Photography

Basic Settings for Editing Photographs

Photographer Nicanor García shares some fundamental editing settings to apply to all your photographs

Adobe Photoshop was one of the first programs created for editing digital images; it became popular because it enabled the user to change and manipulate images for creative purposes and to fix mistakes. Editing, or post-production, allows photographers to go a little further than merely taking a photo.

Besides lighting and framing, you can take advantage of other basic editing settings to achieve optimal results. You can refine a picture by correcting the perspective, geometry, exposure, contrast, or highlights. Expert photographer Nicanor García runs us through the basic editing settings that can help us achieve amazing photographs.

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Photo by Nicanor García

First of all, remember that the shot is what happens before the photograph materializes. It is an intake of data saved through a sensor, which turns it into information to process and produce a great image. You can shoot a great photograph, but editing completes the job and can help you get the results you want.

Fixing lighting in photography

Exposure is the quantity of light the image sensor captures when forming the photograph. It is calculated by measuring the time and the level of light perceived. The former is determined by the shutter speed, whereas the light is determined by the lens's aperture and measured in EV (Exposure Value).

Contrast is the tonal difference between different areas of the photograph. An image is visible because it is in contrast with the tonal values around it. By increasing the contrast, you also increase the difference between black and white values.

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Example of the use of exposure and contrast. Photo by Nicanor García

The aperture starts from the diaphragm, which controls the amount of light captured by the camera sensor. You can think of it as the width of a tube through which light comes in: the wider the tube, the larger the amount of light passes through it, and less time is needed for the diaphragm to stay open.

Highlights and shadows: by handling the light, you can fix the excess of exposure in the brightest spots. You do the opposite with shadows, where you fix the darkest areas of the shot. By modifying both values, you can produce image noise in the shot, so make sure you handle these settings carefully.

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Example of highlights and shadows. Photo by Nicanor García

Color correction in photography

White balance provides the photograph with the correct color values. The lighting determines the colors recorded by your camera. The light of an environment is not always consistent. It can be natural or artificial and yield different color temperatures. It can be cold and tend towards blue tones, or be warmer and tend towards yellow, orange, or reddish.

Saturation and intensity are often mistaken, but they are not the same. Saturation can be defined as pure color and is used to intensify the same color value. Intensity of color regulates saturation in that it enhances the less saturated colors. Using and fixing these parameters will help you achieve a balanced photo.

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Example of use of saturation and intensity. Photo by Nicanor García

Adjusting the composition in photography

The grid is not an editing element but helps us prepare the shot. It can be used to apply the rule of thirds and compose the picture more efficiently. It consists of two horizontal lines and two vertical lines and divides the screen into three equal parts. Their intersections are the places where our gaze tends to linger when looking at an image. By placing the photograph elements that you want to stand out in these spots, you'll obtain an optimal composition.

Straightening and cropping: these tools will help give the image an ideal framing (the portion of the scene that fits the photo), angle (to draw attention to a subject or enhance its features), and even horizon (in landscape compositions). A small adjustment can bring balance and harmony to the whole piece.

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Example of composition. Photo by Nicanor García

Extras

Noise reduction aims to reduce the grainy look that can appear in various areas of the image and create better contrast and clarity. It's essential to verify if the noise is due to the different color pixels or the luminance (a light variation on a surface).

The focus improves the definition of the image contours but cannot correct a highly out-of-focus image. Using a focus mask or the soft-focus filter is an ideal option to enhance your images.

The cloning stamp clones a selected small area and transfers it onto another. Photoshop compares the brightness, lighting, texture, and contrast to ensure the cloning is as faithful as possible. It can be used to correct skin or remove distracting elements in the photo.

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Photo by Nicanor García

Nicanor García teaches the course Architectonic and Urban Photography, in which you learn to observe and focus on details and people in the streets and use natural lighting to achieve amazing photographs.

You may also like:

- Introduction to Adobe Photoshop, a course by Carles Marsal
- Photograph Retouching and Visual Effects with Photoshop, a course by Mario Olvera
- Photograph Retouching for Fashion and Beauty with Photoshop, a course by Alain Perdomo

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