One of the differences between a good photograph and a great one is how we handle the details. Check out this image of a beautiful Kuna woman who I photographed at the San Blas Hotel in the San Blas Islands, an archipelago of 365 islands that lies off the Atlantic coast of Panama. Compare it to the second and third photographs in this column, and you’ll see that it has stronger colors and more contrast. I’ll show you how to easily create a similar effect using Adobe Photoshop Elements. Of course, you can get to the same place using Adobe Photoshop.
I’d also like to show you something totally cool and actually rather amazing. Notice how the vertical edges of the door and windows are pretty much vertical in the opening picture compared to the way the doors and windows look angled outward in the second and third photographs. Believe it or not, that’s a quick fix, too! Let’s go.
Before we get going with digital darkroom stuff, I’d like to share a technique I often use when I want to photograph a person: I look for an interesting background first because the background can make or break a picture. I take a shot and check out my composition and exposure on my camera’s LCD panel. When I’m pleased with the result, all I have to do is position the subject in the scene, point and shoot. That technique lets me work quickly with a stranger so that I don’t overstay my welcome.
When I say that I’m “pleased,” I mean that I’m also pleased with the ideas I envision for enhancing an image in the digital darkroom, a major part of my photography.
Here’s the Photoshop Elements histogram, displayed in the Levels dialog box (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels or Enhance > Adjust Lighting > Levels) for the original image. It’s a great histogram! The different brightness levels of the image are fairly evenly distributed, from dark on the left to bright on the right. There’s a spike at the very far left, however, indicating that details in the shadow areas in the doorway will be lost, which is okay with me.
Hey, it was no accident that the woman is perfectly framed by the dark doorway. Before I asked her to step into the scene, I opened the door so that the shadow area framed her and made her stand out prominently in the photograph.
One reason for the good histogram was that the picture was taken very early in the morning in the shade on an overcast day. Those conditions created a low-contrast image.
By the way, there’s no such thing as a perfect histogram. How it looks, with its peaks and valleys, depends on the effect you’re trying to create.