While there are loads of post production and editing programs out there for photos, I am not the best person to ask for alternatives to Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop is the ‘Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End’ as far as I’m concerned. Photoshop is the standard in the industry, and for good reason. It’s not by happenstance that the term ‘photoshopped’ has become internationally known. The program is top notch, offering nearly endless possibilities, tools, plugins and so much more – it’s highly used for more than simply photo editing, but it’s a top choice for graphic designers and publications as well. Yes, Photoshop is expensive, but it may be one of the top things that separates your work from graduating to the next level.
Basic edits for each and every travel photo
I find there are a few tools and a few editing techniques that pretty much every travel photo could benefit from using.
- Sharpen – Every photo, no matter how steady it was shot or what equipment was used, needs to be sharpened (at least a little bit).
- Levels/Curves – Levels and Curves are tools in Photoshop (which is often mimicked in other programs as well) that allow you to pull the darks of your image to true black and the lights to true white – this is important for this edit alone will transform your images and make them pop.
- Sponge/Dodge/Burn – These are three separate tools available in Photoshop that each have their own uses. Sponge allows you to draw your cursor over your image where it will then saturate or desaturate certain areas – which can enhance and alter the mood of the photo, as well as where the viewer’s eye will roam first. Dodge allows you to brighten certain aspects of your image. Burn allows you to darken certain areas of your photo.
- Denoise – Like that of sharpening every image, each one has traces of noise and discolored pixels. It’s inevitable, but it is curable. I suggest using Topaz Labs DeNoise Photoshop plugin.
- Vignette – A vignette darkens the edges of a photograph, bringing in the focus of the image, effectively altering the mood and the viewer’s reaction, by drawing the viewer’s eye in.
A brief look at HDR (High Dynamic Range)
In my last edition, Guide to Travel Photography – #4: Techniques for advanced shooters, I talked briefly on the basics of HDR photography…
“Briefly, HDR is the process of blending the best pixels available from multiple exposures. So, if you were to take a photograph of a dark building, but the sky is bright (which is quite typical), then you need to take the same exact photograph in 3-5+ exposures, from very dark to dark, medium exposure, and light to very light... You can do this with one single shot, if you shoot in RAW format on your camera, however shooting each of the exposures live with a tripod will yield the best overall quality. Then, pull these multiple exposures into programs like Photomatix to process them together. The point to think about is, if you blew out the sky, where it’s all true white, there’s no detail there – the same goes for underexposed areas in a photograph.”
Other important notes on HDR – When editing your photos in Photomatix, it’s important to test and to try. The program gives you a pretty solid live preview as you change the settings and move the sliders that are affecting your image, so I suggest for you to continue to play around with your images, rather than settling for one of the application’s preset programs. Also, a big mistake that a lot of amateur HDR photographers make is within the details and within the clouds. If you’re trying to shoot handheld HDR, you have to pay serious attention to how Photomatix blends your images together. It can also majorly alter your detail threshold, to where your images will be blurry or damaged when zoomed in – if you find this happens to you, reedit the photo with softer settings. As far as the clouds go, if you’re shooting with a very bright sky, it’s likely that even with lowly bracketed photos, you will still miss out on all that nice detail, and then Photomatix’s HDR process will do what it thinks is best, when really it’s leaving a big, noticeable grey/off-color blob in place of where a true white peak is to be expected. There are plenty of other basic mistakes and things that you have to look out for, but that’s another series for another time.
There are nearly endless plugins available for Photoshop, but here are a few that I tend to use on my own photography…
- Alien Skin Exposure, Bokeh
- Imagenomic Portraiture
- Nik Color Efex Pro
- Red Giant Knoll Light Factory
- Topaz Labs Adjust, BW Effects, DeNoise
- Photomatix Pro
Over-editing is for the foolish
As a final note, I thought it prudent to touch upon the subject of over-editing again, which I spoke about in #2: The don’t do’s. By all means, I support playing around, learning and then breaking the rules, but there really is a point where editing goes way too far. So, test and prod, and be creative, but take a step back before publishing your photo – make sure that you enhanced and improved, rather than ruining and destroying your image.