Welcome to Photography Week where we’re covering all things photography! So far we’ve discussed the basics to capturing a good photo, manual settings for a DSLR camera, and other tips for improving your photos. Today we’re going to discuss how to improve your photos after you’ve taken them. Thanks for stopping by (or bearing with me if you’re not into photography!).
Some people swear against it, and some people swear by it – but the truth is that post-processing is becoming a standard practice for all levels of photographers these days. Post-processing refers to the editing of photos using computer software. Some popular programs include Photoshop CS, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, Aperture, iPhoto and many others. I use Photoshop Elements, which is a more affordable version of Photoshop CS. I’ve heard really great things about Lightroom as well, which is also pretty affordable, and maybe slightly more user friendly than Photoshop. I don’t have much experience with the other programs. If you’re shopping around, I’d recommend reading user reviews and doing your research before settling on a certain software. Also, a free online website you can use is picmonkey.com – very limited capabilities, but I used it for months before I got Photoshop!
Just like all the other photography subjects I’ve touched on this week, post-processing can be totally daunting when you first start, especially when you get a new program. I’ll go through some basics here today, but I highly recommend you take a class or two on your specific program, even if only for the sake of knowing more of its full capabilities. I opened my PS Elements, took one look and said, “Nope, no way” – then didn’t touch it for four months until Aleksandra gave me a quick one on one tutorial that changed everything.
Sometimes I feel guilty that my photos don’t come straight out of the camera perfect so I have to alter them afterwards, and right now I feel like I’m confessing to cheating by explaining this all to you. But the truth is that most, if not all, professional photographers do some sort of tweaking and editing of their photos on the computer, so I try not to feel too bad about it. Plus, it makes my photos end up so much better!
The way I’ll do this is use one photo and explain each step of editing that I generally do to my pictures. Unfortunately, because I use PS Elements, that is the only way I can describe some of the things I do. Hopefully they will translate at least a little bit to other programs! Because Aleks is the one who helped me navigate the world of post-processing, I’ll use one of the photos I took of Chickerdoodle while we were in Austin.
First things first, I crop the photo. I don’t need to crop this one too much, but I’ll take off a bit of unnecessary empty space on the top and right side. Because the subject (the two dogs) take up most of the frame, I won’t worry too much about the rule of thirds. I could crop it a bit tighter on the left, but I want to leave in as much of Chick’s paw as I can. Also, because there is that awkward bit of light on the right side, I tried to crop inside of that so it didn’t interrupt my right edge in a distracting way.
Then, I adjust some of the colors. A lot of this is just your own preference for how you want your photos to look. This picture is a little dull, which I’ll address later with lighting – but for now I do want to bring out some specific colors. In PS Elements, you can adjust the saturation level of colors separately. I’m going to bump up the saturation of the reds a little bit to brighten Dude and the spots on Chick, and I’m also going to take back the yellows a bit to make Chick look a little more white.
It’s subtle, but the color change does make a difference. Next, I work on lighting. I try to get rid of the film-like cover on this photo and make it seem more glossy. You can do this a few ways, and one of those ways is adjusting the brightness and contrast. The way I do it in Photoshop (and this won’t make sense to you unless you know a little bit about PS) is by creating two layers above the one I’m working with (which is one above the original) and making one of them a soft light layer, and one a screen layer.
The soft light layer increases contrast in your photo, and you can adjust the opacity of it to what you think looks best in combination with the screen layer. The soft light layer can accentuate an under-exposed photo, which is why it’s good to have the screen layer as well. The screen layer brightens up the whites of your photo. The perfect opacity combination of the two can make your photo look ten times better.
This is what setting the layers looks like in Photoshop:
And here is the altered photo, at about 30% soft light and 80 % screen. Since the photo was already sort of dark, I didn’t need to use soft light all that much to darken it, but I used it to keep a nice contrast when I apply the screen. The 80% screen really brightened up the photo and helped get rid of that film-ish layer.
Next I will do other minor touch ups using just my burn (darken) and dodge (brighten) tools. I’ll often brighten up someones face, or a black dog’s body using the dodge tool, pictured here at the lower left. I don’t need to brighten anything on this photo, except maybe Doodlebug’s eyes a bit, just to make them stand out more.
My final step for many of my photos is vignetting. This means darkening the edges of your photo to emphasize your subject. Vignetting is a big preference thing as well. Some people significantly blacken the edges, and some don’t do it at all (like Kate with a Camera mentions in a lens review post). I like to darken the edges enough so it does emphasize the subject, but so that without looking for it you wouldn’t really notice it.
When I first decided I wanted to vignette my photos, I tried to look up how to do it in PS and found a hundred different ways, but none of them seemed to work for/make sense to me (mostly the second one). Aleks finally clued me into using my burn tool, the same tool I mentioned before. The burn tool darkens your photo, so instead of coloring black over top of your photo, it just darkens the existing colors. It achieves the same effect, but in a slightly more subtle way.
An important thing here is that I set the opacity of my burn tool to only 13% to help keep it subtle. I usually go over the edges of my photo multiple times to whatever level of darkness I think looks the best. I’m sure there are some rules out there for where you’re supposed to vignette your photos (as opposed to around the entire perimeter) but I haven’t found them yet so I don’t follow them. That’s up to your discretion! You just want to make sure you don’t vignette over one of your subjects.
This is the photo with vignetting, meaning it’s the final product:
Here are the before and afters next to each other.
Now I think when I attempted to put these two photos together in Photoshop (something I’ve never done before) I messed up the quality, in case you’re thinking the second one looks less clear than the first. Not sure why that is, which shows how many millions of things I still need to learn about Photoshop and editing. Hell, I don’t even know how to put text on my pictures, let alone create a watermark, which is one of the most basic things a photographer can do. Everyone’s got something to learn!
I’m sorry if this post made absolutely no sense to you or you couldn’t relate to it at all because you don’t have post-processing software. But if it makes you feel any better, that’s about as far as my PS comfort zone/knowledge extends, and I’ve been using it for about eight months now (if I didn’t make that clear in the last paragraph). I need to follow my own advice and go take a class – which, actually, I would absolutely love to do. The more you know, the better your photos become!
Who else has some post-processing tips they swear by? I would so love to hear!