Month: April 2015

12 Tips for Mastering the Clone Stamp Tool in Photoshop

Clone Stamp Tool - Opera Garnier shot

You will not often find the stairs of Opera Garnier in Paris free of people, so you will need to put the Clone Stamp tool to work to remove the people if you want a clean picture. This applies at many other tourist destinations as well.

There are a lot of good post-processing tools available for making minor edits to your photos. Within Photoshop, there are the Healing Brush and the Spot Healing Brush tools. Lightroom now has its own healing brush. Those are great for minor edits to your photos like removing spots or power lines. When it comes time for serious, intensive surgery on your photos, however, there is no substitute for the Clone Stamp tool. You will only find this in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, there is no Lightroom substitute.

Getting started with the Clone Stamp tool is simple. You just have to tell Photoshop two things: (1) where you want to replace the pixels (target area), and (2) from where Photoshop should take the pixels to use as replacements (s0urce area). To use the Clone Stamp tool, just follow these steps:

  1. Select the Clone Stamp tool from the tool bar on the left side of your screen (you can also use the keyboard shortcut S). Once selected, set the brush size and hardness.
  2. Put your cursor in the area where you want to change the pixels.
  3. Select the source area: Press the Alt key (your cursor will now become a target) and move your cursor to the location where you want to take pixels from (source area). Click your mouse in that location.
  4. Paint in the target area: Release the Alt key and move your mouse back to the original location. Hold down the mouse button and paint in the pixels from the location you chose.

That is a simple process, but if you have used the Clone Stamp tool you realize that there is a lot more involved if you want to master it. This article will provide you with some tips to move you along the road towards conquering this important tool in Photoshop.

#1 – Work on a New Layer

First, always create a new layer before making changes with the Clone Stamp tool. Any changes you make should be made on the new layer. You can flatten the image when you’re done.

Why should you do this? There are many reasons. First of all, it is non-destructive – meaning you are not changing the underlying pixels of your image. In addition, when you use a layer, you can delete it if you don’t like where the changes are going. You can also create a mask if there are portions of the changes that you decide later you do not want. Finally, you can target adjustments to just the cloned areas if they are on a new layer (as will be shown below).

Creating a new layer is easy; simply press Ctrl+J (Cmd+J on Mac) to create a duplicate. You can also press Shift+Ctrl+N (Shift+Cmd+N on Mac) to create a new blank layer, but if you do so, make sure that you have “All Layers” selected as your source in the Clone Stamp Tool settings.

Clone Stamp Tool - Work on a New Layer

I prefer working on a new layer (as opposed to a duplicate layer) but either way will work.

#2 – Zoom in (way in)

When working with the Clone Stamp tool, zoom in on the area you are working on. In fact, zoom way in (to 100% even). That will help isolate the area you are working on, and importantly, it will also allow you to work at a much greater level of detail than you otherwise would. Make your changes look as good as you can at this higher level of detail, then when you zoom back out, the changes will be indistinguishable (which is what you want).

A shortcut for zooming quickly is to hold the Alt key with your left hand while using the scroll wheel on your mouse to zoom in and out (or use Cntrl/Cmd and the + or – key on the keyboard). That will allow you to move in and out quickly.

#3 – Set Your Brush Size Quickly

You will change your brush size often when working with the Clone Stamp tool. You should do this often to make sure that your brush size is tailored to the change you are making. Changing the size through the Brushes panel is cumbersome. Instead, use the keyboard shortcuts for changing brush size:

  • Left bracket [ makes brush smaller
  • Right bracket ] makes brush larger

Using these keys will allow you to rapidly tailor your brush to the specific circumstance.

#4 – Set the Proper Brush Hardness

The Clone Stamp brush’s edges can be set to whatever hardness you desire. Hardness determines the level to which the cloning will blend in with the surrounding pixels. If you set the hardness level more toward 100%, the edges will be hard and definite. If you set the hardness more toward 0%, the edge will blend in with the surroundings.

Clone Stamp Tool - Setting Hardness of Brush

In general, keep the hardness level at 0%. That will help you seamlessly blend in the effect. There will be times, however, where you are working near a defined edge, in which case you should increase the hardness. Even then around 50% will usually do. Setting the hardness any higher creates harsh transitions that are dead giveaways to your use of the Clone Stamp tool.

#5 – Clone Without Adjustments

Do your cloning before making other adjustments to contrast, color and other changes often made via adjustment layers in Photoshop. If you use the Clone Stamp tool after creating those layers, you are baking the changes permanently into your picture when you clone.

