Adobe Photoshop is an incredible tool. It gives you the power to improve average photos into something that’s worth a second look. With tools like this creating a wow image is no big deal. If you are only half as good a photographer you aspire to be and moderately proficient with these photo editing tools you can improve average photos that you thought were missed moments and transform them into something special.
Most of the times when we click images in everyday situations we don’t pay attention to some of the basics of good photography. We are bitten by what is known as the point and click bug. We point and we click. We do that even with our expensive DSLRs. But then, when we are travelling with family and friends, we hardly have the time to make a good composition. A majority of the times we barely have a few seconds to click an image before we move on to the next attraction. This is a good reason why you should always travel alone if you are serious about making good images. But what about our vacation photos? All those beautiful places we travel to often end up resulting in images that look something like this –
After all our memories deserve a second chance. We can’t just throw away all those photos we took? Is there no way to improve average photos like these? Thankfully there is; thanks to Adobe Photoshop.
Here’s a simple post-processing workflow that might just do the trick for some of those average photos that are lying somewhere on your computer. Just like any other Photoshop tutorial which is based around a particular image / scene this one too has a caveat attached to it. The steps that I am about to tell you work for my image. They might work differently for your image.
Ok. As you can see from the image it is not something to be particularly proud of. I goofed up with the exposure, big time. Trying to meter for the architecture I did a hash of things. It also does not help that the image above is a JPEG conversion of the original RAW file straight out of the camera with no post-processing applied. It has none of the post-processing normally applied to a JPEG image that comes out of a camera. As you know RAW images don’t have any sharpness, contrast, color correction etc. applied to it. To say the least it is a dull and uninteresting image.
First Step to Improve Average Photos: In Camera Raw
Ok. The first step to improve average photos like this is to work on the White Balance, Exposure, Highlights, Contrast, Whites and Black sliders. I shot this image at 5000 degrees Kelvin. But as you can see the colors are a bit too blue for comfort. It was a sunset scene and I want the image to reflect that. Thus the White Balance slider would go rightwards. Next I need a bit of tint. I pull the slider to give the overall image a magenta tint.
I was careful enough to obscure the sun that was setting to the right of the frame. Thankfully there was no major highlights. However, the sky is devoid of any texture and is plain boring. Reducing the Highlights will make it a bit more interesting. I pull it all the way to the left. I also reduce the Exposure, just a bit. The overall aim is to make the sky a bit more interesting than it came out in the flat RAW file.
These changes are global, affecting the entire image. So, next I had to do some local changes as well. Those changes include an increase of the exposure of the architecture. It was much too dark to begin with. I used the brush tool in Camera RAW for this. I also tweaked the Clarity and Vibrance sliders. I added some clarity as the RAW image out of the camera was soft.
That’s it! Now, to open the image in Photoshop and start working on the one final change that’s going to make the big difference. Sorry, I made one more change before I opened the image in Photoshop and that was to add a bit of Dehaze effect. This is a new feature in Camera RAW and also in Lightroom. It was designed to cut through haze but works in more than one ways when used tastefully.
I pulled the slider to the right and it had the effect of bringing back some of the blue in the left part of the sky. This is how it looked before. Not much of a change but I liked the subtle colors it brings.
The Final Edits: In Photoshop
Now in Photoshop I would do only one change to the photo. This would be to add that extra effect that would make the image a far better one from where I started off.
I made a selection of a portion of the image like this.
Made a copy using Command / Control J. Right-clicked on the new layer and select ‘Free Transform’.
Then again right-clicked and select Flip Vertically.
This flipped the selection on its head. I aligned the layers properly so that I ended up with this –
As you can see it does look like a perfect mirror image. In fact too perfect to be true. So, now’s the time to obscure some of that and make the image more realistic. To do this I used the Blur tool (Filter> Blur> Motion Blur). I used an angle of 90 degrees and the Distance around 30. You don’t need too much.
Finally I brought down the opacity by about 95% to reveal some of the actual water from the layer below. This is the final image –
My idea of post-processing to improve average photos is to not make it appear too obvious. Then it’s just me. You may have a completely different approach. Do share if you have a trick or two of yours to add.