My Photo Adjustments and Enhancing

I’ve had several people ask me about what editing, if any, I do to photos, so I’ll do a quick post with an example.  I am certainly no expert and I have so much yet to learn, but after using several different programs to edit and enhance photos, there are certain adjustments I always check first.  The reason I say “check” is that many times I try something and say to myself, “That definitely didn’t work!”  Every photograph is different, and I’m not a big fan of presets that combine several adjustments.

So everybody has a certain style with photography. I tend to go for a more saturated, bold, contrasty look, and I gravitate toward that style in both shooting and post-processing.  I want my photos to look natural and like what I saw when I was on location, but also want them to pop a little, and be crisp and sharp. So let me give an example (see below):

From camera - Not edited

From camera – Not edited

First of all, I shoot in RAW format instead of JPEG, and I’ve covered that in a previous post, but here’s the basic reasons.  The photo above was underexposed and a little on the dark side.  It was a snapshot off a side logging road and I didn’t check the histogram after grabbing it.  My mistake.  But I also blame the bright snow on the mountain for fooling my sophisticated but center-weighted (and not infallible) camera meter.  As most of you probably know, camera meters try to set auto exposure for a medium gray tone. This is why they usually underexpose snow and light sand, and you need some exposure compensation in those situations.  So to get to my point, if this was a JPEG file, it would have been harder for me to bring out the color and detail in the underexposed image. RAW files are much more flexible and include hidden detail in the dark shadows and bright spots.

Mt. Rainier - Adjusted

Mt. Rainier – Adjusted

I could have adjusted this photo 10 different ways and it still look natural.  Some people might say I overdid the color saturation, and I won’t disagree. But I like the look and I do think it resembles what I saw that gorgeous day. All the adjustments were done in Apple Aperture.

1. I checked the “Levels” adjustment first, and this is where I noticed the underexposure immediately.  I just pulled the “light side” (right) slider from 100 to 80).  I also tried increasing the “Exposure” adjustment, but in this case, I like what Levels did better in brightening things up.

2. Highlights +9 to tone down the washed out snow details, and Shadows +30.5 to bring more detail out of the foreground trees.

3. Under the Enhance section:  Contrast +0.1, Definition +0.15 (I also sharpened, and you have to be careful when combining “Definition” and “Sharpen” adjustments), Saturation +1.1, Vibrancy +0.1

4. Sharpen: Intensity 0.5 and Radius 1.0.  Again, I was more conservative because I also used Definition to bring out the mountain’s details.  Nothing looks more fake and wrong than an over-sharpened photo.

5. At this point I thought everything looked pretty good, but the sky seemed a little too bright. So I got the “Color” adjustment, clicked on the blue square and set “Luminance” to -26.  This reduced the brightness of only the blue parts of the photo.  A more experienced user could probably find a better solution, but it seemed to work.

So everything I did was simply to get the RAW file from the camera to look more appealing and like the real scene I saw.  This is what I normally do with photos after a shoot.  Nothing over the top or extreme.

On the other hand… I do have some plug-ins for Aperture capable of creating some much more extreme variations, like the two photos below.  If I just want to goof off and get more creative, I can delve into their more diverse feature sets.

Rainier - Old photo effect

Rainier – Old photo effect

Rainier - Blue shadow

Rainier – Blue shadow

 

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Mowich Lake to Tolmie Peak

Yesterday, I went on the most beautiful hike I’ve ever been on. To make it even better, I went with my dad and my son.  Three generations hiking in a woodland paradise.  The lakes were so clear, the foliage so lush, the sky so blue, and the mountains so big.

Eunice Lake

Eunice Lake

Eunice Lake & Mt. Rainier

Eunice Lake & Mt. Rainier

 

I tried some black and white conversions.  The challenge with black and white photos (in my opinion) is getting enough tonal contrast to make up for the loss of color contrast.  But too much contrast blows out highlight detail and blocks up shadow detail, so you have to find a balance that doesn’t destroy the detail and textures in the original photo.