Clone Stamp Tool - Adjustments

However, in some cases you will have already made changes on an adjustment layer, and you need to decide whether your cloning should include those adjustments. Photoshop lets you decide whether to include those changes in your cloning. After you have selected the Clone Stamp tool, the top row of your screen will include a circle with a line through it (see graphic above). Photoshop defaults to applying the changes of any adjustment layers, but if you click on this icon, Photoshop will ignore any adjustment layers when cloning.

#6 – Grab the Low Hanging Fruit

Most of the time your pictures will have some easy items to clone out, as well as some harder things. Clone out the easy ones first. In addition to giving you confidence in the tool, this will also help you when the time comes to make the hard changes.

How will that help you? Remember that you need clear space from which to draw pixels when using the Clone Stamp tool. By making the easy changes first, you are doing just that so you can draw replacement pixels and will make your job easier when it comes time for the harder, more in-depth changes.

#7 – Watch for Patterns

Sometimes you want to include patterns in your cloning. In that case, when selecting pixels from which to draw, try to find patterns in your picture that match the area you are replacing. For example, if the background is a building, look for a similar building. Then make them match (which will be the subject of the next tip).

Clone Stamp Tool - removing distractions without creating a pattern

Here is a different example to show the Clone Stamp tool in another context. The right side of this image was filled with distractions, but the Clone Stamp tool eliminates them. Be careful that you do not create patterns by using pixels immediately adjacent, or it will give away your use of the Clone Stamp tool

But many times you will not want there to be any discernible patterns in your cloning. Usually a pattern is a dead giveaway to your having cloned something out. In that case, the way to ensure that there will be no patterns is to keep resetting your source point. Sample from one area and clone one part, then sample from another area – repeat frequently. Keep doing that to blend everything together without repeating a pattern.

#8 – Follow the Lines

A key to successful use of the Clone Stamp tool is making all the lines in your picture match. Even slight deviations look fake and destroy the effect you are trying to achieve. For example, in a landscape setting make the edges of tree branches match up. In an urban context, follow lines in buildings such as roof lines, doorways, and patterns on the ground.

When you are using the Clone Stamp tool, start with the lines and then let the rest of the pixels fall where they may. After that, if you need to go back over other areas, you can do so.

Here I've zoomed in on a portion of another shot of the Opera Garnier. Use the patterns on the floor and door to recreate the space where you clone over the people.

Here I’ve zoomed in on a portion of another shot of the Opera Garnier. Use the patterns on the floor and door to recreate the space where you clone over the people.

#9 – Avoid Selecting from Adjacent Areas

As previously mentioned, a dead giveaway of Clone Stamp tool usage is repetition. The Clone Stamp tool is all about repetition – you just need to do it in such a way that the viewer doesn’t notice it. If you draw pixels from an immediately adjacent area, you are risking the viewer noticing the repetition. Take the pixels from somewhere else in the picture instead.

Inadvertently creating a pattern is an easy trap to fall into because the immediately adjacent areas usually are the closest in color and tone to the area you want to replace. As you move further away, tones and colors change so that the pixels get harder to match. Working hard to find a way to use pixels from somewhere else in your picture will pay dividends because the viewer won’t see the repetition.

#10 – Muddle Through (accept the messiness)

By now you have fixed all the easy areas in your picture and you’re ready to tackle a bigger problem. It might be a crowd of people or a car that entered your frame, but it is a large area of your picture. This is the scary part of using the Clone Stamp tool.

The key is to just dive in. Don’t try to figure it all out beforehand (you never will). You can do this in a couple of different ways:

  1. Go big first: Set your brush a little larger than you might otherwise use and just replace the entire area in one fell swoop (and then clean up with a smaller brush), or
  2. Go small and steady: Stick with the smaller brush and paint in gradually, but the key is to keep going. Remember that you can go over it again. Whatever you are doing, while it is probably not perfect, will undoubtedly look better than what you started with.

The key thing is just to do it. There is a tendency to freeze up and plot the entire change before doing anything, which causes you to stare at the computer screen for long periods of time.

Remember, you can always undo what you’ve done (Ctrl/Cmd+Z). In addition, because you followed tip #1 above and are working on a new layer, you can always mask this area off or delete it if it isn’t heading in the direction you want.

