Friday, February 11, 2011


What I've noticed about the photographers who inspire me is how natural their pictures look. Not just natural in that they look unposed, but natural in lighting and color, too. They use post-processing (mostly with photoshop) to enhance this attribute of their photos, rather than detract from it.

I would LOVE to be able to get Photoshop but can't really do that until I have a computer to run it on. My poor little sweet old laptop would just not be able to handle it. At six years old (which is like, what, 120 in computer years?), it's trucking slowly along, but not able to run much more than an internet browser and maybe a word processor...and definitely not both at the same time.

So what's a wannabe photographer to do? I decided to go on a Picnik. (You don't have to laugh at that one; I know, it was lame.) It's not a perfect solution, but for a free photo editor, it can actually do a lot.

At this point in my photography, the main issues I struggle with are correcting white balance and color. I've gotten much better at properly exposing my photos, composing the picture, and utilizing depth of field to put the focus on my subject. So aside from white balance (which I am seriously working on), in general, my pictures are what I want them to look like straight out of camera (SOOC). Which is exactly what I want to be able to do - typically, post-processing does not make a bad composition or poorly lit subject look better.

Basically, all I do in post-processing is color correct, add a little contrast, check shadows and highlights against my histogram, and then use a few Picnik effects to get the colors in the image exactly how I want them, which is usually as natural as possible. Sometimes I go for a more vibrant or desaturated color, depending on how I want the picture to feel.

Let's take this one for example. Of course, it's of Aslan. The white balance is super bad - waaayyy too blue - because I forgot to change the setting in my camera from fluorescent to daylight (oops).

The picture wasn't all bad. I mean, I liked the way he was looking at the camera - he looks self-assured, half bored and amused at the same time, which is how he normally looks at me when I'm acting ridiculous and taking too many pictures of him. And it was really cold that day, so I was wishing I could be just like him, all curled up next to the warm pillows on the sofa. I've heard that sometimes the blue look can make a photo feel cold, but this blue wasn't exactly what I was going for.

After adjusting the color temperature in Picnik with the neutral picker, things were looking much better. I then added a little bit of local contrast in the exposure adjustments, and used the retro and cross-processing effects to further modify the colors. The retro effect added some warmth to the whites and the cross-processing effect brightened up the blues in the pillows and the shadows. I never use the full effect on a photo - it looks way too fake - so I adjust the strength of the effect by nudging the fade sliders to somewhere between 75-90% where it looks right.

In hindsight, this particular picture is not a perfect representation of the style of photography I want; the finished product looks like it has been post-processed, not natural. I do like that it still has a cold feeling from the cross-processing effect, but it doesn't have a pure white, and the perfectionist in me is slightly bothered by that. However, it illustrates my point that Picnik can be a useful editor when Photoshop isn't available.

For photographers looking to improve the finished photo with post-processing, don't be afraid to play around with Picnik, Photoshop, or any other application you want to use. Try all of the effects to see what they do. Decide what you want the picture to feel like when it's done. Move the sliders. There's always the undo button.

P.S. I am not affiliated in any way with Picnik or Photoshop and have not been paid anything from either of them for this post. They are simply my choices of photo editors and since I'm not famous yet, I doubt anyone is taking my advice anyway :o).

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