The Power of Editing – Taking A Photo from Average to Astounding!
Do you ever wonder what goes into the process of editing a photo? Part of the work of a pro photographer is taking a photo from “really nice” right out of the camera to “eye-popping” after post-processing. Here we’ll talk about how powerful editing can be in taking your photos from average to outstanding!
What a “nice” Picture!
If you’ve read my blog before, then you know I always have a story that relates to my subject. Here’s what got me thinking about editing and what it really means to both the pro and the client:
Recently I showed my husband a photo that I had just finished processing. I told him all about the hard work I put into editing it to show off the colors and details. He politely told me that it was “nice”. Side note here – when an artist works hard to make something beautiful, she most certainly appreciates a little more enthusiasm than, “oh that’s nice” or “that is very cute”. Nice and cute are probably not the best complimentary words. I mean – is it too much to ask for a “WOWZA! That’s AMAZING!!”?, but I digress…
After my husband paid me possibly the blandest compliment ever, he continued on to say, “so when I see a photo that looks that nice (ahem), then should I assume that it’s all photoshop trickery and that’s not what the scene really looked like?” Ouch. I mean…. Just ouch.
Licking my wounds…
Once I had finished licking my fresh wound for just a quick moment, I realized that although his delivery was not so heart-warming, he had asked a valid question here. The answer is pretty simple…. No, honey, that is not what that means. What it means is that the artist responsible for that image worked hard to edit that photograph so that it appears as close as possible to what the scene really looked like in real person.
At this point, one might be curious about why the photo can’t just look exactly like what you saw when you took the shot. I mean – if the artist is a pro, she should probably have a pretty good camera, right? The truth is this: No camera has yet to be invented that can capture an image exactly as your eyes can. The human eye is a much more magnificent collector and processor of data than any camera.
Where do we go from here?
Cameras are amazing, but…
Camera technology has come amazingly far since the first cameras were used almost 200 years ago. That technology has not yet, however, been able to meet the impressive ability of the human eye to capture minute details, colors, and light ranges in a scene. There are many great articles explaining how factors such as dynamic range, angle of view, sensitivity, and resolution come together to allow our eyes to see things that our cameras just can’t quite capture yet. CLICK HERE for a really well-done article explaining all of this in detail.
Although that may be disappointing, the good news is that with today’s technology, we can combine a high-quality camera with some great editing software, and get pretty close to duplicating in a photo what your eyes see in the moment. Tech Giant Adobe offers one of the leading software options in the photo editing industry with Lightroom and Photoshop, both of which I use for editing.
That’s Great – But How?
Okay. That makes sense, but what does it take to make the magic happen? If you are studying photography and editing, then the best way to learn how to make magic is to get your hands dirty, of course, and dig in to the software and try it out! Get yourself hooked up with Lightroom to begin and tinker with all of the buttons and sliders and tools. It will be fun! I promise!
If you are a client and would like an overview of what a professional photographer does behind the scenes to make their work look amazing, then you’re in the right place! Just read along to hear about some of the basic, beginning steps that I take to make a good base photo into an amazing finished product.
There are several settings within every DSLR that allow you to tell the camera what kind of lighting you’re using. The important detail here is that light is inherently infused with color and although the camera will do a pretty good job adjusting the sensor to compensate for those colors, it cannot do it as well as the human eye.
Have you ever seen a photo that was taken outdoors within the last 30-60 minutes before the sun went down? There is a beautiful golden tone that comes from the sun and makes everything and everyone in that photo glow with a creamy warm light. This is how that timeframe has earned the name “Golden Hour”, because the photo will be strongly cast with golden light. The very same scene 3 hours earlier is going to have an entirely different color cast because the light coming from the sun is stronger, harsher, and not quite as golden.
This is where Color Balance becomes very important. The golden cast may look great in general in the photo, but you still want to be able to see the additional colors within that shot and be sure that any people in your photo don’t look like they’ve gone a step too heavy with the bronzer. A few quick tweaks of color temp (warmer or cooler) and hue (green or magenta) and you’re off to a great balance!
EXPOSURE & CONTRAST
Once you have your color balanced to your liking, it is important that your photograph have the right amount of light in it. Ideally, it will be well-exposed straight out of the camera. If you don’t know quite how to do that, now is a great time to check out THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO SHOOTING IN MANUAL. Even the best photographers sometimes need to make some small adjustments to a photo so it will appear a bit darker and moodier, or a bit lighter and brighter. An adjustment to the contrast will make the difference between the lighter areas of the photo and the darker areas of the photo pop.
