--
SHARES
  

Processing and Editing

Editing a photograph can be just as important as composing the perfect image. Adjusting color, contrast, shadows, highlights, and several other features can really make a photo stand out. Going beyond the “auto correct” function found on most complimentary editing software, and understanding editing basics, can significantly improve the quality of your images. Whether you use a PC or a Mac, you have free access to basic editing programs, including ones pre-installed on most systems.

In addition, you can purchase near-professional quality software for less than $100, with upgraded features and tools. The photos illustrated in this article incorporate editing from either free Android smartphone apps, or Adobe Lightroom 4, an older and relatively-inexpensive alternative to the venerable Adobe Photoshop.

Photo of the day on 8/31/2014.

Photo of the day on 8/31/2014.

Editing Basics

Below is a list of ten helpful editing features found on many (free) software platforms. Most of them can also easily be mastered in a darkroom if you still experiment with film.

1. Cropping

Undoubtedly the single most important editing tool for most photographs is cropping the subject so that you can achieve a better composition. Try to cut a photo down to follow the rules of composition outlined in my previous article. Simply cropping a photo so that the subject follows the Rule of Thirds generally makes a better photograph. Cropping wasted space/sky/land in a photo so that the subject is closer, and easier to see, usually improves an image as well.

This photo has potential but there is too much foreground and the subject is awkwardly centered.

This photo has potential but there is too much foreground and the subject is awkwardly centered.

Cropping to place subject closer, following the rule of thirds, with less distracting foreground.

Cropping to place subject closer, following the rule of thirds, with less distracting foreground.

2. Color Correction

Most of the time, using the “auto color correct” feature in your editing software is sufficient. However, sometimes this button produces funky results, and it may change the overall color temperature of the photograph–which may not be what you want. By selecting more reds, yellows, or orange in your editing program, you can give the photo a warmer tone. Do this if you want to increase the dramatic tones of sunrise or sunset. On the other hand, by selecting blues or greens, the photo takes on a colder, softer tone. Do this if you want the photo to feel more wintery or distant. As with any color correction, too much of anything gives the image an over-the-top feeling, so make slight, subtle changes slowly.

Original colors with some minor editing.

Original colors with some minor editing.

An example of manipulating the tones to be a cooler, blue temperature than the original.

An example of manipulating the tones to be a cooler, blue temperature than the original.

3. Contrast

Contrast controls how dark shadows are and how light highlights become. Maximizing contrast can make your subject and background appear as a silhouette (usually undesirable). Gently increasing contrast, however, can accentuate shadows and highlights and give an image more “punch.” Changes in contrast are usually even more dramatic with black and white photographs.

An example of using editing software to gently increase the contrast, increase the highlights, and vignette to accentuate the lights and darks of this photo and draw the eye to the rider. Also note the Rule of Thirds and a leading line that also draw the eye to the subject

An example of using PC editing software to gently increase the contrast, increase the highlights, and vignette to accentuate the lights and shadows of this photo which help draw the eye to the subject. Also note the Rule of Thirds and a leading line that also draw the eye to the subject

4. Manipulating Shadows and Highlights

By lightening the shadows or increasing the highlights, it is easy to give light to an otherwise darkened subject–especially when a flash will not reach. Before the shadows were lightened in the photo below, the face and body were dark, and there were few distinguishable features. This technique looks better with brighter photos with higher contrast, because lightening the shadows can sometimes make a photo appear flat.

The shadows were lightened to see the features on the rider's face

This rider was obscured by his own shadow, which was lightened to see the features on the rider’s face and torso. Rider: delphinide Photo: Marc B

5. Color versus Black and White

Black and white mountain biking photos are not very common, but are beautiful when done correctly. There is no simple set of rules that define what make a black and white photo great, so convert your color images to black and white, and try experimenting with your editing software to see if an image looks better without color. Images with a lot of contrast, or with a lot of demure or earth tones, may look more dramatic in black and white.

Although corrected for color and contrast, this photo lacks any “pop” and is flat and unappealing.

Although corrected for color and contrast, this photo lacks any “pop” and is flat and unappealing.

This photo is much more dramatic in black and white, rather than drowning in flat earthy hues

This similar image is more dramatic in black and white, rather than drowning in flat earthy hues.  Cropping, rotating, and increasing contrast helped complete the edit.

6. Rotating Images

Sometimes, taking a photo at an askew angle can exaggerate the steepness of a climb or reduce the monotony of a flat horizon in all of your photos. You can also try rotating the photo 90 degrees left or right for square photos for a different angle. Adobe Lightroom even allows you to rotate the actual image within the frame (changing a flat horizon to a slanted one). Rotating landscapes 180 degrees alters reality but may make a better image.

This photo was slightly tilted to the right in Adobe Lightroom 4 to shift the horizon to the left, creating more dramatic lines.

This photo was slightly tilted to the right in Adobe Lightroom 4 to shift the horizon to the left, creating more dramatic lines.

7. Tilt-Shift or Simulated Tilt

Modern editing software can simulate what is known as “tilt-shift” effects, once only found on special cameras that altered the lens in relation to the film plane. The result is a linear area of focus with everything else in the frame blurred out of focus. Unlike the film cameras of yore, software allows you to fine tune the effect, choosing the area of focus and the degree of un-focused portions in the frame. Mostly artistic, this edit can create surreal and interesting images by creating a focal plane that draws your eye immediately to your subject.

An example of a tilt shift smartphone app to place more emphasis on the subject.

An example of a tilt shift smartphone app to place more emphasis on the subject.

Using tilt shift effects to create ethereal landscapes.

Using tilt shift effects to create ethereal landscapes.

