So, in the last few articles, we have looked briefly at equipment, composition of the image and getting your exposure correct. If you get all of that spot on, in theory, you should have an award winning photograph, right? Well it’s possible, but these days a little (or in some cases quite a lot), of post editing may or may not be required to tweak that image and get it looking just as you “saw” it or as you want it. Photography is an art form (unless you think like my sister 😉 but that’s another story), and as such, it is very subjective. Some may want to do a lot of post editing, others may just want an image exactly as it was taken and in my opinion, either option is fine. It’s rare though, to get the perfect lighting/weather conditions or compositional elements to give the perfect end result without any post editing.
You may think that editing, or what is commonly referred to these days as “photoshopping” (more on photoshop later), is a modern thing, but actually, even from the very first days of photography, photographers have been editing and altering their images. These days it’s just a lot easier to do! Back in 1917, a series of 5 photographs of fairies in a garden, the Cottingley fairies, was thought for years to be genuine, but later they were proved to be fake. Back when photographic printing was all done in the darkroom, photographers edited images; we darkened light areas by exposing the paper to more light (called burning) or lightened dark areas (called dodging). Additional elements could be added by using multiple negatives on top of each other or double exposure in camera, or even using filters on your lens. This was tricky and required a lot of skill to do well, but all quite possible. These days, with digital technology, software and apps, photo editing, and if wanted, manipulation, has become a whole lot easier. I will not be talking about adding in additional elements or manipulation in this article though.
So, how then do we get started with photo editing, what is the best software to use, and how much is too much? All good questions, but not that easy to answer, as really, it’s very subjective. So, I’ll tell you of a few out there and what I use. I guess Adobe Photoshop is one we all know about, and it’s really the go to for professional photography, that or Adobe Lightroom! Both are quite pricey and these days, you need to subscribe on a monthly basis to get all the latest updates. They are also quite complex to use effectively. There is a free (but limited) version of both Lightroom and Photoshop for use on tablets, phones or PC that are pretty good and I’ve used both of them on occasions. There are hundreds of apps and other software available now to do almost anything you want, but it’s very easy to go over the top with editing. But how much is too much, is like asking, how long is a piece of string! Try to keep it looking realistic would be my motto. For me and my own photography, my go-to editing tool is usually a free app called Snapseed. It’s available for android and iOS and I find it very easy to use. No annoying ads either. I generally tend to edit my images with a view that ‘less is more’. I like to edit to the extent that I could’ve done in my darkroom, although sometimes, I do go crazy and create something that is more akin to art than a photograph. It’s all down to personal taste and choice really.
So, if I’m going to edit a photograph, for example, a landscape shot for the cover of this magazine, It’s important to at least start with something that compositionally, looks good and is correctly exposed, with detail in both the shadows and highlights. In Snapseed, I will firstly look at straightening verticals and ensuring that the horizon is level (you do this with the ‘perspective’ tool). Then I will go to the main tool (‘tune image’) for adjusting things like brightness, contrast, saturation etc. You can also sharpen it up a bit with the ‘details’ tool.
In Snapseed you get slider controls for all the tools so you can judge how much you want to use it, my advice is to try a little at a time. It would take a while to go through all of the tools, and many you don’t really need, but you can have fun playing around to see what you can do. The ones I probably use most apart from tuning the image, are the brush tool, as you can zoom into all parts of the image and lighten or darken them (like dodging and burning in a darkroom), as you want, and the ‘black and white’ tool as I like monochrome. Like everything however, practice makes perfect, so I’ll leave you to download the App and have a play. One final word, don’t forget to save (export) your image so you don’t lose your work, and Enjoy what you’re doing!