Techniques to Improve your Image

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–Post-Production techniques to improve your image –

by Stephen Payne

Issue: Judges often comment that there’s no central point of interest in a photo; they’re not sure what the main subject is; it’s not clear what the photo is trying to say. One solution is to reduce distractions that compete with the central point. Simplify the image by removing distractions so that the focal point jumps out and the message is clear. Several ways to do this are:

  1. Zoom in on the key area of interest – use the crop tool
    • Crop away anything which detracts
    • Today’s high-megapixel cameras allow cropping a horizontal capture as a vertical image (good for action shots which are often centered on the subject)
  2. Remove background distractions – use the clone tool or healing brush
  3. Light areas in the background – burn in, especially near the edges
    • Light areas can compete with your subject, or lead your eye out of the image
    • To darken areas you can use the burn tool, or make a selection and either reduce the brightness or increase the shadows
  4. Focus attention on the subject – desaturate the background
    • This will really make your subject pop!
    • In Elements: Sponge tool, or else make a selection, and then Enhance, Adjust Color, Adjust Hue and Saturation, adjust slider
  5. Direct the viewer’s eye – use a vignette
    • There are several good ways to make vignettes. Search “vignette” in the help file of the software you’re using.
    • In Elements, the easiest way is: Filter, Correct Camera Distortion, then adjust the Vignette and Midpoint sliders
  6. Highlight the area of focus – blur the background
    • Blurring a busy background helps focus attention on the subject
    • This gives the effect of having used a fast, expensive lens with a shallow depth of field
    • In Photoshop you can use Gaussian blur with a gradient, but it will produce a halo or shadow around the selection, which then needs individual work
    • Several commercial plug-ins are available which help with selective depth of field.  Most may be downloaded and used on a free-trial basis.

Taught May 19, 2010 at a meeting of the Caveman Camera Club, Grants Pass, Oregon