One of the most important skills a designer can develop is the ability to see through all the garbage in a bad project and notice the potential. One area this can be most prominent is in photo manipulation.
In my current job, I am often given photos that have been taken with a poor quality digital camera. It is my job to enhance those pictures and try my best to bring a professional feel to them. Sometimes this is very difficult. At other times, the elements are just right for me to do something good with the photo.
Here are some of the features I look for to make my job easier.
- As large of an image resolution as possible
Having a large resolution allows me to get rid of a lot of the artifacts and unwanted pixels when I reduce the image dimensions to fit on the screen.
- Pictures that are not too over exposed or not too underexposed
Even if pictures are underexposed or overexposed somewhat, as long as there is a sufficient amount of light and shadows, the image is still workable.
- Detail in the subject
When editing the image, I will try to bring focus on the subject of the image (usually people). If there is good detail in the subject, then the attention of the viewer will be drawn to the subject and the imperfections in the background.
- Good composition
Again, if the photographer chose a pose that is eye-catching, the attention of the viewer will be drawn to the subject and away from the background.
Whenever I am given an image, I rarely leave it as is. I always try to manipulate it some way to enhance it. I have a foundation of procedures that I use in nearly every image. Some images require me to use more than these, but virtually every photo I touch goes through the same process. The three procedures are as follows:
- Adjust Levels
- Adjust Colours
- Creating Depth of Field
I decided to show you the process I use for these three procedures on an image I took two summers ago. The photograph was taken near Penticton, BC, at the wedding of my wifeâ€™s sister and her husband. It is of my daughter and a friend. The photograph was taken with a cheap, fifteen-dollar camera, so it didnâ€™t come out very well.
The first thing I did was open up the Levels dialogue box (Image>Adjustments>Levels) in Adobe Photoshop. I noticed there was a lot of empty space on the left hand side of the graph. This side is what represents the dark areas of the image. The lack of dark areas explains why the original image was so washed out. By bringing the slider over to the graph, I could easily bring the dark areas to a more reasonable area. In areas where the image is too dark, youâ€™d want to bring the right slider (represents bright areas) over to the left. The middle slider will darken and lighten the entire image rather than certain areas.
The next step was to change the colour balance. I started with the highlights and raised the reds to +9 and the blues to +19. This helped to bring up the colour of the girlsâ€™ dresses.
Then, I adjusted the midtones by bring the greens up to +9. This brought out the colour of the leaves and grass. It brought out the colour of the apples as well, but the apples are not noticeable in this photo.
Finally, I adjusted the shadow colours. By bringing the reds up to +18, I brought out the colour of the soil.
Depth of Field
At this point, the image looks not too bad. It is no longer washed out and the colours are more vibrant. Yet, it is still missing something. This is where my favourite procedure comes in. Creating a depth of field is one of the most important tools in making an image appear to be more professional. If you flip through any magazine, you will notices many photographs in the articles and ads will have depth of field used in them. And you thought those perspective exercises in high school art classes were meaningless.
The first thing I do is press Q on my keyboard. This enters me into quick mask mode. You will notice the colours in your toolbar will be black and white. Make sure the black is the foreground colour. Now choose a brush. For this picture, I used a size nine brush without a soft edge. If your subject is larger than mine is, you could get by with a larger brush.
Now colour in your subject. The colour will be red. Donâ€™t worry; that is how you know you are in quick mask mode.
Once your subject is coloured in, press Q again. This will bring you back into standards mode. You will see that everything but the subject has a selection around it. This is what you want.
Now, go to Select>Feather and select a feather of 2 pixels. Next, go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and select a radius of 0.3 blur and press OK. You will notice that everything but the subject has been blurred slightly and the subject is standing out more.
Press Q again and paint more of the area around the subjects. The idea is to blur the background in stages so the further back you go, the more blurred it is. At this point, I decided to paint in the tree above the children and directly behind them. I also painted in the ground in front of them and up to the tree.
Press Q to enter standards mode again and press Ctrl+F (Command+F for Macs). This will apply the Gaussian blur filter again. Alternatively, you can also go to Filter>Blur Gaussian Blur and make sure the radius is set to 0.3 and press OK.
Press Q to enter quick mask mode and paint some more of the background. For my photo, I chose the next line of trees.
Press Q and then Ctrl F.
Press Q and paint in more of the background image. I painted in the next line of trees, which is the line right in front of the tables with white tablecloths.
Just keep going back and forth using the above step until you have the background completely done. I am stopping at this point.
Now, I press D to deselect the selection. And I see the following result
While it is not the best image out there, considering the state of the image with which we started, it looks much better.
The more you practise this three-part process, the better you will become at making images more professional and finding what elements are important in an image.
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