Affinity Photo has made it easier and also cost-effective to work on photos. Let’s discuss the oft-underrated Affinity Photo RAW Editor called ‘Develop Persona’.
Affinity Photo has progressed from being a new-coming alternative to Adobe Photoshop to being software that now has its own user base, and it’s own dedicated users.
It is imperative, though, that people will seek something of a familiar territory while talking about photo editing workflow. It all starts with RAW, as photographers would claim. Affinity doesn’t have a RAW that stays editable, but it has Persona.
The sample image is shot in portrait mode and taken straight from the camera into the RAW persona, without editing, or even rotating it.
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Develop Persona vs Photo Persona in Affinity Photo
Develop Persona handles the initial RAW interpretation, which is edited at RGBA/32 (HDR) settings by default, in case they are camera RAW files. In the Photo Persona, you can do almost anything, but doesn’t have as intuitive sliders and workflow, as you have in the Develop Persona. Furthermore, it converts images to RGBA/16 automatically by default. Although you can work at 32-bits in Photo Persona, due to the Program Architecture, it is not advised.
What happens when the files are turned from 32-bit to 16-bit? In real terms, we don’t see all the image details and parts. We can manage even with an 8-bit photo. So why 32-bit? It contains all the data. So whether we may see it or not, there might be information available that is not visible. While working in Develop Persona, we need to make sure we extract all the information possible, in the Develop Persona, so we have the best possible starting point when we take the image for further enhancement in the Photo Persona.
Once we hit ‘Develop’, the image enters into the Photo Persona. Thereafter, you cannot go back. So any information that is lost stays lost. Apart from that, Develop Persona keeps all the information sensor recorded with it. It is lost in Photo Persona. Again, the workflow requires you to extract all the detail you require and move into the Photo Persona for further processing.
How to use the Develop Persona in Affinity Photo
Histogram is present above the tools on the right side. You get the option of seeing all channels or one of the RGB channels. It can help in learning about clipping from any side, and also having an idea of overall brightness of the image. Scope can again be a great tool to read exposure. You can also learn about color cast via RGB Parade or RGB Waveform, or the Vectroscope. There’s also Metadata information, and the Focus information. Affinity Photo can also show AF Regions, depending upon focus modes used and camera raw information available.
The Clipping Markers
On the top-right menu bar, you will find three buttons. These are:
- Show clipped highlights
- Show clipped shadows
- Show clipped tones
These are the markers that help in visualizing the areas where clipping occurs. It could be the whites being too bright that they lose details, shadows being too dark that they lose details, or some color tones falling off range and not showing their true value. For our edit, we will be using a bird image that appears to be under-exposed. We will keep these switches on so that we know where we are losing data.
Presets in the Affinity Photo Develop Persona and How to Work with them
As a side note before continuing, you can save your adjustments as presets. Presets are a common workflow process in all forms of image editing software. We can make presets in Affinity Photo. Simply go to the top right corner of the RAW Develop menu, and hit ‘Add Preset’ after you are done with adjustments. You can create presets for the Basic, Lens, Details, and Tones tabs.
What will be used more likely in Affinity is the Lens settings that you do, especially if your camera or lens isn’t available in their roaster for processing.
The Basic Tab in Develop Persona
In the top bracket of exposure, we have Exposure, Black Point, and Brightness. Brightness works like Whites, and Black Point like Blacks. The first part of editing needs to be fixing the image so that we have all the information visible. We can cross-check with the histogram. The real processing starts from there.
Here, we start by lifting the blacks till we find all the details, as we can see in the graph. In this first step, we appear to be missing plenty of details in the Blacks. We move the Blackpoint towards the left (negative). It works like a scale, so when it moves to the left, the image includes more details from the left side. As we move to about -5%, we get a fair idea of details in the blacks. Please note, shadows and Blacks are slightly different. Even after moving Blackpoint, some parts may still appear black, because of either having no details or having details hidden in the Shadows.
Thereafter, we notice the highlights being clipped, which is also visible in the image (due to our earlier setting of clipping). We move down to Shadows and Highlights, and reduce the highlights. In this image, reduction is done to 41%, but you can adjust as the case may be. Now the image has most of the information, yet it seems overall dark.
Compare Before/After in the Develop Persona
At some point, you will likely need to compare between before and after. There are two ways – a split view and a mirror view. Split view divides the frame and you can slide between before and after. Mirror view offers two windows – one with before, and one with after. It will be good to see a split view in current settings.
The Overlay Tab in Develop Persona
As we can see, although we have recovered plenty of information, we still have a long way to go. Now, we check out the overlay module. In the left side toolbar, there are two tools of value for us.
One is overlay paint tool [B], and the other is overlay erase tool [E].
