Friday, November 4, 2011

Before and After

I've learned that, in the world of photography, there is considerable debate over whether (or how much) editing is acceptable. There are, of course, purists who feel that a photographer's merit should rely on what comes straight out of the camera (SOOC). There are others who consider what comes out of the camera to be a starting point.

Perhaps as I get better with my camera, I will spend less effort editing my pictures after I take them, but I'm not there yet. And, honestly, I kind of enjoy the process of tweaking - or even creating a piece of art that is photograph-based, but is not a photograph. Like this:

Not so long ago, I lamented that I felt "consciously incompetent" concerning my skills with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. I've learned a lot in a short time and I'm enjoying plying those skills. I've also been able to transfer what I've learned on the real McCoy to Picnik, the poor-man's version of Photoshop.

Either way, I consider these part of the creative process.

So today, I want to show you some pictures before and after I've edited them. These were all taken in October 2007 on my point-and-shoot KODAK CX7530, my very first digital camera. In each of these pictures, the "before" shot had already been edited by the KODAK software that came with the camera. In those days, I did not save a "virgin" copy of my pictures. If the edit was an improvement, I overwrote the original. I don't do that anymore; I save them with a version number.

Nowadays, there are three things I do to almost any picture that strikes my fancy:

  • Adjust levels - this often cleans up the "muddy" or "faded areas of the picture and even brings out detail
  • Adjust curves - this usually brightens the highlights and deepens the shadows, creating more contrast, but I've also used it to brighten the midtones without losing contrast or creating too much noise.
  • Sharpen - I don't always do this. Portraits, especially, sometimes benefit from a little fuzziness. Especially for those of us 40 years of age or over.

Here we go. I have seven pictures for you, all edited in Picnik. [Note: clicking any of these pictures will put them into a slide-show viewer.]
I'd never really given the original of this picture a second glance. Nothing really "popped."
I guess it's still not a great composition, but I like that, in the edited version, you can see the texture of the wave foam. 
When I first saw the before picture, I was disappointed. It didn't have the vibrancy I'd remembered at the beach.
The after picture does a better job of showing the drama of these pretty purple shells nestled amongst the mossy rocks.
Wow! I liked the before version a lot - even have it printed and framed somewhere, I think, but the after picture really captures the contrast between the wet and the dry, showing off the textures. 
Another one that had originally disappointed me.
In this picture I also edited out a man who was standing far out on the rocks on the left.
Picnik could not correct the lens curvature. I'm sure there is a way to do that in Photoshop.
This is one of my all-time favourite pictures and, until I edited it today, I hadn't thought about how it could be improved.
The main reason I like it is that the beautifully textured stair railing draws your eye right to Stephen, whose body in mid-stride shows the contrapposto that is so hard for artists to show in their work - the way the body balances itself.
In addition to adjusting the levels, curves and sharpness, I also edited out Peter. Not because I don't like him, but because he distracted from the composition: his shirt blended into the sand and so it looked like Steve was striding happily towards a pair of legs and a disembodied head. 
I know sunsets are cliche and over-used, but I loved this picture from the moment I took it.
I was even pleased with how level I got the horizon (not easy for me).
I did my three usual tweaks on this and adjusted the colour saturation very slightly.
It was already so saturated that if I did much more to it, it would look like a cartoon.
I debated taking out the red flare, but decided not to as I felt it was part of the sunset.
The adjustments here really cleaned up the washed-out areas. I was also able to adjust the camera tilt (notice that it tilts on the side where the shutter-release button is?) and get rid of the silly strip of sky at the top.
That's it. If you're interested, in my next post, I think I'll share my little tutorial on how to get the most out of Picnik. Not just use it to put frames and stickers on your pictures or use the auto-fix features. Use the voting buttons at top-right to let me know if you're interested.

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