Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Before and After

This is not an ad for a new Miracle Diet Plan where they show people in very unflattering before pictures and glamorous after pictures.   This is an example of the use of post processing photo editing tools to take a so so photo and make it into something that some may find interesting.

OK, here's your before shot.   You can click any of the images for a larger version.

This was taken early on a foggy morning at Warriors Path State Park in Kingsport, Tennessee.  It had snowed over night, leaving a beautiful dusting on the trees and just an inch or so on the ground.   For those of you who care, this was taken at f/16, 6 second exposure, ISO 100, using a 50mm lens.

I shoot almost always in RAW format, which means the image has not been adjusted at all when in comes out of the camera.  If you don't shoot in RAW format the digital camera will adjust a photo for you, fixing color balance, clarity, sharpness, saturation, digital noise and in other ways depending on how you have the camera set.   I prefer to make these adjustments instead of depending on the camera to guess what they should be.  The before photo is an example of an unprocessed RAW image.   The color has a blue tint, it appears to be a bit foggy, flat and basically uninteresting.  

The first thing I did was crop the photo to a wide format.  This got rid of the uninteresting water in the foreground and brought the shoreline down to the middle 1/3 line instead of being right in the middle of the photo.

The second thing I did was fix the color balance, brightened the image, and brought the blacks back by using the tone adjustments in Adobe Lightroom.  This increased the contrast in the trees allowing the snow to catch your eye without washing out the dark tree trunks.   In addition, I also adjusted the tone curve to give the photo even more true blacks.  I also increased the Clarity, which is the local contrast adjustment in Lightroom that affects the contrast in the midtones in the image. It works by increasing some of the edge detail in the midtones.  My histogram now spans from true black (left side) to true white (right side).  All these adjustments added punch to the photo.

You can tell it's a color image but there is not much color in the image.  Snowy landscapes are often almost black and white and can benefit by being converted to true black and white, which I did using Lightroom.   You should always take a photo in color and convert it to black & white on the computer where you can apply different digital color filters.  These act like the color filters back in the film days, lighting some colors or darkening others.   If you shoot in black and white then that's all you have.  You are very limited in the kids of adjustments you can make if all you have is black & white.

Here's the image with the above adjustments and converted to black & white.

I then adjusted the B&W mix sliders to lighten the colors I wanted brighter and darken others.  I made sure I didn't over adjust so much that I lost details in the image.

Here's the final After image.

Like the diet ad after photos, I now have something worth printing.

Did I over edit the image?   That's up to you.  Everyone likes something different.   Like the diet ads, the before photo did not represent real life. That's not the way it looked to my eye at the time.   God has made our eyes and brains to make many of these adjustments without us even knowing it.  It's a good thing, otherwise the world would look pretty dull.

I used Adobe Lightroom 3 to do these edits.  I have some other tools, such as Photoshop Elements, and my latest software - Nik Complete Suite.   You can do many of these same adjustments with other packages, including some of the free variety.

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