Before & After
One of the key aspects of photography that I think doesn’t get much coverage is editing. I actually read a photography book a few weeks ago in which the photographer used examples of his images to demonstrate how to make the images more interesting to the viewer. He spent a lot of time covering important things such as composition, lines, orientation, and other decisions that need to be made when framing a photo but he never once mentioned why he did what he did in the editing of his photos. He had made a lot of editing choices that really left me scratching my head as they were things I wouldn’t have done to the image so I as the reader only got a partial explanation of why he thought his images worked.
Editing is a complicated thing to write about, there are tons of different software makers who have their own tools to perform various functions and then there are plug-ins to photo editing software that add filters and other features for specific types of photography. But I don’t think there’s a lack of discussion about photo editing because it’s hard to talk about I think some think of photo editing as something bad photographers do, something people have to do because they didn’t get it right in the camera. This is wrong and editing isn’t some new fad that came about because of digital photography. The greatest film photographers in the world, the photographers everybody has heard of spent hours in the darkroom editing their photos so that they matched their vision. Photography is art and unless you’re doing journalistic or product photography where you have to demonstrate an accurate view of the person, scene, object you really should be editing your photos to eliminate distractions, flaws, and to put your artistic fingerprint on them. Anybody can publish what their camera saw, a photographer/artist publishes photos the way they see the scene or subject.
Today I want to provide an example of the types of things I do to photos and the basic editing you should be doing to your photos before putting them on display. Now, the things I’m covering don’t apply to vacation photos or candid family shots (of course you could edit those types of shots as I like to do at times) but is intended to demonstrate things you should be doing for images you want to display for art or profit. I will be showing you what I did to an image I took of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Modern Art in Kansas City, Missouri this past weekend and I plan on doing these types of posts from time-to-time to give you an idea of what you can and/or sould be doing to your images.
Here is a before and after of the photo we’ll be looking at today:
I produced this image by combining 3 exposures into a single HDR image, each image differed by 2 stops (-2.0 EV, 0.0 EV, +2.0 EV). If you have no idea of what any of that just meant please take a look at my post that discusses HDR photography. After opening the 3 images in Photoshop CS6 I converted them to HDR using Photoshop’s HDR Pro conversion. In the before and after photo above HDR has already been rendered for both images and that’s all I had done to the “Before” photo that is seen here. In Photoshop’s HDR module there are presets you can apply to the image that give it different looks and in this case I applied the “Surrealistic” preset to the image and made some minor exposure adjustments to that. This preset blew out some of the highlights, added more detail, increased whites and blacks among other things.
After rendering the HDR image an applying the preset I then needed to perform a lens correction. If you notice in the “Before” image the building kind of bows out in the center and you can see that the walls that stick out on each side of the building are curved. Obviously this isn’t how the building actually looks so I used the lens correction tool in Photoshop which uses the lens information provided by my camera to perform a geometric correction. The auto-correction wasn’t perfect so I had to do some manual adjustments to the image to make everything nice and straight. So now instead of a crooked building I have a straight building.
Getting Rid of Blue Fountain Lights
The first thing the eye is drawn to when viewing an image is the brightest aspect of the image. After applying the Surrealistic HDR preset the blue lights in the fountain turned bright white and that’s the first place the eye was drawn to. When I took this picture my intention was to remove the fountain lights anyway, I wanted to highlight the reflection of the building in the water (ice in this case) and the fountain lights really interfered with that reflection. So from an artistic standpoint I needed to get rid of these lights, even if I didn’t intend on removing the lights when I took the shot since the HDR preset made them so bright I would have had to remove them anyway to keep them from distracting the viewer.
To remove the lights Photoshop has a tool called the Patch Tool. The Patch Tool has a “content aware” setting that allows me to make the area I’m removing an object from look like another part of the image. To do this I simply draw a lasso around what I want to get rid of and then when I move the item to an area the place I moved the object from looks like the area I “move” the object to, even though I’m not actually moving the object there as it will disappear when I’ve completed the move. Now even though this tool does an awesome job it’s not perfect, especially in the area where the columns are reflected in the fountain. So even after I moved that light I had to spend a lot of time touching up the area with the patch tool in smaller segments to make the columns align where they should. This was the most time consuming part of editing the photo as I figured it would be.
Eliminating Space Between Bricks
The rim of the fountain makes up part of the foreground of this image and in the “Before” photo on the left-hand side you can see a space where two of the bricks join. I felt this was distracting and wanted to make this portion of the fountain look like a continuous piece of material.
It might not look the same but the above photo is of the same section, with lens correction, cropping, and obviously my logo it may not look like it but it is the exact same portion of the image. To eliminate the space in between the bricks on the fountain I used Photoshop’s Spot Correction Tool. The Spot Correction tool is used to eliminate unwanted spots from your images that appear because of dust or dirt on either your lens or image sensor. But if you have the “content aware” option selected you can “paint” the image with this tool to eliminate entire objects from the image or even build up objects. So I painted the crack with this tool which replaced the crack with the pattern of the surrounding stone. Now you can’t even tell it was ever there.
Replacing a Window
There’s a row of windows above the front doors on the center of the image, the lights are off on all of these windows except for one which has a green shade on it. I didn’t like this window and wanted it to match the others so I ended up replacing it with one of the other ones.
To replace this window I ended up going back to the Patch Tool. If you recall earlier I had mentioned that I used this tool to remove the fountain lights. Again, the patch tool replaces the area you’re removing an object from with the area you’re “moving” the object to (even though the original object is deleted and doesn’t actually move to the area you move it to). So I figured I could just draw a lasso around the window and move it to one of the other windows and it worked! The lighted window was replaced by a dark window.
The Normal Stuff
So that’s some of the special things I did to this image, I’m sure I’m missing some. Usually I have to edit an image more than once as I find things I need to fix that I didn’t catch the first time. That’s the case with this image so I will have to do some more things to it but I’m not going to point out what my mistakes were! So what’s “normal stuff”? These are the things I do to every image, regardless of whatever else I need to do to it.
Remove Spots. I zoom every image I work on to 100% and go over every inch of it to see if there are any specks or spots, I then use the Spot Removal Tool to get rid of these specks and spots. A simple click over them an they go away.
Sharpen. I sharpen every image. I don’t know a photographer that doesn’t do this. No matter how sharp your picture is you always want it even sharper, especially if it’s going to be displayed on computer monitors. So I sharpen every one.
Resize. For images I’m going to display on social media sites or my website I shrink them down to make the file size smaller and more manageable. I usually change the ppi (pixels per inch) to 72 and then make the image 1000 pixels wide. This makes the files small while still leaving me with a fairly good size image.
Sharpen Again. Once you shrink an image you have to sharpen it again because pixels are lost. So I do one more minor sharpening after shrinking my image.
Contrast, Detail, Blacks, Whites, etc. Before I do anything I’ve mentioned in this post I open the image in Photoshop’s Camera Raw and adjust the white balance if needed as well as contrast, blacks, whites, highlights, shadows, detail, saturation, etc. I’ll probably write a separate post at some point covering these settings.
So that’s it, and example of some of the work I do to images. If you’re publishing images you have to edit them to make them look right. This image actually didn’t take me long to fix (probably why I missed a few things) as I finished this in under an hour. But for some images it’s not unusual for me to spend over an hour or two editing over a few days to make it the way I want it.