Photo Editing Software
I prefer the term ‘image processing’ software as an analogy to word processing but the term ‘photo editing’ software is used most often. I use PaintShop Pro most of the time and next often Adobe Photoshop. I believe many professionals prefer the various Adobe software titles.
This is a good time to talk about the problems we can create when messing with our most precious photos. Using word processing as an analogy, I know one guy who saves every version of every document he has ever composed. He learned the miracle of ‘save as’ but is now encountering the problems. He wastes a lot of time finding the absolute latest version of his work and sometimes he picks the wrong document. That causes problems. Other people edit documents and never preserve the original. They keep overwriting with newer versions. That’s like driving a car with no reverse.
My advice is to make the preservation of your original photo a top priority. Most software leaves it up to you. When experimenting the best precaution may be to make a copy of the photos you want to modify in a new directory called ‘working copies’ or whatever.
Image sources for Photo Editing
a. Transparency (Slide) – You will use a scanner with a transparency adapter to capture your photo into an image file.
b. Negative – You will use a scanner with negative scanning capability to capture your photo into an image file. Most transparency scanners can also do negatives.
c. Print – You will use a scanner to capture your photo into an image file.
d. Digital – You will transfer your image file from your camera.
Archiving You Favorite Shots
If you have transparencies, negatives or prints that are irreplaceable you should seriously consider ‘archiving’ them to a digital format. Non-digital media are subject to several forms of degradation over time that relate to fading, dyes and mold as well as to physical damage such as scratches and dust particles from accidents and even from normal handling.
The basic skills you develop by using Picasa will follow you as you move into more expensive and powerful photo editing software. Google’s Picasa has the photo editing capabilities that are useful to hobbyists. Look for Picasa through Google Search. You’ll find detailed instructions for use on the Google web site. The web site introduction states that you can manage, edit, and share your photos using Picasa. The avies that Picasa does not store the photos on your computer. When you open Picasa, it simply looks at the folders on your computer and displays the photos it finds. It displays the file types that you tell it to find, in the folders that you tell it to search.Your original photos are preserved. Picasa is free software and is currently supported by its publisher which is why I’m presenting it here.
Basic Photo Editing Tools
Photo editing methods require practice to get the best results. Use them sparingly and always work from a copy of your photo. The use of any particular editing tool is a judgment call so don’t hesitate to use ‘undo’ if you don’t like the results. I prefer software that shows the effects my changes are making to the image while I’m are working with them. Some of the commonly used tools found in most photo editing software include color balance, color saturation, contrast, crop, resize and sharpen.
Color Balance Adjustment – This basic software tool often appears as slide bar that travels between orange and blue. In one direction the red/oranges in your image are enhanced and the blues diminished. Take it in the other direction to reduce the red/oranges and increase blues. This tool can make a noticeable difference. For example if your image has outdoor shadow areas that appear with a blue cast you can try to fix the problem by adjusting the color balance. With Adobe Photoshop there are 3 scales that travel in the color ranges for Cyan – Red, Magenta – Green, and Yellow – Blue.
Excessive blues are common to photos that contain haze and shadows. Color Saturation Adjustment – This tool will deepen the colors in your image making them more intense. Overdo this one and your image will look unnatural and unappealing.
Contrast Adjustment – This tool helps you change the relationship between the light and dark areas of your image. When shadow areas are too light or too dark try contrast adjustment. When the photo looks flat try contrast adjustment.
Cropping – To crop your photo is to select one rectangular portion of the image to make a new image. You crop to remove unwanted picture elements or just to improve the image composition. The most direct way to crop a picture is to select the part of the picture you want to keep with a software tool that defines a rectangular area on your image that is resizable as needed. When you have selected the area you want to keep use the copy function to copy the selected area to the clipboard and then paste it as a new image. Some software will do this automatically for you after you have indicated the selection area.
Resize (Resampling) – When you resize a photo you are changing its width and height in terms of pixels, inches or centimeters. You will most often want to maintain the picture’s width to height ratio (aspect ratio) to avoid image distortion. Basic software may not offer a choice of resizing methods. If you have a choice then there are considerations you can explore. For example, resizing .jpg files can introduce jaggedness that is more noticeable in images with lines. Try Bicubic resizing to achieve improved results with your .JPG
Sharpen Adjustment – This tool is commonly found in photo editing software and will automatically sharpen your entire photo or a selected area making edges more clear and often improving the image appearance. You can sharpen pictures that are to appear on a web site or in social media.
Examples of photo editing software include Picasa, Corel PaintShop Pro X6 and several popular Adobe Photoshop titles. Paint. NET is a great example of a free ‘image and photo manipulation application’ for the Windows operating system. This software ‘supports layers, unlimited undo, special effects, and a wide variety of useful and powerful tools.’ Originally intended as a free replacement for the MS Paint software that comes with Windows, it has grown into a powerful and easy to use tool for photo and image editing. In support of this software’s authors I will add that they gladly accept donations from individuals who find their software to be useful.
Color in a B & W Image
I’ll feature one interesting Picasa tool that I like. You see it in music videos and commercials a lot. I call this the Schindler’s List movie effect. Although Spielberg didn’t invent the effect he sure did make it into a gimmick. It’s the part where Schindler is looking over a horrible scene of people being rounded up by Nazis troops. One little girl runs into a warehouse unnoticed but Schindler notices from the hill where he is observing from horseback. It’s brought back one more time later in the movie. This is a B & W film but the format and mood are broken because the little girl’s coat is a rose-pink.
I suppose this insures that, even while chewing popcorn, you won’t miss what the director wants you to see. It’s the Focal B & W effect in Picasa. For this effect you need a color photo. Picasa will show you a B & W version with a target cross in the middle. You can set the size of the circular effect and the ‘sharpness’ which means how strong it is. This effect works best with a circular element or one that is placed in a corner of the photo. The application of this effect highlights an area of your photo. You choose how subtle you want the effect to be.
The Traditional Method
Not so long ago home photo processing was all about utilizing chemicals and a dark room to develop film. This process included steps that are still recognizable today as photo editing steps such as adjusting color values and improving image contrast.
The need to crop unwanted elements from a composition had to begin in the darkrooms of the first B & W photographers back in the middle 1800s. Some people are still making the effort to learn to use items such as photographic papers, enlargers, trays and stop bath to get the image results they want. The main drawback for most of us is the expense of good equipment as well as the cost of supplies ongoing. There are also problems with setting up a sink and darkroom at home and then breaking them down so other people can use the space.
Still it’s a great way to learn useful skills in photography and especially to learn ways of thinking about light and composition that will remain valuable even when working with digital media.