Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Thinking Ahead For Better Photos

By Rick Sammon Published in Quick Fix

Ansel Adams, one of the greatest photographers of all time, was big on thinking ahead, or as he put it, envisioning the end result.

I’m also big on envisioning the end result, as illustrated by the picture of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco that I used to open this column. It’s one of my favorite images from a recent trip.

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Here’s the original snapshot (a RAW file), taken during an early-morning walk in a nearby park. The morning light was flat, but I loved the fog that was rising from the water and shrouding the lower portion of the bridge.

Using Apple Aperture, I transformed this snapshot into that postcard-type image. The same adjustments are available in Adobe’s Camera RAW and Lightroom applications. You also can get the same end result using the adjustments in Photoshop CS4 and Photoshop Elements.


The first step was to crop and straighten the image (using the Crop tool and Straighten tool). I crop as a first step because I like to eliminate dead space/distracting elements in a photo—areas that don’t add to the scene. In this case, the sky is dead space and the stuff in the foreground is distracting.


Next, I adjusted the Levels by moving the Shadow slider (left) and the Highlight slider (right) in the Levels panel to just inside the “mountain range” of the histogram (which shows the distribution of the highlights and shadows in an image).

Next, to make the image look more dramatic, I moved the Black Point slider a bit to the right and the Saturation slider a bit in the same direction.

It’s not shown here, but I also boosted the contrast somewhat, again by moving the slider to the right.


All RAW files need processing, and that includes sharpening. (JPEG files come out of your camera already sharpened, unless your camera allows you to turn this off.) Here, too, I moved the Sharpness slider to the right until I was pleased with the result.

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