Adventures In Aperture

quick fix

1 I made this image during my trip to Carnevale in Venice, Italy, this year. Sure, the model is terrific, and the location, an 800-year-old palace, is fantastic. From a technical standpoint, the image is super-sharp, the lighting is flattering and well balanced, the colors are vibrant, and the tight crop draws attention to the subject.

2 Compare this image with the original RAW file I captured. For one thing, I think the original is kind of flat and soft (due to the lighting and the fact that all RAW files need sharpening). For another, I think the wider view, which I liked when I took the picture, doesn’t put enough emphasis on the beautiful and dramatic subject.


To transform my original into a much more dramatic image, I used the following Adjustments in Aperture 2, Apple’s latest version of its professional digital-imaging application ( There are many more Adjustments in Aperture 2, including RAW Fine Tuning and White Balance. I used the following Adjustments because I think they’re basic adjustments that you’d like to use.

Before I start working and playing with Adjustments, I always crop my image for maximum impact. If I didn’t crop as a first step, areas of an image that I’d eventually crop out would affect my Histogram and Curve—and also my judgment of what I think might be the best possible Exposure adjustment for the final image.

quick fix3 In addition, I always check my image to make sure that my focus was right on and that the image is tack-sharp. Aperture’s Loupe, which offers magnification settings from 100 to 1600 percent, makes that easy. I also use the Loupe feature to check for spots that might have been created by dust on the low-pass filter that’s over the camera’s image sensor.

Okay, let’s get to the Aperture Adjustments that I used on my image.

quick fix4 Aperture offers all the standard adjustments a photographer needs. To enhance my image, I first reduced the Exposure and Black Point settings; then I increased the Contrast and Saturation settings. To recover some of the slightly overexposed highlights, I used Recovery. Recovery can rescue highlights even if they’re up to one ƒ-stop overexposed—that is, if you shoot a RAW file as RAW files contain more data than JPEG files.

Aperture helps you preview potential loss of detail when you’re making these adjustments with the Highlight Hot & Cold Areas command (found under the View menu or press Option-Shift H). Turn this on, and as you make exposure adjustments, you’ll have a visual indicator of when you hit the right spot for preserving detail.

quick fix5 One of the coolest Adjustments in Aperture is Highlights & Shadows. With these sliders, you basically can adjust the highlights in an image without affecting the shadows, and vice versa. How cool is that! So I used this Adjustment to create the effect of more dramatic and controlled lighting.

quick fix6 One of the main differences between Aperture 1 and Aperture 2 is that Aperture 2 offers selective Dodge & Burn. So, after selecting the Burn tool and a custom-sized brush, I selectively darkened parts of the floor and background.

7 Nested in the Dodge & Burn tool are other selective enhancements: Saturate, Desaturate, Sharpen, Blur, Contrast and Fade. To brighten and enhance the subject’s reflection in the mirror, I selected a custom-sized brush and first used Saturate on the mirror portion of my image. Then, using the same brush size, I used Contrast and Sharpen on that area.

quick fix The main message here: Think “selectively” and use localized enhancements for total creative control of your images.

8 As I mentioned, all RAW files need sharpening (as opposed to JPEG files, which come out of the camera already sharpened). I used Aperture’s Sharpen feature to sharpen my image, keeping the Radius low and using the Intensity slider as my main sharpening control.

As a general rule, always sharpen an image as the final adjustment step, no matter what digital-imaging application you use. That’s because adjusting Curves, Levels and Contrast also can affect the sharpness of an image—and you never want to oversharpen an image.

I also used Aperture’s Noise Reduction feature to reduce some of the slight noise (mostly in the shadow areas) that was created when I took this handheld shot at ISO 1600 with my Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, which actually produces files with relatively low noise at high ISO settings.

quick fix9 By now, some longtime readers of this column may be wondering if I still use Photoshop (and Photoshop Elements). You bet I do! Photoshop offers features like Layers, Layer Styles, Blending Modes, Actions, Image Processor, History Brush, Color Replacement Brush and Merge to HDR (to name but a few), which I use on a regular basis. Photosh
op also accepts way more plug-ins (at the time of this writing) that expand the capabilities of the application, as does Photoshop Elements.

Aperture 2 also accepts plug-ins, and more Aperture-compatible versions of plug-ins are being developed all the time. It’s just that I use Aperture to speed up my workflow (import, name and file images) in the field and to add standard creative enhancements to my straight images (as opposed to creating fanciful images in Photoshop using Layers and such). Each application has its particular strengths, and I keep a well-rounded toolbox.

So, switching gears to Photoshop, I opened the leadoff image for this column in Photoshop CS3 ( and used onOne Software’s Photo Tools ( and applied the Davis Wow Portrait Muted Colors effect, one of dozens and dozens of creative enhancements that you can apply to an image with a click of a mouse. As a final touch, while still in Photoshop, I added a Brush frame in onOne Software’s Photo Frame 3.1 Pro.

Arrivederci! Hey, I had to get in the Italian word for good-bye, as I’m still reminiscing about my wonderful photographic experience in Venice!

Rick Sammon has published 27 books. In 2008, he’ll publish three more books: Face to Face-The Art of Photographing People; Exploring the Light-How to Make the Very Best In-Camera Image; and Rick Sammon’s Pocket Guide for Taking Travel and Nature Pictures. Each year Sammon also teaches dozens of workshops and gives seminars, covering shooting, scanning, saving, enhancing, sharing and printing. Visit for more information.


Leave a Comment