25 August 2015

How I Edit My Photos

This was definitely inspired by Ling, who recently walked through her photo-editing style on her blog. I've been doing photography for years, and touching up photos for just as long, so I've had a system that's worked for me and my style for quite a while now. And I thought I'd share that process with you!

I've been using the various incarnations of Adobe Photoshop and currently use CS6, but this procedure can be replicated on any photo-editing software that gives you a bit more control. I'll share some desktop photo-editing options at the end of the post.

Some of you might recognize the photo that I'm demonstrating on. Well, here's what it looked like, straight out of the camera.

Much dark. Such dull. So meh. 

A bit uninspiring, don't you think? The composition is pretty good (as far as my photography goes, anyway) and there are definite highlights, midtones and shadows for Photoshop to work with. So with that, I use only 3 adjustments to make it more suitable for my blog.

Load the photo in Photoshop and make sure the Adjustments panel is open. Using the Adjustment layers leaves the original image untouched, in case we make a Big Mistake. In my custom setup, it's on the right, under the Color panel.

The first Adjustment layer is Levels. This opens a histogram, which shows the black/white range of your colours. In this photo, you can see that there are no absolute white pixels, resulting in the overall dark blahness of the photo.

Start by dragging the absolute black and absolute white from the edge of the histogram to the point where data starts. This worked well for the black points, but I found that my highlights weren't bright enough. So I moved my white point in even further. As you do this, you'll notice the midtone also move. I lost a little bit of detail in the midtones when I adjusted my white point, so I manually made changes there too.

Once the Levels are set, I have what my photo should have looked like from the camera. Since I don't really want just that, I go to the Brightness/Contrast Adjustment layer next. With this, I just play in small increments until I like what I see.

I think some of you know I like photos that are a little overexposed and with the highlights washed out. For this photo, I bumped up the Brightness a bit and washed out the brightest points, and lowered the Contrast just a tad.

Finally, the last Adjustment layer is Vibrance, which gives you the Vibrance and Saturation sliders. While I could also use the Hue and Saturation Adjustment layer, Vibrance bumps up only the dull colours while leaving the saturated colours alone, while Saturation bumps up everything. In a photo like this, where I have mostly pastel colours but a few really saturated spots, it helps to control those separately.

For this photo, I increased overall Saturation a teeny bit so that the colours of the eyeshadow were more accurate to real life, and bumped up Vibrancy a little more than that to bring out the blues and browns of the background.

Whew! While this really only takes a minute or two per photo, it's definitely longer to explain. I only use these three adjustment layers for the most part, and sometimes I even find that using Levels can give the ideal photo all on its own.

And as promised, my desktop photo-editing recommendations. I'd definitely suggest Photoshop because it's so versatile, but it's definitely a pricy option. GIMP is a famous Photoshop alternative, though I've never used it. It's just as detailed and robust as Photoshop, and it's free! A web-based option is Autodesk's Pixlr Editor, which is surprisingly powerful for a browser editing app. It's a little slow (at least for me) but I replicated my process in less than a minute.

Thanks to Ling for the post idea. ♥

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