Enhancing and Cropping Photographs - Roger and Pat de la Harpe Photography - Photographs, Video and Stock Images.

This is one of a series of regular articles featured in Kruger Magazine.

We’re going to be looking at two aspects of digital photography that are really important, particularly if you are going to be printing images or sending them to magazines and the like.

1. The first is a bit about enhancing images post–shoot, that is, what you can do after capturing the image to make it look more like what you saw.

2. We are also going to have a brief look at resolution and cropping.

This pic of an African Darter is straight out of camera. Keep in mind that it’s a raw image and no in-camera processing has been applied, so it’s a little flat. If you shoot jpegs then there will always be some image processing profile applied before the pics are saved to the memory card. You can select which profile you’d like – camera standard, camera portrait, camera scenic, black and white, and so on.

This pic of an African Darter is straight out of camera. Keep in mind that it’s a raw image and no in-camera processing has been applied, so it’s a little flat. If you shoot jpegs then there will always be some image processing profile applied before the pics are saved to the memory card. You can select which profile you’d like – camera standard, camera portrait, camera scenic, black and white, and so on.

In the good old, bad old days of film, your involvement in the photographic process pretty much ended when you pressed the shutter release. Of course, there are those who enjoyed darkroom work and I'm not talking about them because that’s where they got involved in post-processing. In reality, you either shot slide or transparency film (which by and large got sent for processing and that was that) or you shot print film – off it went to the printers and you got your postcards, jumbos or 8x10s back and everyone was happy.

Not so with digital.

For many of us, our involvement only begins when the shutter is released. Then it’s into Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop or something similar and hours are spent enhancing, manipulating and sometimes changing the image completely. How much enhancing happens depends on your own creative limits and what the image will be used for. If you are simply creating wondrous and beautiful pics then, in my opinion, the sky’s the limit. If you are shooting news then there’s not much you can ethically do to the pic in ‘post’ – maybe some minor- level adjustments and a bit of spotting. The same applies to some photo competitions.

When I import photographs to Lightroom (this is where the vast majority of my image editing work happens) it automatically applies a preset that I have installed – basic adjustments that I apply to all my images, like colour luminance, noise reduction, colour profile, lens corrections and so on. You can see that there’s not a huge difference at this stage.

When I import photographs to Lightroom (this is where the vast majority of my image editing work happens) it automatically applies a preset that I have installed – basic adjustments that I apply to all my images, like colour luminance, noise reduction, colour profile, lens corrections and so on. You can see that there’s not a huge difference at this stage.

Now there’s a much bigger change. I have set a black point and a white point so that there is a full range of tones, opened up the shadows and added a small bit of vibrancy to brighten the colours.

Now there’s a much bigger change. I have set a black point and a white point so that there is a full range of tones, opened up the shadows and added a small bit of vibrancy to brighten the colours.

The work on this pic is all about separating the subject (the darter) from the background. This adds depth to the image (giving it a sort of 3D quality) and concentrates the viewer’s attention on the bird. Adjustments include cropping in slightly to tighten up the composition, vignetting the image a little (darkening the borders), adding some negative clarity to the background, some contrast to the wing feathers and a little lightening and sharpness of the face and beak. Yes, we could take it a little further, but at some point you have to call it a day – and in any case, the last thing you want to do is ‘overcook’ the pic, particularly with regard to sharpening and saturation.

The work on this pic is all about separating the subject (the darter) from the background. This adds depth to the image (giving it a sort of 3D quality) and concentrates the viewer’s attention on the bird. Adjustments include cropping in slightly to tighten up the composition, vignetting the image a little (darkening the borders), adding some negative clarity to the background, some contrast to the wing feathers and a little lightening and sharpness of the face and beak. Yes, we could take it a little further, but at some point you have to call it a day – and in any case, the last thing you want to do is ‘overcook’ the pic, particularly with regard to sharpening and saturation.

In all of this, you need to keep an eye on the histogram to make sure that you are not blocking up the shadows or burning out the highlights. A little black clipping can actually help to create contrast but if you burn out the highlights it will create ugly white patches when the image is printed.

Also, one needs to be careful about cropping too much because all you’re doing is throwing away pixels. The more you crop in, the more pixels you delete and that beautiful 24mp image very quickly becomes a 5mp one that will be useful only for small prints and viewing on a computer screen.

Yes, you can resample the image in Photoshop, Lightroom and a host of other image editing programs, but that can only go so far – remember that, to go from a 5mp image to a 10mp image, you are going to have to start manufacturing pixels. From what? It’s all software-dependent and there are limits.

By all means do some minor cropping to tighten up composition or framing, but be careful about going too far - you're just throwing pixels away.

By all means do some minor cropping to tighten up composition or framing, but be careful about going too far - you're just throwing pixels away.

If all you are doing is creating images for your own viewing pleasure on your computer, tablet or mobile phone, then no-one cares about what you do to the photographs: crop, enhance, sharpen, saturate, desaturate at will. It’s all about what your heart desires. Do remember, though, that much of the work you do on the image will be destructive in some way. This applies to jpgs in particular. If you increase colour saturation, you’re throwing away colour information. If you sharpen the image then you are changing the pixel information. If you crop, you are deleting pixels.

If you are supplying pics for commercial use, always do as little as you can to an image (without compromising on image quality) and always send the largest, non-resampled size you can.

Please let us know what you’d like to read about in these columns - what interests you, what you need to know photographically. Also, hook up on Instagram (@RogerdelaHarpe) and Facebook (@Roger and Pat de la Harpe).

© 2018 Roger and Pat de la Harpe. All Rights Reserved

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