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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Photo Editing Basics: Knowledge

One of the problems that most of us (me, this is my problem) have with photo editing is that we don't really know how to take or develop good photos in the first place. There was a whole culture of photographers with a specialized language (contrast, white balance, composition, etc.) that existed before computers and digital cameras came along. Then photo editing software was written by and for photographers and graphic designers so it's very much like learning a new language. When I first sat down with Photoshop I had no earthly idea what most of the things meant. I still don't know what "Gaussian Blur" means, but I know what it does (in general, don't ask me though). Now there are things like a histogram that I can see on my digital camera if I want, but to me it's all just bumpy lines. For people who know about the science-art of photography it means something.

Getting just a bit of knowledge can make a huge difference in your ability to edit photos well. Take a class at the local community college (and it's a great way to meet people in your neighborhood), read a book or go to a photography exhibit. There are some websites that will help you to understand the fundamentals of photography like "Basic Principles of Photography" and "Principles of Photography."

Composition refers to the elements in a picture and where they are in the shot. The rule of thirds is a compositional help for photographers and photo editors.

Contrast is the difference between light and dark, white and black. Higher contrast will generate a starker image, but may remove some of the subtle details. Brightness is the amount of light from zero (black) to 100 percent (white). Brighter pictures may be easier to see, but the colors get washed out if it's too bright.

Practice taking good photos so you can learn what you want to achieve when you edit photos. Remember, it's all digital, so you can't mess it up. Just keep taking pictures and see what happens. The only way to get better with photos is to get some experience. And that experience will come more easily if you take the time to learn the language.

What photography principles do you find the most helpful? What did I get wrong in this post?


Tim Lewis said...

Exposure. You can actually get a better exposure on a cloudy day than on a bright sunny day because the light will be more even and there will not be as many shadows or squinty-eyed people.

It it near impossible to repair a photo where there is no information. If a picture is too dark, you can only lighten it up so much before it becomes grainy. If a picture is too bright and washed out, this means there is no information to use to make it darker or look better. Washed out areas will continue to be white while you make everything around it look worse.

Adjust your aperture and your shutter speed to let in more or less light. Play with the manual settings on your own camera to learn what everything does so that you can quickly make changes and so that you will know why a picture looks bad and what you should do in different situations.

It also helps to learn about things like gamma, histograms, curves, etc. when talking about learning photo editing basics. Just learning terminology will help to use the tools and the effect it has on the image.

James Wood said...

Great points, Tim. Some of this is beyond my depth, so I'm glad to have friends who know what they're talking about.