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« Photographing fall colors | Main | Converting a color photograph to black and white »
Monday
Sep062010

Make a good digital capture a better photograph using Photoshop

Improved image using Adobe Photoshop

Photography is part aesthetic, part technical.  Ansel Adams likened photography to music saying that the film negative was the score, and the print was the performance.

In the digital world, our capture is the equivalent of the negative, and as photographers, we want to emphasize and bring the viewer's eye to certain parts of an image.

I offer this photograph as a good example of that.  I liked the capture when I viewed it in Adobe Lightroom, but felt it had a way to go before I would be happy with it. 

First, I felt like the detail in the rock on the left was lost in the shadows, and suffered from a lack of contrast because of the open shade.  Second, I felt some areas were calling too much attention to themselves, and wanted to darken them up.  Finally, I wanted to direct the viewer's eye to mountain in the center of the image, and as captured, there were obstacles to that.  Specifically, the issue was the cloud on the right edge of the image, which, as the brightest part of the picture was going to be the first place the viewer's eye would go.

Adobe Photoshop is a wonderful tool for transforming a capture to a photograph.  I especially like to work with layers, which allow me to make adjustments to an image that are not destructive, and not permanent changes to the actual file.  In this way, I can make changes, and if I want to alter them, or even toss them, I can do that without any negative effects on the underlying capture.

So here is what I did for this photograph.  First, to darken the areas that I felt needed to be toned down, I created a curves adjustment layer, and pulled down the curve in the three-quarter tones. 

  

 

Then, I added a mask to the layer and filled the mask with black.  Think of a layer as being a piece of clear acetate  over the top of the picture. If I painted the acetate black, the layer can't affect the picture below.

 

 

I added the mask because the curve was affecting a lot of areas I did not want to change.  Adding the mask and filling it with black basically meant the curve adjustment was there, but being hidden.  Now, by selecting a brush tool, and changing my foreground color back to white in the color palette, I could just paint in the darkness into the areas I wanted to affect.    Changing the color tool to white is like a flashlight burning through the black on my acetate mask so I can add the layer effect the image below.  I generally like to work with a soft brush, with opacity and flow in the 20-30% range so I can build up the density slowly.

Here's what the mask looked like when I was done.  The areas that are black are areas that are not affected by the mask at all.  The closer to white things get, the more those areas are being darkened.  As you can see, I darkened the cloud on the right, the edges of the image, and the ground at the lower right.

 

 

I then went on the the other things I wanted to improve in the same way, creating a new curves adjustment layer and a mask over it, then filling the mask with black and painting in with white.  I did one for the rock on the left, and another for the cloud in the center of the image to bring the viewer's eye to the center of the picture, and the mountain below it.

 

 

 


 

Here's the cloud adjustment Layer.

 

 

 

 

And here's the original capture so you can compare.

 

Original capture

 

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