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Digital photo processing and editing

December 7, 2013

Design

As you all might know from my travel blog I tend to travel a lot. And every time I do I take lots of different photos which after filtering and editing go to the website. But lately so many people have been interested in the photos I take. First they asked about the camera I was using then about the editing options. Is it necessary to edit every photo or is it enough to buy a good camera? The answer is neither. It always depends on how you take your photos.

To take good pictures you don't really need the most expensive camera on the market. For two or so years I've been using 18 Mpx Canon 600D kit package. In total it costs approximately 550$. Which really isn't that much for the SLR camera (Single-lens reflex). Now I'm using Nikon D600 with 28-300 Nikkon lens which costs about 3000$ in total. Which is almost 6 times more. But it doesn't mean that my photos suddenly became 6 times better. Actually it only means that I have way more options to take photos in different lightenings and that I can get much more details out through editing process. It means that the new camera can capture much more details than the old one. But you must know how to show those details on the photo.

But first things first. For those of you who stuck on the word SLR here is the quick tour.

Difference between SLR and digital camera

On the left you see a typical digital camera. These are for people who don't really know anything about photography and most important don't really care about it. These cameras have quite poor quality and are similar to the ones that you now have in all latest smartphones. Sometimes an iPhone or HTC can take even better photos.

On the right is a SLR camera. Actually the one I was using for two years. It's not the best but it is a good start and the photo quality will be much better. I'm not gonna describe the camera options. Internet is full of different reviews and ratings. Mainly I just want to show why I'm using photo editing even though I have such an expensive camera now.

Lightroom settingsAnd first of all I'll answer the most popular questions of all: No! Non of my photos come from the camera in the same quality that I put them on the website. Not one. Every picture gets editing and processing. Even if you buy a 10 000$ camera it won't do the trick for you. But it will certainly give you an opportunity and all the tools to achieve such results. So what's the deal then?

Lets brake it down. The camera needs to capture the world around it. Just like the human eye. And it works in a similar way but it doesn't have as much power, diapason as a human eye. So it means it can't really capture as much details as we can see. And here is the main difference between SLRs and digitals. The more powerful the camera is the more details it can capture. But it still won't be able to see the world as the human eye.

The second main thing is that human eye can adjust to different lightening. Very quickly and automatically. Cameras can't. Remember when you walk in to the dark room. At first you don't see a thing but some moment later you begin to distinguish some details. The camera can't adjust like that. It has an auto mode of course but it's nowhere near how human eye adjusts. So to get a good photo you need to adjust the camera in every lightening. If it is sunny you need to close the aperture and lower ISO, if it's dark you need to increase the exposure time and ISO as well. And so on..

But there are two problems. First of all you need to understand at least on some levels what the hell aperture, exposure, ISO etc means and how it works. So you need to study photography. The second problem is that you need time. Lets say you walk down the beach and you've set up a camera for a sunny weather. Great you take some photos of the beach and then suddenly clouds came. It's not as light anymore as it used to be so you need to set up manually different setting on your camera so that it would adjust to the new lightening conditions. For professionals it might take several seconds. For others several minutes. And this is the problem I often encounter. In most cases I know what to change and how to adjust, it's just I don't have time for it! I walk down the beach, I want to take photo and keep going, especially if I'm not alone and other people are waiting.

So here comes in the editing. Since I don't have that many time while taking photos I make it up by spending time for editing photos later on. And editing doesn't mean drawing clouds, sun etc. It means returning the details that I've lost while taking photos in a wrong mode. For instance when I got my camera set for light conditions and suddenly it became dark, the pictures I took where too dark. So with editing options I can make it up. Maybe it's not gonna be as perfect as it would be if I set the camera right but editing makes it a whole lot better. Here is an example:

Hawaii beach photo before Hawaii beach photo after

On the first photo the right part is completely dark because of the wrong settings. On the left you can even see me lying on the beach. :)

And this is the main reason of editing. In other words you are returning the details that are lost on the original. In this case me. And the better the camera the more details you can return (or capture if you set the right mode). The left photo was taken in an auto mode which as yo can see didn't really do a good job.

Let's see another example. The left image isn't that bad but it's too light. The right image actually looks pretty close to how it looked in reality. Plus you always have to see the horizon. Notice how on the left image the horizon of the sea is angled. Of course this is not how it should be, I just held the camera at the angle. The horizon is one of the things that I fix almost in every photo.

Hawaii beach photo before Hawaii beach photo after

And the last part why I need photo editing is to show the exact element I was focusing on and cutting out the rest. You can see what I mean in the next example.

Hawaii beach photo before Hawaii beach photo after

First of all notice how I've returned all the colours to the photo and second see how the tree on the left part disappeared. I don't really need it. The main focus goes on the cars. So the cars now are in the center of the image. No other details are necessary. This might be not so important here but in some cases where a persons leg for instance spoils the photo I can just easily cut it out and the viewer will never know it was there. Here is another example:

Hawaii beach photo before Hawaii beach photo after

Just look at the difference. It's like day and night. The lightening, the horizon, the details! And all it took is just a little bit of editing. Plus using editing tools I can automatically resize the photos to the specific size and add watermark to them. All at the press of a button.

So the main reasons why I edit and process photos are:

  • I'm able to return lost details to the photo.
  • Fix the horizon angle.
  • Cut out needless elements on the photos.
  • Add watermark to the photo.
  • Decrease the file size.
  • Adjusting sharpness.

The only question that is left I guess is where do I edit them? No! It is definitely not Photoshop! You can use it of course but it will take you much longer time. For me the ideal photo editing tool is Adobe Lightroom. It is quite simple, easy to use and does a lot of work for you automatically. All you have to do is move sliders left and right to see the result. Plus you can apply some changes to all photos at once. Even though I adjust each photo manually. Here are some more examples of before and after.

Hawaii beach photo beforeHawaii beach photo after

The results are pretty impressive and even though I have such an expensive camera sometimes it is very important to process images for achieving the best result. I'm not going to describe how Adobe Lightroom works. This would be a totally different topic. But there are lots of tutorials online. One of the best and most comprehensive is the one by Sergey Dolja - Как я обрабатываю фотографии 2.0. This one is in Russian but there are plenty in English as well.

Lightroom photo editing

So there you go. If you don't really care about the photo quality then photo editing would be just a waste of time for you. But if you do - the Lightroom is a must tool on your computer. By the way notice how the horizon got fixed on the last photo as well.

Lightroom photo editing

Feel free to write me in case you have additional questions. All photos in this post came from my latest trip to Hawaii.