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Thread: How do you know what to do to enhance a photo?

  1. #1
    Brownbear's Avatar
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    How do you know what to do to enhance a photo?

    I'm still learning to edit photos to enhance them using Photoshop Elements 9 and Lightroom 4.1 but you know sometimes when I edit a photo the edited version looks worse, especially if I try B&W.

    In Adobe I typically open the raw photo, and enhance exposure and clarity, and sometimes contrast. In lightroom I typically use colour curves to see if the photo looks better or not...

    Perhaps this is too, large a question but you know this editing to improve photos is a puzzle... Is their anything that I am obviously doing wrong?

    Original
    How do you know what to do to enhance a photo?

    Edited

    How do you know what to do to enhance a photo?

    In B&W (Scenic Landscape)
    How do you know what to do to enhance a photo?

    Original
    How do you know what to do to enhance a photo?

    Edited (likely using autotone in lightroom)
    How do you know what to do to enhance a photo?

    Thank you.

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    Re: How do you know what to do to enhance a photo?

    Really great question, Christina. I believe it requires a two-part answer: You need to develop a vision of how you want the finished image to look and you need to master the technique of making that happen. My experience in the beginning was that the two took place simultaneously over time, though I have no idea if that's generally the case for everyone.

    I recommend that you review the CiC tutorial: http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tut...g-workflow.htm

    As an aside, I reviewed the tutorial for the first time just now and was a little surprised to see that sharpening is recommended to be done before using the Levels & Curves tools. I'm used to seeing recommendations to do those in the opposite order and that's how I do it. I wouldn't be surprised to conclude that the order of those two probably doesn't matter.

    You might consider mastering B&W or color processing rather than trying to master both at the same time, though that might be mostly a reflection of how I tend to approach things.

  3. #3

    Re: How do you know what to do to enhance a photo?

    Hey Christina,
    I start in LR4 crop if needed and use a Nik plug in to sharpen the raw file, then I go to the Basic settings in LR4 and adjust the white balance (for landscapes mostly as shot) to what I want then the sliders in Basic, lens correction and if I want to bring portions out in the photo I go again to the Nik software collection using control points, but this is for photos I think I want to put more into. Once that is done a little sharpening in LR4 and that's it. I am not a pro so maybe someone else will come along and give you something better. I still have not used PSE10 yet but need to start watching the tutorials. Maybe some day soon.....right now I am satisfied with LR4 and Nik complete collection.

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    Brownbear's Avatar
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    Re: How do you know what to do to enhance a photo?

    And I hope others learn from my questions.

    Thank you Mike
    1.The vision of the final photo is great advice, and something I have overlooked.
    2. That's a great tutorial, that I will follow step by step on the next photo I edit. I studied it a while ago, but I forgot about it and the additional links that provide more details on each step.

    I note on the White Balance it recommends using the tint and temperature sliders, whereas I typically try the automatic daylight, cloudy.... etc.. settings... Is there a reason for this preference?

    Thank you Carl
    I will try your steps, too.

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    Re: How do you know what to do to enhance a photo?

    For white balance: in general, the most accurate starting point is to use a neutral gray or white with the eyedropper, measuring what you actually have in the image. Settings like cloudy assume a specific color temperature. However, not all images have a good neutral region on which to use the eyedropper.

    I think Mike has the right starting point: you have to know what you want. That takes practice. For example, if the image lacks tonal range--it does not go from nearly full black to nearly full white--and you decide you don't want that, then you can use the exposure sliders in LR or the levels tool in Photoshop to expand the tonal range. If the image lacks contrast, you can use several tools, one of which is the curves too. Create an S-shape, and you will increase contrast. (See what lightroom does to the curve if you change from linear to moderate contrast.) If the image is too soft or hazy, you might want to increase clarity to bring out detail, but for other purposes (some portraits, some flower photos), that may be exactly the wrong thing to do. Are all of the colors a bit washed out? Increase vibrance or, more extreme, saturation. Etc. In every case, you would do one of these adjustments to accomplish a specific goal.

