I have for you today a few digital alterations. They are of the sort that can be done in most software programs. Keep in mind, I have never been much for alterations, so what I am showing are mainly small, simple changes that might make a difference. They are only for images that need some minor tending to. Also keep in mind that I am using antiquated software.
One thing that I have taught in workshops, newsletters and many times on these pages, is the value of simple, clean backgrounds. Do understand my position on this. Clean, uncluttered backgrounds can make for more powerful, and more attractive images, but if every image looks like that, it would not only be boring, it would only tell part of the story of the world around us. We would all be poorer for that.
I just recently showed this profile of a Cinereous Vulture on a post here at Earth Images. The image was made in a zoo. What I liked about the photo, in addition to the fact that it shows us an extremely cool bird, was the nice and clean background. I did nothing artificial with the background because it is simple naturally. In other words, it came clean and simple, but could it be simplified even more?
There is a white area above the bird’s head, a smaller white area in back of the bird’s neck, and the area in front of the bird’s throat is ever so slightly lighter than the almost black background.
For this altered picture I used Photoshop’s Magic Wand tool. I clicked on those lighter areas of the background which Photoshop then circled and separated from the bird. Then I simply went into image adjustments and took away brightness until it was all even toned black. Take note, that tool is not perfect. If you look at the bird’s throat on the first picture you will see the fine hair like feathers protruding. If you check the second image you will see that the longest feather strands are now gone. The Magic Wand did not perfectly separate those out so when I reduced the brightness down, it took a part of those feathers with it.
Does the second shot still look better now that you know the bird has been slightly altered? Do you think those light spots belong there, and do not subtract from the image? Is reducing those light spots nitpicking?
Unfortunately I did not have the original file handy when I decided to use this next image of an old log with Phlox.
The appearance of the original (from film) digital file was actually sort of in between these two alterations. There were some out of focus green grasses and a few out of focus small branches in the background, along with complete blackness in the deeper areas.
I turned green and black into solid black by once again clicking the magic wand, this time on all of the areas that were not flower or log. I then used the brightness tool and “unbrightend” everything until it turned black.
I know a lot of people don’t like black backgrounds as you see it in the top photo, because it seems to them that the flowers are floating in outer space. To me, they are anchored to the earth sometimes by flower stems, or in this case, by the log.
The majority of the flower, insect, etc. shots I show with featureless black backgrounds, are done so with no manipulation, but rather by careful lens selection and composition.
In this second image, I altered the edited black background back to the color green. Obviously, because the variances in tone that existed in the mostly green original were edited by me into solid black, I could only produce a green background that was solid in its tone. I first added exposure as to turn the black into gray, and then used the color balance tool to change that to green.
I know there are lots of people who love the editing process even more than making pictures. I am not one of those and I generally do as little of that as possible.
I’ve just recently shown this picture of a Rough-legged Hawk departing a tree on a winter’s day. No, I have never altered this background, it was simple perfection when I originally clicked the shutter.
Exposure from the sun, coming from the rear and left of the bird, was a fairly minor consideration. The differences between the sunny part of the bird and the shadowed, are fairly small. I do think the first picture shows enough detail and light, but photographers are nitpickers and “sometimes”, I have that trait.
For the bottom picture, I once again used Photoshop’s Magic Wand tool and clicked within the blue sky area. This time, I also clicked on select on the tool bar, and then clicked inverse. This meant that everything but the sky would be affected by any work I would do. I once again went into the image editing area and used the brightness tool to add light to the bird and the branches. Adding to the bird was my intent and a little more light on the branches was immaterial. Once again, my alterations here were slight, but could make that small difference that matters. We are left with a brighter bird.
For as long as I have been making pictures, there have been some people who suggest that I add color to my scenes. That includes my film days, back when I was shooting 25 ISO Kodachrome. The suggestion was back then, that I used color filters over my lenses.
I would ask, when do you go out shooting? How late do you stay out? In the Kodachrome days, I asked if he underexposed film to hold saturation? He said what? I went out in early light, stayed out late, and shot a lot of colorful scenes, including thousands of sunrises and sunsets. You will wind up with a lot of colorful images that way.
Of course, adding color in the digital era is not only easy, it is very common for photographers to manipulate saturation. What is the technique I used for digital imaging? I would go out early, stay out late, shoot colorful subjects and keep my exposures down to hold saturation. Yes, those same rules (tools) help to keep powerful colors in digital photography just as it did with film. The one and only change I have made, is adding contrast. It separates tones, and if those tones are of differing colors, it will make them pop more.
I made the landscape below in Colorado/Utah’s Dinosaur National Monument as the afternoon colors grew warm.
In the second shot I did what some photographers actually do regularly, I unsaturated the scene enough that it would appear normal to those photographers who see the world through much drabber eyes than I do. I also dropped the contrast somewhat.
The work on this final image below is certainly subjective and I am not sure myself which works best. The top image is a simple conversion from a raw file to a jpg, with an image downsize.
There was never going to be a lot of detail in this shot. It is a mood shot, and made on the inside of a coniferous forest.
The second image has more contrast, added by me, in the editing process. My opinion is, I like it better except for the spot where the light is entering the forest, which is burned out. All of my attempts to correct the burned spot while leaving the rest as is, failed. Darkening an area that is soooo bright, only creates gray.
I admit, if this were a more important image I may have worked harder on it. Just the same, little things like the contrast adjustment that I made, strengthened those rays as they appeared against the shadowy trees.
“Seeing”, both with our eyes and our hearts, is where the art of photography lies.
Keep tending to those little things, Wayne