One of the best things that has happened with the digital revolution in photography is the change in darkrooms. Now instead of those truly dark areas with various liquids, we are blessed with comfortable desks and powerful computers. The image editing programs like Photoshop, Gimp, Affinity Photo etc are really powerful. It is also very easy to get lured into spoiling any image while trying to make it better. Here are the top 10 photo-editing traps that should be avoided.
(Sunset behind the pines – Nikon camera with a 50mm lens at f/8, 1/60 sec at 100 ISO. Clicked as raw and post-processed on Nikon’s software itself)
Trap 1. Over-Sharpening
Sharpening is a required evil in digital photography. Photographs as captured on sensors become very soft and sharpening is required to equalize this softening that happens by default. Sharpening is not a solution to poor quality opticals or inadvert camera shake while clicking a photograph. While sharpening is required, it is very easy to overdo it. Keep over-sharpening in check by performing it as one of the last steps in post-processing. Set the magnification to 100% to actually see how sharpening is affecting the image. For almost all the photographs, keep radius as small as possible. Play around with only the amount. The ideal amount of sharpening is achieved when the borders are clearly demarcated in an image without an obvious halo around the edges. (Sharpening)
Trap 2. Vignette Effect
Vignette is a natural phenomenon with many lenses where the light tends to fall off near the edges of the lens. This causes the peripheral areas of a photograph to appear slightly darker than the center. Vignette effect can be good for sharing photographs on social-networking sites or internet articles or even for your profile photograph in various apps and sites, but when it comes to good photography, vignette is usually frowned upon. It conveys low optical quality of lens and looks very artificial when the depth of field appears to be high. Though some amount of vignette can help in bringing out the subject especially if it placed in center but it is better to underplay this effect rather than using it every where. White vignette is a complete no. This was meant to correct the vignette effects of lenses and not to be used as a frame for your photos.
Trap 3. Sepia Tone
Sepia tone was originally produced by adding a pigment made from the Sepia cuttlefish to the positive print of a photograph. The chemical process involved converted any remaining metallic silver to a sulphide which is much more resistant to breakdown over time. This is why many “old time” photographs are sepia toned and those are the ones that have survived until today. People have started adding sepia tone digitally to the photographs now to get that same old look. Sepia tone looks terrible on present day photos, if you ask me, especially when seen on the digital displays (monitors, mobile phones etc). Do not use it. It is not creative. If you are planning on a monochrome photograph, keep it simple and stick with true greys.
Trap 4. Excess Saturation
Sure colors are attractive, but excess is not. Think of colors as the various flavors in food. Image a red jam without any flavor or smell and just sweet taste. That is exactly what excess of saturation does to photographs. Those electric greens on vegetation and signal reds on flowers may catch the attention once but on closer observation they look ghastly. The fine gradations go missing, the subjects look artificial. It can happen unintentionally too. While post-processing, our eyes tend to get adjusted to the saturation in front of us and so it is very easy to go overboard while editing photographs and increase it to unrealistic levels. Ideally, take a break every once in a few minutes and look away from the computer screen. Look at the colors around you and consider the amount of saturation they have. Set the amount of saturation you feel is fine and then lessen it a little.
Trap 5. Excess Contrast
Similar to saturation, this is another photo editing trap that many beginners fall into. Increasing the contrast gives a false perception of increased sharpness and clarity but in reality it takes away the finer details from shadow and light areas. If you want your viewer to stick around and enjoy your photograph, give something for the eyes to explore. These fine details in shadow areas and bright areas are the ones that help the eyes wander around and enjoy a photograph to the maximum.
Trap 6. Altering instead of Correcting
Photoshop is a powerful tool, so much so that altering an image is now sometimes reffered to as ‘photoshopped’. Regardless of which photo editing program is being used, there is a fine line between correcting a photograph and altering a photograph. It is best to avoid crossing this line in a manner that the photograph looks altered. Correcting a photograph is fine. Correct the color casts, brightness and contrast, fine tune the saturation and even use cloning to some extent to get rid of those dirt marks on your shoes. However if you are planning on cutting out clouds from another image and using them to enhance your cloudless landscape, then don’t. Don’t alter the image. Instead click the photograph when the weather conditions are as per your requirements. When it comes to portraits, correcting some facial features to get a smooth skin is fine but altering the body structure is not.
Trap 7. Selective Coloring
Maybe the mushy bookmarks and posters for school days looked good to you with their black and white image and selective coloring, but they are a waste of time and effort. The photographs look terrible, if I put it mildly. Do not waste your time on trying to selectively color an image.
Trap 8. Playing with filters
Soft Skin, Glamour Glow, Vintage, Polaroid… The list goes on. There are plug-ins and filters to make the photographs look like whatever you want it to. For sharing on instagram, these are great. You can even use these for those selfies of yours on your mobile phone, but for anything more, stay away from these. Even if you feel the need to use these, don’t. If you still have to then keep the effect to the minimum. There is a slider there in these filters for a reason. Use that and keep the effect to the minimum.
Trap 9. Waxy Faces
Skin softening can make the skin look flawless. All the photographs that you see of models and celebrities on those glossy pages does undergo a lot of skin correction and softening. However the key difference is in maintaining the facial features and preventing too artificial a look. If you want your portraits to look like they are made up of wax from Madamme Tussauds, indulge in skin smoothening and blurring as much as you like. If you want realistic but beautiful skins, take help from a makeup artist at the time of shoot and then smoothen the skin a little more while post-processing but while keeping the character of the face intact. Do not turn humans into wax or plastic figures. (Flawless Skin)
Trap 10. Black & White
Black & White photography has its own way of doing things. Black & White can bring out form, contrast, interplay of light and shade. It can sometimes also help in avoiding unnecessary colored distractions. However, Black & White for the sole purpose of trying to look refined is bad. Black & Whites do look good but not always. In fact, a lot of photographs look better in colors than in Black & White, so take your call carefully. Do not convert all your photographs to Black & White. Visualize your photographs before pressing the shutter release button. (Black & White)
(Thuja fruits – Nikon Df with a 135mm lens, f/4, 1/160 sec. Notice the subtle gradations in the green of the fruits which would have been lost if converted to Black and White)