One of the most annoying problems in digital photography is posterization (as seen in the photo above). It can turn your beautiful sunset photos into a jagged mess. But, luckily there are a few ways to prevent this ugly problem:
#1 – Get the best exposure possible
The best thing you can do to prevent posterization is to get the best possible exposure. You can do that by paying close attention to your RGB histogram. It’s extremely important to make sure you’re not overexposing ANY of the color channels, because that oversaturation of a channel is what causes posterization.
#2 – Use 16-bit post-processing
If you’re using the full version of Adobe Photoshop, then you can significantly reduce your chances of posterization by editing your photos in 16-bit mode. You can access this mode by going to the “Image–>Mode” menu and selecting “16-bits/channel.” There’s also an option for 32-bit mode, but since digital SLRs these days only have 14-bit A/D converters in them, you won’t gain anything by editing in 32-bit mode.
Also, when you export your RAW files, it’s important to export them into a 16-bit format (such as TIFF). If you’re using Adobe’s Camera Raw (ACR), then this is pretty simple: just click on that blue link under the image and select “16-bits/channel” in the “Depth” drop-drown list.
Unfortunately, this 16-bit mode isn’t available in Photoshop Elements, but don’t worry: editing in 16-bits isn’t nearly as important as getting the right exposure.
#3 – Be subtle with post-processing
With all the great tools we have now for editing digital images, sometimes it’s easy to go a little overboard with the post-processing. Yeah, saturated images always look great, but if you’re saturating them to the point where you notice posterization, then you’re probably doing a little too much. Be especially careful with those curves and levels adjustments, since those typically cause the most posterization.
What did I miss?
If you know of another way to prevent posterization in your images, then please tell us about it by leaving a comment below. Thanks! 🙂
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About the Author: Steve Berardi is a naturalist, photographer, software engineer, and founder of PhotoNaturalist. You can usually find him hiking in the beautiful mountains and deserts of southern California.