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Thinking Ahead Can Turn a Snapshot Into a Great Shot


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Ansel Adams was one of the greatest photographers of all time. He was big on thinking ahead, or as he put it, pre-visualization – envisioning the end-result while out in the field taking pictures.

With digital imaging applications such as Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Photoshop Lightroom and Apples Aperture, envisioning and creating the end-result image is easier and faster than ever because the tools to transform an image are literally at our fingertips, and the end-result is only a simple click of a mouse (or tap of a stylus) away.

If we don’t like an adjustment or effect, we can go back in time and undo it in a flash, again with a click or a tap.

I am big on envisioning the end-result, as illustrated by the bottom picture of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA. Its one of my favorite end-result images from a recent trip.

The top picture is the original snapshot (a RAW file), taken during an early morning walk in a nearby park. The morning light was flat, but I loved the fog that was rising from the water and shrouding the lower portion of the bridge.

As far as the top photo itself goes, it is indeed a snapshot: the image is a bit lopsided, tilting down to the right. The foreground does not add anything to the image, and the runner and garbage can surely don’t make for a postcard-type image, which is what I was envisioning.
Using Apples Aperture, I transformed this snapshot into that postcard-type image. Ill take you through the process. Keep in mind that the same adjustments are available in Adobes Camera RAW and Lightroom applications. You can also get the same end-result using the adjustments in Photoshop CS3 and Photoshop Elements.
Lets go!

The first step was to crop and straighten the image (using the Crop tool and Straighten tool). I like to crop as a first step because I like to eliminate dead space/distracting elements in a photo areas that don’t add to the scene. In this case, the sky is dead space and the stuff in the foreground is distracting.
The next step was to adjust the Levels.

Next, to make the image look a bit more dramatic, I move the Black Point slider a bit to the right, and then moved the Saturation slider a bit in the same direction.

I also boosted the contrast a bit, again by moving the slider to the right.

All RAW files need processing, and that includes sharpening. (JPEG files come out of your camera already sharpened). Here, too, I moved the Sharpness slider to the right until I was pleased with the result.

When working on (and playing with) a picture, its important to always sharpen as a final step because adjusting the Contrast and Levels also sharpens or adds to the apparent sharpness of an image. The main idea is that you never want to over-sharpen an image.

The bottom image was a result of the few simple and easy image-processing steps that I just covered.

The next time you are out and about, keep the end-result in mind. Actually, keep the endless end-results that are available to you in the digital darkroom. If you find yourself spending a lot of time working on and playing with an image, also keep this in mind: Ansel Adams often worked for weeks on a single image.

Envision the end-result and you’ll see your world differently!


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