Photo Processing / by Alain Zarinelli

I get a lot of questions from folks on Instagram and Facebook, about how I process my photos.

First off, I have to say I used to process social media photos very differently from my (fine art) prints. I used to use filters/plug-ins to create social media “ready” photographs, like they were factory-assembly objects: applying a preset while ingesting into Lightroom while ingesting with some basic and advanced settings, like camera profile, lens correction, contrast, clarity, saturation, etc. Then I would take those photographs to Nik Collection’s Color Efex Pro, and apply a predefined preset in there, adjust some sliders to my liking for the individual photograph…. Finally, I’d use a plug-in (e.g. LR/Instagram) to upload the photo to Facebook and Instagram directly from Lightroom. These photos usually didn’t go into Photoshop at all.

The issue I realized was my social media photographs had a very different look from my prints; essentially ‘losing’ my personal style elements. So, I decided a couple of months ago to process my social media photographs similarly to the way I process my (fine art) prints… Obviously, my to-be-printed photos take much longer to prepare, and have additional steps and artistic freedom applied (for a more complete explanation of how I prepare photographs for fine art printing, please check out my “Artist Statement and Vision,”) but the basic processing is now essentially identical.

So how do I process these photographs?

First of, as I ingest into Lightroom, I still apply a camera preset (usually ‘Camera Landscape,”) and lens corrections, but no sharpening, clarity, saturation, or contrast enhancements. After culling, I decide which photographs to process for printing (5 stars) vs. social media posts (2 stars.) Inside Lightroom, I adjust the settings to make the photos/histogram look quite “bland, but detail-rich.” I then use my ’CMD-E’ shortcut to “edit in photoshop” (16 bit, ProPhoto, PSD.)

Social Media

While the basic processing is similar, there are some definite differences between how I process photos to be printed vs. my social media intended photos: primarily, social media intended photographs will be viewed on a screen, and the color space applied is sRGB.

I will outline my ‘to-be-printed’ workflow inside Photoshop in a later blog post; for now, let’s focus on back-lit sRGB screen-viewable photographs…

Once in Photoshop, my first editing applies global changes to the photo. This is accomplished using adjustment layers. I use Levels or Curves to set my black and white points as I like them. I then check the Hue and Saturation , Color Balance, Brightness and Contrast, as well as Selective Color of the photo to remove any color cast, to adjust the overall contrast, colors, and hues to my liking, emphasize some colors over others, etc. Finally, I may apply Curves to adjust the contrast or brightness of specific colors, highlights, shadows, etc. This is not done “by the numbers,” but rather to create a photograph that is pleasing to me, and reflects my artistic vision of the scene. My ‘final global’ adjustment is typically cropping.

Next step is local adjustments. These start out with Highlights and Shadows, then include masked Curves adjustments, Dodging and Burning, either ‘regular,’ with a soft light layer, or single channel. I may then add a Contrast Mask, either as a general overlay or using a luminosity mask.

Once the photo is adjusted to my liking, I will look for things that ‘distract’ from the aesthetics I want to convey, so I can clone them out, these include potential dust spots, halos, noise, unwanted vignetting, etc.

My final step is (up- or) “down-resing” the photo according to the requirements of the social media platform I plan on publishing on, and finally sharpening (for the screen.) Once all this is accomplished, I will save the photo as an SM-Master file back to Lightroom (PSD with all the layers intact,) then ‘flatten’ the image and apply a Digimarc signature for copyright protection - note, I do not publish any photographs, other than ‘BTS’ iPhone photos, unless I have first registered them with the US Copyright Office (Check out my previous post on copyright for more detail…,) using an action I created, which also assigns the sRGB color space to the file and converts it to a social-media-sized JPG. Finally, I ‘Save’ the JPG back to Lightroom, appropriately renamed, and upload to social media using the appropriate plug-ins directly from Lightroom.

I hope this was helpful - let me know if you have any questions in the comments below (or email me: alain -at- Zarinelli -dot- com)! I am planning a quick tutorial/example video on the above process. Stay tuned…