HIGHLIGHTS, SHADOWS, WHITES & BLACKS
Highlights, Shadows, Whites, and Blacks all affect how the brightest and darkest areas of the photo appear and blend. The areas in your photo that appear the brightest are the highlights, and shadows are the darkest. Sometimes these tones come out of the camera just a bit different than what your eyes picked up. Bright areas too bright? Your subject may look washed out. Too dark? Your subject may lack detail. A quick adjustment using these tools and voila! Perfect balance between lights and darks.
Clarity in a photograph has to do with the minute details that you see and how the brights and darks show up in the middle ranges of the photo (meaning not the brightest whites or the darkest blacks, but the shades in the middle). An adjustment to the clarity increases the contrast between those mid-tones and releases more texture and fine detail. Landscapes or rugged animal shots, splashing water, etc., often look great with an increase in clarity. Faces and skin will look softer and smoother with a decrease in clarity. This tool is best used very carefully as a little adjustment can make a very big difference!
SATURATION & VIBRANCE
Study any photo and you will see that there are bright colors and more muted colors across the photo. The saturation tool works to increase the intensity of all of those colors uniformly throughout. The vibrance tool works in a little more intuitive and smarter way by increasing the intensity of individual colors that began as more muted or dull and brings them up to a level that matches the brighter colors in your shot. These tools can work together to get skin tones and natural colors in balance with one another without taking any of the colors over the top.
These are the most common adjustments that almost every pro will make before presenting their photos to their client, but it is far from an exhaustive list. There are many, many other small tweaks and adjustments that can be made in the editing process, but this list covers the basics and gives you an idea of the work that goes on behind the scenes in editing.
If I’ve whet your appetite and you’re ready to dive in and really learn how it’s done, this is a GREAT guide for all things Lightroom!
A STEP BACK IN TIME…
Now that we’ve talked about some basic edits, let’s take a quick trip back to the beginning and talk about where you want your photo to actually begin. That may seem backwards, but since you now know how much control the artist has in tweaking their photos, it makes sense to tell you about how to begin in the process, so you’ll have the best results in the end.
SHOOTING IN RAW
Almost every DSLR camera has an adjustment available in the settings to change the way the camera captures your images. Professional Photographers almost always shoot their photos in the RAW format (vs JPG). RAW images contain much more data than JPG, thereby increasing the file size, but also the range of editing that can be done. A JPG image is a smaller file size, but that means less data to work with later. If you are going to edit your photos to optimize color balance, tone, light, shadows, etc., then you’ll want a base image with the most info available to you. The more info you have, the greater your powers… (insert sinister laughter here – muhahahahaha!)
Conversely, When you shoot in JPG mode, your camera will take the liberty of making color adjustments that are embedded right into the file, and will save the file as smaller size. This is a great feature if you don’t want to fuss with the colors and effects within a specific body of work. For example, it can make processing vacation photos faster and easier when you’re not really concerned with perfecting every single shot.
Interestingly enough, many DSLRs offer the option of shooting in both modes at the same time, so you will have both options available to save what you like straight from the camera and edit what you want in RAW mode to highlight some of your favorites. The only word of caution here is to be sure you have a big enough memory card to accommodate all of that data!
THE DO’S AND DON’TS
I am a professional photographer. That means I LOVE to capture images of all kinds. I would love it if my clients know that there is so much more that goes into my work than pushing my finger on the camera’s shutter button. As much time and love as my clients put into making sure they are dressed perfectly and coiffed and made up to perfection, I, in return, commit the same amount of time and love into taking those photos and processing them.
I can speak for myself and most real professionals who take pride in their craft. The time they spend with you in front of their camera is probably the shortest portion of the total time they will spend producing quality imagery for you. Each image I process gets time under my critical eye, from choosing the shots with the best expressions to adjusting the color and composition in those top shots.
Photography is a form of art. If looking through the viewfinder and snapping the button is all it would take to produce an image that looks exactly like what the eye sees, then everyone could and would do it! Read Why You Should Hire A Professional Photographer for some insight into what makes a real professional. I’ll give you a hint. It’s not all about the camera.
If you are a photography student, keep learning! You are never done learning and perfecting your craft and your artwork. If you are a client who simply loves to look at beautiful photography, remember that your photographer likely spent thousands of hours and dollars in investing in the tools to take those photos from average to outstanding! And remember, be kind to them, for the power of editing is in their hands!
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