    What you might find helpful is to take an image and experiment with one adjustment at a time, not to enhance the image, but just to see what it does. Since you have lightroom, you can fuss with an image as much as you want and go back to earlier points, or undo things, as much as you want (using the history panel), because the edits are nondestructive. You can work your way down the right-hand panel. There are many tutorials online that will help with individual adjustments, but even with those, I think there is no substitute for trying it yourself.

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    Re: How do you know what to do to enhance a photo?

    Another consideration that I struggle with is knowing when stop processing. As I am a relative novice I am still learning what all those lovely sliders do. I find that I can get very caught up in the processing and am always thinking "Maybe there's one more adjustment that will make this even better". So I may end up spending far too much time striving for that perfect combination of adjustments. Not a productive way to work.

    Any suggestions on how to tell when enough is enough? I guess this is really just another symptom of not having a vision of how you want the end product to look. Do you need a plan of action before you start?

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    Re: How do you know what to do to enhance a photo?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Buckley View Post
    I reviewed the tutorial for the first time just now and was a little surprised to see that sharpening is recommended to be done before using the Levels & Curves tools. I'm used to seeing recommendations to do those in the opposite order and that's how I do it.
    Hi Mike and Christina, there are three situations where you want to consider sharpening. The first two are where there is a change in the size or format of the image.

    1. The image is changed when it is converted from camera RAW to any other format such as DNG for processing. This is called capture sharpening and usually done automatically by the camera for JPG images. For RAW images, capture sharpening should be part of your post processing workflow.

    2. The other ‘change’ situation is where the image is resized for print or Web. This is called output sharpening.

    3. In addition, you 'may' want to sharpen only a part of the image to enhance the subject. This is called creative (or artistic) sharpening.

    So in total, you will want to do output sharpening just about every time after all other post processing is completed and the image is resized. You will want to do capture sharpening right after doing a RAW conversion and before post processing, and you may or may not want to do creative (artistic) sharpening.

    Take a look at this tutorial for clarification: http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tut...sharpening.htm.

    Perhaps an easier explanation was posted by Colin Southern at this link Sharpening and Noise Reduction Sequence.

    Hope this helps!

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    Re: How do you know what to do to enhance a photo?

    A couple of thoughts come to mind ...

    1. Experience. With experience you'll learn what controls do what & how they interact. You'll also learn various techniques, and you'll learn to spot weak areas in images and know how to fix them.

    2. I think that having too much choice is often confusing. "How should a photo look" is often a valid question, but as an artist, the answer is usually "any damn way I want it to". Sometimes you'll strive for faithful reproduction, whereas at other times you may with to employ a little or a lot of artistic licence. So there is no right or wrong ... WHATEVER you decide is ALWAYS right (if it's what you want).

    I'd suggest just posting here - let other edit your work - and let them describe how they did it, so you learn from them. Then do it yourself.

    There are shortcuts, but not many. Experience is king ...

    ... and there's only 1 way to get it.

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    Re: How do you know what to do to enhance a photo?

    I really enjoy post-processing as much as capturing, so this is the first of a few posts in response to the great comments already posted.

    Quote Originally Posted by FrankMi View Post
    You will want to do capture sharpening right after doing a RAW conversion and before post processing
    Great post, Frank! It's abundantly clear to me that you completely understand this stuff, which explains why I always look forward to seeing your posts. However, I think your comments about that could perhaps be overly simplistic.

    As an example, my camera system allows me to do the capture sharpening in-camera. Though I personally prefer to negate that sharpening in my post-processing (which would not be possible if I were not shooting RAW files), I do understand why many people prefer to leave that in-camera capture sharpening as is without attending to it during post-processing.

