One Photo, Four Edits

August 4, 2010
f/4.0; 1/30sec; 105mm; ISO 400

f/4.0; 1/30sec; 105mm; ISO 400

I know a handful of digital photographers that don’t edit their photos much – if at all. I have a lot of respect for those photographers, actually. Not only because they can create beautiful photos without touching them up, but because they can actual resist the urge to edit.

That being said, I think there’s a lot of good reasons to edit your photos. It’s not because I think it fixes bad photos, it’s because I think it transforms good phtoos into interesting photos. It gives them an extra pop, a new perspective, or a creative twist.

I’ve gotten asked a few times how I know what to do with a photo once I open it in Gimp. Sometimes, the photo just speaks to me, and I know I want to just adjust the curves, or transform it into black and white, but often I don’t know what to do with a photo, and I’ll play around with it until something jumps out as being “right”.

And so, the concept of this post is simple. One photo, edited four different ways.

The original photo can be seen above, though I feel I should probably mention when I say something is “Straight Out of Camera”, that’s not really true. I shoot in RAW, and the photo you see above has been converted to a jpg by running it through UFRaw.

Adjusting Curves

This is pretty much the first thing I do to almost every photo. I wrote about using curves back in these entries. In this photo, as with most photos, I wanted to use a simple S-shaped curve. However, because the budding flower was already starting to look a little blown out, I kept the right part of the curve just about on the line instead of pushing it over and blowing out the bud too much. Here’s what my curve looked like:

Curves

Here’s what the edited photo looked like:

Adjusted Curves

Adjusted Curves

Not a huge difference. This is actually where I stopped when I originally posted this on my flickr account, though. Sometimes, all it takes is a subtle difference for me to really like a photo.

Black and White

It might seem a bit odd turning a photo of a flower – known for the color they add into the world – into black and white, but I think black and white photos really bring out the contrast and texture in photos, and I love the texture of the bud of this flower, so I’m gonna try it.

I started with my curves-adjusted photo above instead of the original. Then, the way I usually convert to black and white is to use Lasm’s Channel Extract from FX-Foundry. I liked the Green layer the most, which looked like this:

Green Channel

Green Channel

I wanted to adjust the levels, though, to make the darker parts a bit darker and to lighten up the mid-tones. Here’s what my Levels window looked like:

Levels

This makes my final B&W photo to be this:

Black & White

Black & White

A lot of times when making a black and white photo, I check it out in a different tone by using the “Eg Duotone Simulation” script from FX-Foundry. Running that using the Sepia (red) tone gives me this:

Duotone

Duotone

I’m just throwing that in as a bonus edit… so perhaps I should call this post One Photo, Four and a half Ways :)

Warming and Cooling

Remember the Warming and Cooling Filters? When I wrote that post, I had a lot of fun editing a flower photo and pushing the limits of that filter, so I tried it again with this photo. The first thing I did was duplicate my curves-adjusted photo again to a new layer. Then I ran the Brauer’s Warm filter and set it to overlay at 100% opacity and that gave me this:

Brauer's Warm

Brauer's Warm

I love this. I feel it both warmed it up and gave it more definition – especially the leaf in the background.

Lomo

There is one script I probably use more often than any other when editing photos. Anyone who follows my flickr stream (and actually reads the “how I edited this” I put in the description of every single photo) probably already knows what it is. Hands down, it’s the Bercovich Lomo script that’s part of the FX-Foundry package. However, I rarely use it “as is”.

When that script runs it creates for layers – two that create a dark vignette border around the photo, one that adds a “white flare”, making the center of the photo even brighter and what I like to call the base layer, which is where the main photo manipulation actually happens. I understand the script is trying to duplicate a certain type of photography, so I know why they made that manipulation look the way it does, but I rarely like it as-is. What I do think it works great as, though, is setting the blend mode to Overlay over your original image. And that’s exactly what I did with this photo. I also (as I often do), decreased the opacity of the white flare layer, down to about 60%. Here’s that image:

Bercovich Lomo

Bercovich Lomo

Comparison

Here’s the original photo along with all the edits so you can see them all “side by side”:

Original Photo

Original Photo

Adjusted Curves

Adjusted Curves

Black & White

Black & White

Duotone

Duotone

Brauer's Warm

Brauer's Warm

Bercovich Lomo

Bercovich Lomo

Do you have a favorite? Mine’s the Brauer’s Warm one, personally. But I think the point here is to really show how editing a photo can really change the feel of it, and also that I don’t think there’s any one right way to edit a photo, it’s just what you happen to think that particular photo is calling for on that particular day.

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  • Brian Cooney

    I like the Lomo :)

  • I like the idea of the Lasm's Channel I have yet to try that one. I have always used the B/W Film Simulation with its vast options. What is great is that it gives you a choice of film types.

  • Great post, I almost always touch up at least the levels on my shots. But you're right sometimes a shot speaks to me and I see the final image in a certain way. Seldom do I spend enough time editing to get more than one final image but occasionally I do. When I do I try to post both to my flickr to get feedback. These are some great shots, I don't really like the black and white but I think black and white only looks good on certain types of images. The lomo is great but as you said a lot of times I tend to adjust the effects of various filters to get a more personalized version for that particular shot. Thanks for the post.
    www.flickr.com/photos/dmize/

  • Good tips, nicely summarised. I like the Bercovich and use this script quite often myself. I've found though sometimes it can give the look of a night-time shot with flash, which is not always what I want. Adjusting curves and increasing saturation a bit is often all that is needed to give a shot that extra bit of 'something'.

    On a related note - does anyone know a good site where you can see examples of Gimp scripts in action? It's hard to know what each one does on the Plugin Registry site where only the names are listed...

  • My Favourite is the Bercovich Lomo. I like the strong contrast.
    Well written article and very helpful.

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