Regardless of skill level, you’ll hear photographers talk about the number of overall pictures it takes to get a few good shots. They’ll go to a location, fire off hundreds of shots, and go back home or to their studio to begin post processing. They’ll eliminate many of the shots right away, with no effort to edit the photos – there’s something about the shots that just aren’t right. The subject was out of focus, the shot was over or underexposed, whatever.
When I look at many of my photos now, I know that’s certainly the case. And as I go back and look through photos I took, I kept many that today I probably would’ve deleted when I got the first look at the shot on my computer screen. Some are so bad that I probably would’ve deleted them when looking at the replay on my camera’s display screen, right after taking the shot.
I have to jump in here though – don’t delete photos right away unless you know the shot’s truly awful, or maybe you’re out of memory card space (but get around that by carrying spare cards?). You never know what little thing you’ll miss when looking at a photo on a small screen, and maybe one little thing would make that shot worth keeping.
But what about photos that are marginal? If you’re a frequent visitor to a location, maybe you go ahead and delete the photo and wait for next week or next month. That’s not too bad. But what about blah Disney trip photos? Not too many of us get there too often (at least not often enough for us, right?), so waiting months or years to go back to reshoot is tough.
Or what about good family shots, but red eye is giving you problems? A lot of software packages can help with red eye reduction (and even camera settings can help), but sometimes red eye still happens, and editing out red eye can be tricky. I’ve had the best success editing red eye when the subject is looking directly at the camera. But if the red eye area is a bit to the side, like in the case where a head’s partially turned, editing there can be difficult and leave you with less than satisfactory results.
Now, keep in mind that I’m not an expert photographer (obviously) or expert photo editor. I don’t use Adobe Photoshop (too advanced for me right now) and am a beginner when it comes to Adobe Lightroom and Aperture. And I’m avoiding doing too much in the way of editing in iPhoto. If you read my post about iPhoto going nuclear winter on me, you know why. And I’ve avoided the new Photos app simply because I avoid new software versions so other suckers users can iron out all the problems before I try it.
Here’s an example photo from our last trip. I’d never shot anything on Tom Sawyer’s Island before, and we were walking along (quickly!!!) and I stopped to get the shot. Not that bad, but not very good either. I got home, started editing, and the overexposure and a few other things had me right on the edge of whacking this photo altogether.
So I’d definitely consider the is a blah photo. Here’s where software comes in. I used an app for Mac OS X called ColorStrokes, available on the App Store for about $3. As a quick aside, Macphun Software is the developer and there are several really cool apps for editing your photos.
Anyway, I opened the original Harper’s Mill shot in ColorStrokes. By default, ColorStrokes converts your photo to black and white (and even opened the RAW file from my camera – no .jpg conversion necessary). Pretty cool if you just wanted to do that, because if you’re satisfied with the look, you can go ahead and save the photo, and you’re done. But keep in mind that you may want to do a good old File-Save As, to keep different versions straight, but if you don’t save changes you can revert to your original shot. Here’s the black and white conversion, no other work:
Not too bad – I would continue on with contrast, cropping the photo, and definitely straightening it, but to me this looks better than the original shot. And this took about 10 seconds. But to me, this kind of looks like an old time black and white photo that someone could’ve taken of the real Harper’s Mill a bazillion years ago.
But I decided I’d like to get fancy and show the barn in color, and the rest of the photo in black and white. So I did just that – ColorStrokes allows you to use a virtual brush to apply selective coloring to the photo, and it restores the original color image only in that area. And there are other adjustments too. Here, all I wanted was the barn color restored.
This didn’t take long either. Not the best selective coloring edit ever, but not too bad for just starting out, and definitely better than the original. And if you don’t like your results, just hit the reset button and you’re back at the beginning.
These edits can be done in a ton of different programs – Photoshop, Lightroom, and Aperture, just to name a few. But I have to say using ColorStrokes is pretty easy so far.
Why not try black and white conversion, or selective color? At this point, what do you have to lose, besides maybe a little time? Like High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography, many photographers consider selective color edits overdone (but I guess it was ok when they used to do it). That’s up to you to decide. But I have to say that for me, converting to black and white has allowed me to keep photos I would’ve otherwise deleted, and still carry the feeling I saw in the moment I took the shot.
What are your tips for editing marginal digital photographs! Share them with us!