The vacation trip was a success and the memory card is full of photos that are just waiting for the right finishing touches? To make them look as magical in the photo album or on the wall as they did when they were taken, photo editing offers plenty of options.
A good photo starts with a good shot
This may sound like a truism. But in the age of the ever-available smartphone, on which you can snap blindly and then improve the photo with a click and send it directly, many a layman wonders whether post-processing, with its inexhaustible possibilities, doesn't make the craft of photography obsolete. Of course, anyone who is a bit more involved and knowledgeable about photos knows that this is far from the case. Many different things play a role in a good photo, depending on one's own taste and photography genre. In general, however, certain things simply can't be improved after the fact. For example, if an image is way too dark, you can lighten it up after the fact, but if you lighten it too much, you'll have the unpleasant side effect of so-called image noise, which is the degradation of an image due to small pixel noise.
Before starting image processing, the wheat should be separated from the chaff . Photo professionals keep only about 10-20% of their original shots for post-processing. In order for the effort to be worthwhile and for an exceptional photo to be created in the process , shots that are not quite as successful should be deleted. The best photos can then be easily saved and managed directly in the image editing program, there also during editing not different versions of the image, but the photo including all its editing steps are saved. So you can easily keep track and also sometimes return to an older version .
RAW format for better post-processing
An important aspect for photo editing, which should be dealt with in advance, is also the storage format in which the photo is saved. Here, there are basically two types of formats in which the photos are saved by the camera. The most common way to save and send photos is in the form of JPEG and similar formats. Professionals, on the other hand, save their photos on the camera in RAW format. In this format, whose name derives from the English raw as in raw, the camera stores all the image information captured by the image sensor. Since this format contains much more information than a JPEG file, a RAW photo also requires correspondingly more storage space and, in the case of numerous shots taken in quick succession, possibly even a faster memory card.
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The raw format is used by photo professionals and enthusiasts because, like no other, it keeps open all the possibilities of image processing without losing authenticity. Since all the information from the original photo is there, you can, for example, bring out the mountains of clouds on an overexposed sky that appears white without putting anything in the photo that wasn't really there. Common photo formats like JPEG simply can't compete with this level of freedom in editing while maintaining pristine quality.
If you're on fire now, you might want to get a larger memory card and be prepared for the fact that your own photos won't immediately shine in the new format. That's because before an image is saved to the camera in the popular JPEG format, it goes through automatic post-processing that enhances it. Since this is not the case with photos in RAW format, they often look gray, washed out and lacking in contrast before post-processing. Here the comparison with the analog negative of the photo is apt: just like a negative, the RAW photo contains all the potential of a good photo, but is not yet one. Whether it becomes one or not depends on skill and subtlety in post-processing. Also, RAW photos are difficult to email and slow to upload online because of their size. It's better to convert the photo of choice back to the more manageable JPEG format after editing for easy sending.
Crop and align photos properly
When taking photos, it's not always easy to get the horizon line properly straight. However, in post-processing, this mistake can be easily corrected and immediately improves the image effect of the photo. The lines are also of great importance in architectural photographs . Most of the time, a picture looks more interesting if the horizon line does not extend exactly through the center of the picture. If you observe the golden section when choosing important image lines, the image tends to appear balanced and harmonious. When cropping images, the main aim is to guide the viewer's gaze to and to emphasize what fascinated and appealed to you about the subject when you were taking the photo. In doing so, one should ask oneself what really belongs to the picture. Small details can make up the charm of a picture, but can also be a distraction and weaken its effect . The key here is to work out your own style and personal preferences through trial and error. If the image is intended for a print, it is important to pay attention here already to the appropriate format, otherwise even unconventional formats can open up new vistas.
Fine-tuning: saturation, colors, sharpness and contrast
In common programs for photo editing, sharpness, contrast, saturation and colors can easily be adjusted according to one's own ideas. There are usually simple controls for this and no right or wrong, just try it out. By changing the brightness of the image after the fact, you are effectively playing with the exposure of the image. When brightening, however, the contrast can be lost, which should then be readjusted using the slider of the same name. You can also use a so-called graduated filter to brighten up parts of the photo and thus, for example, bring out impressive clouds in an overexposed, white-looking sky. A simple slider can be used in post-processing to increase or decrease the saturation of the image. This can be done for the whole image at once, but it quickly makes the result look unnatural. It is more subtle here to work with a slider that changes the saturation only in certain, less saturated areas.
The colors of the image are changed via the so-called image temperature. Warm tones make the image look more autumnal, while cold tones convey the feeling of a winter day. If you're more familiar with photo editing, you can also play with the color adjustment of each color channel, setting hue, saturation, and brightness or luminance. In this way, professionals get much more out of their images, but for beginners it may feel overwhelming. Instead, professional photographers offer so-called presets in which their photo-editing settings have been saved and can be used to achieve similar effects without having to struggle with the details.
Play, practice and try out
Enthusiastic about the possibilities of photographic post-processing, beginners often make the mistake of turning up all the settings to the maximum and their pictures lose their naturalness. Especially for beginners, less is often more when it comes to photo editing. Trying things out and one or two unsatisfactory results are part of the process. It is important to always have an original of the photo that you can fall back on in such a case and start from scratch. In order to discover one's own style, one should concentrate on representing the actual impression that the subject, the place or the scene of the picture made on one. This way, not only do you avoid photos that end up looking too much alike, but more importantly, post-processing photos achieves what it's there for: to show the world as photographers see it through their own eyes.
If you don't know where to start, you can take inspiration from other people's photos or start by imitating the style of famous photographers you like. And then it's practice, practice, practice and, above all, playfully try. If you want to learn the art of photo editing, you have many long winter evenings in front of your computer. But the process is one of constant discovery, where you can relive the beautiful moments of taking photos through your own images.