Photo-editing, by L

As promised, the follow-up to the brief overview of photographic composition: photo-editing! The idea is that one shouldn’t rely on editing software completely, but, you have to admit – it does come in handy and you can do some pretty cool stuff! Sometimes for me it makes the difference between a photo to discard and a photo to print.

Again, I am not a Photoshop expert, like I am not an advanced photographer. I know enough for my purposes, and even then, I come across walls where I know what I don’t know! I will be touching on cropping, and light and color adjustment, since they are the tweaks I use most frequently.

Cropped Final (C) ImagesKione

Walk-through of a photo

First, let’s take the photos below. The first is the original, the second is the finished ‘final’ print. Before I go into any step-by-steps, just review for yourself what I’ve tweaked. Taken separately, what do each convey in terms of mood? Bear in mind that this is a very quick ‘tutorial’ and things may not be perfect. A little further on, I’ve also included variations on the same original.

Unedited Original (C) ImagesKione

Cropped Final (C) ImagesKione

First thing I do, is to remove any unwanted aspects such as skin blemishes or telephone lines. This way I feel I can get an accurate feel for what’s there to work with. Only then do I start to adjust my lighting. This can either be as simple as a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer, or a more sophisticated job for a Curves adjustment layer.

This may sound obvious, but humor me: the quality of your light and extent of your shadows will influence the mood of the photograph. If at all possible, try to get the best light you can when you take the shot to begin with. (Also, I prefer natural light whenever possible because I feel it gives a more accurate representation of colors and is more flattering on human subjects.) The starker the contrast between light and shadow, the more dramatic the look. Less contrast will create a softer look. And as you might suspect, the brighter the photograph, the more energy we get from it as opposed to the slower, darker photograph.

Brighter, Less Contrast (C) ImagesKione

Brighter, More Contrast (C) ImagesKione

Darker, More Contrast (C) ImagesKione

Darker, Less Contrast (C) ImagesKione

The above are extreme examples to illustrate my point, using a simple Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer. It is likely that each individual photograph will require its own ratio unless, later on, your taste/style lean towards one particular kind of lighting/coloring.

I also change my light in order to mend how clear a photograph is, although I generally do this with the more sophisticated Curves adjustment layer. There’s only so much clarity you can give a blurred photograph, though, or one where the quality of light is particularly poor. So, a tip: work with what you’re given. For example, sometimes I can rescue a photo with poor light or where the colors aren’t that great, and turn it into a study of texture rather than object. Or, for example, some washed-out photos don’t look so bad in black and white.

If a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer doesn’t seem to be cutting it, remove it. It’s probably a job for Curves. This adjustment layer allows you to pick particular tones that you feel need to be darkened/brightened and do so, without too much influence on the non-offending tones. Below is an example of the photograph’s light tweaked with Brightness/Contrast (first), and with Curves (second).

Brightness/Contrast Optimum Edited (C) ImagesKione

Curves Optimum Edited (C) ImagesKione

Step back and think about the effects of each. If one appeals to you, don’t worry about the other! I edit my photographs with an eye for my own personal taste, first and foremost. The one I’ve chosen is below, alongside the unedited original.

Curves Optimum Edited AKA ‘New Original’ (C) ImagesKione

Unedited Original (C) ImagesKione

The next part is color adjustment, if you decide it needs it. Often it’s fun to experiment – you never know what you might discover!

What I tend to do is create a ‘base’ version in terms of shadow and color that will serve as my ‘new original’. This way if I make any misjudged experiments, I still have my new original to fall back on. For example, I will take my chosen photograph above and before I experiment with a strongly-red-tinted or overly-saturated version, I will simply bring the colors up to the level I expect as my ‘standard’.

As with light adjustment, your standard may differ from mine and there’s nothing wrong with that – you may prefer your photographs to be more muted or more saturated – but I would encourage you to experiment with all points on the scale in order to understand how the relationships between the light, color and texture of a subject work, particularly when it comes to editing.

Below, for the sake of illustration: first, more muted colors; in the middle, the original (with edited lighting, unadjusted colors); and the third, more vibrant colors.

Muted New Original (C) ImagesKione

Curves Optimum Edited AKA ‘New Original’ (C) ImagesKione

Vibrant New Original (C) ImagesKione

You might end up saving all of the above as different versions. You might fall somewhere in the middle and achieve results closer to what is seen with the human eye. As I said before, I tend to be cautious and first create a ‘new original’ of an adjustment that falls in the ‘human eye’ middle, before jumping off into more experimental territory. After all, I may love the muted version now, but a few months later I may detest it and – guess what? – it’s too late because I’ve saved over it and it can’t be brought back to how it was!

Again, step back and think about the mood of each one. Once you get a more distinct impression from each version, it may be prudent to then emphasize it with a photo-filter layer, for example. Photo-filters can be used to tint the photograph to achieve a desired effect – warmer colors for warmth/romance, sepia for nostalgia, cooler colors for starkness/sombreness, etc. How about we took the muted-color new original and tried out a couple of filters – what’s the effect?

Muted w/ Cooling Filter (C) ImagesKione

Muted w/ Warming Filter (C) ImagesKione

(Don’t forget that it’s also possible to adjust one specific color and leave the rest as they are [in much the same fashion as Curves with light], in the Selective Color adjustment layer. For example, if the greens of your grass aren’t standing out or you really want to emphasize the red accents of the woman’s lips, the flower in the vase in the background and the pattern on the bedspread she’s sitting on.)

Once you decide on your colors – ideally for your new original first – we tackle cropping to make sure the composition is the best possible, if any cropping is needed. This is often the order in which I do things but sometimes it’s easier to do the cropping first then the light/color adjustments if part of the shot is particularly distracting. Composition is discussed in this post, so I won’t dwell on its particulars. As a tip, I have my cropping preview set as completely opaque in order to get a true feel for how it’ll turn out. Remember, you can also save differently-cropped versions of the photograph, if you’d like to focus on particular parts of it (see below). Just make sure to save your original first!

In summary:

  • Try to take the best photograph you can in the first place, so you don’t have to edit as much.
  • Remove any unwanteds such as blemishes or interfering objects. New Original Save, if prefered.
  • Adjust your light and colors to create a New Original. SAVE!
  • Sort out your composition by cropping if needed. Either save this as the New Original, or as separate files if you’re experimenting.
  • If you’re going to try different versions of the New Original, such as a muted version, a heavily-tinted version, etc, make sure to save them as different files!
  • Experiment! Have fun!

Unedited Original (C) ImagesKione

Muted New Original (C) ImagesKione

Curves Optimum Edited AKA ‘New Original’ (C) ImagesKione

Cropped Final (C) ImagesKione

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