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Dash of Inspiration: Getting the Most out of Photographs

November 4, 2013

A Dash of Inspiration, A Cup of Creativity by Doreen

Getting the Most Out of Photographs

When the digital camera era hit the streets most professional photographers made the switch to digital format, thus putting a demand on the software experts to design digital ‘darkroom’ tools specifically for photographers.

The obvious choice is Photoshop and there is no doubt that CS-5 is a critical tool I could not do without, especially when combined Camera Raw; but there are more tools of the trade out there which can help you get the most out of your photographs.

The problem many of us have is that we can not always control the time of day and/or the lighting we are photographing in. That being said, it’s important to have digital tool sets which allows you to correct for poor lighting conditions and shooting at the wrong time of day which make non-destructive changes to your digital photographs.

It’s just as critical that you as a photographer can look at your images and know when they just don’t have enough punch, mood and connection to the viewer, therefore knowing when your image becomes one to work with rather than one which stands alone on a greeting card.  A few tips …

  • Always shoot in RAW format to capture the maximum colors, tonal values and detail. Bring your images from the camera into a program like Lightroom or Camera Raw which allows you to make non-destructive editing adjustments.
  • To crop and size your photographs for the commercial market, always use quality software such as Photoshop and make sure you completely understand non-quality-degrading digital sizing techniques.
  • Photographs for the greeting card market must evoke an emotion and/or make a connection with the viewer.
  • Be careful to choose software which will handle high-resolution input and output. Free is often great, but will not always allow you to get high-quality results.
  • In most cases, the best enhancements come from using a variety of tools and being proficient in masking so that you can add or remove an enhancement to only one part of the image.
  • Keep in mind that these tools are not intended to ‘cover up’ poor quality photographs (those with lost detail in highlights & shadows, those lacking DOF and/or sharp focus or those with poor composition). Use these tools to take a technically okay photograph and make it something spectacular.

Digital Tools for the Photographer

My favorites below and these might be good additions to your list for Santa!:

Other options to consider, though I can offer no opinion having not used this options:

GIMP – free and will do much of the basic editing that Photoshop will does.

Picasa photo editing software

Neat Image Plug-in to reduce noise

Here are some examples of my own photographs with the ‘As Shot’ and the ‘After Processing’

“Getting My Bearings” – The untouched photo of the teddy bear in the upper left has no real technical faults, however as a marketable image it lacks the dynamic impact to support the emotional connection I wished to convey when I originally set the shot up. By adding a soft dreamy effect, increasing the saturation, tonal values and pulling out detail in the bark and fur of the bear I was able to create an image with that all important “WOW” factor.

november image 1

“Pond Willows” – This was one of those unexpected photo shoots. I had to go to a Christmas Tree farm as a volunteer act for our local wildlife rehabilitation organization. Though I had my camera with me, the day was dark and gloomy and unfortunately not one of those great dramatic weather days.  I had no idea the farm had this lovely pond and I’m a huge fan of willow trees so I had to take the shot.  Of course as expected, the photograph was unexciting and drab, therefore sat in my files for years. A couple years ago I pulled it out and ran it through a number of my favorite tools mentioned above and it’s been a well-loved image by customers all over the world.

november image 2

“Gloves & Glasses”

This last example of mine was a snapshot I grabbed while on a quick break during an all-day motorcycle ride through the mountains. I loved the composition and vintage feel of the scene I saw at that moment, but knew the photograph would be nothing more than a horrible grab-shot.  I worked with all the tools above in Photoshop to transform this ugly snapshot into a highly-textured, hand-tinted piece that motorcycle enthusiasts just love.

november image 3

I hope I’ve inspired all you photographers out there to not only see beyond what comes out of the camera, but to make sure your ‘tool box’ has what you need to add professionalism to your photographic submissions.

So, until next week … Learn … Create … Inspire!

9 Comments leave one →
  1. November 4, 2013 2:53 pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed this article! I love seeing before and after shots. I have all of the Topaz plugins as well as Nik Color Effects. I didn’t realize Nik had other products to offer. Are they worth the cost? How do they compare to Topaz? Especially the noise reduction software?

    • November 4, 2013 4:42 pm

      Hi Tracie – I LOVE all the Nik plugins and the extreme flexibility of being able to create your own recipes by applying individual effects. I enjoy the Topaz suite as well, though I use it much less frequently than I do the Nik effects. My ‘take’ on the two is this – Nik software is specialized to work with photographic images whereas I tend to find the Topaz suite generally more well suited to changing the image to look like another type of medium rather than an enhanced photograph. I often use the Topaz effects to then add a mask in CS-5 and only paint a bit of texture onto an area rather than use them on the whole image. That’s just my opinion.

      As far as the noise reduction, I really can’t speak to that since I bring all my RAW images into Camera Raw and use the specific noise reduction and banding reduction tools there before I work with the image in any other program. So, though I feel that all the Nik effects are worth the money, you most likely have the best of the bunch and unless you have a specific desire or need, you’re probably good to go. 🙂


  2. November 4, 2013 10:16 pm

    Hi Doreen,

    An excellent round-up! Additional software to the ones you mentioned that I like are Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (my absolute first stop and very often my only stop) and Perfect Photo Suite from OnOne. ReMask from Topaz is fantastic for realistically cutting a subject from a difficult background.



    • November 4, 2013 10:41 pm

      Hi Rosanne – I did mention Lightroom as an alternate to Camera Raw, both do the same job very well 🙂 I also agree, the entire Topaz suite is wonderful. I haven’t tried Perfect Photo Suite from OnOne, but I’ll check it out sometime. Thank you for the additions!


  3. Cathy G. permalink
    November 4, 2013 10:33 pm

    Great info, Doreen!

  4. November 12, 2013 3:51 am

    Great examples of what fun editing can be. I honestly don’t know which I love more … the photography or the edit process!! Agreed that NIK and Topaz are fabulous … worth the investment!!

    • November 12, 2013 4:09 am

      I agree Lois! I have so much fun with the ‘after-shoot’ process 🙂

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