Photo editing software does two quite different jobs. It can be used to correct faults and problems in photos, but it can also be used to apply creative, artistic effects.
These two things are usually jumbled together in any conversations about photo editing, but there’s a lot to be gained from splitting them into two distinct tasks.
Why? Because they are two different mindsets, two different stages in the creative workflow and may even require different software. If you can separate out the necessary adjustments from the creative, you can be a lot more focused about what you do.
To make this more memorable, here are acronyms for these two different photo editing processes:
- BAN adjustments (this article): Basic And Necessary corrections
- CATs: Creative Artistic Treatments
So yes, together they make BAN CATs*
BAN adjustments explained
These are Basic and Necessary image fixes that you know you will need to apply whatever you decide to do with your images later from a creative standpoint. You don’t need to be in a creative frame of mind to make corrections that clearly need doing. It’s not about making creative decisions, but fixing things which are obviously wrong.
Here are the key fixes that images typically need that are irrespective of any creative treatments or effects you might want to try later.
You might not need them all, but what they have in common is that they fix things that are nothing to do with any creative decisions you make later – they just need fixing!
- Exposure/dynamic range: adjusting the image to have a natural looking brightness level and contrast, and recovering shadow detail or blown highlights if you’re working with a RAW file.
- White balance and color: color is also a creative choice, so it’s a good idea not to get too deep into color rendering at this stage. Fixing white balance and color casts can help you work out if the photo has potential, though.
- Lens corrections: distortion, color fringing and vignetting are not always obvious, but can seriously undermine the visual appeal of a photo. The small flaws can be as harmful as the big ones.
- Cropping, straightening and perspective correction: badly cropped or skewed photos are rarely a creative choice. This is the time to fix them. And unless converging verticals are part of the composition, they will look better fixed. Sometimes cropping is best left, however. Read Why cropping is the last thing you should do.
- Retouching: you will definitely want to get rid of sensor spots before you start doing anything else with your photos, and the same applies to unwanted objects in the picture, such as tourists, signs and anything else that could spoil the effect.
What do you fix first?
Some photographers like to have a controlled, technical workflow where each process is carried out in the same sequence. This makes sense in traditional ‘destructive’ software because each step is a process in itself which affects the starting point for the next step.
This doesn’t apply to ‘non-destructive’ editors like Lightroom, Capture One, DxO PhotoLab and others. Here, your adjustments are applied simultaneously, ‘in parallel, so there’s no clear technical reason to do them i a set order.
This is where I use what I like to call WTF editing – ‘Worst Things First’, in case you’re wondering. As the acronym suggests, I fix the most obvious (worst) defect first, then the next most obvious and so on. If find this the quickest way to work out which photos are ‘keepers’ and which won’t amount to anything.
Why BAN adjustments are useful
- BAN adjustments are really useful in programs like Lightroom Classic or Capture One, which are used as ‘host’ programs for plug-ins or external editors. You can optimise your RAW files ahead of sending them to another program.
- BAN adjustments let you see an image’s potential without committing to any particular creative style. Unprocessed RAW files or JPEGs straight from the camera don’t give a proper idea of how good a picture can look.
- Quick BAN adjustments can help with culling and sorting, even if you simply apply an Auto correction setting to fix the exposure and dynamic range. Auto adjustments in photo editors might look like a lazy cop-out, but actually they can be an extremely useful starting point.
* I have nothing against cats. I used to have one. I now have a dog, who has a different opinion.