Post-processing is an integral part of many pro photographers' workflows – an indispensable step if you shoot RAW – but are you getting the best results? Canon's own RAW processing and photo editing software Digital Photo Professional (DPP) is free of charge and is more capable than you might have realised.
Why use DPP? DPP is the ideal RAW processor because it has been developed specifically to work with files from Canon cameras, with optimal support for Canon features such as Picture Styles, Auto Lighting Optimizer and lens aberration corrections. This is probably most noticeable if you shoot RAW with the Monochrome Picture Style: open the file using other software and it will open as a colour image. You can remove or modify the Picture Style in DPP too, of course, or replace it with another, but the critical thing is that other RAW processors, while they might apply their own approximations, actually don't understand your image settings – and that includes custom white balance, advanced noise reduction and other settings. They just won't be applied as you intended.
If you want to fine-tune your image, then DPP still has advantages over many popular third-party RAW processors. For example, DPP includes exclusive advanced features such as the Depth Compositing tool for focus stacking (combining a set of bracketed images into a single image with greater depth of field, meaning more is in sharp focus, whether it's a macro subject or a landscape). Also, if you've used a camera capable of shooting Dual Pixel RAW, DPP can interpret the DPRAW depth map and make micro adjustments to the position of maximum sharpness. Plus, where other software might give you the option to apply your "previous conversion" settings to the next RAW file you open, DPP can save custom sets of adjustments as Recipes, including as many or as few settings as you choose, which can be applied to other images at any time.
Here we'll look at just a few of the key functions in DPP, with advice on how to use DPP to get the best from your images. DPP is regularly updated to support new Canon cameras and features – so do check for the latest version and download it to get the best from your images.
Launched in January 2020, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III introduced the HEIF image format, which offers wider dynamic range and broader colour gamut than JPEG, plus compatibility with the latest HDR displays found on mobile devices, monitors and HDTVs.
If you shoot HEIF, your image files, like JPEGs, are processed in-camera. "HEIF files are pretty much the same as JPEGS but with 10-bit data, so more dynamic range, and they're able to be pushed more without posterisation," says Canon Europe Professional Imaging Product Specialist Mike Burnhill.
With the Canon HEVC codec, a free download, you can edit HEIF files in DPP and even save RAW files as HEIFs.
A new high-brightness HDR monitor, ideally supporting the wide Rec. 2020 colour space, will enable you to best experience the extended gamut and smoother gradation in the highlights of HEIF files. But if you don't have one of those displays, DPP can effectively simulate the effect on older monitors (SDR monitors, as they're now being called).
To correct a colour cast in your images, a simple and highly effective method is to neutralise the cast using the Click White Balance eyedropper, which is available in both the Basic and Tone Adjustment palettes. Select the eyedropper and click on an area in the image that should be white, has detail and is not blown out. All the colour in the image will be adjusted with reference to this. If there isn't any white in the image, you can use an area that should be a neutral grey instead.
For fine-tuning or for creative effects, you can use the Colour Temperature slider or even specify the temperature in degrees Kelvin (in increments of 10K). Or you can adjust the Blue-Amber and Magenta-Green sliders in the Fine-tune panel, or drag in the colour field next to them.
If you're working tethered (remotely with a cable) and have the complementary EOS Utility installed then you can use DPP to colour correct for the precise ambient conditions in which you're shooting. "DPP 4 reads the white balance from RAW files as written by your Canon camera, so you can select a point to set white balance in the Image Preview on the computer screen, which is then registered in the camera itself and saved in the camera's RAW files," says Mike.
Instead of a general colour cast, you'll frequently want to adjust specific colours – to intensify a dull sky, for example, without making skin tones look unnatural. To do this, go to the Colour Adjustment tool palette, where you'll see a bank of eight colour swatches, each with three adjustment sliders next to it. You can use these sliders to adjust respectively the Hue, Saturation and Luminance of the specific gamut of colours in the adjacent swatch. Click the backward-pointing arrow button beneath each colour swatch to remove any adjustments you've made to that gamut.
