How To: Make Your Photographs Blog-Worthy

Hello, everyone! I’ve been going through and editing some pictures in preparation for a post about my Grad Nite trip to Disneyland back in June, and I figured now was as good a time as any to do a quick tutorial!

Unfortunately, as much as I wish the opposite were true, almost every photograph needs some sort of touch-up: whether it’s cropping, colour balancing, or more. I personally resize every picture I take just because my Nikon D3200’s default size setting is too large, so I’ve gotten pretty accustomed to the nitty gritty of Photoshop. I hope these tips are able to help you!

[Disclaimer: I am in no way a professional photographer or editor, so bear with me! I just wanted to show a bit of my process when it comes to the photos I put on this blog.]

Pre-Editing steps:

1. Put on some nice background music.
If you’re not easily distracted, a TV show or podcast also works! I like to put on some sick beats from Steven Universe, which are relaxing, but don’t take me off focus. This is a good stage to take any steps that might help you keep on task later, like cleaning up your space or taking a quick shower.

2. Sort through your photos, if you haven’t already.
Some pictures are beyond saving. Figuring out which ones are duds [out of focus, random tourist body parts, WINDOW GLARE, etc.] and getting them out of the way first will cut down your editing time significantly. Of course, don’t discount every dud right off the bat – some of my favourite shots were actually photographic failures to start!

For example, the following is an objectively terrible shot, because my hand was faster than my shutter speed:

DSC_0026.JPG

However, I’m kinda into the colour contrast and the bokeh effect! Even though you can’t see exactly what’s going on, you’re getting an imprint of the scene, and personally, I dig that.

3. Figure out which editing program you’re going to use.
Pretty crucial. I’m using Photoshop CS6, but it’s an expensive program, and you probably shouldn’t pirate it. However, free trials are perfectly legal and available on Adobe’s official website, and about a thousand other, slightly lower grade alternatives. For example, before I got PS, I used pixlr, and after a while, I taught myself how to do some rudimentary adjustments with the drawing program FireAlpaca as well. Both are free, and if you do some digging and experimenting, you’re sure to find a program that suits your needs!

4. Back. Everything. Up. 
All your core photos, once sorted, should be backed up on an external hard drive or online source like flickr. [Just make everything you upload private if you’re not comfortable with other people seeing your raw photos!] Actually, if possible, you should complete this step right around the time you initially upload your photos onto your drive. Losing pictures is the worst, especially when it’s preventable!

NOW FOR THE EDITING!

I’ll be editing the following three victims photos:
1. The generic one. This is a picture of food, shot around golden hour, resulting in pretty nice lighting. Nothing much is going on, and it doesn’t have to be touched up significantly. [Nikon D3200]DSC_0025.JPG

2. The portrait. This is a [sarcastic] picture of my friend, shot back in China on a point-and-shoot. As you can see, there is no bokeh effect and very flat lighting and little colour contrast. Visually, it’s an all-around weak shot.  This one will need more work. [Canon G7]

IMG_4999.jpg

3. The night shot. Composition-wise, I like this photo a lot, but because of the glare and weird lighting effects, it’s going to take a lot of work to get this to the quality I want it. Also, I’m bad at night photography and I’m sorry that you have to see this. [Nikon D3200]

DSC_0062.JPG

1. Resize.
This pretty much speaks for itself. My raw files are generally around 4 times too large for me, and to both reduce file size and make my canvas more manageable, I usually keep my image size to about 1500 px by 1000 px. Remember to keep your resizes proportional, so your image doesn’t get distorted.

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 1.49.42 PM.png

2. Figure out what’s weird about it.
Every picture has something. Is the angle off? Is it too cool, too warm? Is there not enough colour contrast, or is the composition off?

For me, my first photo felt a tad too cool and dark, my second photo was obviously very flat and lacked colour contrast and definition, and my third photo needed a lot of help with lighting and glare.

3. Figure out what you want your shot to say.
With the exception of my portrait shot, all of the photos I’m using as examples are going to go into my Disneyland Grad Nite post. I’ve already drafted it, and I want the general feeling of the article to be warm and nostalgic. Therefore, I’m going to tie that feeling into my pictures by focusing on keeping them simple, with warm colours and soft filters. 

For most of China, I was focused on keeping everything bright and bold, since the country was so new and exciting. However, I also strived to keep a bit of a classical, zen feel to my selected photographs as well, especially in Beijing and Xi’an. This is something that I feel like I expressed pretty well in my Day 2 post, but kind of started to lose as the pace of the tour picked up and I became less focused on my photography.

Honestly, just working on cultivating and capturing the mood of my travels through details like this is one of my favourite things about blogging, and something that I’ve found raises the overall quality of my work!

4. Fix your lighting.
Okay, now back to the actual editing. For me, my preferred first step is a general lighting adjustment. The amount I fix depends on the original photo, of course!

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 2.49.21 PM.png

The raw image.

I like to start by going into curves and just fiddling around. All you really have to do to get a brighter image is pull that center line up [try to match it with the edges of the ‘mountains.’] To darken an over-exposed photo, pull the line down instead. For my

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 2.50.50 PM.png

Next, if the picture still needs lighting adjustments, I’ll go into brightness/contrast. For really dull/greyish photos like this one, I’ll move the contrast and brightness up. However, if I’m aiming for a dreamier mood or just have a photo that seems really bright, I’ll lower the contrast. If you have any white spots, a lower brightness is also better.

