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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

This Article Features Photo Zoom
While it's not bad in color, this image from Arches National Park in Utah becomes much more dramatic in black-and-white. The tonality and texture of the rocks are revealed in the
black-and-white conversion. Also, notice the slight burn in the upper-left corner to bring down that bit of sky, giving the image a sense of boundary.
Convert To Black-And-White
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.

This Grand Canyon scene is muted, weak and washed out in the original, normal exposure (left). The colors in the highlights and shadows have been lost. At the time, a series of bracketed exposures were made, and by using an HDR software plug-in like HDRsoft Photomatix or Nik HDR Efex Pro 2, the exposures were combined to produce the photo right. The key to HDR is to use it in moderation to give a photo a little help. This shot easily could have been taken too far to produce a garish look.
Subtlety is the key to HDR. It's more like Dave's Insanity Sauce than Tabasco®. Be very, very careful and use just a small amount. If you add too much, the shot becomes more of a comic book image than a well-conceived photo. When employed well, most viewers should be unaware that any effect has been added to the photograph.

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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