Digital Photography Tweaks – The Handful

Digital cameras have made photography much cheaper. I used to shoot two or three rolls of 35mm film on an outing. Then I’d take them to be developed and hope they turned out the way I’d expected when I snapped the pictures. I didn’t do a lot of bracketing or multiple shots, because it was expensive. I seldom did “doubles” when developing, because if you took a bad picture you just got two of it. I shot slides a lot because they were cheaper, and if you wanted prints later you could always have them made from slides. Photography was kind of an expensive hobby.

With a digital camera you can just shoot away. Battery power and the size of your memory card are your only limits. The first digital camera I got was a Sony Mavica that stored pictures on 3.5 inch floppy disks. These days I sometimes take hundreds of pictures on a given outing, and I don’t worry if I get the lighting just perfect or the framing exact. All that can be fixed later when you’re working with digital images.

When I dump pictures onto my computer there are a handful of basic things I adjust on almost all images I consider keepers. The order of these is important because of how many pixels there are to work with. I’ll explain why later. I scattered a couple of pairs of before and after images in here for illustration. The changes aren’t dramatic, but they’re affective. Click to enlarge and compare.

frozen smartweed

First is level. Sometimes it may seem like you have the camera perfectly level, but perspective makes the finished image look otherwise. That’s simple to adjust.

frozen smartweed

Second is cropping. It’s simple to adjust the framing of a picture by cropping out parts of an image that you don’t want or need. Just keep aspect ratio in mind. You can crop into some strange dimensions if you’re not careful.

Third is lighting. IMPORTANT: If an image is a little too dark it’s fairly easy to fix. If an image is too light you’re probably out of luck. Over exposure is hard to fix, so if you’re not sure, error on the side of under exposure.

rainy deck

Fourth is color. You can make your images pop if you perform some basic changes to the color saturation and balance. This is simple to do. Just make sure you don’t over do it. It’s easy to make an image look like a cartoon if you’re not careful.

rainy deck

Fifth is size. The camera I use most often generates images that are 4608×3456 pixels. That’s way too big to display on any screen I have at full size. Imagine an image that big on your phone. If you’re going to post a picture on Facebook, or just email it to friends and family, you need to shrink it some. This has the added benefit of significantly reducing the image file size. Nobody appreciates having a huge image attached to their email. I took a 4608×3456 pixel image down to 1280×960 pixels, and reduced the file size from 6.18 MB to 340 KB, with no other changes. That’s less than 6% of the size of the original file.

There are many other manipulations you can make to digital pictures, but this simple handful will significantly improve your finished images. If you’re not sure what tools to use or how to accomplish these adjustments, look for future posts and I’ll explain in detail.

One very important point to make. Never work directly on your original version of a digital photograph. I always make a copy first, and then make tweaks to the copy with a photo editor. This way if you make a mistake, you can always start over with the original. Original image files have all the information your camera was able to capture and save for you. Don’t do anything that will jeopardize that information. Especially editing those files directly.



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