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):
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.
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.