Image Post Processing – Order Matters

Post-processing adjustments

CAN NOT be done in any old order!

Although this post applies to image processing in general, regardless of the processing software used, I wrote it especially as a message for users of Color Efex Pro 4.

CEP4 offers filter stacks which allow a long series of adjustments to be applied automatically

Great feature, but

Terrible idea for you to apply it blindly

Adjustments, thus stacks of filters, are highly image dependent – one size DOES NOT fit all

Further, the filters within a stack can have their order rearranged via drag & drop

Another great feature, but

An even worse idea than the one above if applied blindly

Give a user filter stacks AND the option to rearrange their order isn’t just a Recipe (that’s what these are called in CEP4)

It’s a recipe for disaster if not used properly.

My CEP4 Tutorial covers all of this in detail, but what follows is an illustrated example of the pitfalls.
Without good reason to do otherwise,

post-processing adjustments should be done in the following order

  1. Get the color right (white balance & no color cast)
  2. Attend to color & tonal contrast in the following order
  1. Large details
  2. Medium details
  3. Small details

Only then, do anything else that strikes your fancy but

  • color and
  • tonal/color contrast
  • should come first

Failure to follow this order results in initial errors –

cascading through to your end result
and it’s difficult or impossible to back them out after the fact

For example, start with a color cast. Next change the color (saturation, hue, etc.). Guess what – you changed the wrong color, not the true color. This mistake will haunt you, and get progressively worse, throughout every step that follows.
A color example.

Top – The before image has a severe blue color cast (as you might get outdoors with WB set to indoors (tungsten). Note that it affects the entire image (including the once green trees).
Middle – WB correction done last, after normal color & tonal contrast adjustments
Bottom – WB correction done first (as it should have been) followed by exactly the same set of adjustments that were done before WB in the middle image.

The bottom image is what I saw & not the blue versions.
Let’s see what happens if you reverse the order for dealing with large details first and small ones later.
The top image follows the recommended order, and the bottom does details first.

The results are different – not because the four individual adjustment steps used different settings – they did not.
They are different simply because the 1st & 5th steps were reversed between the two.
If the top is what you wanted (I did), you’re not going to get back to it after creating the bottom one no matter what you do – you missed the boat at step #1.


Order matters!


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