the papercraft lab

Photo Lab Friday: Just a Little Better


As you recall, I started this Friday feature last week to show a favorite photo and how I tweaked it to make it a "keeper". This week's photo isn't a dramatic improvement, but I wanted to show how you can turn a "meh" photo into "pretty good" because every shot isn't going to be THE BEST SHOT EVER.  

At the end of August, we explored our own city of Seattle with a visit to the Fremont Troll.  It was a bright sunny day around 4pm so there were lots of shadows. I took my "big camera" - my Canon T3i DSLR.

I nearly always use my 50mm f1.8 lens, and keep the camera in Av mode (aperture priority) which lets me adjust the depth of field (aka blurriness of the background).  I got this shot of my three loves, which is fine, but nothing to write home about. 

Typical outdoor family snapshot

The non-dramatic "after" image. But I do like it better.

I liked the repeating element of the bridge behind them, but the rest of the photo had a lot of bright washed-out areas.   I took 4 similar shots because babies and little girls are unpredictable, and this was the best one.

I use Adobe Lightroom 4 to import my photos from my camera and phone, and to keep them organized.  We have nearly 17,000 photos so I wanted a program that would easily be able to handle this volume. I also use it for most of my edits since l don't do complex editing.

The first thing I always do with my photos is crop them if necessary. Since this was a portrait orientation shot from a distance, I thought it would benefit from just a little bit of cropping to highlight the people, who are the most important part of my photo.   As much as I liked the bridge in the background, a lot of it had to go.

The next thing was to tackle the washed-out aspect of the photo. I'm not scientific about this - remember, I'm not a photographer. Lightroom has very cool "sliders" that you can play around with, and reset if you screw up. In this case, I turned down the Highlights, Shadows and Whites quite a bit to show more detail in the street, on my daughter's T-shirt, and on her face, which are all in the sun and pretty washed out in the original. There's also an Auto button which is a nice starting point, and you can always Undo that if you don't like the results.

My next favorite sliders, that I use for nearly every photo, are in the "Presence" section just below the Exposure/Brightness stuff. I bumped up the Clarity slider to +29 add more contrast, and the Vibrance slider to +24 to make the colors pop more. 

Each photo is going to be different, so you can't just take the same numbers and use them all the time, but you quickly get a good idea of what a photo "needs" after doing this several times.

I've also learned that not every single one can be edited into a "WOW" photo - most of my "WOW"s start out that way from the camera. I could have messed around with this one some more, using a brush to lighten specific areas on the baby's face, etc. But I knew I'd get frustrated and likely would make the photo worse rather than better. Part of what I've learned from lots of editing is knowing when to quit, and call a photo "good enough".

This photo isn't awesome enough for framing, but I'll definitely use it in our family Project Life scrapbook. 

So tell me, does this post help? I know it's not about the nitty gritty details of editing, but just wanted to highlight the idea of "good enough", and trusting what you see.

See related posts at The Papercraft Lab