Not for Purists: Or Simple Retouching

No boundaries in this shot!
E-fence removed, quick and easy.
Alrighty then, Chari brought to my attention that she found the electrical tape in the background of my action shot a distraction, which is an important point to keep in mind. Pay attention to what's behind your subject if at all possible. That way people don't have telephone poles growing out of their heads and things like that. Ideally we would set up all our shots with a perfect unobtrusive background, following the rule of thirds, and create a stupendous statement every time we pick up a camera. And we should eat vegetables every day too. Not happening, right?? πŸ˜‰ If it's just not possible to avoid having some background distraction in your photos, with a good photo-editing program you can fix the problem. Some distractions are bigger than others, and require more skills and better tools, such as Photoshop Elements, (which is worth waaay more than its cost, and can even make ex-boyfriends disappear) but little ones like this electric fence just required a few minutes in Picasa, Google's free program. I just clicked on retouch, chose a brush size, and started clicking on the offensive white tape. When the little brush removed the white with a little wiggling, I clicked again. Poof, no fence, one click at a time! Then I clicked on apply and export, and Picasa resized the file to a size more appropriate to posting on the web than the original 4288x4288 size. The nice thing is that it's a separate file because Picasa automatically saves your edits separately instead of changing your original. Which brings me to one of the most important things you need to always do when photo editing: Copy your pictures when you open them in any photo-editing program, and only work on the duplicate. Ever! Always! Save your 'keeper' originals in a backup location. Everyone messes up sometime, and poof! Your original is gone. No going back. It's all over but the crying. Another very important thing to remember is that when you work with jpeg files, which are the ones that are usually seen on the web, they lose a little information every time you open them to edit. Not every time you view them, but every time you open them in an editing program to work on them. Jpeg is a 'lossy' program. It loses information, but it is a nice small compact file size. If you are going to work on something a bunch of times, it's better to save it as a Tiff, or if you have a photoshop product, a PSD, which will keep all your layers separate. Tiff and PSD are a lot bigger files for the same picture, and they don't lose information when you close and save them, so they're ideal to use until you get to the point of saving a copy to send to friends or post on the web. That said, Picasa does not give you the ability to fine tune file size the way Photoshop does. Remember, it's free, not perfect. πŸ˜‰ I know I doused you in quite a bit of info here, but once you get in there and play around a little, you will have a ton of fun fixing pictures you thought were toast.Β  And here's our work of art, retouched.

Following the action

Most of us have kids that are involved in active sports, and we struggle to get good pictures of them actually doing what they do. Today I'm going to talk about something called 'panning'. That means following the motion of the important part of the picture by moving the camera while it's taking the picture. In other words, get a picture of your kid, not a fuzzy blur of his leg on his way out of your frame! Once again, this is something that requires practice, but I'm sure your kids won't mind playing while you sit and take pictures. One of the ways a photographer gets a picture of a speeding car that is fairly sharp while the background is blurry is by following the motion of the car as it moves, not just standing still and snapping and hoping for the best. So what you'll need to do is pretend you're using a video camera, and keep your target in the frame by moving the camera to follow the motion and keep snapping. Some cameras have a continuous shutter setting so you can take multiple 'freeze frames'. Then you can pick the one you like best. If your shutter speed is a little slower, the background will be nicely blurred, if not, everything will be sharp but you will still have your desired subject within the picture frame, so everyone wins. You would use the 'action' setting to do that. Just be sure to follow the motion smoothly so you don't have up and down blur, unless of course the motion is up and down! Today's sample picture is my son jumping stumps while I played with my camera. My camera was set on 'vivid' so the colors of his helmet and bike are really bright, but unfortunately I'm thoroughly busted on the bad mom scale because he forgot his gloves and they're shiny and pink to prove it... which is what Nikon vivid does to skin tones. πŸ˜‰ I stood parallel to his 'flight path' and followed his motion with my camera as I clicked the shutter. Sometimes it helps to focus on a spot that is the same distance as where the action is going to be, like the ground at that spot, hold your shutter halfway, then raise the camera to follow the motion and press the shutter the rest of the way as you pan.