We will see it in action now as we paint over the bird and do some work locally in that area. We hit B (or click the brush tool directly). You increase or decrease the brush size by using ‘]’ or ‘[‘ respectively.
We can also hit edge-aware, and the brush usually doesn’t cross boundary edges. This is helpful in our case because we don’t want to affect the background. Also, try to keep it slightly inside than outside, especially in the case of backlit subjects like this, where contrast is high.
As we can see, only the basic tab can be used while on this overlay mode.
Lens, Detail, and Tone cannot be selected. The idea is to fix local issues via brush selections.
With our selection, we first boosted the exposure (by a whopping 1.332). Then we shifted the blackpoint further left (about -1%). Then we added a saturation of ‘15%’ to enhance the beautiful color details of the eye ever so slightly. After we are done with these changes, we can expect to see the picture as it should be, in ideal exposure.
You can go back to refine the brush if some of the details seem to be leaking on the background, and appearing unreal
Tip: You don’t need to hover between ‘B’ and ‘E’. Once in brush mode, you can simply hit ‘B’ to move between brush and erase, whatever be the mode you are working on. Carefully zoom in for details of the edges especially.
You can work on more than one brush overlay, and also use gradient overlay. You can browse through various brush overlays in the overlay panel.
Gradient overlay, like brush overlay, works on the same settings. However, it works on gradients instead of brush patterns. The three gradients available are linear, radial, and elliptical. Linear is, as the name suggests, a linear overlay. Elliptical and radial are both, as the name suggests, in the shape of an ellipse and a circle. These overlays work exactly as gradients work, and the settings as we have worked upon previously.
Lens Corrections are an important part of RAW photo development. One of the major uses of RAW is that because the lens profiles are more easily available for RAW-formats, it can undo many of the issues caused by lenses.
Affinity Photos Develop Persona also has in-built lens profiles. If it gets auto-detected by Affinity, lens distortion fix will be applied automatically. If not, you can simply select the lens from Lens Profile dropdown menu.
Your favorite lens? Just hit the ‘heart’ icon next to it, and you will have it in the favorites menu. The four menus inside of Lens Profile are:
- ‘All – all lens profiles saved in the system listed alphabetically,
- ‘Recent – the recent lens profiles you used’,
- ‘Favorites – the profiles you Favorited’, and
- ‘Detected – the profile Affinity detected automatically. Detected will be empty if no lens profile was detected automatically.
Now if you have a lens that is not detected, you can do a trick. Because the architecture of lenses is often similar around the same focal lengths. In this case, my Tamron 150-600 mm lens was not detected and I picked another lens profile of 600mm Nikkor. That becomes a starting point for the distortion corrections. You can take it forward from there, or deselect lens profile option and start from scratch. Now going back to the presets, if it is a lens you love or use often, you can add a preset with only the Lens Correction options checked, and name it the same as your lens. Now next time, you can load it without having to make the settings.
The various settings that comprise Lens Distortion Corrections are ‘Distortion’, ‘Horizontal’, ‘Vertical’, ‘Rotation’, and ‘Scale’. The last two are regular rotation and scale transform functions. Distortion is when straight lines appear curved. Barrel distortion is when the lines are curved outwards, while pincushion distortion is when lines are curved inwards. Barrel distortion occurs at the wider focal lengths generally, like 20mm or so. Pincushion distortion occurs at 150mm onward generally. Distortion may be good at times, like, at 200mm, the portraits can appear better because it can make people appear thinner. For a bird, you may want to correct the distortion as it is already far and you want the best of the bird.
So, we need to add a positive distortion to undo the pincushion effect. But just to see what it does, let’s try and move the slider towards the left or the negative side. See how perfect pincushion is being formed. The opposite happens at positive distortion, where we undo the pincushion effect. Here, we add a very slight 5% distortion. Please note, I was already working on a lens profile, and this may not be needed at all, but it is for demonstration purposes. Also, correcting distortion, especially in wildlife, is much of a personal choice of photographers.
Horizontal and Vertical Correction are one of the common ways of addressing uneven distortion, that is neither proper barrel or pincushion, perhaps owing to the angular subject presence. It works like a perspective plane.
Chromatic aberration happens when different colors are not focused at the same time. We can simply hit ‘chromatic aberration’ and Affinity usually does the job. In case of perceivable and visible fringe coloration (usually purplish-blue and its opposite hue), we can simply hit the defringe and choose if you want to auto-remove complementary hues or not. Radius and tolerance will help you zero-in on the range of defringing you want to achieve.
Lens Vignette is another lens issue that comes up due to lens constructions where the image appears darker at the edges. You can remove it or keep it. Most quality lenses don’t have an issue of chromatic aberration or vignetting.