#11 – Use the Mirror Function

You can affect a lot of settings involving the Clone Stamp tool in the Clone Source panel (to see it, go to Window and then click on Clone Source). For instance, you can change the shape of the brush or the angle of the replacement pixels.

One of the most useful features in the Cone Source panel is the flip-horizontal option in the middle of the panel. If you click on it, the pixels will be replaced in the opposite horizontal direction as the source. This can be extremely useful in many instances since often you will be dealing with a symmetrical subject where you can now draw from the other side.

Clone Stamp Tool - Flip Horizontal setting

A typical example where you might want to use the flip horizontal option is where something covers one side of a doorway or window that you want to remove. By clicking on flip-horizontal, you can use the other side of the doorway or window as your source. Take another look at the Opera Garnier examples above and you will see how the flip horizontal tool would be used quite frequently whenever your picture contains any symmetry (I used this feature in those pictures quite a bit).

#12 – Change the Cloned Areas with Adjustment Layers

Sometimes your cloned areas just won’t look exactly like the surrounding areas. Perhaps it is too bright or too dark, or perhaps the colors are just off a little bit. You can fix it without affecting the surrounding pixels.

Clone Stamp Tool - tying adjustment layers

One of the great benefits of working on layers is that you can create adjustment layers that affect only the areas you just cloned. Simply create a new adjustment layer (levels, curves, or hue/saturation), which will appear above your cloning layer. Then hold down the Alt key and click at the bottom of the adjustment layer (you will see your cursor change). Doing so will apply the changes of the adjustment layer only to the layer below it.


Remember that using the Clone Stamp tool can be a messy process. Don’t worry if you find yourself having to redo changes or make things up as you go. There is no magical “clean” process. One of the fun parts about the cloning process is the problem-solving that goes into it. Take your time and just keep moving. You can always redo your changes or, if you are working in layers, get rid of them without losing the rest of your work.

The Clone Stamp tool will save more pictures than almost any other tool in your post-processing. If you master it, you can remove almost anything in your pictures that you do not want.

The post 12 Tips for Mastering the Clone Stamp Tool in Photoshop by Jim Hamel appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Categories: Digital

5 Tips for Geting Sharper Images When Doing Long Exposures

Long exposure photography makes it possible to show the passage of time in a still photograph. It does this by blurring moving elements and sharpening the static parts. But there is a downside to long exposures – any camera movement blurs the static elements. Here are four simple ways you can prevent unwanted blurring.

Salt Lake Sunset at Mandurah

1. Use a Good Tripod

For very short exposures there are ways to hold yourself and your camera steady, like: How to Reduce Camera Shake – 6 Techniques. However, when you’re taking an exposure of a few seconds, you need something steadier than your hands to hold your camera. You may set the camera on a table, or a rock but risk dropping the camera or accidental movement that can ruin your shoot.

The most common way is to put it on a sturdy tripod. You have to get at least a decent tripod as El Cheapo tripods are going to give you camera shake too.

Light Trail Central

2. Use a Remote Shutter Release

Even with a tripod the act of snapping the shutter can cause the camera to shake. There are a couple of ways to combat this problem.

One is to set the delay on the camera (2-sec timer) so any movement is done by the time the shutter snaps. The other is to get a remote shutter release.

Remotes can be connected to the camera by a cable or wireless – either one snaps the shutter without shaking the camera. They are also called remote cable releases. This is a small and cheap accessory which can help you get rid of camera shake.

Rockingham Sunset

3. Use Manual Focus

Autofocus is a wonderful thing. Most of the time it does exactly what you want, making it easier to take great photos. But there are times, especially when shooting long exposure, that it can have the opposite effect.

In low light situations autofocus has trouble finding something to focus on. Even when it seems focused it can readjust when the shutter is snapped. Using ND filters can cause the same problem.

Light Trail IFC

Fortunately, there is a simple solution. When shooting in low light you can use manual focus, or use a flashlight for focusing and once the focus is set, turn autofocus off so it won’t change once the light is off.

For ND filters set the focus manually (either before or after mounting the filter) or autofocus first, turn it off and mount the filter. The shot will stay focused, the picture sharp.

Moving Cloud Sunrise at Kings Park

4. Lock the Mirror Up

If you are using a DSLR camera – and you probably are since you are shooting long exposure – it has a mirror that reflects the image from the lens to the viewfinder. It is between the lens and the camera sensor, so it has to move before the shutter snaps.

That small movement causes vibration. When you turn on the mirror lockup it turns the shutter button into a two stage button. The first click lifts the mirror and the shutter doesn’t open until the second click. The time between the two clicks allows the vibration of the moving mirror to stop.

