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17 - Why edit photos?

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In the old days of film cameras, we either sent our rolls of film off to a lab or we did our own developing in the darkroom. Either way, there was a process involved in getting the images off the roll of film and onto prints. That process is called post processing. So, whether they like to admit it or not, film photographers all post processed their work.

In the digital age, we can learn to post process our own photos at home on our computers. The question is, why would we want to do this? To give you an idea, this first photo was how a sparrow looked straight out of my camera while the second has been post processed to bring out contrasts and colours.



Is learning how to do post processing worth it? I think so! For your information, a digital camera is just a computer with very basic 'photoshop' photo editing software installed. The software is needed to convert your RAW files into jpgs. If you shoot jpg, you are relying on your camera and very basic software to post process your photos. As manufacturers want to keep everyone happy with the jpgs their cameras produce, the finished results are tailored to be rather flat and dull. I don't rely on my camera to do my post processing for me. I use an excellent computer and excellent software and I can do a much better job of post processing the RAW files my camera produces.

Another reason we might want to shoot RAW and edit our own photos is because camera sensors do not have as high a dynamic range as the human eye and simply can't get all the details into jpgs in high contrast situations. In this example, all the detail in the sky has been lost. The camera produced an absolutely awful finished photo because the software installed in my camera couldn't handle the high dynamic range and so the highlights are blown out and the photo is extremely flat and dull.


This is not an HDR. I produced this from the same RAW file as the photo above. If you shoot RAW and do your own post processing in a RAW photo editor you can bring details back into blown out highlights and blocked up shadows.


A picture paints a thousand words, so here are another two examples, Mrs Blackbird having a bath and Brora harbour. The first photo in each case is what the camera produced, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with them, they are just dull and flat, they have no vibrancy, no life about them. I opened the RAW files in my RAW Editor, adjusted the contrasts slightly, saved them as Tiffs, then opened them in two of my Photo Editing programmes to bring out contrasts and colour to give them some life. Took me about 2 minutes. Post processing isn't difficult these days because photo editing programmes are so good they can do all your post processing for you with a few preset clicks.





Here is another example. Nothing wrong with the first photo, I guess, but it doesn't do anything for me. Not only did I bring out colours and contrasts with a few simple adjustments, I also used Photoshop to clean up the horrid dark smudgy line across the bottom of the image.



Here is one of my photos brought into Photoshop Elements from Camera Raw, saved as a tiff, and then opened in one of my photo editing programmes. To bring out contrasts and adjustments like this in Photoshop can take hours and requires a PhD to know how to use the software. Photoshop plugins can do most of the hard work for you with a few simple clicks.


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Being for pure beginners, this workshop is not a comprehensive photo editing guide, it is simply an introduction, an overview to the world of editing digital photographs. As such, we will only be looking at a few basics such as fixing up common problems and making simple adjustments.

When it comes to choosing a photo editor, there is a lot of software out there, and the choices can be bewildering. The good news is that photo editing is not graphic design and you do not need the full Photoshop. There are plenty of good apps out there that will do to get you started, including a few free ones. However, you will need to do your homework and perhaps ask a friend or two for advice on what would be best for you. Some like Lightroom, some like Capture One, some like Skylum or DxO or On1, and there are many others including a whole range of free apps. For my RAW conversions and editing I use Photoshop Elements (PSE), Capture One, and Topaz plugins, so these tutorials will reflect that. If you use other editors, the principles should be the same.

Regarding purchasing software, a word of caution is needed here which is best illustrated with a personal anecdote. Two years ago I had Photoshop Elements 15, and it did everything I needed. Then I bought a new camera, the Fuji XT3 and PSE15 wouldn't open the raw files. Adobe had changed their camera raw upgrade policy and older cameras were no longer supported with updates so I was forced to upgrade to PSE19. Six months later I bought the Fuji X-Pro3 and PSE19, which was only a few months old wouldn't open the raw files and I was forced to upgrade to PSE20. Then I bought the Fuji X100V as a pocket camera and PSE20 wouldn't open the RAW files. So now I use Capture One for RAW editing and Adobe can go fuck themselves. If you buy an older version of Photoshop Elements and you shoot RAW, make sure it supports your camera or you won't be able to edit your RAW flies.

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Here's another example of why I love to do my own editing. The first photo of these sanderlings is the RAW file, which is flat and dull, with no life or vibrancy about it, and the second one is my version, which I think is far superior to anything my camera could have done with jpgs. With jpgs, the white feathers were burned out by the sun, so I had to work on two copies of the RAW file to fix that, one to adjust the burned out highlights and the other for the rest of the image. I then used layers and a mask to brush through the white feathers. A lot of work? Yes, I spent a few hours on this photo. Was it worth it? If it was seagulls, sure, I could chuck the file away and go back and get another one, but what are the chances of me ever getting such a perfectly composed photo of a flock of sanderlings taking off from a rock like this ever again? In this case, I think it was time well spent. For me, photography doesn't end with clicking the shutter button, that's only the beginning. I love being out in nature and taking photos, but I also love editing.



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