This is the third part of a three-part series on How to Improve your Travel Photography.
Sometimes, after we have taken maybe hundreds or thousands of pictures through our travels, we sit down and start selecting our best shots. But, even when we capture and compose some of our best pictures, still some of them don’t look as good on the computer as they did on camera. So, when editing, we need to keep that photographer mentality to make sure our pictures deliver the best of our experience.
In these cases, there are a few tools we can use to visually enhance or “photoshop” all the pictures we feel are not delivering the true story and experience.
Photoshop is the industry standard program, it is quite expensive, and for many too complex. But there are other easy to use and accessible tools that come pre-installed in many Windows and Mac platforms, and sites like Picnik, a free and paid service that makes tweaking your pictures an easy process.
Here are some simple “photoshopping” tips and techniques that will help you enhance your pictures and make them more vibrant.
Note: Steps shown are based on Photoshop CS3. Click images to enlarge.
Levels (Image > Adjustments > Levels) is a good place to start image enhancements. Levels is a tool that gives you a great amount of creative control over the contrast, brightness, and color of your image. In theory, a good picture should have a histogram (the black mountain range) that covers from the darkest shadow to the brightest highlight.
As you can see in the above image, the histogram lacks a great deal of shadows (the flat part on the left side) and highlights (the flat part on the right). In order to enhance the shadows and highlights, the small arrows below the histogram should be moved until they touch the “mountain range” or until the point the image has an optimum visual effect.
Overcast and foggy days tend to flatten the environment colors; giving us an image that is lacking those vibrant characteristics we are experiencing in real life.
With Color Saturation (Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation) you can increase how vibrant those colors will be expressed in a picture to generate more impact. Care should be taken when adding color saturation to an image since we want the image to still look real, with real colors.
Equally, you can balance the colors and cool light of a sunny day. These types of days can produce images with a slight blue cast. This can be fixed with the Color Balance tool (Image > Adjustments > Color Balance) to give the image a warmer quality of light with deeper shades of red and yellow. With this tool, it is a matter of personal taste as to how much color should be added/taken.
Playing with the brightness and contrast is one of the easiest ways to improve dull photos. In addition, the brightness and contrast tools are one of the most basic tools in any photo-editing program.
Adding contrast (Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast) to an image accentuates the darker areas from the highlights. It brings out the shadows and various details in the photo.
As with other tools, care should be taken. Adding too much contrast will give a caricaturesque look to your picture.
Brightness can be seen as a way to give more exposure to the image. With Brightness, you can turn underexposed images into well-lit captures. Too much brightness will slowly wash out the details in the image.
It is a good composition practice to add a buffer zone to your images. This means to add a slight border or zoom out a little bit from your aimed composition in order to provide space for error. Many quick shots tend to cut or shoot things right at the edges, making the image feel tight and without breathing space.
Then, while editing, the cropping tool (Tool Palette > Crop) allows you to keep exactly what you want in the composition and get rid of the rest.
This technique has been in use since the Renaissance (of course, in oil canvas). Artist used a simple technique called Chiaroscuro to draw the viewer’s attention to the main subject in their paintings. This is achieved by making the edges of the scene look darker while leaving the subject in the brighter area.
This technique is a bit more complicated than the previously mentioned here. You can either use the Burn tool (Tool Palette > Burn Tool) but it could take forever to look nice. But there’s an easy way.
Select around your subject with the Selection Tool you feel most comfortable with (Tool Palette > Marquee, or Lasso), and invert the selection (Select > Inverse) so what you are selecting is actually outside of your subject. That’s the area that will be darkened. Make sure the selection has a big “feather” (ie. 300px) so there’s a good transition between the darkened context and the brighter subject.
Then, by playing with the Curve Tool (Image > Adjustment > Curves) and pulling it down from the center of the grid, you will darken the selected area – achieving the desired effect.
This is one of the most common and easiest to accomplish photo tricks. By simply “Desaturating” (Image > Adjustments > Desaturate), you turn a color image into a Black and White image. The same can be done with a Sepia effect.
Sometimes we can use Selective Coloring to enhance certain aspects and colors in an image, by turning the rest into black and white. This can be easily done both with Photoshop and Picnik (easiest). On Picnik, you can turn an image into black and white, then use the “original” brush in the “effect painting” box to color the selected areas with the brush. Here’s a step by step to Selective Coloring on Picnik.
These previous techniques can be combined to enhance your images to its best quality possible. Chances are that most of the images you see in travel blogs (including this one) and magazines use these techniques, and more, to deliver stunning pictures.
While many would think that altering an image removes from the authenticity of the captured moment, I believe there’s nothing wrong with improving and editing your travel pictures as long as they are enhanced aesthetically, not faked beyond reality.First Part: Getting Into the Photographer Mentality. Second Part: Composing and Capturing the Moment.