8. Vignetting

Admittedly, one of my favorite editing techniques is the art of vignetting, or darkening the edges of an image. This is a very old-school technique, seen commonly in the 1800s, and is very easy to do with a computer. Vignetting darkens your sky and foreground, diffusely frames your subject, and simulates more edge color depth. Depending on the program, you can control the area of vignetting, amount of feathering (how sharp the inner edges are), and the intensity. Try changing these vignetting variables to see what helps make your subject stand out a little more.

Notice that the darkened edges, or vignetting, along with the thin blades of grass and the cliffs in the background, help completely frame the subject

Notice that the darkened edges, or vignetting, along with the thin blades of grass and the cliffs in the background, help completely frame the subject.

9. Filters

A filter is simply an app or a function of the editing software program that uses a pre-defined set of values for color adjustment, contrast, and other variables to achieve a common effect, such as the “vintage photograph” look. There are filters to give photographs a cold tone or a warm tone, make photos more grainy, convert images to a negative, etc. There are hundreds different filter effects out there for computers and phones. One of my favorites is Aviary. Filters are fun to play around with, especially if you have a photo that is otherwise a little boring and needs something to help it stand out.

Several filters were used to enhance a photo that lacked color: high contrast, vignettting, and the Old Polar filter in Lightroom 4. Rider: Mike H

Several filters were used to enhance a photo that lacked color: high contrast, vignettting, and the Old Polar filter in Lightroom 4. Rider: Mike H

10. Special Considerations: Pre-Editing

Mostly likely, you will be using a smartphone, action camera, or small point-and-shoot to take the majority of trail-side photos. Many of these have editing programs built into them, but unless you need to edit and upload/publish them immediately, it is usually best to spend some time adjusting them. Some editing considerations begin before you ever even open the file to change one single pixel. Consider the following:

Using a GoPro camera or other action cam: these devices use wide angle lenses to capture the most from a scene, which has both benefits and drawbacks. Wide angle lenses will often distort an image–preferable for some images–so if you have a device such as a GoPro Hero3, you can connect it to the WiFi on your smartphone and use the phone as the viewfinder, which is a great way to “pre-edit” and see which angle is best. These cameras also allow you to take multiple images (up to 30 per second), which means you can capture a lot of photos and delete the ones you do not want. The same is true if you set up the interval self-timer and take photos of you and your friends riding along a section of trail. I use a tripod and set mine to snap every 0.5 seconds, then ride slow past the camera to prevent blur. Later I delete the ones I don’t want–another great way to “pre-edit.” You can also capture stills from video that you shoot, but quality suffers. Remember though: if you use an action cam to take trail photos regularly, you will likely be cropping heavily to get the best possible composition. If this is the case, my advice is to use the largest memory card your device accepts, and shoot at the highest possible resolution so that cropping later doesn’t degrade your images/video too much.

The GoPro and many other action cameras use a wide angle lens, which means you can get very close to it and capitalize on depth. By riding closely, and slowly, to a camera that takes interval photos, you can snap a clear photo of a wide subject

Action cameras use a wide angle lenses. By riding slowly and close to the lens, you can create more depth.  This photo was almost unusable before editing because it was dark

Using Smartphones: Smartphones are great for taking photos, but are usually limited by several factors when using them to take trail-side photos: most gloves do not work well with touch screens, most are not weather resistant, they are cumbersome to use with a tripod, many are slow to turn on and get to the camera app, many have lagging shutters, and most are limited to 8MP or less. The benefits, of course, are that most top-tier smartphones do take excellent photos if they are not enlarged very much. They also allow you to see what you shoot instantly, and allow you to edit your images on the spot and upload them. Keep in mind that if you routinely take action shots, then you need to capitalize on every rule of composition in order to reduce the burden of editing and preserve maximum resolution: get close, fill the frame with the subject, use the rule of thirds, etc. Handily, though, you can use one of the many apps to edit and add flair to your images!

This photo was taken with a 8MP smartphone camera, and cropped heavily to achieve a more aesthetically pleasing photo at the expense of resolution quality. Note the pixelated grain. Rider: jkldouglas

This photo was taken with a 8MP smartphone camera, and cropped heavily to achieve a more aesthetically pleasing photo… at the expense of resolution quality. Note the pixelated grain. Rider: jkldouglas

Your Turn: What editing techniques do you routinely use when shooting trail photos? Do you have a favorite app or program that you recommend?
--
SHARES
  

Paul stumbled upon mountain biking in his twenties after upgrading his rigid purple Roadmaster to a shiny yellow Cannondale Super V900 . He resides in central Colorado, where he preaches the gospel of the (true) fat tire and he's been known to ride excessive amounts of wheelies. He is known for being surly, is opinionated, delights in run on sentences, and probably doesn't care what you think. He believes in following the rules. He frowns on people who don't do the right thing, or people who take themselves too seriously. His biggest pet peeve are Subarus that creep along slowly in the left lane. His best conversations are often with himself. When he is not riding, he appreciates exotic espresso, craft libations, Led Zeppelin, and making excuses. He's been known to jump out of perfectly good aircraft and pet sharks underwater (simultaneously). His fat bike is more prepared for the zombie apocalypse than you are. When he is not trying to be funny, Paul also likes traveling the world, photography, being a dad, and chronicling his crotchety shenanigans. Platypus. That is all.
 
Related
# Comments

  • Greg Heil

    Great article! I use some of these, but I could stand to add a few more to my collection of tips and tricks.

    As for editing programs, I have a few I use on my computer, but for people shooting and editing on mobile devices, I highly recommend Camera+. It has great features for shooting, or if you shoot with the normal camera you can import your photos and edit them right in the app. Some of the filters and effects are so good that occasionally I’ll import a photo from my GoPro or DSLR to edit on my iPhone (but that’s pretty rare).

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.