Take it right so you don’t have to edit it to crap..

10 06 2010

I was recently asked to present at the ‘Adobe’ Creative Week which toured South Africa. Here’s a quick summary of my presentation…

“I’m here to discuss how to create a quality image to start with so that your task of editing is made so much easier and the end result retains the original integrity of the shot.

The flaw of over-processing is the greatest risk when working in editing software, and the amount of processing is often relative to the quality of the original shot taken – it stands to reason that an average snapshot will need more processing to make it stand out than a high quality photograph.

I’m not going to go into how to take a photograph as that’s completely open to interpretation and individual tastes, but I’m rather going to go into some tips which will improve the integrity of the image itself and help you save hours of processing.

The first thing you can do to get a good shot is of course getting the right equipment for the shot, megapixels help to increase the amount of information you have to work with but more important when editing is the quality of the information represented in each pixel;

A 12 megapixel cell-phone camera image will be the same size as a 12 MP DSLR image but your image quality will be drastically different – this is due to the quality of each pixel represented. Think of a packet of jelly tots, the jelly tots are the pixels and sensors can be equated to the size of the packet they are contained in. In a small packet the jelly tots get squashed together and distorted, while in a large packet they retain their original shape and integrity.

Images are the same… But sensor size is not the only thing you need to look out for;

Before the image even reaches the sensor it has to travel through several layers of glass in the camera lens. Lenses with a very large zoom capability generally tend to have more glass elements, each expanding and contracting the image within the lens before it’s imprinted on the mirror which then reflects it onto the sensor (or directly onto the sensor as the case may be). It stands to reason that as an image is distorted or has to travel though additional elements then degradation will occur. This is the reason prime lenses are usually the preferred tools of studio photographers who demand absolute clarity.

Your average 18-200mm lens for instance will have as many as 11 glass elements necessary to achieve the versatile zoom range while keeping the lens compact.

There are loads of other factors which can contribute such as the aperture you shoot on which can cause undue image refraction resulting in further degradation, as well as the ISO but that’s a whole discussion on its’ own.

One of the easiest ways to improve the quality of a photograph is to light it correctly, this is applicable to all styles of photography although each style will have their own methods for improving the amount of light intake. Wildlife photographers for instance are often at the mercy of their surroundings and are forced to use better equipment and angles to make the most of their only light source – the sun.

Other photographers are often able to choose their environments and can use flashes or additional lighting to create a well-lit image.

Studio photographers have taken this even further and have created modifiers that shape the light for different effects.

The most common lighting modifiers are umbrellas and soft-boxes that soften studio lights, but specialist accessories will create a range of different effects.

Snoots create a harsh spotlight effect, beauty dishes remove direct light and bounce it inwards to create perfect shadow free portraits, honeycomb grids and barn doors prevent light spill and ring-flashes create a surreal shadow free look for fashion.

The combination of accessories is endless and many photographers will go out of their way to push the boundaries to create an image that stands out from the rest.

Remember that having an image well lit does not mean everything is white and flat (many studios tend to churn out these sorts of images as they are very easy to set up) but a low-key shot with harsh shadows can also be well lit.

When it comes to editing a good quality shot you will immediately notice how much easier it is, remember that operations like cloning and content fill and even liquify all make use of surrounding information to generate the desired effect – the more accurate information you provide the software the better the action result will be.

In an absolutely ideal world you’d never need to edit images, any work done on them would be for artistic purpose only – realistically editing is here to stay, but if you have to retouch it makes sense to make the process easier for yourself.

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