Edit to get that perfect picture
DEBORAH Sandidge is a travel photographer who has written books on photography, teaches advanced photo technique workshops and has been honoured as a Nikon ambassador. In short, she knows her stuff.
When she photographed the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption in Santiago de Cuba, she used all of her know-how; she scouted ahead of time, found a rooftop vantage from which to shoot and waited until the light was perfect. But the resulting photo was a flop. “I wasn’t getting the emotion,” she said.
Then she applied the “art sauce” that virtually every travel photographer uses. She used software to tweak the image.
This is the secret of professional travel photographers. No matter how good the image they capture is, the editing – called post-production – makes it a little better. Sometimes, a lot better.
But it’s not just for pros. Smartphones come with built-in editing software that can transform travel photos from washed-out to wow. Whether you are editing on a phone or with an advanced desktop digital darkroom program, the controls are similar.
The first step in editing is to pick out the biggest problem with your photo. “There is not a magical step list of things to do to the photo,” said Josh Haftel, principal product manager for Adobe, which makes Photoshop. “It depends on what the image needs.”
Framing often is the problem, said Rick Sammon, a photography educator. When photos include too much, the eye is not drawn to the intended subject. That can be fixed with the crop tool, which lets you shrink the frame and recompose so the subject is where you want it.
Because cameras can see only a portion of the range of light that the eye can see, in many photos the darks are too dark and the brights too bright. All of the software has shadow and highlight sliders. Turning the shadows brighter and highlights darker will make the photo look more like it does to your eye. If that makes the darks too grey, look for the “black point” control. It will make the blacks blacker without killing all the detail.
When the exposure is set, there is another critical adjustment: clarity, which is generally called “sharpness” or “structure”.
Pro photographers know that the best time to capture images is during the golden hours around dawn and dusk, when the light has a tint. But they also know that the tint is easy to add. “Because I am a travel photographer and I am interested in making pleasing pictures, I will often warm up a picture, meaning I will add a little bit of red, yellow and orange,” said Sammon. Look for an adjustment called “temperature”, “warmth” or “cast” to make this adjustment.
Some of these tools are easy to find on your phone or tablet, and some you might have to dig for a bit. The location of the controls will vary, but on most phones and tablets, you pick a photo, then touch edit. That should reveal an icon that looks like a menu, or a dial, which uncovers options. Often it’s one more layer down for the full set of controls. You may have to touch an arrow or an icon to get there. Check your manual.
You can alter your photos by just throwing a filter on them. Pro photographers aren’t necessarily against using filters, especially if you have a style that lends itself to a particular look. But a filter is someone else’s set of adjustments that are made to look good on someone else’s photo. Sometimes called a preset, a filter can be a starting point, though.
“If you choose a preset, I wouldn’t use it at 100% ,” said Sandidge.
For phone editing, Sandidge uses Snapseed. This app does more than the average software on your phone. It’s powerful enough to touch up skin blemishes or remove an unwanted railing from a photo.
The grandfather of postproduction software is Photoshop. Adobe makes a range of products, some simple to use, such as PS Express or Lightroom. Or you can move up to the full version of Photoshop, which allows sophisticated editing.
While editing is intended to fix problems, it can create them.
The rule of thumb is, if you can see the photo has been processed, you’ve overprocessed.
This “before” nighttime shot of the Sarasota skyline was a little dark and lacking detail.|The Washington Post
After cropping, bringing up the overall exposure, the whites, and increasing detail slightly, thebuildings popped out of the murk in this “after”.|The Washington Post
This “before” shot of Sarasota, Florida, turned out flatter than the sunset appeared to thenaked eye.|The Washington Post
Here is the “after” photo — the colours have been intensified a tad, the whites bumped up andthe shadows decreased.|The Washington Post