The Challenge of the Heavy Hand

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The Challenge of the Heavy Hand

This is a dangerous thing that pops up in so many images I see.

The Heavy Hand.

It usually happens in Photoshop but has migrated to Lightroom, it exists in nearly anyone who does post production on their images.

Saturation and sharpening are the most noticed followed by spot color. It’s easy to do, even by an experienced post production person.  You are working on an image that you want to really pop. So you tweak the saturation, look at it for a bit, then tweak it some more. Your reference is the last tweak, eyes get used to that so with the second or more tweaks, the pop seems more impressive until you see the colors actually begin to shift.

A good practice is to work with a copy beside you, or with layers you can turn off to see the original. It brings you down to earth very quickly.

Ah, but some say, I use the defaults and the plugin software should know best. In this case what most plugins or programs do is default to the very strong side. The programmers who make the plugins explained it to me this way, they don’t know where on the scale the image is, by starting at the strong end it is easer for the user to back the effect off to taste.

Sharpening is a little different. Some photographers over use sharpening to correct an out of focus or soft image. That will not save it. It’s out of focus, let it go or go artsy so it becomes really out of focus. The nugget to know with sharpening is it depends on usage and output size. For example a large image that seems fine with the final sharpening applied becomes annoyingly sharp when shrunk down for a Facebook use. Yet when printed seems still too soft.

Really knowledgeable instructors will advise you to leave sharpen at two points in post production. First, very mildly when the raw file is opened to compensate for the camera’s low contrast. Then just before final output so the sharpening is matched to the output device. Think of the monitor as an output device. After output is done, they will often remove the final sharpen layer so its ready for the next output device.

Software programs don’t actually “sharpen” the images. They increase the contrast on the pixel edge to give the appearance of the image being sharper. If it goes to far, the result is a very distracting image that seems cluttered. On people pores seem to pop out, a mild white line can start to appear.

When prints go into judging at the professional or even semiprofessional level, both of these heavy handed production issues are noted and can kill the print’s chances of hanging.  Your client will just be uncomfortable without really being able to put their finger on it.

The good news is once you start recognizing when something has gone to far, your hand will never get heavy again.

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