Saturday, February 24, 2007

Troubleshooting: From Okay to 'Oh, wow!'

Portland Head Light 2
Originally uploaded by zen granny.
Flickr has a number of groups where people can post their photos to get advice and ratings on a scale from one to five or one to ten. I found this photo of the lighthouse at Portland Head, Maine, posted in one of those groups.

This photo has a number of things going for it. It is nicely composed, with the lighthouse sitting on a diagonal line from the top left to bottom right of the photo. The photographer timed the shot just as a large wave broke against the foreground rocks, adding drama to the scene, and the sky is very interesting with the receding clouds providing a feeling of depth.

But it also has some problems. The photo is underexposed, muting all of the colors that I know are present in the scene, having photographed at that very location myself. The dramatic clouds are nearly lost in a blue-gray mush of sky. Plus, the horizon line is noticeably crooked.

Looks like a job for PhotoShop!

There are those who feel that editing a photo on a computer is somehow cheating, but I don’t hold that view. In this case, the limitations of digital cameras had locked the scene within the confines of an okay photo. But I wanted to liberate the photo into an “Oh, wow!” image. The image information is there in the digital file, it just needed some adjustments to bring it out.

The first thing to do was to correct the horizon. In “Image/Rotate Canvas” I rotated the image 1.5 degrees counter clockwise, then cropped the photo.

Next, I compressed the high and low tones of the photo. This was done in the “Adjust levels” dialog box. I simply slid the left and right sliders toward the middle of the histogram. That brought the contrast back to an acceptable level and made the white tower snap out from the background. A good start. Next, I adjusted the Color balance by adding some red and a slight bit of yellow to warm up the photo, which appeared to be taken around mid morning in bright sunlight. I pumped up the color saturation by about 15 percent to bring out the colors of the outbuildings and sky.

I then selected the sky and foreground water with the rectangular lasso and polygon selector respectively, feathered the edges about 12 pixels, then adjusted the color balance of those areas toward blue. I then selected the darker foreground rocks with the polygon tool, feathered the edges slightly, the adjusted the levels on the selected area to brighten the rocks a tad. Some unsharp masking rounded out the session, which took me all of about ten minutes.

Get to know a photo editing program and play around a bit with some of your photos. As you can see, just a few simple adjustments can make a photo go from so-so to stunning.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

An introduction to Orton

The Orton method is a way to produce soft-focus photos with saturated colors. The two photos at the right show a normal photo and the same photo with the Orton effect applied.

In the days before computers, the effect was achieved photographically by sandwiching two slide transparencies – one that was overexposed by two stops, and one of the identical scene overexposed by two shops and with the focus thrown off. The same effect can be achieved in a photo editing program that supports layers, such as PhotoShop.

Here’s how to do it:

*Open your image in PhotoShop.
*Go to "Image", then click "Apply Image".
*Set the blending to "Screen", and your opacity to 100%. Click OK.
*Go again to "Image", down to "Duplicate".
*With the image you have just duplicated, go to "Filter", down to "Blur-Gaussian Blur".
*Set the blur anywhere from 20 to 50. Click OK.
*Grab the blurred image with the “Move” tool, hold down the Shift key and drag it on top of your first image.

*Go to "Windows", then down to "Layers".
*Set the blending mode from "Normal" to "Multiply".

You can now adjust the opacity of the top layer and make adjustments to lightness levels and color saturation on either of the two layers. When you are satisfied with the results, select “Flatten image” in the Layers dialog box, then Save your image (or “Save As” if you’d like to retain your original).

Not all photos take well to the Orton method, so experiment and see what happens.

Click on photos to enlarge. Photographs © 2007 James Jordan.

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Friday, February 9, 2007

Today's tip: Browse

One of the best things a fledgling photog can do (even a longtime hack like me for that matter) is to browse the photos of some really good picture makers. EarthShots is one of those sites. Visitors can submit photos and every day, the best of the best is featured as photo of the day on their home page. I've been fortunate enough to have a photo selected for today's Photo of the Day.

Browse the archives and prepare to be amazed and inspired.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Don't forget textures

Hogar, dulce hogar
Originally uploaded by Any Manetta.
Very interesting shots can be made of objects or scenes that visualize textures. So be on the lookout for weathered wood, stone, sand - anything that conveys a rough or weathered look.

The photographer here captured the texture of the wood as well as the fabric in the window, and as a bonus included a knick-knack in the window to throw a spot of color into an otherwise monochrome composition. You'll also notice that the small porcelain house is placed on the diagonal line from botton left to top right of the photo. A very careful and well done composition.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Cool composition techniques

Kewaunee mist
Originally uploaded by James Jordan.
I shot this picture this past weekend while strolling along a beach in -25 degree windchills. What looks like a simple photo has a number of compositional techniques going on. You can use any one of these techniques alone, or combine them as I have to improve your pictures.

First, I established depth by capturing details throughout the foreground, middle ground and background of this photo. Next, I placed the lighthouse on a diagonal line from the top left to bottom right of the picture. Placing the subject of your photo on either of the diagonals of your picture will usually result in a pleasing composition.

I placed the lighthouse higher in the photo so that the diagonal line on which it sat met the diagonal of the foreground ice (more or less) near the lower right corner. The icy outcroppings in the middle ground forms a line that intersects the diagonal to create some visual tension, which was good, since there was nothing I could do about its placement.

So try establishing three zones of depth, placing your subject on a diagonal of the picture, then play around with converging diagonals and intersecting lines. You may just surprise yourself.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph copyright 2007, James Jordan.