Eunice Lake B&W

Eunice Lake B&W

Ridge above Eunice Lake

Ridge above Eunice Lake

Then sometimes it’s fun to play around with a partial black & white. Usually muted colors work better in a black and white photo. In this case I just erased the monotone adjustment from the lake, showing its true color.

Eunice Lake

Eunice Lake

 

The view below is looking west toward Olympia, which was overcast all day.  You can see why.  It looks like we are on Mt. Everest, but Tolmie Peak just under 6,000 feet.

Above the clouds

Above the clouds

 

The photo below is looking south across the western Cascade range.

Western Cascades

Western Cascades

 

This next photo is a High Dynamic Range (HDR) shot created using 3 exposures, over-, under-, and normally exposed.  The three images are combined using software to create one photo that compensates for areas where a single exposure would be under or over exposed.

Mt. Rainier - HDR

Mt. Rainier – HDR

If you look close, you can see the sliver of Mowich Lake, where our car was parked. That was a long hike!

 

These next shots were the perfect end to a perfect day!  As we drove down from Mowich Lake, we saw this sunset before we drove down into the low clouds.

Sunset from Rainier NP

Sunset from Rainier NP

Sundown on Western Cascades

Sundown on Western Cascades

Sunset from Rainier NP

Sunset from Rainier NP

 

Porter Falls – Capital Forest

This last weekend I went on a short hike with family. I found this place on the internet and it’s not that far from my house.  I used a tripod and a shutter speed of 1 to 2 seconds.

Porter Creek

Porter Creek

Porter Creek

Porter Creek

Porter Falls

Porter Falls

Porter Falls

Porter Falls

Porter Falls

Porter Falls

Porter Falls

Porter Falls

Porter Falls

Porter Falls

Porter Falls

Porter Falls

The Last Two Months…

I just realized I have not posted anything in two months. It’s been a very busy summer, both at work and at home. Not enough hours in a day.

But part of the busyness was some outings with the family, and I was able to take some pictures with my wonderful Canon EOS 7D I just got this last spring.  First up, the Medieval Village north of Snoqualmie, WA.  Obviously, I was more interested in the archers and sword demonstration instead of the weaving and candle making.

Robin Hood!

Robin Hood!

"Let's test that leather sleeve!"

“Let’s test that leather sleeve!”

Then on the way back home we had to stop at Snoqualmie Falls.  I want to go back after they finish construction of the trail to the lower riverside, so I can take photos from the bottom of the falls. This was a bad time of day, and the sun was hitting at a bad angle causing harsh shadows, but I couldn’t wait around all afternoon so I did the best I could.

Snoqualmie Falls

Snoqualmie Falls

Then last week, I did some more experimenting with my old Canon Powershot G3 and it’s infrared filter. I tried overexposing the images by one or two stops. It does seem to help.  Auto-focusing works well because the focusing sensor is built into the imaging sensor, unlike most digital SLRs, which have a separate, faster AF sensor.  This is why dSLR AF has to be adjusted separately when IR conversions are done on them.

But the metering is calibrated for visible light and only allowing IR light to hit the sensor throws it off. This would not be an issue if the camera was converted for dedicated IR photography, but I’m just throwing a filter on it and taking long exposures on a tripod to get enough IR light through the weak “hot mirror”.  Newer cameras I have simply aren’t sensitive enough to IR to do this.

Woodland Creek Comm. Park - IR

Woodland Creek Comm. Park – IR

Woodland Creek Comm. Park - IR

Woodland Creek Comm. Park – IR

I discovered that overexposing by about 1 stop did help the contrast and tonal range of the original file.  Of course it still needs a significant amount of adjustment to come out like what you see above.  Desaturation, levels, contrast, sharpening, etc.

We’re going to have more rainy weekends in western Washington now that summer is turning into fall, but I will still be looking for opportunities to get out and capture pieces of the world in creative ways.