You may choose to add ‘Post-crop vignette’, or do it later while in Photo Persona. I’ll personally suggest to do it later because Develop Persona is un-editable once baked or developed into a file in Affinity Photo. And vignette is added at the very last.
Details – Sharpening and Noise Reduction
We have boosted the exposure approximately by 2 stops (perhaps more taking everything into account). Despite great sensors and brilliant camera performances – this leaves a combination of two things in an image. There’s a softness, and there’s also noise, especially when dealing with blacks and shadows. How do we handle it? Ideally, first, we look at the noise. Noise is of two types – color noise and luminance noise. In luminance noise, only the brightness is affected and color tones are unaffected. In color noise, the colors and tones are affected.
Here, our subject is almost black and white, and there’s rarely any color noise visible. So we use the luminance noise. Since the noise is huge, we start by taking the slider gradually up. Luminance Noise blurs out the details in general to create a smooth image. We can get back some of the details in the noise slider only. Here, we go for a balance of 32% luminance (noise reduction), 50% Details, and 50% Contribution.
Ideally, the sum of Details and Contribution needs to be near 100. Why? Because both of them cannot co-exist. They are complementary. The more the details, the less the smoothness – the noise is less blurred. Smoothing it further breaks the image completely. You have to find a balance because noise cannot be magically removed, and hence the summation magic formula of 100 always helps.
Now we try to find the Detail Refinement sweet spot. Again, because the image has been boosted a lot ‘and is being used as an example for the same reason’, there is always going to be a compromise. Here, I am going with a radius of 21% (which is actually huge), and the amount of 60%. Notice the noise in the image is also sharpened. So we move back to noise sliders and make adjustments with the following final settings of Noise Reduction and Detail Refinement.
You may notice it isn’t as natural as yet, and hence we throw in the before-after. Also, remember that this is a slightly wider shot and hence you won’t be seeing the same way as in zoomed-in. Being a pixel-peeper can be detrimental in such cases.
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Color Correcting Tones in Develop Persona
Curves, Black and White, and Split Toning are the three options of Tones. Curves work in the same way as in all the curves – giving control of exposure in a more detailed and intuitive way. Since we are okay with our image, we won’t play with this aspect anymore. Black and white is another option that we may look for, and control each color tone separately. This image, again, we won’t go into it. Split toning is a toning method where we tone highlights and shadows differently. Let’s try to do this here with the following settings and see if you notice anything.
Notice how the highlights, especially the sunshine, appear slightly yellowish. It appears to give a beautiful touch to the sunshine – although we know that bright sun is proper white, and not with any tone. I’ll keep this one, and get rid of the shadow toning in the final image. Notice the bluish tones in the image shadows, giving a cool but unreal look. The bigger problem for us is that our shadows are recovered, and hence already having some issues, as we noticed in the Details section. Not changing it directly is a wise option. I have also toned down highlights to 17%.
In general with Affinity Photo, I believe that enhancements like black and white and toning are best done in the Photo Persona, as you cannot undo them if you do it in the Develop Persona. So if you do something with toning in the Develop Persona, stick to color correction, and not color grading.
Now we get back to Basic settings. I deliberately didn’t touch contrast and clarity earlier because the idea is to maximize our image range. Contrast gives the image a punch but takes away details around the edges. And we already had an under-exposed image, to begin with. Here, again, we won’t touch Contrast because of the same reason. A better way was to do it with ‘Curves’ in ‘Tones’. Clarity gives the image a punch in the midtones section. It is a localized contrast that makes the details appear bolder. In this image, we will ignore this too.
Now let’s get down to ‘Profiles’ in ‘Basic’. It is a very important step. If done nothing, the photo will be baked into an sRGB format. However, it is always advisable to move it to a more inclusive ProPhoto RGB or Adobe RGB. You need to have the monitor to display the range as well, but the idea is that more details are available. If the raw processing is all you need, you can develop into sRGB also.
Cropping in Affinity Photo Develop Persona – A Good Idea or Not?
I prefer cropping the image in the Photo Persona. However, some people crop in the beginning, because it gives them less area to work on. In this case, you can also crop the image in the Develop Persona in Affinity Photo. Here, we basically worked on the bird in detail, while the other parts were on the whole, so it wouldn’t have made a difference. Cropping is very personal. I’m going with this crop as below to showcase the ‘final developed’ image with you. Once you are done, hit Develop to enter Photo Persona.
And this is where we started from, for you to compare again.
The Develop Persona in Affinity Photo has a lot of sliders to enhance your image, but I suggest that you use them carefully, so you avoid making any permanent changes to your images that you cannot undo after you hit the Develop button. However, it does make a lot sense to use the Develop Persona in Affinity Photo to get the most details out of your image during RAW processing before doing the enhancements in the Photo Persona.