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 2.53.03 PM.png

Here’s what we have now. As you can see, a lot of the shadows have been cleared from just a few simple tweaks, and we have a brighter, bolder image. However, it’s still not perfect!

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 2.54.45 PM.png

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 2.57.06 PM.png

Very minimal tweaking; I just lowered the contrast slightly because the angle of the lighting was weird for food photography, and slightly raised the brightness to counter the dark effect.

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 2.57.11 PM.png

Pulled levels down a lot here, and upped contrast a lot, as well as a minor brightness adjustment to compliment the lights while still keeping the glare down. Night photography looks much better with heavy contrast.

5. Fixing your colours.
Contrast sort of plays into this, but if you have colouration issues, an extra couple of steps should be taken. For example, my main problem with my first photo is still that it feels too cool. [Keeping mood in mind!]

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 2.57.06 PM

Here it is again, for reference.

Now, I could go straight to a PSD [more on that later], but instead I’m just going to go ahead and make a milder general adjustment by hitting the Photo Filter tab.

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 3.05.04 PM.png

Now, when you hit the tab, the effect is pretty instantaneous, but you can adjust both the colour of the filter and the opacity [density] to suit your needs. I was pretty happy with what it gave me, so I went ahead with that.

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 3.05.11 PM.png

Not perfect, but better.

You can also go into Saturation/Hue for additional colour tweaking, but I didn’t think it was necessary at this point, so I skipped that step. [I also didn’t fix any of the colours on my other two photographs, since this was the only one that really bothered me.]

 [TIP: On a drawing program like FireAlpaca, you can accomplish the same effect by creating a new layer, colouring the entire canvas either a warm or cool colour, setting the layer on multiply, and then just adjusting the opacity as you see fit!]

6. Finding the right mood. [Now with PSDs!]
I’m a big fan of PSDs and actions, which are kind of like Instagram filters in that they make heavy visual changes to your photographs and can make or break your mood. Since this is sort of a Photoshop thing, I’m not sure how to get the same results if you don’t have the program, short of downloading your pictures onto your phone and running them through VSCO cam [which I actually love.]

If you do have PS, you can find PSDs all over the place. Here are a few of my favourites. You’ll likely need a good number, as not every PSD works with every photograph, and they can sometimes be pretty heavy-handed. 

There are a lot of PSDs on tumblr as well, but most of them are intended for gifs and can look tacky when overlaid on photographs. Shop around, though!

Anyway, here’s how you use a PSD:

-Open your PSD file in Photoshop.
-Locate the Group folder in the layers. [some packs will have multiple.]

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 3.25.20 PM.png

-Drag the PSD tab out so that it’s not part of the main Photoshop window. Your screen should look something like this – make sure the layers menu of the PSD is still visible and that the photo you want to apply the PSD to is in the main viewing are of Photoshop.

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 3.26.41 PM.png

The picture to the right is the PSD’s example image.

-Next, click the Group folder of the PSD and drag it onto your desired photograph. Now everything should look like this:

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 3.28.07 PM.png

You can adjust the opacity of the PSD folder if the effect is too strong. I instead just decided to go with another PSD, since this wasn’t the effect I was looking for.

Here’s what I used on the three example photographs:

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 3.32.50 PM.png

Closet Weather at about 50% really brought out the warmth spots in the lighting while also giving a soft faded feel. Mood: Nostalgia

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 3.32.56 PM.png

I actually decided against using a PSD, largely because I’m not going to use this image publicly and just wanted it for keeps.

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 3.32.54 PM.png

Closet Weather at about 50% again, since I’ll be using this image in the same post as the first picture. It brought out the warmth and brightness of the lights and also softened the black to make the image less harsh.

And now I’m done! If I see anything that I think needs fixing, I’ll take whatever steps I need to do that – a lot of my post centers around instinct and what I’m feeling.

Here are the before and afters, for reference:

Photo 1:

Fixes: Wanted a lighter, warmer photo while still maintaining the natural lighting of the shot. Made brightness adjustments, minor colour adjustments, and added a PSD.

Photo 2:

Fixes: Wanted a brighter, more highly contrasted photograph. Made heavy brightness adjustments.

Photo 3:

Fixes: Wanted an image that stood out but didn’t feel too contrast-y while also fixing some lighting problems. Made colour/brightness adjustments and added a PSD, and while that didn’t fix the glare, it reduced the effect of it and made it seem more intentional and less harsh.

And there we go! Everything above, of course, is just my preferred way of going about things, and you’re free to completely disregard everything I said in favour of your own thing! Forge your own path! Make your own choices! Either way, I hope that this post was somewhat helpful to you.

As a reminder, I now have an official email subscription list! If you subscribe, you’ll be updated every time I make a new post, and you’ll have access to fun things like virtual postcards, random weird stories, and ‘secret’ photography! Subscribe here!

♥︎

2 thoughts on “How To: Make Your Photographs Blog-Worthy

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