When it comes to post-processing your images, we’ve got a ton of tools to work with, both in our RAW editors and in plug-ins. Sometimes, though, I’ll see images that just look completely over-done. Usually this occurs when the photographer sees an effect and cranks it up really high. But the problem is bigger than that. Often, we’ll create images that have regions that look great with a particular effect, but at the expense of other areas. This is what happens when you apply adjustments globally (to the entire image).
The majority of adjustment tools operate globally; contrast, saturation, sharpening, etc. While we need to make global adjustments to set the foundation of our image, some adjustments can wreak havoc when applied globally. A good example is the Clarity slider in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. This slider affects local contrast (textures) and is extremely powerful. It’s also a tool that can quickly get out of hand. While certain features look great with added Clarity, other areas of the image can start to look extra-terrestrial.
The solution for these types of images is to place specific adjustments only where you need them. I like to use the Clarity slider to examine my image for areas that would benefit from its application, but then I’ll add the effect with the brush tool in Lightroom. The same technique applies to Photoshop users, who can use selection masks to add effects subtly to specific areas of their image.
Here’s a short video I made that illustrates the “Think Globally, Act Locally” paradigm for digital photographers.