Lesson 96: iPhoto Mobile and Sepia

iPhoto Mobile has become my favorite photo editing app on the iPhone.  I haven’t used them all, but it’s quick and easy and the editing capabilities are pretty impressive for a mobile app.  Plus, it’s free.  I first introduced iPhoto in Lesson 83 Metadata and also used it in Lessons 84 iPhone Mobile Editing, 85 iPhoto Con Tours, 86 My Silly Dog and the iPhoto Exposure Tool,  and 87 Adding Drama in iPhoto iOS.

Today, I am going to show you how to take a color photo and turn it into a more nostalgic looking black and white with sepia.  I am not frequently a fan of sepia, but this image called out for sepia to me.  There is something about the rustic looking wood planks in the bridge leading to the couple headed into the fog against the very modern looking building in the background that made me think “sepia.”

I originally took this image with my DSLR, but because it was in my Photo Stream, it was easy to open it from the iPhone without having to do anything fancy to get it there.

I love Photo Stream when it works.  Sometimes, however, images don’t show up when and where I expect them to, which can be annoying.  Most of the time, I happily discover all of my recent images on all of my devices just as advertised.

One of the things I wanted to accomplish with the adjustment was to make the couple in the background walking into the fog stand out more.  While the bridge and path lead the eye to the couple, in the original version, they were competing with the colors in the trees and the background building for attention.  By changing the image to B&W and using a vignette to darken all of the outer objects in the frame, the people in the background pop out more.

To my eye, adding the sepia coloring made the effect even stronger by causing the bridge and path to look brighter compared to the trees, leading the eye more directly to the couple in the distance.

Here are the step-by-step instructions for the adjustments I made in the iOS version of iPhoto on my iPhone 5S:

Your Assignment:  Sometimes sepia will perk up an image that otherwise seems rather dull.  This, like all artistic choices, is subjective.  If you don’t like it, that’s OK–knowing what you don’t like is a great step towards learning what you do like.  But give it a try in any case–you can always delete it.  Choose an image where the colors are not a key component in the impact of the image and there is enough contrast in the image that the subject will still stand out without color.  I find sepia to usually be more appealing when there are architectural features in the image, but I have also used it with owls and vultures and liked it.  How do you feel about sepia?

Lesson 70: The Rule of Post-Processing

I mentioned in Lesson 40 that post-processing is the stuff you do to your photo after you take it to make it look the way you want.  Something we don’t always remember is that back when photos were taken using film, part of how a photo turned out was determined by the mysterious person who developed that film and printed our photos.  Unless you had a dark room, you didn’t have any control over how those final steps were performed, yet there is a considerable amount that can be altered in the developing and printing process.

Since that’s about all I know about developing film, let’s talk about how this translates into “developing” digital images.  Back in Lesson 40, I also mentioned that the iPhone (or whatever camera you’re using) makes a lot of decisions for you about how much to saturate the colors, how bright to make the image, how to balance the whites, etc.  For you to have control over what that final photo looks like, you need to change those decisions to your liking.

What you should not do is spend a lot of time trying to fix things that can’t be fixed.  So here are some of the things not to waste your time on:

  1. Focus.  If the focus is very slightly soft, you might be able to sharpen it slightly.  In most cases, it will still make your eyes cross and the photo will look “crunchy” (to borrow a term from photographer John Greengo).
  2. Bright spots that are completely and totally white.  There’s no getting that data back in JPEG photos (which is what you get with smart phones).  If the photo is still tolerable with those blown-out areas, keep it.  If not, toss it.
  3. Dark spots that are completely and totally black.  Just like #2, there’s no getting that data back.  It’s called “clipping” when the camera can’t record the details in dark areas and just records solid black.  Once again, decide if you can live with it or toss the photo.

Proving I am a hypocrite, I was able to find an example photo that contains all three of these problems (yet, I did post-processing on it and tried to save it anyway):

IMG_2809 - Version 3
Blown-out white around the left eye, clipped black in the black on his side, and definitely not sharp!

What can I say–I really love my dog, it’s hard to toss photos of him no matter how bad they are.

We’ve been using Snapseed for editing so far in this series of lessons, but there are other options.  In fact, there are over 2000 photo editing apps in the Apple App Store.  Plus, many of the camera apps (including the iOS 7 Apple Camera app) also have some level of editing capability.  Before you get too crazy looking at different photo editing capabilities, just take it one step at a time.

