Is it possible to post-process photos automatically?

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Post processing describes the act of editing a photo. Making adjustments to the color, contrast, sometimes to the crop. In fact the adjustments that can be made are practically limitless. It is known as post processing since it is carried out after (post) the image was captured.

i don't know but today seems kinda odd
i don't know but today seems kinda odd by spaceabstract on flickr (licensed CC-BY)

Making adjustments to each image you take might seem like it would take a long time (and depending on the adjustments, it can). So you might be wondering if there is some way to apply post processing to your photos automatically. That would cut down on a lot of work for you. So, is this possible?

The answer to that question is both yes, and no. You can have your computer, or your camera apply adjustments to your photos automatically. But there is no way that your computer or camera can know the look you are going for without some intervention from yourself.

Why is Post Processing important?

Just applying an auto setting to your photos probably won't give you what want. (Though in some cases it might). The post processing an image requires can vary quite a bit between images. What works well for one image might not work well for another. This is particularly true if you are photographing different subjects, such as a portrait and a landscape.

Careful post processing of an image that is tailored specifically to that image can take a photo from good to wow.

Made in BALI
Made in BALI by williamcho on flickr (licensed CC-BY-SA) - the careful processing applied to this image is not something that can be done automatically

Don't think that you need to apply careful post processing to each of your photos. If you only work on your very best images, the amount of time spent on post processing will be much less, and yield a greater reward than trying to post process every single photo you take.

Hello World
Hello World by mhogan35 on flickr (licensed CC-BY)

Some people think that a real photographer should get everything right in-camera, and not do any post-processing at all. While it is true that you should get as much as possible right at the time of taking the photograph, post processing is an important part of the photographic process.

When people shot (and some still shoot) film, they would still post-process their photos. The process of developing the negatives and also the way the print was developed would both affect the look of the final image. Similarly, with digital photography, your camera will apply some adjustments to the photo.

Main Street #12 - Logistics made simple
Main Street #12 - Logistics made simple by kevin dooley on flickr (licensed CC-BY)

So there is nothing wrong with post processing your photos. You can read more about this subject here: How much image editing is acceptable?

Automatic Post Processing

With the above said, it is certainly possible to set up automatic post processing of your photos.

I would actually recommend setting up automatic post processing for all your photos, and then tweaking the processing or working further on your best images. For me, automatic post processing is a way to get images looking at a good baseline that can then be worked on further if necessary. For others, they might find that the automatic settings are good enough without any extra work.

In Camera

The main place to start is in your camera settings. Practically all cameras have options that allow you to adjust things such as the contrast, color saturation, and sharpness. Some models have a wide range of options, such as film simulation modes and special effects.

Image settings screen on camera

Try taking photos and adjusting the settings to your liking. For example, if you like your photos to have a lot of contrast, turn up the contrast setting. If you like your photos to have a soft pastel style look, turn down the contrast and saturation settings.

Then, whenever you take a photo, the camera will automatically apply these settings to your photos.

In Software

You can also apply automatic post processing settings in your photo editing software. This is particularly relevant if you shoot in RAW format. With JPEG format, all the settings are applied to the image before it is saved.

With RAW format, the settings chosen are saved with the file, but not applied. You then need to convert the RAW image to a standard format (e.g. JPEG), at which point the software applies the settings to the file. The benefit of this is that you can then change these settings when the RAW file is converted.

Depending on your camera model and the RAW conversion software you use, the software might not be able to read the contrast etc. settings saved in the image. So setting up automatic (or default)settings for conversion can be a good idea.

259/365 - 09/15/11 - Post Processing
259/365 - 09/15/11 - Post Processing by Shardayyy on flickr (licensed CC-BY)

You can also do the same thing and set up automatic settings to be applied to JPEG (or any other format image). This might be useful if you want to automatically apply a setting / effect to all your photos that is not available as an in-camera option.

The exact way to do this is dependent on the image software you use. But generally you'll need to post-process one image, and then save those settings as the defaults or in a settings file.

Then whenever you copy new images to your computer, you open them in the organization view of your image editing software. You select all the images, and then choose to process (sometimes it might be marked as batch process) them. If you saved your settings as a settings file rather than the default settings, you might need to load the settings for all selected images (in one go, no need to load separately for each image), before you process them.

Most RAW conversion software allows you to save settings as defaults or as a preset that can be loaded whenever it is wanted.

The software then processes all the selected images with the settings you have supplied.

As I said earlier, the post processing of a photo often depends on the subject matter and the look you are going for. What you can do when applying the same settings / effects in software, is to treat each shoot separately.

So, for example, if you had taken a set of portrait photos. You would post process one photo, then save those settings and apply them to all the other photos from the same shoot. If you did another shoot where you were photographing rocky landscapes, you would do the same thing.

This will still give you a good time saving from using automatic post processing. But the images will look better by having the processing tweaked more to suit the specific subject matter and lighting conditions of that photography session.

Irving Pulp and Paper Mill
Irving Pulp and Paper Mill by Christopher Craig on flickr (licensed CC-BY)

If you find you are often shooting the same types of subject, you might find it easiest to just keep a set of standard presets based on the post processing you like for each subject. For example, a landscape photographer might have cloudy landscape, sunny landscape, waterscape, and sunset presets.

Note that applying the same post processing to all images is not possible in all image editing software. Most RAW conversion software, or software that is designed for working with batches of images will work fine. But software designed for working on only one image at a time can be a bit trickier.

Into the Dragon's Lair
Into the Dragon's Lair by Tobias Lindman on flickr (licensed CC-BY)

The full version of Photoshop allows you to record an 'action'. So you can record all the steps you take in post processing an image. Then this action can be saved and applied to any other image you want. Photoshop Elements can run actions, but it has no facility to record them.

GIMP can run scripts that specify actions to be taken to process a photo, but these need to be written in a specific format. So a lot more difficult than just recording what you're doing. Paintshop Pro can record actions in a similar way to Photoshop, though it calls them Scripts.

Another thing worth noting is that you can download presets, settings files, actions, scripts etc. that other users have made. This allows you to quickly and easily apply the same post processing to your photos that someone else has used / created for their own photos.

Epilogo by Daniele Zedda on flickr (licensed CC-BY)

So, to sum up:

  • You can apply 'automatic' post processing to all your photos.
  • However, it is a good idea to use different presets for your automatic post processing based on the subject matter and the look you are going for, rather than applying the exact same preset to all images no matter what the content.
  • Some post processing can be automatically applied in camera.
  • Taking time to individually post process only your very best images can be worth the effort, and make a good photo even better.

Written by Discover Digital Photography

May 3rd, 2013 at 3:50 pm

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