ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday October 7, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 19

Photographic journey

If you have a digital camera, or if you followed this discussion from the start, you would know that there are a myriad different settings and enhancements built into most digital cameras. Even if you are an experienced professional photographer, it is possible that you may not have tweaked each of those settings optimally for each photograph. Good photography is often about good timing and as any wildlife photographer would tell you, sometimes there’s no time to change the settings when you have to capture a fleeting scene. Also as I mentioned at the beginning, digital cameras have limited processing power and therefore the quality of images they capture don't always meet our needs. Thus, it is often necessary to edit the pictures you take on a computer to bring out their best colours and sharpness. This week, we shall conclude our series on digital photography with a discussion about how you can edit and enhance the quality of your digital photographs on your computer.

There is more photo editing software than I can list here, but Adobe Photoshop, Macromedia/Adobe Fireworks and Paint Shop Pro are quite popular but my favourite is an open source package. The GIMP is a good example of how far the Open Source movement has come to be truly competitive in the software market. The good news however is that you don't need such professional photo editing packages and their complex tools to fix most digital photographs. For most intents and purposes, the basic and surprisingly effective tools that come with Microsoft Office Picture Manager which is bundled with MS Office Suit 2003 and later, will save the day for you.

For example, Image 1 is a picture I took last week on an overcast day.

You will notice that it looks gloomy and dull. Image 2 is the same picture after a couple of clicks worth of editions on a computer to bring out its true colours to add more punch to the image.

The original picture looks gloomy because of improper lighting as a result of overcast skies. This can be corrected using two simple values – 'brightness' and 'contrast' – available in even the most basic photo editing software. All I have done to enhance the real colours of the picture is, increased it's brightness to remove the 'darkness'. Increasing the brightness of a picture, often results in a 'net curtain' effect – as if you are looking at it through a fine net or mist. Next I increased the 'contrast' just enough to bring out the colours and remove the 'net curtain' effect. It was that simple!

If the colours of a picture "don't quite look right" it is likely the result of poor "white balance". If the image has an object or area that you know should be 'white' you can correct the problem in one mouse click. Image 3 is a picture I took, of some white flowers where the colours are a bit distorted.

Using MS Photo Manager I corrected the white balance just by pointing the colour enhancing tool at the white flowers that I knew should be white.

Just one click and, as you can see in Image 4, problem solved!

The quality of most – if not all – pictures can be dramatically enhanced by adjusting their brightness, contrast and colour balance. More advanced photo editing software however, will let you split an image into different layers of primary colours to add your choice of effects or separate the image into two layers – one containing colours and the other containing their intensity using the "Unsharp Mask" and to improve the sharpness of the image by editing only the intensity layer. The "levels" tool available in most decent photo editors such as Macromedia/Adobe Fireworks or The Gimp will bring out the histogram of the image and let you optimize the picture by maximizing the range of intensity in each pixel. The "curves tool – also available in any decent photo editor – can help you turn a dull picture into a more vibrant one with more vivid detail.

This concludes our series on digital photography. I would be happy to respond to any questions or comments you have about this series if you forward them to

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