    I also disagree that capture sharpening must be done before other post-processing is done, as does the CiC tutorial. Not that it matters, but I do capture sharpening so late in my workflow that it comes only before creative sharpening, cropping and outpout sharpening.

    I didn't take the time to review the CiC tutorials regarding sharpening, but I never ever include the plain blue parts of a sky in capture or artistic sharpening. I do include it in output sharpening but only because I'm lazy and do 99% of my output sharpening using a batch process. If the image was really important to me, output sharpening would not be done as part of a batch process and then it would not include the plain blue part of the sky.

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    I think that having too much choice is often confusing. ...WHATEVER you decide is ALWAYS right (if it's what you want).
    Great points. Exactly true!
    Last edited by Mike Buckley; 27th July 2012 at 03:09 AM.

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    Re: How do you know what to do to enhance a photo?

    Quote Originally Posted by Christina S View Post
    And I hope others learn from my questions.
    It's nearly impossible to believe that that won't happen, thanks to your great questions.

    Quote Originally Posted by Christina S View Post
    The vision of the final photo is great advice, and something I have overlooked.
    Don't forget to envision the final photo before you press the shutter release. Doing so will exponentially improve your photography.

    Quote Originally Posted by Christina S View Post
    I note on the White Balance it recommends using the tint and temperature sliders, whereas I typically try the automatic daylight, cloudy.... etc.. settings... Is there a reason for this preference?
    Using the automatic settings is a great starting point. Depending on the quality of the white balance, those settings may be all that you need. However, sometimes you will need to tweak those settings using the tint and temperature sliders.

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    Re: How do you know what to do to enhance a photo?

    Quote Originally Posted by DanK View Post
    What you might find helpful is to take an image and experiment with one adjustment at a time, not to enhance the image, but just to see what it does.
    I would add that Dan's tip is an abosolute necessity when it comes to learning what your software does (and doesn't do). But please don't "play" with it. Instead, do a modest amount of research first so you have at least a vague idea of what a particular tool is supposed to do. Then use that tool to see the effects.

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    Re: How do you know what to do to enhance a photo?

    Quote Originally Posted by FrankMi View Post
    You will want to do capture sharpening right after doing a RAW conversion
    Just a minor "pro-tip" ...

    If you have a lot of dust bunnies, it can be easier to zap them before capture sharpening (because the capture sharpening puts a halo around them, and then you have to get a little more aggressive / precise in getting rid of them in some areas (like sky with noise).

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    Brownbear's Avatar
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    Re: How do you know what to do to enhance a photo?

    Thank you Dan.... Great advice that is easy to follow.

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    Re: How do you know what to do to enhance a photo?

    While it's a bit expensive and definitely time-consuming to watch I cannot recommend highly enough the Lightroom tutorial videos available from the Luminous Landscape website. Michael Reichmann and Jeff Schewe (who played a role in the development of Lightroom and continues to advise Adobe in the development of new versions) take you through the entire process of post-processing from a photographer's perspective -- which is very different from what you might get from typical software manuals or tutorials where you are shown everything the software can do but are left with no understanding of how to put it together into a workflow.

    Reichmann and Schewe occasionally peck at each other like a couple of old hens, but I actually think it was genius of them to do these tutorials as a team, because it's a lot more engaging and entertaining than watching one talking head.

    They discuss (and debate) the best stage in the process to apply certain corrections, and they warn against common pitfalls and mistakes. It takes hours to go through the entire series of videos, but if you pay attention and practice on your own computer after each episode (I had to hit "pause" a bunch of times and switch to Lightroom to try something they just explained), you'll get an invaluable education. Sometimes they get into esoteric arguments that are way over my head or desired skill level, but you can just ignore the bits that don't apply to you. I still haven't made it all the way through the series, and I need to watch some of the sections again to refresh my memory, but these videos are a real gold mine.

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    Brownbear's Avatar
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    Re: How do you know what to do to enhance a photo?

    Thank you. Sounds like a great learning tool.

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