So you’ve been practicing and practicing. Your images are properly exposed. You’ve followed all the “rules”. Now why don’t they look as good as the pros?
An important thing to know is that all digital images are meant to be post-processed (basically, edited on the computer). Point-and-shoot cameras do some processing in-camera for you automatically. If you’ve sprung for the nice camera, you’ve got to be ready to spring for editing software too (although you can set up your SLR to do some in-camera processing – check your user’s guide).
My photo-editing program of choice is Adobe Photoshop. If you use a different program, hopefully you can figure out what in your program achieves these same things.
These 5 tips are specific to Adobe Photoshop CS4:
Photo Editing Tip #1: Defog
If you only do one thing, defog. Digital images have a haze over them. Getting rid of the fog can make a huge difference.
- Choose Filter – Sharpen – Unsharp Mask (USM)
(Don’t worry, an unsharp mask won’t make your image blurry. The term “unsharp mask” comes from the darkroom days, aka dark ages, and really sharpens an image).
- Enter Amount 14%, Radius 40 pixels, and Threshold 0 levels.
Photo Editing Tip #2: Levels
- Choose Layer – New adjustment layer – Levels
- Now you’ll have a box pop up. Just click OK.
- You will now have a box labeled “adjustments” with black, gray, and white sliders. Move these around until you like how your picture looks.
Photo Editing Tip #3: Contrast
- Choose Layer – New adjustment layer – Brightness/Contrast
- Click OK again…
- Now you’ll have a brightness and a contrast slider to mess with. I rarely use the brightness slider and I only move the contrast slider to around 5.
Photo Editing Tip #4: Curves
- Choose Layer – New adjustment layer – Curves
- Once again, click OK.
- Play around with this by adding points to the curve and moving them. Many people create an “s” while others just raise the center.
Side note: I only rarely use curves on a color image because I don’t like how it alters the relative light values in an image – but that’s just personal taste. I do like it for black and white, sepia, or muted color images.
Photo Editing Tip #5: Sharpen for output
Now it’s time to revisit the USM filter again. I would create a new layer to apply this to so you can adjust the opacity if you want.
The amount of sharpening you do will depend on how you’re going to use the image – the output. You’ll want to experiment yourself, but here are some guidelines to give you a starting point:
To Print: 100/1/10
For Web: 200/.3/0
If you do these five things (or four if you’re in the minority like me and don’t use curves very often), you will take your images to the next level.
A word of caution: don’t OVER-DO it!
In my experience, people learn what Photoshop can do and then do way too much of it. Then they back off overtime when they realize it just makes them look inexperienced (because they are) and their pictures look over-done.
Keep it subtle. Remember you’re trying to bring out the qualities in the image, not completely change it (unless you are trying to totally change it – then knock yourself out).