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How to maximize the value of your photographs

     It can take a great deal of time, energy, and money to get a stock of photographs so you want to get maximum benefit from them. With modern technology it’s easy to get a bountiful load of material, plus be able to create a fine finished product in a short time. To do that, you need to get the right tools. That is, a good camera and lenses, effective system of transferring files to your computer, proper storage and backup devices, and regular viewing to know your stock and keep it ready for projects. You should also get a good photo editing program such as Photoshop. It is also useful to buy a book on digital photo techniques.

     Look at your photographs as raw material. In travel photography especially, but in other forms as well, there a lot of waste. The good news is that many times all you need is one good picture ( products ), or a few good photos. You can get many nice photos by using a variety of editing and adjusting techniques.

 Cropping and editing and photos for best effect

     Editing a photo is like cutting a diamond. Before starting you have to look at it and determine how you want to use it,. Each person develops their own editing style, but here is how I do it.

Example 1

     The point of this photo is the story it tells, morning breakfast at the local tea shop.

Before


     Like many travel photos this was taken “on the fly”, fast, with little time for composition, so there is more in the photo than I need. That’s where cropping comes in. Use it to get rid of extraneous material. First I look at the border areas. In the right side of the photo there is a black bulge. On the left side is a tiny piece of someone’s hand. At the top, there is a bit of the shop canopy. On the bottom there is more of the solid grey concrete than I need to convey the idea.

     In the photo there are several spots of color. The yellow and red on the right, and some light blue on the left. There’s also a bit of orange in one man’s shirt, a nice complement to the light blue. I use photoshop to gently saturate the colors, just a bit. Photos that get seen on websites, especially, can often benefit from more contrast and more color saturation.

After

     This photo is almost done. I need to make sure it’s the right size for my application, a website slide show. Many digital cameras save files at very large sizes, such as 36 by 48 inches. You definitely don’t need that on a website. I resize web photos to roughly two thirds screen size, such as 12 inches, with corresponding height. There is no reason to confine website photos to a “standard” size, such as 8 by 10. It is much more interesting to have photos of a variety of sizes and ratios. Just keep in mind geometric principles when cropping to keep proportions that are pleasing to the artistic sense. Take advantage of shapes, curves, and angles.

     Notice how much tighter the composition is. Along the edges, I’ve included only as much detail as I need to convey the idea. For example, on the left side is part of a cooking pot, and on the right there is part of a yellow plastic container. I’ve taken advantage of some geometric shapes, such as the square in the lower right.     Draw lines from opposite corners, and where they cross will the center of focus. In this case, it’s a bowl of food material set between the two cooks.

     Now, I need to adjust the levels of light. There is too much shadow in some areas that mask important details. So, I use Photoshop’s levels adjustments to good affect, lightening the mid-tones a touch. I want to keep some shadows to show the morning lighting.

Example 2

     The idea of this photo is the spiritual pilgrims on the shore of a sacred river, making a transition from one state to another, with the sand and water conveying the contrast.

Before

sample2a

First, look at the elements of the photo.   The top half is mostly dry sand, and the bottom is clear, beautiful water, a nice contrast of texture, color, and material.   The photo is slightly angled to the right ( see the steps at the top. )    That’s not necessarily bad, but I’m going to rotate it back slightly for this use.    By rotating it back about 7 degrees, I can still keep enough of the photo after the crop to make a nice compostion.    I don’t need all that grey concrete at the top, but I do want to keep all of the blue wall at the top because it adds needed color, and it’s complementary to the orange in the sadhu’s clothing.

After

sample2b

       Now the photo is much more compact, and there’s a nice balance between the water and the sand.     Lines drawn from opposite corners accent the two people on the shore line, just entering the water.    The little splashes of bright color “pop”, in front of the neutral sand background.    I got rid of a big block of grey on the top, but preserved almost all of the water in the bottom.

Example 3

The story of this photo is the lighted market at night, with a sharp contrast between the small shop bulbs and the darkness on the right.

Before

sample3a

             Night scenes can be challenging.     There’s a lot of dark areas in this photo but I don’t want to get rid of them all.   I want some contrast between the dark and the lighted shops.    In the AFTER example, I’ve cropped out a lot of the dark areas on the bottom and right side.    Then I adjusted the levels, lightening up the mid tones revealing more detail.     The diagonals show that the center of the photo is right next to the dividing line between the lighted shops on the left and the darker area, with distant river, on the right.

After

sample3b

The result is a much better composition and better lighting.

Each photo presents a unique situation, but there are some common procedures and steps.

First, determine what you want to use the photo for, and what you are trying to illustrate. That will help you decide what elements to keep and what to discard, and what portions of the photo you may want to enhance.

For cropping, look at the edges of the photo to see where the best cut will be. The final image doesn't have to conform to a "standard" print size such as 8 by 10. Adjust the image size to fit your use.

Adjusting color can be tricky, and you should think carefully about what you want to do. Sometimes a photo needs a little "pop", which can be done by increasing the color saturation.