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Photography Tips: Six Tactful Touch-Ups

Posted by Erika Haugen-Goodman at Sep 02, 2015 12:25 PM |
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These tips from photographer and Northwest Exposure judge Doug Diekema will help you snap some great shots.

By Doug Diekema

Even when you've done a great job optimizing composition, exposure and focus with your camera, the judicious use of a basic editing program on the computer or tablet can improve the final appearance of your photos, more accurately capture the scenes that your eyes viewed, and enhance your chances of getting into the final round of WTA's photo contest.

On the other hand, it's easy to overdo it, leading to a photo that appears unreal or "processed". Try these six simple digital editing techniques to bring out the best in your images.

1. Straightening and Cropping

The sense of imbalance created by a tilted horizon line can ruin an otherwise fine photograph. Unless your creative expression seeks that imbalance, fix this problem with the straighten tool. Cropping a photo can enhance composition, eliminate unwanted elements (like too much sky or a stray branch) and creatively frame a scene. And don't be afraid to uncheck the "constrain proportions" box!

2. Spot Healing

Digital cameras, especially those with interchangeable lenses, will inevitably have dust settle on the sensor. This is most apparent when unsightly spots appear in an otherwise pristine sky. Use the spot-removal or healing brush tools to remove these obvious flaws.

Mount Adams Doug Diekema
Mount Adams Sunset. Photo by Doug Diekema.

3. Levels Adjustment

Optimizing contrast and exposure can make a photo "pop". There are advanced tools for accomplishing this task, but many editing programs have an "auto-levels" feature that will give you a starting point. The levels and exposure adjustments usually include three sliders (left, middle and right). Generally you'll want to move the left slider to the right and the right slider to the left to meet the edges of the histogram. Adjust from there to get the best result.

4. Shadows and Highlights

These tools selectively adjust the dark and light areas of your photo. The shadow slider will lighten the dark areas of a photo without changing the lighter areas, allowing you to bring detail out of the shadows. The highlights slider darkens the white areas of a photo without altering the darker areas. This can sometimes help recover some of the detail in clouds and snow.

5. Saturation

Adding some saturation will usually improve a landscape photo and allow it to more closely correspond with the colors you saw in the original scene. Just don't overdo it! Too much saturation will make a photo appear unnatural and scream "fake". Modest adjustments are usually all that is required to improve the image.

6. Sharpening

The nature of a digital image is to appear a bit "soft". Some subtle sharpening will increase contrast around the edges of objects, making the photo appear more crisp. This should be the last adjustment you make before saving a photo, and don't over-sharpen. Perhaps most importantly, sharpening will not fix a photo that is out of focus.

Not all six adjustments will be necessary for every photo, but learning and practicing these techniques will help you optimize your photographic vision and improve your photos. Be sure to always save a copy of the unadjusted original file before doing any editing. That way, if something goes wrong, you always have the original stored in a safe place.

Thanks to Doug Diekema for sharing these great tips on how to process an image. This year's Northwest Exposure Photo Contest is already underway, and will run until October 19. Get more info and submit your photos for a chance to win awesome prizes.

This article originally appeared in the July+August 2015 issue of Washington Trails magazine. Support trails as a member WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.