Light Trail Hong Hum

5. Use Your Aperture Sweet Spot

Closing down the aperture can make you shoot longer. However, when your aperture is too small, it will start to have a diffraction effect which lowers the sharpness.

In most lenses, the sweet spot of the lens aperture is between f/5.6 to f/8. In other words, you will get the sharpest images when using this range.

When you step down to f/16 or smaller, you will get images like that seem out of focus. You can learn the physics about diffraction in the below video by Steve Perry:


Taking long exposure photographs is a science and an art. Like any art, taking long exposure pictures with the right balance of sharpness and blur takes both skill and intuition. These five tools will help you use your skills to turn intuition into great photographs.

The post 5 Tips for Geting Sharper Images When Doing Long Exposures by Kevin Choi appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Categories: Digital

Putting You Into Your Landscape Photography

Photographing the landscape is one of the oldest forms of photography, along with others like portrait and street photography. Since the advent of digital photography the possibilities of what can be done seem almost endless. It also means that photography has become more accessible, so with more people taking it up it is becoming harder to be original, and make your images your own. There are ways of creating landscapes that have your style, but it usually means throwing away a lot of what you first learn about photography.

Perhaps the only time a photographer is really free to do whatever they please is when they first begin, before they are told what they should or shouldn’t be doing.

Learning About Photography

However, that might be true, but it isn’t long before the beginner starts to learn what we all learn. We start wanting to know how to use the camera properly, and how to get the best out of it. So they might begin by doing a course to learn about aperture, shutter speed and ISO. No one is denying how important it is to learn about those things, and learning how to correctly expose an image is not something that anyone ever regrets.


Then there is composition and what is meant to make a good or perfect image. There is the rule of thirds – placing everything in that third, or on the third lines. You learn that when you are composing the image that the horizon should be on one of those thirds, or that the lone tree in the paddock or field should also be on one. Never put things in the middle of an image.

If you really get into it then you might learn about the golden ratio or the Fibonacci Spiral. This principle is about using a curve that determines where the subject should be placed for the perfect image; the spiral placement is very similar to the intersection of the third lines.

Then there is post-processing and again, there are rules about what is appropriate for landscape photography and what isn’t. Landscape photography is steeped in history and your photos should be true to what you see.

There are theories or rules that suggest you shouldn’t do any more processing to your images other than the very basic; that your images should represent the reality of what you saw. It is okay to fix exposure, horizon line, but you shouldn’t move pixels, like removing things from the image, or replace a sky.

No one is going to deny that learning all of that is wrong, and we should all learn it all. The next stop is working out if you are happy to follow the rules and do the same images that everyone else is doing.

The first thing you will find is that other people will start to criticize you. The tree is in the middle of the photo, or you shouldn’t have the horizon line in the middle. The one I get all the time is that I over process or my images are too dark.


My answer to that is: don’t listen.

Creating Your Own Style

There is a growing movement of photographers doing work that is not traditional and pushes the concept of landscape photography a whole lot more. It is where rules are broken, and new things are done that change what is considered traditional landscape photography.

Things like the rule of thirds are often forgotten, and you might see the subject placed firmly in the middle of the image. The horizon line may be in the middle of the image, cutting the image in half, as we’ve constantly been told is wrong and we shouldn’t do it.

How often do you get told that an image needs to be in focus, that if the subject isn’t sharp then you should delete the image? There are art photographers who take out of focus images and use them for art. Perhaps you shouldn’t go around taking a heap of photos that are out of focus, but sometimes the feeling or something else is just as important.

If we consider those things, then what does it mean for landscape photography, and how does it affect us? Perhaps it means that the world is your oyster and fine art is more about your interpretation of the world around you than the reality of it, then the possibilities of what you can do are endless. You can do whatever you like.


Let’s look at what you can do, first out in the field and then back at home with post-processing.

Out in the Field

When you are out taking photos, look for odd angles. Think about how everyone else would take the image and see if you can come up with other ways to do it that are different. It isn’t always going to be possible, but it is a good practice to get into.

You could try using props in your images. I’ve heard of a couple of photographers that will place a person in their landscapes to help give it scale. You could do something like that, or start adding a prop of some sort that gives you a signature.

Photographing the same area time and time again can give you an edge too. You learn the area and discover things that people who rarely go there would find. Of course you have to also open your mind to the idea of finding new things. Try photographing the same thing over and over; see if you can find different ways of interpreting it.

