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Do you need Photoshop?

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Text: Alex Mita

Do we really need to Photoshop our pictures in order to make them better? The first thing any photography trainer will tell you is that if you depend on Photoshop to make your photos look better then you are not on the right path.

There are two different schools of thought on the use of Photoshop: Some photographers love to make teeth whiter, fix spots, lighten or darken skin, make someone thinner, make their eyes bluer, while others will only focus on fixing colour and exposure.

Of course it all depends on what you do. Fashion photographers are required if not expected to digitally modify their subjects by for example making the neck longer and thinner, making the lips fuller and the eyes bigger, and meticulously remove and correct every “imperfection,” in order to sell a product. In other words that model you see on an outdoor billboard is not the person who was photographed.

Photojournalists, especially those shooting for news agencies and newspapers, are forbidden to over-Photoshop their subjects as a news photo should show the viewer as much of the reality of what the photographer has witnessed as possible. Digitally manipulating images to make them look better is generally frowned upon, and many photojournalists and even publications have been left humiliated after admitting to have purposely altered award winning images.

But the truth is post possessing our photos is an integral part of the photographic process. And although there are many different picture editing software, perhaps the most widely used is Adobe Photoshop.

So here are a few tips on using basic Photoshop tools for non-destructive editing.

Levels:

Pressing Control or Command L, or going to Images, Adjustments, Levels will bring up your levels panel. Here you can control the highlights, mid tones and shadows of your photo. When you open the levels panel you can see a histogram (it looks like a mountain) and underneath that you will see three little triangles, a black one, a grey one and a white one. Dragging the black triangle to the left or the right will adjust the shadows in your photo by making them darker or lighter. Moving the grey triangle left or right allows you to adjust your mid tones, while the white triangle is for your highlights.

If a photo is under exposed (too dark), you will see that the most of the information in your histogram is to towards the left side of the histogram, with little or no information on the mid tones, and none at all on your highlights.

If the photo is over exposed (too bright), most of the information on your histogram will be on the white triangle side of the panel with little or no info above the black triangle. So how do we fix an under exposed or over exposed photo?

If your photo is under exposed (too dark), pull the white triangle to the areas of the histogram where information is beginning to appear.

If your photo is over exposed (too bright) pull the black triangle to the areas of the histogram where information is beginning to appear.

Some images aren’t neither over exposed or under exposed. These images have most of their value in the midtones, and only lack true highlights or shadows. This is easily fixed, and has lost the least amount of information. Simply pull in the white and black points to the areas of the histogram where information is beginning to appear. This will give the image more contrast.

Converting your photo to black and white:

Although there are many different ways to do this, the easiest is choosing to discard all colour information in the photograph. To do this, go to Image, Mode, Greyscale. Photoshop will ask if you want to discard colour information. Click on discard and hey presto! Black and White.

Another way of turning the photo into black and white is to go to Image, Adjustments, Hue/Saturation, and pull the saturation slider all the way to the left.

If you want to have more control over the image and want to play with different filters, then try going to Image, Adjustments, Black and White. This option will open a window where you will see a tab with Presets, and below that different colour sliders. Play with the various presets to see what suits you best. Colour filters in black and white photography will make their own colour lighter and the opposite colour darker. So if you want a darker sky, use a red filter, and if you want a lighter sky, use a blue filter. Use the different colour sliders until you achieve the desired effect.

Cropping:

Even though you should be cropping unwanted information from your image using your lens, should you need to isolate your subject from let’s say a hand sticking into the frame, you can use the crop tool, found on the tool bar on the left of your screen.

You can use the cropping tool to change the ratio of your photograph. When you select the crop tool, you will see it on the top left corner of your screen. Next to that you will see a box that says Ratio. If you click on that you can choose to crop the photo using the original ratio (if it’s horizontal or vertical), or to crop it in to a square format (1:1), a very useful tool if you want to post your photos on Instagram.

If you want to crop free hand, just select W x H Resolution from the sane drop down menu.

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