Your Assignment:

  1. When you take a photo that you thought was going to be really cool, but it’s not quite what you wanted, try the adjustments available in the camera app you’re using to see if you can get what you wanted.
  2. If you can’t, that might be a good time to invest some time using Snapseed.  It’s pretty intuitive once you get through one or two edits and there are plenty of lessons to help you along in this blog (do a search on Snapseed from the iPhonography Lessons page).
  3. As you start getting comfortable with a few adjustments, you’ll find yourself wanting to use them more and more often.  You’ll start recognizing when a photo needs a contrast boost, for example.  Post-processing will become a quick and easy workflow you can apply to the photos you want to keep.
  4. When you have something your really can’t get what you want out of, it might be time to investigate what other photo editing tools are available and what you might be able to do with them.  I’ll be doing some lessons on PhotoForge in the near future.

Lesson 47: Blooming Snapseed

Today, I randomly chose a photo and edited it in Snapseed to demonstrate 3 things:

  1. Using some of the tools in Snapseed we haven’t used in earlier lessons
  2. You can edit yourself in circles
  3. Editing doesn’t necessarily make a photo better.

Here is the original photo next to my resulting photo after editing:

In the process, I used the Grunge, Vintage, Details, Retrolux, Drama, and Tune Image tools.  There are several reasons why it probably isn’t a good idea to use this many editing tools on one photo.

First, while there are several claims on the web that Snapseed is “non-destructive,” meaning the resolution of your photo is not compromised by the editing process, I am not convinced.  It’s very difficult to tell what is photo degradation vs editing effects both visually and from a file size perspective.  I tried saving each version of the photo between steps and found that the file size got progressively smaller until I added a texture and then the file size increased.  So, I am going with the assumption that data loss from the original image occurs each time you apply an editing tool, although some editing tools apply extra data.

Second, Applying edits in different orders creates different results.  Working from left to right applying the same edits created a very different photo.  Here are the two different edits side-by-side:

Some edits seem to “undo” previous edits by applying, for example, a different texture to the photo.  In the end, there are a nearly infinite ways in which you can change the photo.  But, the question is:  should you change the photo?

In this case, the main issue with the original photo is that the focus is behind some of the unopened petals in the center.  Neither edit fixed this problem.  If I wanted to improve the photo, I would try sharpening it to see if I could get the center petals in focus.  Interestingly, one of my interim edits did result in a sharper image than the original:

I would still prefer to have had the original photo with the focus I wanted.  Focus is one of the things it’s hard to fix after the fact.

Your Assignment:  Pick a photo that maybe isn’t so interesting.  Open it in Snapseed and try the various tools.  For the steps I took editing the photos, refer to the instructions below.  Try the different tools in Snapseed in different orders to see which order seems to work best for you.  Here are the instructions for the first edit:

Lesson 40: The Morning After

Or, the afternoon or evening after a shoot . . . whatever the case may be.  It all calls for post-processing.  What is post-processing, you ask?  Well, to put it simply, it’s “gentle” photo editing.

Photo editing can range from creating a completely new picture (like we did in Camera Awesome in Lesson 12) to doing minor adjustments to make your photo look more like reality.  The latter category of editing is usually referred to as “post-processing.”  Post as in “after you’re done shooting” and “processing” as in the digital version of developing a photo.

When you take photos with your iPhone, the iPhone is making a lot of decisions for you.  It decides how saturated to make your colors, how to balance the tones so that white looks white, how bright to make the image, etc.  Sometimes it does a pretty good job.  Sometimes it guesses wrong.

Today, we’re going to download another app.  This time, it’s not a camera, it’s a photo editing tool.  Good news!  It’s free!

Sometimes people are disappointed when they realize that some level of editing is called for to get the most out of their photos.  Using photo editing tools can help  take a ho-hum picture to something much more dramatic.  Often, it’s the drama that gets lost when you take a photo; you’re just putting back what your eyes saw.

We’re going to do a simple edit with Snapseed today.

I’m using an image that has a distracting background I’d like to make less distracting.  To do this, I start by opening the app and then selecting the image I want to edit.  The graphics below will walk you through all the edits I made to this one photo:

I applied a few simple adjustments but left it looking pretty similar to the original–just a little better.  Here they are side-by-side:

Your Assignment:  Download Snapseed (did I mention it’s free?).  Follow the instructions to open a photo that you ilke, but weren’t thrilled with.  Try making the simple post-processing adjustments above.  Do you like it better?  Are there still things you would like to change about it?  What are the things you couldn’t figure out how to do that you’d like to change?