Fun with Photoshop, Part I
I realized recently that I really do like working on digital pictures in Photoshop. It's just fun. In fact, it seems suspiciously like more fun that it should be.
One holdover I carry with me from film is a prejudice against "working" too much on prints, or, in digital terms, picture files. My principle was always that if I concentrated on making good negatives, the prints would take care of themselves, and my prejudice was that the more I had to work on something, the worse it was going to end up looking. I'd always do whatever work needed doing, of course, but I'd get progressively more grumpy and fatalistic about success as the job proceeded. The best negatives are easy to print, which is why I'd always start out my Photo 101 classes by having kids make prints from "perfect" negatives.
Florian out after bluegill. This pretty much just opened up this way. So I left it alone. Hey, why make extra work for myself?
This doesn't seem to hold true with digital files, though. As long as you don't just butcher them, there's really not a "right" and a "wrong" amount of manipulation they can take. I do tend to spend more time on files that need help—naturally—but sometimes it's just fun to see what can be done with what. I'll open an underexposed file just to see what I can do with it, or just play with different filters and see what happens. I hesitate to admit this in public, but sometimes I download other peoples' pictures from the web and futz with them, too, because I want to see how they'll look when I do 'em the way I'd want 'em.
So nice you can correct it twice
Often, what I'll do is to open up a file in ACR with normal color corrections, then just start to fiddle and diddle. Try one thing, try another, back up and start again, try this'n'that to see how it works. Then when I'm all done I'll close out that file, reopen another copy of the raw file, and do it all over again.
It's funny, but it often looks better the second time around—it must be easier to get somewhere when you know where you're going.
Before (above) and after (below). I pretty much did with this just what I would have done with the same picture in B&W.
Another of my peculiar habits is that even with color pictures, I'll sometimes convert them to black-and-white just to see whether they still work that way—even when I intend to make the final version color. Maybe it's just me, but I find that pictures that would have worked in B&W work better in color, too. And sometimes, too, solving the picture's problems in B&W makes it more evident what the color version needs, too.
Blue sundown. It made me unhappy to leave so much blue in this, but that's the way it looked. And that peachy/pinky color above the trees on the right looked like that, too.
One thing I've pretty much promised myself is that if I have to work in color, dang it, then I'm at least going to use the minimal amount of saturation I can get away with. (In my opinion, the digital world has been Velvia'd to death—98% of amateur digital pictures are oversaturated, making the photographed world brighter and happier than the real thing by far.) If you refrain from oversaturating, the subtleties start to emerge.
Room for one more? The normal impulse would be to open up the shadows—except this is how the scene actually looked. Think of the color palette of naturalist painters from Rembrandt to the Hudson River School, Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins....
It has always been helpful to me to try to remember what the original light looked like, and not overcorrect based on assumptions. It's awfully easy to look as a scene and think, "Hmm, too green," and correct the green away, without remembering that the light at the original scene was greenish, too.
Another thing I've had to get used to is that there's nothing at all sacrosanct about the camera's decisions. A negative "wants" to print a certain way—if you force it to look too different from what it wants to look like, the results can be unhappy. But with digital, there's nothing like that. So I don't tweak. I just grab those sliders and slam those buggers back and forth from one extreme to the other, and narrow down on what looks right. I don't care if it's 10% or 90% from what the camera thought it should be. What does it know?
The hardest part is not knowing how, but knowing what. Some pictures just don't require Velvia saturation, or a standard range of tones, or white-light colors. With Photoshop (or LightZone, or Paintshop Pro, or or whatever program you choose), you can try everything, and just pick what works. So why not?
Here's one last picture for those people who were lecturing me on my resistance to the march of progress in the form of Fuji's face-recognition technology—as if I just want it to be 1940 again. This was taken at 1/3rd of a second by the light of two candles, made possible by in-camera Anti-Shake, probably my personal favorite new camera technology since AE. What, me, a Luddite? What works is what works, I say.
Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON