture One, DxO PhotoLab, and ON1 Photo RAW, offer unique features and can be suitable alternatives.
Now that you have your chosen software, let's delve into the basics of street photography post-processing.
Import and Organise: Start by importing your street photographs into your chosen software and organising them into folders or collections. This step is crucial for efficient post-processing and future reference.
RAW vs. JPEG: If possible, shoot in RAW format rather than JPEG. RAW files contain more data and offer greater flexibility during post-processing, allowing you to recover details in shadows and highlights.
Exposure: Adjust exposure to ensure proper brightness and contrast in your image.
White Balance: Correct any colour casts or temperature issues to achieve accurate colours. In Lightroom, you can use the eye-dropper tool on anything you know to be white in your scene to get a reasonably accurate white balance. I also only shoot with “daylight” set in-camera.
Crop and Straighten: Crop your images for better composition and straighten horizons if necessary.
Now, let's explore the techniques to enhance your street photographs while preserving their authenticity.
Contrast and Clarity: Adjusting contrast and clarity can make your subject pop and enhance texture in street scenes. Be cautious not to overdo it, as it can result in an unnatural look. I sometimes find that I need to back-off the contrast somewhat due to the nature of New Zealand’s sunlight, which can be very harsh at times.
Shadows and Highlights: Use the shadow and highlight sliders to recover details in underexposed shadows and overexposed highlights, bringing out the subtleties in your street photography. Alternatively you can use these sliders to get rid of unwanted details by either crushing the shadows, or blowing out the highlights, but this is very much a stylistic choice.
Saturation: Adjust the saturation to enhance or mute colours, depending on the mood you want to convey.
Vibrance: Increase vibrance to make colours pop without oversaturating.
If there are too many competing colours in your scene it may be worth trying your shot in black and white to see if you prefer it.
Noise Reduction: Street photographs captured in low-light conditions may suffer from noise. Use noise reduction tools in your software to reduce graininess while maintaining image sharpness.
Sharpening: Apply sharpening selectively to enhance the overall image, focusing on key areas like the subject's eyes.
Vignetting: Adding a subtle vignette can draw the viewer's attention toward the centre of the frame and create a more cinematic effect. However over-use is to be avoided.
Graduated Filters: Use graduated filters to adjust specific areas of your street photograph independently. This technique is particularly useful for balancing exposure in sky and ground.
While post-processing allows for creative enhancements, it's essential to maintain the authenticity and integrity of your street photography.
Avoid Over-Editing: Over-processing can lead to unnatural-looking images. Always strive for a balance between enhancing and preserving the authenticity of your street photographs.
Retain Imperfections: Street photography thrives on the candid and unscripted moments. Don't be too quick to remove minor imperfections or distractions, as they can add character to your images.
Stay True to the Scene: Be mindful of not altering the scene's narrative during post-processing. Street photography should reflect the reality and emotions of the moment.
Experiment and Develop Your Style: While preserving authenticity, don't be afraid to experiment with different post-processing techniques to develop your unique style in street photography.
Effective street photography post-processing is a blend of technical skill and artistic sensibility. By selecting the right software, mastering the basics, and enhancing your photographs while preserving their authenticity, you can take your street photography to new heights. Remember that post-processing is a creative tool to help you convey your vision and connect with your audience. As you practise and refine your skills, you'll discover the immense potential that lies within each of your street photographs, turning them into captivating stories of life on the streets.