You are currently browsing the Mikhail Lavrenov blog posts tagged: postprocessing


Importance of proper processing

Young man in spa

In 2009 I had a studio session with a handsome blond man – most of it was a spa theme. (It was done during the photographers meeting in Yuri Arcurs studio in Denmark in August 2009).

I was expecting the pictures to sell well – good subject, handsome blond man, positive emotions…. However the sales were not impressive during several months.

Usually I don’t go back to the photographs already processed and submitted, but in this case I was really curious. So I looked at similar photos from the other authors that were selling well and tried to analyze what was wrong with mine.

I noticed that the skin tone on my pictures was too red though the white balance was technically correct. It was very hot in the studio, so the model was truly sweat and red. So I selected several un-processed photos from that sessionĀ  and edited them differently than the first time – made them higher contrast and different skin tone.

I also re-did the keywords as a noticed some difference between my pictures and other ones.

My original batch included several tens pictures. Newly edited was 5 or 6. However the trick worked well. When I submitted the new pictures, not only they started to sell well, but the original ones started to sell better too. Now, a year later I see the man in spa selling several times a week.

Photo editing – how to reduce artifacts

Artifacting is a native issue of digital photography. It appears on nearly all digital photos – sometimes a little, sometimes strong. Microstock agencies don’t like artifacts, istockphoto is particularly known for that.

Artifacts is something quite easy to address if you apply a systematic approach. I am getting nearly 0 rejects for artifacts for the last +/- 12 months if not longer:

  • shoot exclusively in RAW , not too high ISO
  • good exposure, particularly no underexposure, and no pulling shadows up
  • very little or no sharpening when processing RAW
  • if converting RAW to separate file before opening in photoshop use TIF not jpeg

in result you should see very little artifacting (BTW check on the edge of shadows at 400%-500% zoom).

What I am doing next with 100% of my pictures is applying TopazLabs DeJPEG filter (photoshop plugin). There is an old free version and there is up to date commercial one (which isn’t expensive). The “official” purpose of the plugin is different, but it helps very nicely to remove that little artifacting. The key is to apply DeJPEG at very low settings, don’t overdo it. I made several presets for different degree of artifacting/noise; and I am thinking about making a tutorial about that when I have some time.

When applied at minimal settings, DeJPEG filter smooths areas without detail while keeping details sharp, and adds a very little noise. This is an example (crop enlarged to 300%):


the version “more DeJpeg” not only smoothened stronger, but also has more noise added.

Taking my stock photography to the next level

After doing stock photography for a few years I reached lately (yet another) plateau. Adding new photos to portfolio doesn’t improve sales. This isn’t an unusual situation; but in addition to that I am not satisfied with my past pace of growth. I believe I now learned enough to seriously take my stock photography to the next level.

There are few quite obvious (to me) areas that I need to address:

1) I need to take more pictures specially for stock.

So far most of pictures taken by my camera aren’t made specially for stock. At the same time O noticed that pictures taken specially for stock take less time to post-process; and session organized specially for stock generates many more usable photos. Thus the conclusion is simple:

2) Don’t spend time processing non-stock photos for stock.

Post-processing (selecting good photos from the shoot; RAW processing; editing in photoshop, keywording) takes several times more time than shooting. One of the main reasons I didn’t organize too many shoots specially for stock was too big back-log of unprocessed photos. The previous point will address that to a big extend. Further reduction of post-processing time can be achieved with another simple step:

3) Be more selective processing photos for stock. Don’t waste time trying to improve imperfect pictures.

Still, processing pictures takes a lot of time and it is still much longer than shoot even if I select pictures more carefully. So the next focus point is to reduce post-processing time. So, my next step is:

4) Outsource part of post-processing.

This one is being tested right now. I decided to try to outsource retouching work to India. Retouching is a routine procedure that takes a significant portion of my time now but isn’t very expensive when done by somebody else. I will keep other, more creative parts of post-processing for myself.

This is now in test mode – I found a company to do the work (via a recommendation), tried a few pictures with them, agreed on price and send them the very first batch. I hope it will work.

As a possible next step I consider outsourcing keywording but that is yet to be decided.

So to summarize all of the above: I need to take more pictures, be more selective which ones to process and need to reduce post-processing time. Yet another step to improve my stock photography is:

5) Take better photos.

Technically my photos are already good – vast majority of my pictures are accepted by agencies without problems. However I need to take better stock photos. There are two parts in that task:

5.1) One is relatively simple and is to improve various small elements such as model’s smile, clean background etc.
5.2) The other is much more difficult – to analyse what subjects sell well and make sellable photos. The word “analyse” here is related to both evaluation of the market bestsellers and evaluation of my own portfolio and my own bestsellers.

I plan to work seriously on item 5.2 later, after the previous items will be successfully implemented and will become a normal routine.

My plan for the remaining months this year is to implement items 1 to 5.1 and to produce at least 100 good photos monthly. If it will work well I will need to increase the number next year and to start seriously working on item 5.2.