Travel Photo Thursday: Making Pictures “Pop” with Photoshop

December 6, 2012

in Travel Photo Thursday

  • SumoMe

View CameraIn last week’s “Travel Photo Thursday: Special Effects Can Salvage Photos,” I explained how you can use a photo editing program like Adobe Photoshop, or its “lite” version, Photoshop Elements, to turn an out-of-focus or boring shot into a work of art.

But suppose that the image is razor-sharp, the subject of the photo is intriguing, and the composition is well done, but the colors seem washed-out? Should you hit the “Delete” key or the “Trash can” icon, or can you turn that shot into an eye-catching winner?

The answer: Keep the photo, but make it “pop” using your photo editing software. Here are a few “before and “after” examples that show what such software can do to turn a “Blah!” photo into a “Bravo!” one.

All Washed Out

It was a cold, overcast day when I rode the tour boat up Glacier Bay in Southeast Alaska. The Margerie Glaicer Before IMG_5342color of the water was greenish-gray, the sky was gray, and the mountains were dark.

Without bright sunlight shining down on it creating highlights and shadows, Margerie Glacier was fairly featureless, and its bluish-greenish hue made it hard to distinguish from the bay into which it was calving baby icebergs.

Margerie GlacierSo under those conditions, I wasn’t surprised when the dull image at the right is what my point-and-shoot Canon Digital Elph captured.

Fortunately for me, I had recently taken a class on using Adobe’s Photoshop Elements and had purchased the program. So after I returned from Alaska, I was able to “fix” the Margerie Glacier , producing a much more dramatic and appealing image by upping the contrast, decreasing the color temperature, and increasing the color saturation.

Warm-Up Boots

Bear Track Boots Before IMG_5445The header photo at the top of Tales Told From The Road was shot at the Bear Track Inn near Glacier Bay. The original image of “Southeast Sneakers” (which is what “locals” call these rubber boots) was cropped to fit the blog’s header, and the blog’s title was superimposed on it.

The photo at right is the “as-it-came-out-of-the-Bear Track Bootscamera” shot. In it, there are boots sitting upright on the inn’s front porch next to the ones hanging by their bottoms in racks. The composition is interesting but, like the original photo of Margerie Glacier, the colors lack intensity.

Using Photoshop Elements to increase the color saturation and temperature produced the final image on the left.

Bringing Out The Mountains

Taku Departure Before IMG_5481Sometimes your photos look pretty good “as is” when you view them on your camera’s display screen or even after you transfer them to your computer and open them in a photo editing program.

But in my experience, nearly every shot I take with my point-and-shoot camera can be improved by tweaking it with Photoshop Elements.

Taku Departing JuneauThe photo at right of a passenger photographing the Mendenhall Glacier is the Alaska Marine Highway ferry Taku departed Juneau is a good example of how a decent photo can be made even better.

The problem with this photo is that the mountains aren’t well separated from the empty blue sky above them, and the ferry’s wake and the ripples on the water aren’t very prominent. Increasing the mid-tones and the highlights created great contrast and a better final result.

Outstanding Highlights

Tidy Bowl Before IMG_5588Sometimes the subject of a photo is outstanding, but the photo of it isn’t because the viewer has trouble determining just what the subject is.

The photo at the right could have been terrific, but wasn’t before it was enhanced through photo Tidy Bowl Blue Icebergediting. The blue thing looks like an iceberg floating in water, but you can’t quite make it out because there isn’t bright sunlight reflecting off its surface. And you can’t clearly see the berg’s reflection in the waters that its “sailing” through.

Increasing the mid-tones and highlights, plus adjusting the color temperature down slightly and the color saturation up a bit, created the image at left.

Taking the time to make these adjustments paid off for me. The final image ended up on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle Travel section, and helped me sell the accompanying story to the newspaper.

Shadows and Cropping

Shadows can add an air of drama to a photo and help bring out features that would not otherwise Cindy with Mussels Before IMG_5686appear if the daylight is so flat that it can’t create areas of light and dark.

But there’s one kind of shadow that you probably don’t want to have in photos you take of people: The one cast across their faces by hat brims.

Although the sun wasn’t shining high in the sky when my wife and I walked on the beach near Petersburg, Alaska, in the photo at the right you can see that the left side of her face isn’t as brightly lit as the right, thanks to the “Seattle Sombrero” that she was wearing. Baseball hats can cause the same problem.

Turning on the flash on your camera might eliminate shadows, but sometimes can cause the person’s face to be too light.

Cindy with Mussel and BarnaclesFortunately, programs like Photoshop Elements have a “Shadows” adjustment that will let you make the lighting of the subject more even.

Professional photographers try to get close to the subjects of their photos. We amateurs tend to stand back a bit too far, especially when taking photos of people. In this photo, I could have moved a step toward my wife or used the camera’s zoom feature to accomplish the same thing.

The photo at left doesn’t look that much different from the one at the right. But if you look closely, you’ll see that my wife’s face is better lit, and the the shot is more tightly framed thanks to my cropping the original image a bit.

“Climate Change”

Ketchikan Harbor Before IMG_5711The subjects of some photos are “warmer” than those of other shots. But your camera tends to always render pretty even color temperature results.

Under dull-as-dishwater skies in Southeast Alaska, I took the photo at right of boats moored in Ketchikan. Like the original shot of the blue iceberg, nothing really “pops” in this cool-day photo.

Ketchikan HarborI did two things to improve on the out-of-the-camera image.

First, I cropped the photo to eliminate the boats on the far left and right, and to bring the top of the photo down closer to the houses above the harbor.

Secondly, I amped up the color temperature and saturation so that the reddish-brown colors were more prominent. Fiddling with the contrast controls reduced the otherwise flat feel to the image.

Easy As Pie

While one can make some extraordinarily intricate changes to photos with a photo editing program, the images in this post were altered using just the simplest features in Photoshop Elements.  You’ll probably find these tools in any similar program.

Altering the contrast, color temperature and saturation, and eliminating shadows are often done using a “slider” control that lets you make incremental changes. “Undo” buttons let you reverse changes before you save the final image. And always working from a copy of the original photo means that you can always retain the original, and can use it make yet another altered image.

(Click on an image to enlarge to full-size. Visit Budget Travelers Sandbox for more of this week’s Travel Photo Thursday shots.)

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