Pull off the Stinkin’ Road

Ok, I live in a lovely scenic area, and every tourist season I see the same thing. Some goofball driving along hanging the camera out the window clicking away holding up traffic. Pull off the road and enjoy the view. They have lovely turnouts along every road where there's a particularly scenic spot, and wide spots on single lane gravel roads just for people like you who want to capture that memory. Use them. You'll get a better picture, and you won't risk other people's lives with your poor driving. Many of the unimproved gravel roads have huge dropoffs, and if you're not paying attention I shiver to think what could happen to you and your family or an oncoming vehicle. Oh. And adjust your trailer brakes, dude. We can't breathe back here...

When White isn’t White

I recently had a friend tell me they were going to get a different digital camera because the color was never right on theirs. Things just didn't look right to them, everything was too orange, or too blue. That's caused by a setting called 'White Balance'. Most of us see what we think we see, not what's really there. Cameras sometimes show us a reality that isn't quite what we remember (or want to remember!) Our eyes and brain compensate for the color of the light surrounding us by telling us what we should see, so unless we're paying close attention we don't realize that what we recognize as white is actually a bit blue because it's in the shade behind the house. In technical terms, it's called color temperature, and it's measured by something called the 'Kelvin Scale'. You've noticed color temperature before in the last light of the evening, when everything is warm and glowing, or indoors under fluorescent lights, where everyone looks sick. Your camera may just have an auto white balance setting, in which the camera chooses, or settings you can adjust manually. If you forget and need to adjust the pictures you've already taken, you may be able to fix it in your photo editing software. Sometimes you can have different colors of light in the same picture, like light from a window and light from a tungsten bulb that casts a yellow light, or the blue light of a flash. If the different colors really bother you, you can always just make your picture black and white for a simple fix. I'm going to use a picture of some white wildflowers here so you can see the difference in the different settings. This picture was taken in daylight in the sunshine, so the correct setting was direct sunlight.
taken in direct sunlight
The same exact shot taken at the shade setting is very golden, almost sepia, and you could do this on purpose for artistic effect. shade setting in daylight The incandescent setting, on the other hand, makes the picture very blue, because it's designed to compensate for the very yellow light of a tungsten bulb.
same shot, incandescent setting
It used to be that you had to buy various films to enhance certain lighting, or change filters on your camera. Now we have an amazing amount of choices at the push of a button, or with a few clicks of a mouse to fix what we already did. So if the colors look strange in your pictures, look for the white balance setting and give it a spin!

Keeping It On The Level

Now that we have nice big LCDs to look through to show us when our fingers or the wrist strap is in the way of the lens, rather than those dinky little viewfinders of yesteryear, we don't get endless finger shots anymore. We can see what our camera sees, for the most part. If you've noticed that sometimes your pictures just don't look 'right', one problem may be that you're tipping your camera to get the whole subject into the picture, instead of changing the position of the camera but still keeping it level. This can really mess up your image's perspective, distorting your subject. If you're doing it intentionally as an effect that's one thing, but if you find that Aunt Sadie suddenly has a very big head and tiny feet (and we're just not going to talk about that mole on her nose), you probably would like to figure out why.
a wide angle shot with the camera tipped
Mmmm Macaroni & Cheeeese
The answer is that it's a combination of the lens length and how you hold your camera and position your subject. Most new digital cameras have the ability to zoom in and out. The distortion is the worst when the lens is on the wide angle setting. In this picture I tipped the camera and used the widest focal length I had, 18mm. It's a fun effect, when you're doing it on purpose. Anything closer to the camera looks larger, while whatever is farther away looks smaller, distorting the subject. If you can, step back a little and zoom in on your subject, and they'll look more natural. For this next shot I stepped back a step, changed my setting to 55mm on my dSLR and took a picture that made my son look a little more normal, although impatient to actually eat the Mac 'n Cheese.
Here I've leveled the camera, stepped back, and changed my focal length
Level camera, less distortion, though a little less fun
If you are in a situation in which you have to use a wider-angle setting, try to keep everything at the same distance from the camera. Take a picture of a horse from the side, for instance, rather than with his head facing you. (Those of you with horses will laugh now, as you know that if you walk outside and hold up a camera they're immediately going to want to see what's on your face and whether it's edible...) And do try to keep your camera level to lessen that vertical distortion that comes from tipping the lens down. You may need to change your body position to do this, perhaps crouching down, or kneeling to get the best and most natural perspective. Remember, practice seeing when it doesn't matter, and you'll be ready when it does!