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June 12, 2010 / A Surviving Father

Aperture 3 Workflow

As promised in a previous entry, what follows is an example workflow for postprocessing with Aperture 3.  One of the great things about taking up photography is that I get to work with some of my favorite subjects- my children.  So here is an untouched photo taken of one of my daughters in our backyard straight out of the camera:

Untouched image straight from the camera

Not a terrible photo- there is some nice backlighting, but it could use some correction.  Now the possibilities are endless, and a lot of what you do depends on your goal for the photograph.  Are you converting to black and white?  Do you want a vintage look?  How about pop art?  Muted or sepia?  Like I said, the possibilities are endless.  For this example, we’ll focus on just making a decent color photograph for sending to friends and family.

Within Aperture 3 there are ready-made preset adjustments which you can try, but I like to experiment with the settings manually.  Sometimes I get an unintended look that I really like, plus it helps me feel a little more comfortable with what each adjustment really does to a photo.  If you find a group of settings that you really like, you can always save them as a preset to use on additional photos.  You can also lift adjustments from one photo and apply them to other photos, but I digress.

The first step for me is to crop the photo which allows me to improve upon the original composition.  In this case I wanted to focus more on my daughter’s face.  I also avoided centering her in the image- her face is about two-thirds of the way from the left edge of the photo.  There are probably entire dissertations written about the “rule of thirds” but suffice it to say, it is aesthetically pleasing.  Here is the image after cropping:

Cropped image

I am not an expert at post-processing, but almost everything I’ve read recommends starting with noise reduction.  It is typically not a noticeable adjustment except at high magnification, so I did not include a picture, but it helps remove noise artifact that degrades image quality.

The next step is to adjust white balance and overall exposure.  The white balance in this photo is fairly good, so I did not need to perform further adjustment; however I thought I would boost the exposure to lighten the face without loosing too much detail in the highlight areas, such as the tip of the nose.  I didn’t worry about the highlights around the hair, as increasing the exposure actually adds to the halo effect:

Exposure adjustment

Next I play around with the ‘curves‘ panel.  Now I have no idea what exactly is happening when I make curve adjustments, but I push and pull curves until I see something that I like, such as this:

A little curve adjustment

Not too bad.  The next couple of steps are mere details, but they can really enhance a portrait.  First, I brush in selective highlights, or reflectors, on the eyes using the dodge (lighten) brush.  You don’t want to overdo this step, as it can make the image appear artificial.  Before and after images are below:

Before

After selective dodge highlights

Next, I sharpen the entire image, but I also selectively sharpen the eyes by brushing in the effect- a nice feature of Aperture 3.  Sharpening the eyes draws more focus to them, which really is the point of a portrait- it’s all about the eyes.

Before

After selective sharpening of the eyes

Finally, I add a vignette adjustment, which slightly darkens the corners of the photo to again bring focus to the face.  This completes the post-processing for this particular image- it is grandparent-ready!

After post-processing

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