Sunday, October 25, 2009

A New Effect - Graduated Tint

Most of the photos that I post to my web albums are unedited; just as they came from the camera. Some however, do go through some minor edits - such as rotating and cropping. Some even experience some contrast enhancement. For working with my photos I have some free photo editing programs, and some that I have purchased. My favorite of all of them is Google's Picasa. And yes, it's free! It may not be as fully featured as some of my other programs, but it is very capable none the less, and is also very simple and intuitive to use.

In case you haven't noticed, there are a LOT of ways to edit a photograph. And, what I've found, is that the majority of them actually make the picture look worse than the original. Snapping a picture with a camera is simple, compared to the art of photo editing. To do this requires a very talented eye, and a flare for art. Mind you, I don't claim to have any such skills. At least, not yet.

Over the last couple of years, I've maintained a constantly running slide show in my office at work. That gives me 8 hours, give or take, every day to examine my work. What I've found is that lately, some of the photos that I used to consider a very enjoyable, now seem quite bland, or washed out. And so, I have begun a slightly more serious look into photo editing.

I have discovered a couple of very simple things in Picasa that can make very stunning improvements in some shots. Not all shots, mind you; just some shots. Number one on this list is increasing the contrast. I'm sure that it is the same with you; when you get back from a photo shoot and look at your results, some shots are keepers, and some are only fit for the round file. Sometimes, a little enhancement is all that is necessary to change one of those disposable pictures into a keeper.

As an example...

Actually, I never considered throwing this shot away; I liked the colors too much. This was a one of those very special nights where the sunset was spectacular. And to the South of me, some clouds were beautifully glowing in the light of the setting sun. And to top that off, a very localized rain storm was passing by. The storm was close enough to enjoy but not close enough to get wet. This is a shot looking South at that storm, but it's kinda hard to tell from the original image that there really is a storm here because the picture is so dark.

The first thing that I learned to use in Picasa to really help shots like these, is the Tuning tab, which you can see below.

On this tab, I like to use the Fill Light and Shadows sliders. To show what effect these sliders can have, first I have moved the Fill Light slighter all the way to the right.

As you can now see above, there is actually some desert in the foreground. But, now the clouds are all washed out. So, the next thing to see, is what happens if I slide the Shadows slider all the way to the right.

As you can see below, the saturation of the colors is greatly increased, making them look much brighter. However, this has now taken on a very artificial look. And, if you will notice, the foreground has nearly disappeared again.

So, next I will bring the Shadows slider all the way back to the left and back off on the Fill Light slider a bit, as you see below. I adjusted this down until the desert plants in the foreground are just visible, approximately as I would like them to appear in the final version.

As you can now see above, the desert has some character to it, and the clouds have a little definition back to them. But, they are still too washed out. So, it seams that what I need to do is to darken the sky without darkening the foreground. Enter the Graduated Tint Effect.

When you click on this tool, two sliders appear; Feather and Shade.

Also, in the middle of your photograph, a green plus symbol appears (see below). You can click on this plus sign and drag it around your picture.

As you can see below, I've positioned the plus just below the bottom of the clouds.

You should experiment with the two sliders to fully understand what they do. The Feather slider broadens the darkening effect, so as to soften its impact on the lower portion of your photo. The Shade slider causes the image above the plus sign to become darker the further you move the slider to the right. By the way, below the Shade slider is the Pick Color tool that allows you to alter the color used to tint the image. If you leave this alone, the color of your image is not changed - it is only darkened. You should play with this, as you can get some very interesting effects. So far, I haven't seen any need to use the Pick Color box, as I am quite satisfied with the normal darkening tint.

Once I get a desired image, I click on Apply. Below is the final result. The clouds have a fairly bright coloration, and yet not unappealing. They also exhibit a lot of detail. And, the rain storm and the desert foreground are nicely visible. I knew there was a reason that I didn't want to throw away the original!

Below is another example using this technique. The shot is of the Superstition Mountains, looking over a pasture with some cows enjoying the coming of the evening. In the original shot, the foreground and the cows are very dark; there is hardly any green visible in the grass. This is not how this scene appeared to my eyes; the colors were much more vibrant as I stood there.

So, in the shot below, you can see the fruits of the editing technique described above. I don't know about you, but I much prefer this second image.

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