When it comes to my photography, I try not to tamper with the natural colours of the image (and most of the pictures you see on my blog are unaltered…except the Instagram ones of course. Those are over-exposed and warped beyond the original just to make them super funky, as the Instagram Overlords intended.) Following on from my post about lighting, I thought I’d show the difference between an unedited image and it’s colours, and play with colours to enhance them without ruining them.
There are a lot of programmes and software out there to edit, like Photoshop which is a popular one, but personally I tend to use Picasa editor, which is simpler to use, and which offer different ways to edit without over-complication. It’s also a good programme for beginners, as it very easy to find your way around it.
My own rule when it comes to colour is to take pictures in as natural light as possible, or in not that, then clean, white light. While this isn’t always possible (goodness knows how many times I’ve sworn at the yellow-ish lightbulbs which make me feel half blind in my house), it’s easier to see what the colour of an object or landscape is meant to look like when the light is as clean as possible. In cases where you can’t get a good light or the colours come up funny, then you can try to edit it to get there instead.
#1. Making a picture warmer can make all the difference in making it ‘pop’. This is an image of some bright orange flowers I took in a park sometime last summer, which looked a lot more vibrant in real life that they did on my camera. While I managed to get the focus on the flower at the front, the colour looked too faded and dull in the original image. I enhanced the colours slightly to make it a richer, warmer orange, which had the automatic effect of making the flower at the forefront appear sharper, more vivid and defined, while the flowers at the back added to the composition so that the image looked summery. The difference in the images below is quite striking, I love how by doing one simple thing to the image, it looks very different and gives a much more professional look – the orange in this just looks almost unrealistic (and that was the real-life colour of the flowers!)
#2. Alternatively, an image can be too bright and may need to be toned down. I sometimes play around with different looks and colours to see what effect I may get. I took this image on a really sunny afternoon, which really lit up the flowers in my mum’s garden, but then also had the effect of making the colours look almost neon and unrealistic. By toning it down a bit, and adding some shadow , the flowers look a bit more intense, and the sky is less painfully blue on the eye! To be honest, I rarely have to tone down or darken my images, because I like my photographs to be bright and colourful (I’m a bit blind, like that) and also because it’s not often that I get decent colours on a photograph unless I’m standing under a sun beam. But it’s nice to go for an arty look though – the edited version below reminds me of something Andy Warhol-ish, for some reason.
#3. This is another flower picture I took, which I really liked because of how clean the outline of the flower looks, and how sharp the petals seem. I decided to brighten up only sections of the image, mainly the grass at the back and portions of the petals, to make the image feel more vivid, and the difference is quite notice-able. The grass looks beautifully (almost edible!) green, and the petals look slightly whiter – although I tried to keep as much of the purple rims on the petals as possible. In hindsight, I think the petals should be less power-white-bright (for example, you can’t see the water droplets in the second image), but it still looks quite effective in the second, edited image, compared to the duller-whites and lilac tones of the petals in the original image.
#4. Then there’s the over-saturation, which you have to be quite careful of. Sometimes enhancing the colours of a photo can make it look too obviously edited, and has the opposite effect – the colours can look a bit too crude and bright, and the focus of the image feels a bit messy. I edited the image below to make the blue-ness of the sky more vivid, which it certainly did, but it also looks very unnatural and garish. The original image has softer colours and the outline of the buildings against it complements the images – in the edited photo, the buildings look slightly comic-like, and the softness of it is completely lost.
#5. Here’s a mix of colour-editing I did to show the various differences you could get from the same image. The first photo (1.) is the original picture, which I wanted to jazz up as it looked a bit dull. Image 2. has a very bright, fiery look, but it also looks very over-saturated in colour and there is no focus of the image – because the colours are so bright, they all seem to blend into each other, so that nothing ends up standing out. Image 3. is the opposite, by dulling the image even more, the details of the bangles in the tray and way it has been put together becomes finer. If I had turned the image into a black and white one, the details would look even more striking, but of course, colour-wise, the beauty of the colours would be lost. Image 4. was my final edit, and what I thought was the best enhancement of the original picture – it was slightly warmer so the colours jumped out a little more, but not too much that the finer details and the ‘real-life’ colours were not lost. To me, this is the most flattering and realistic tone, and it also shows me to be wary in editing colours – in these kinds of cases, sometimes little is more.
So while I’m a big fan of keeping your editing to a minimum, it’s also easy to see why sometimes the photograph may need a slight helping hand. I would definitely recommend playing around with colours, and even trying out different effects (sepia doesn’t sound that attractive, but it’s always worth a look at least once!) And these days, there’s plenty of mobile phone apps to do half the work for you (I already have about twelve on my phone) which are always worth trying.
And sometimes, you may get lucky and not need to play around with colours at all – below is a photo I took at Hever Castle a few months ago on a rare sunny day. The angle, lighting and intensity of the sun were all perfect in getting the colours of this image just perfect, it’s one of my favourite shots of that day and it looks like something that could be right out of a travel magazine!