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01-27-2009, 01:39 PM   #1
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PP: How much is TOO much?

I am somewhat new to digital photography and have Photoshop which I use for very mundane editing such as cropping, brightness/contrast, and sometimes small color tweaks. I know nothing of layers and masks and some of the higher level tools at this point.

Seeing some of the amazing gallery shots in this forum, I've concluded there are more tools which may be used to bring a good shot up to a great shot; I am starting to play around a bit more.

So, I took as an example a very ordinary, somewhat poorly contrasted landscape (below) and just tinkered with the magic wand tool to isolate an area to which i adjusted color and brightness/contrast and the unsharp mask tool. again, nothing very complicated at this point. What i got was something that to me looks much better than the original, but also seems to look surreal. Am I being too heavy handed with the PP here? In other words, when you see the AFTER pic, does it just cry out, "Photoshop!"???

Any opinions and suggestions for simple PP improvements are most welcome here. I take constructive feedback well, lol. I thank you in advance.

Mike


BEFORE (as shot)



AFTER


Yes, that is Sausalito, CA.


01-27-2009, 04:05 PM   #2
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I am speaking from a constructive point of view and from the point that I still limit myself to the side of PP as you described yourself initially with minimal dabblings beyond that...

Your particular example is just a little too much, and the foreground has just a tad too much punch. The biggest issue I see is that there is a bit of a halo around the tree-sky line at the end of the point in the foreground and also a bit of a halo at the horizon in the distant land/sky interface.

You are so close though that you could probably take your modified image and the original image as two different layers and work on a mask / blend to hide those problem areas and to back off a bit on what I see as a bit too punchy in the foreground.

However, if this is a first attempt, this is fantastic. I can't do anywhere near that good especially in using masks, the magic want, and/or selective edits.

It is worth it though to keep playing and learning. There are many great web-sources and/or books to learn photoshop with. I dabble in those here and there and libraries can be fantastic since most basic edits and manipulation techniques really haven't changed over the CS# generation of Photoshop products. I still have never gotten good enough with any specific techniques, mostly because I find PP too tedious, but one tool that I always like (either in Photoshop or Raw processors) is curves. Curves do a lot for an image without the need of too much selective editing and they have saved me in cases where I thought I might otherwise need masks and multiple layers.
01-27-2009, 04:17 PM   #3
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IMO, anything beyond simple cropping and tone/curve adjustments (maybe noise reduction as well) is photomanipulation.

Having said that, I am sure most pro photographers will disagree with me.
01-27-2009, 04:27 PM   #4
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I think if the final product looks like it was PP'd then thats too much.

I've also learned to stay away from noise reduction and images that are all high key, I think its nice when photos have some dark areas.

I see a lot of images online [modelmayhem.com] where the photographer uses JUST A LOT TOO MUCH skin softening. Detail is lost and it doesnt even look natural.

your image could be cropped a little, the foreground has a lot of empty space and the houses are quite bright, but thats just my opinion, it seems like a little desaturation might serve well?

01-27-2009, 04:58 PM   #5
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Try using levels instead of bright and contrast. Press Ctrl L on Windows keyboard.
01-27-2009, 06:37 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by ftpaddict Quote
IMO, anything beyond simple cropping and tone/curve adjustments (maybe noise reduction as well) is photomanipulation.
You say "photomanipulation" as if it's bad? IMO, sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't.

I figure anything I could have done in a traditional darkroom is easily fair game. Beyond that I feel slight cosmetic touch-ups (dust spot removal, etc) are totally fine as well.

The times I get irritated about too much PP are when someone takes a (perfectly good) shot of say, a moose, "photoshops" in snowflakes and a frosty breath cloud coming out of its mouth, and presents it as an original photograph without making it entirely clear until later that it's fakery. At first you think "wow that's way cool, they got the perfect shot" only to be disappointed when it finally becomes clear it was shopped to get that way.
01-27-2009, 09:17 PM   #7
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thanks so much, everyone, for your very useful comments! Exactly the help i need here and i will take the advice.
01-27-2009, 10:06 PM   #8
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Excellent question! I'm working on sharpening right now and I'm wrestling with precisely that question. I figure it comes down to developing the skill and the discerning eye to achieve a result that looks right to you.

It seems to me that digital photography doesn't just enable adjustment, it demands it. This doesn't mean that you neglect camera technique but post-processing is an important part of getting the result you want. If this be "photomanipulation", so be it.

I like what you did with that photo, btw.