Selective adjustments are a good way to fine-tune colours that may not be quite as you remember them. "Skies, foliage and skin tones are all obvious examples, and each can be adjusted separately without the others being affected," says Mike. "To darken the sky, for example, move the Aqua and Blue L (Luminance) sliders to the left away from the centre position.
"At the top of the palette are two sliders for Hue and Saturation," Mike adds. "These make global adjustments – so while they can be effective in their own right for a quick boost in saturation, for example, they're best used after selective adjustment as a master control."
Shooting high-contrast scenes, if you exposed for the highlights to retain detail in them, then you'll likely want to recover information in the shadows, which will appear underexposed. DPP has several tools to help here, but a good option is the Shadow and Highlight sliders in the Advanced panel of DPP's Basic Adjustments tool palette. These sliders provide finely targeted control of brightness levels in the specified parts of the tonal range, where a general Brightness adjustment would affect other tones you don't want to change.
Before making adjustments, it makes sense to enable the shadow and highlight warning to see what areas are close to clipping. "Alter the clipping threshold to give yourself a little extra safety margin," Mike advises. "You'll probably want to experiment, but you can start with setting the shadows to 5 and the highlights to 250 to account for any specular highlights, so these will print closer to black and white."
DPP's Lens Correction tools can be used to manually correct chromatic aberration, distortion and other lens-related flaws using simple sliders, which is very effective. But the process can also be automated and additional corrections applied based on the lens metadata using the Digital Lens Optimizer – just download the free lens profile for each lens you've used.
"This function is incredibly powerful," says Mike. "The Digital Lens Optimizer with the lens profile is able to correct for things like diffraction and the low pass filter used by the camera as well as all the lens aberrations for that model of lens. It handles a lot more than most other lens profiles from third parties, such as haloing, coma and axial fringing."
In DPP's Lens Correction tool palette, check that Yes is displayed next to Lens data. If not, click the curled arrow button to the left, identify the lens used to take the image, and click Start to download the missing lens profile. When done, tick Digital Lens Optimizer. Use the slider to adjust the strength of the automatic profile corrections if desired, and decide if you want to add others.
"Enabling them applies the corrections fully, but you can adjust them if you want to," says Mike. "For example, sometimes a little vignetting is desirable. Leave the checkbox enabled and move the slider to make the adjustment. Also, set the sharpening to zero or disable it before running the Digital Lens Optimizer, as it makes it easier to assess the corrections."
"The default sharpening settings differ per camera, based on the low pass filter used and improvements in the in-camera processing that is possible," says Mike. DPP's Sharpness tool, in the Basic Adjustment palette, can enhance the contrast along edges in the image to create an impression of greater sharpness, but Unsharp Mask (available for RAW images) gives finer control.
As DPP retains focus point information from your Canon camera, you can use this to check where it focused. Click the button below the image window with an AF grid icon on it and select Show AF points in focus. Now zoom in to check sharpness at 100% magnification. In the Advanced panel of the tool palette, use the pop-up menu to change from Sharpness to Unsharp Mask.
This has three sliders. Strength determines the amount of sharpening (that is, how much the edge contrast is increased), while Fineness controls the spread of contrast on the edges and can be used to keep haloes and other artefacts in check. Threshold determines how much initial contrast difference there needs to be for something to be considered an edge, so in practice this slider controls the effects of the other two. A good strategy is to keep Threshold to zero at first and move the other two sliders to provide the sharpness you want with the least artefacts, then increase the Threshold slightly to 1.0 or 2.0. "It works the opposite to how you think it might, lessening the effect the further you move it to the right," explains Mike.
If you have taken a shot using the Dual Pixel RAW feature on a camera capable of this, then you can make micro adjustments to the position of maximum sharpness using the depth information in the DPRAW file. Open a DPRAW image that may be slightly front or back focused, then go to the Tools menu and select Start Dual Pixel RAW Optimizer. Tick Image Microadjustment, then use the slider to adjust the point of maximum sharpness forward or backwards until the part of the subject you want to be sharpest is sharp.