When I started to seriously dig into photography about a year ago, I often wondered “How do they do that?!”
I looked at pictures from people I met on G+ and in those I liked, there simply was more color, more depth, more detail than I ever got. And I was sure, if I would have been there with my camera at the same time, same place, taking the same shot, it would have looked different.
Did they use better gear, a better lens, a better camera? Sure, choosing a good subject, gettng the composition and exposure right is important, but even if I though I got it right, the shot just still wasn’t there.
And then I learned: They were cheating! Or, to put it more politely: It’s all about post production, dummy!
It is actually very rare that you get that stunning shot right out of camera. Now, don’t get me wrong, unless you heavily photoshop the picture, about 90% is about composition, light and exposure. And no, not your gear. One of my highest rated photos on Google Plus is actually taken with a cell phone.
So, how do you give your shots this last polish, how do you make them shine?
First, take your shots in RAW format. I can’t stress that enough. Only if you shoot RAW, you have all the digital light and color information available your camera was able to record. Shooting JPG is faster, uses less storage and your camera might do some adjustments for you, but if you need to adjust highlights or shadows, you’re pretty soon out of luck
Then you need to spend some money on software, so you can work with these files. I recommend you get Aperture, if you’re on a Mac or Lightroom from Adobe, which works on Windows and Mac. Both allow you to work on your RAW files in a non destructive way (just think of endless undo) and are quite good at organizing your shots pretty much the same way you organize your music library in iTunes. Actually, I highly recommend them for that ability alone!
Using the global adjustments on your picture will get your picture to this level:
Not bad, but it could still use some punch, couldn’t it? To push it further, you have two options: You can either spend more time in Aperture or Lightroom and do local adjustments. Or you spend some more money, head over to Nik Software (http://www.niksoftware.com/site/) and get some of their plugins. They work with Aperture, Lightroom or Photoshop, handy, isn’t it?
I recommend you get Viveza and Color Efex Pro if you do color photography and Silver Efex Pro if you do black and white. These plugins are very easy to use, powerful and can do anything, from helping you doing subtle local adjustments to making your shot look as if it is enjoying an LSD trip.
And then, with spending a couple of minutes, you get your good shot to this level:
Is this cheating? Maybe, if you’re a purist. if you think so, just don’t do it. And if you’re just wanting to give your good shots your extra little polish to make them shine, go for it. Do post work with whatever tools you’re comfortable with.