01-27-2009, 11:36 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by Arpe Quote
Try using levels instead of bright and contrast. Press Ctrl L on Windows keyboard.
thanks - yes, i just figured out how to use levels which is indeed a far better way to adjust bright/contrast. great suggestion.
01-28-2009, 12:17 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by dadipentak Quote
...photography doesn't just enable adjustment, it demands it. This doesn't mean that you neglect camera technique but post-processing is an important part of getting the result you want. If this be "photomanipulation", so be it.

...
Hmm, this is very insightful. I recall a few film processing houses that did more than adjust my prints - they "manipulated" them, lol.

but seriously - i have another example from the same group of test shots; this speaks directly to your comment.

Okay, keep in mind I dont have the best lenses in my bag and I am an amateur photographer at this point. I was testing my Pentax *ist DL with Quantaray 100-300mm zoom at 300mm, f/9.5, 1/180, ISO200, camera handheld and shooting through some very light fog with thick cloud cover. I shot Alcatraz island and went home to look at my capture. I was disappointed to find the RAW image from the camera was muted and low in contrast.

BEFORE (as shot)


I was just about to delete the pic tonight but decided to practice with levels as Arpe suggested. I pretty much just clicked on Auto Levels and astonishingly, all the colors returned to the photo. What is going on here? Was there really that much color information in the capture waiting to be found and adjusted? Did all the glare from the clouds overexpose the shot and kill the contrast and tones? Does my camera/lens just suck? wait, dont tell me that.

AFTER (using "auto level" control)


Admittedly, just as before, my resulting PP'd photo is a little too vibrant, but i just want to show how Photoshop corrected with a single click. It actually looks like a sunny day at the prison, eh?
Such a situation does seem to suggest the necessity of a PP tool to get the results you want. hmm?
01-28-2009, 02:46 AM   #11
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If it was a foggy grey day, I think the first prison shots reflects the mood better than the second one. But I would be glad if something like the second one would be achieved by my post processing. Manipulation? What the heck? If the final picture displays the message you want to convey, you succeeded.

The great Dutch Golden Age painters did a lot of Post-processing manipulation as well.
01-28-2009, 03:13 AM   #12
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I think the foggy shot would work great if there was a foreground subject.

The photoshopped image looks too unreal.
01-28-2009, 04:55 AM   #13
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I think both of your PP shots above are very good. I would also agree with the other's who posted to say they are every so slightly overdone, but not dramatically overdone. I like them both very much.

For myself, I find this to be the most challenging aspect - enhance the pic, but don't over do it.

You don't have to know a lot about PS to do a good/great job. If you have photoshop you also have ACR (Adobe Camera Raw), which is almost all I use.

Here's a typical photo in my current style of processing (K10D shot in raw).
ACR
- boost exposure slightly (+0.2, or +0.4)
- boost black levels (+12 to 18) - this adds contrast to the photo without blowing out colours
- boost brightness from 50 (standard) to 60
- boost contrast from 25 (standard) to 35
** now the picture is bright and bold and on the verge of being overdone, but not quite.

Photoshop CS2
- touch up any noticable blemishes (never touching freckles, birth marks, dimples, etc., as these are part of the person), but zits, blotchy spots, etc. = gone
- if it's a close up person picture it's time for "portraiture" filter. I have mine set at 20.
- once "portraiture" is done - magic wand the person's eyes and use the "sharpen" filter.
- you're done
- resize for web, and add border and business logo (optional).

Here's the final product:


Hope this info was helpful.

c[_]
01-28-2009, 05:47 AM   #14
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A never-ending debate for sure. I agree with several posters above in that essentially it comes down to being subtle and doing what is right for the image itself. I almost always use some sharpening, but that's since Pentax RAW images are in need of it. However, this is a rather subtle step and I leave any more obvious sharpening to later post-processing when I can do this correctly for the image size and target media -- both these factors play a crucial part. Certainly over-sharpening is one of the first signs of a PP beginner. (Over-saturation too!)

I believe that learning Levels and Curves is essential to getting a good image. My article Your Photos -- From Washed Out To Punchy will hopefully be of help here. It's not totally fixated on PP because if you don't capture good light in the first place you're likely not going to have a good image. That link has helped others so hope it can do so for you.
01-28-2009, 06:59 AM   #15
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"PP: How much is TOO much?";

-When the PP no longer gives you the desired results you originally wanted the PP to accomplish in the first place.

I think most folks fail at PP because they don't, or can't, look at an image carefully and ask themselves - "what shortcomings does this image have and can these shortcomings be corrected through PP" I'm not talking here about the use of PP for the purposes of achieving subjective artistic ends but merely to correct objective technical problems.

"Too much" implies you have a good idea of what "enough" is to begin with. Only you can decide when enough is "enough".
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