Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Give Your Photos A Boost
Sometimes a good photograph just needs a little shot of art sauce to turn it into a great one
It's so easy to make a rich, beautifully toned black-and-white conversion today that just about anyone can do it. Because of that, many photographers are dismissive of monochrome as being a gimmick. Certainly, it can be a gimmick, but on the other hand, in many photographs, color is a distraction from the form and substance of what's in the frame.
Software like Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 and onOne Perfect B&W, as well as the conversions built into Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture, among others, are powerful and easy to use. That also makes them easy to misuse. When you're making black-and-white conversions, pay particular attention to your shadows and highlights. Often, a "one-click" conversion either will blow out something at the high end or dump a subtle shadow to textureless black. Whole books can be written on the tools for fine-tuning images. Here, we only have the space to alert you to the availability of such tools.
Of course, just as color can be a distraction holding back a photograph that would be strong as a black-and-white, the opposite can be true. If you make your conversion to monochrome and you find yourself looking at a weak, muddy mass of gray, maybe color was the only thing the shot had going for it. In that case, the image file may be a candidate for the trash bin.
There's no greater controversy among nature photographers these days than the use of HDR. We've seen email signatures with a note about it, "HDR, Never Used It, Never Will!" and the like. Many people are opposed to HDR simply because they have only seen it overused. HDR can be like that sickly sweet ketchup smothering a hamburger. But when used subtly, HDR software can expand the visible tones in your image just enough to bring a touch of detail to the highlights and shadows to render a magnificent photo that would be impossible to capture in a single exposure because of the technological limitations of the sensor itself.
Situations where HDR is the perfect tool include times when you find yourself wishing for a split neutral-density filter. When you're fighting the contrast in a scene because your camera can capture seven Zones or stops of detail, but the scene in front of you has 10 Zones or stops of detail, HDR is the ideal tool. To be used to its full potential, you should have multiple exposures of the scene. The single-image, tone-mapping options don't do nearly as good of a job as multiple exposures. Use a sturdy tripod.
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