I’ve had the opportunity to help judge the Idaho Public Television, Outdoor Idaho photography contest since its inception. I see a lot of photographs come through that are very close to amazing, but fall short because of lack of “post processing”. Whether done in your camera, or on your computer, every time you click the shutter, post processing occurs. I prefer to do my post processing on my computer, because it is far more powerful than the little one in my camera. Post processing can be as simple as cropping out an errant distraction on the corner up to changing colors and turning your photograph into something else entirely.
Post processing has been occurring since the dawn of photography. Dodging and burning has been part of dark room photography as far back as darkrooms go. Ansel Adams is widely considered the father of modern photography, and he spent many, many hours in the dark room taking his digital negative and turning it into the words of art that we are familiar with. With digital, the tools of prost-processing have changed, but the fact that it needs done has not.
This tutorial is aimed at the armature photographer. The one that doesn’t have a lot of time, nor money to allocate to the hobby of photography. I am using the free tool, Picasa for this tutorial.
In my experience the three most overlooked aspects of post-processing in our competitions are as follows: Cropping out the “extra”, Straightening a photo just a touch, and adding “punch” to the colors of a photograph. Using Picasa, none of these steps is difficult. They are ALL done with sliders. As you get used to tweaking the photos with these basic tools, you can then move on to more complex procedures.
This quick tutorial will take you through the process of editing a photo I did of the State Capitol during the primary debates. This is the first photo. It needs some minor work. Punch up the color, crop out some distraction, just a touch of straightening. I am already in the Tuning window (the 2nd tab on the left).
The first thing I am going to do is “punch the color up”.
- First, I add in some Fill light (First slider). This brightens up the picture. The light parts (highghts) are fine. It is the details that I am attempting to bring out, which means I use the fill light slider.
- Next, I Add some darkness to bring ou the shadows and add depth. I tend to use the darkness or black slider than most others. This adds the extra punch to the photos.
- Finally, I bumped the Color Temperature up just a bit. The color is the color cast given to a scene. Every source of light has a color. Modern cameras compensate for this, to an extent. Usually, I add JUST a touch of extra yellow in, to give photos a slightly warm glow. You will tend to get this same glow, if you take your photographs the hour before sunset or the hour after sunrise. This is known as the Golden Hour in photography.
Next, I looked at the very top of the capitol, and straightened that spire. Because of my lens, there is a little distortion. I really need to use something like Photoshop to remove this major distortion (Look at the far left of the photograph, where the back of the capitol leans away from the edge of the photo, to see exactly what I am talking about. To straighten the photo, you click on the straighten tool, under the Basic Fixes tab, then just use the slider at the bottom of the image to adjust the image how you want it. I want to take this opportunity to point out that every picture does NOT have to be perfectly straight. Artistic license means you can tweak your perspective to make an image more interesting. That is a photo I did at Merrill Park a few years ago on Memorial day.
The next step I took, was to crop the photo. On the far left, there was a piece of fence poking its way into my photo, and too much space above the capitol that just left your eye to wander. I wanted the building to be THE Subject of the photo. I didn’t have to crop out too much, just a little to bring keep the eye contained. I could have left the top un cropped, but I do like the winder format for this photo, as well.
That is it for the photo. I am happy with it at that point. BUT, I took it to one further step. I went over to the “Effects tab”, and added a graduated tint to the photo. This darkened the top part bringing the eye more to the lower, bright part of the photo, again. The first thing I did, was moved the “feather” slider all the way to the left. I then moved the mouse around on the screen to give me this angled tint. Once I hate the line that I wanted the break to occur at, I then moved the feathering up, so it would look correct, and not have that harsh line.
There you have it. The photos has been tweaked by adding some punch, adding a touch of straightening, and cropping it a bit to draw the eye to the building. Finally, I played a bit with the Effects” and added a graduated filter. The only way to understand the filters, is to try them. Picasa makes it VERY easy to edit, and then undo those edits. Google also allows you to use Picasa Web to easily upload your photos from inside of Picasa (Right-click on the photo, and then choose quick upload, to upload into your Picasa album). Once you are done with your perfect photograph, you will have to “export” it. On the bottom of the screen is a folder that says export. Click on that, and then choose where you want to put the file, what size you want to resized to (It resizes the long side, figure 1024, 1280, and 1600 for most of your photos, you can also put in a custom number). After you are done there, click Export, and your final, jpeg image will be ready to enjoy, and show off.
At some point, you will find Picasa’s simple controls too restraining. Paint.net is free, and powerful. I would recommend, though, moving up to Adobe Elements. It is a relatively inexpensive software, and gives you access to much more advanced filters and actions that are used in Adobe Photoshop. Once you start getting a lot of photos, I would also recommend Photoshop Lightroom. This is the first step in my personal photographic workflow, and for a great many of my photos, my only step. Lightroom + Photoshop Elements were my two main tools for a VERY long time, and they are both relatively inexpensive.