It can help looking at what other photographers are doing to find styles you like. Study what they do. Work out what it is that you like about their work. I wouldn’t recommend copying them, but take some of it and use bits to help make your work your own.

An important thing to remember is that you don’t have to use photo editing to create images that are uniquely yours.


Back in the Digital Darkroom

Once you get your images onto the computer, anything goes really. How far you take your images is completely up to you, but you also have to be prepared for heavy criticism from others. You are always free to ignore that – I do – but be polite about it.

You can do so many things in post-processing, such as selective focusing. Really make the viewer look where you want them to look. You can do this in many ways, with added blur or with lighting. It can be a strong technique; one that is used by painters all the time.

Selective saturation is a style that a few landscape photographers have started employing as well. You select areas of focus and give them a little more saturation, or you can desaturate the area around it. Make that area brighter or give it more vibrancy so it will stand out and attract attention, which is what you want.


Controlling the lighting is another technique that many use, myself included, meaning you take an image then try to find a way of completely changing the lighting so that the viewer can’t work out when it was taken.

Having an idea of what you want to achieve is also good, describing what you want people to see, or how you want your audience to view your work. Telling stories with your images is a great thing to do.

Again finding other photographers whose style you like is good too. Learn from them and see what you can do; it is encouraged in art schools all the time. Do what they do, but don’t pass it off as yours, find your own style, your own voice.

Through fine art landscapes you are showing an interpretation of the landscape around you, or wherever you take photos. The rules don’t always apply, but if you want to break them then do so in a way that will help you develop your own unique style.

Good luck.


If you have any other comments or tips please share in the comments section below.

The post Putting You Into Your Landscape Photography by Leanne Cole appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Categories: Digital

How to do Frequency Separation Portrait Retouching in Photoshop

The goal of portrait retouching is to bring out the most naturally pleasing image of the subject. This image is the finished result of Frequency Separation Retouching in Photoshop.

The goal of portrait retouching is to bring out the most naturally pleasing image of the subject. This image is the finished result of Frequency Separation Retouching in Photoshop.

Portrait retouching may be accomplished using many different methods. Still, how often have you seen a portrait image that has been retouched to the point that the subject’s face looks unnatural? Even many of the software packages available for portrait retouching result in an airbrushed effect to skin tones.

What if the detail and color of a portrait could be separated for retouching? Frequency Separation Retouching will allow you to do just that! It will allow you to fix all the usual facial issues like removing wrinkles, bags under eyes, and blemishes. By dividing your image into two separate frequency layers, one layer being high frequency digital data, which contains the information of detail in the image, and a low frequency layer which contains the tonal and color information of the image.  However, the neat thing with Frequency Separation Retouching is that it allows you to make these corrections and retain the natural textures of the skin. By separating the colors and the details you can work on one aspect without affecting the other. Sure, some people will prefer the usual retouching methods, including airbrushing, but Frequency Separation Retouching gives you another option to use for enhancing your portraits. If you have a working knowledge of Photoshop, here’s how to get started:


#1 Make two copies of the background layer

In Photoshop, open your image, then make two copies of the background layer. Label the first layer “color” as this will be your low frequency layer, then name the second layer “detail” to become your high frequency layer.

#2 Apply a blur to the color layer

Turn off the detail layer and select the color layer. Apply a Gaussian Blur (found under the Filter menu>Blur) to a setting that blurs all the detail of the image, but leaves features intact (see sample below). This setting will vary from one image to another depending of the size of the image.


#3 Setup the detail layer

Turn the detail layer back on and select it, then go to Apply Image under the Image tab. Depending on which color depth you are working with, 8 bit or 16 bit, see settings below for Apply Image.

apply-image3Set your Layer to color. For 8 bit images set the Blending to Subtract, Scale to 2 and Offset. For 16 bit images set the Blending to Add, Scale to 2, Offset to 0 and check the Invert box.

Set your Layer to color. For 8 bit images set the Blending to Subtract, Scale to 2 and Offset. For 16 bit images set the Blending to Add, Scale to 2, Offset to 0 and check the Invert box.

  1. Change the blending mode of the detail layer to Linear Light.
  2. Create a layer group, and drag the color and detail layers into the new layer group.

Once you get the hang of this setup, it’s easy to make a Photoshop action to take care of these steps with one click. Download my Photoshop action for the setup HERE (the file is zipped, just unzip and load into Photoshop)

Now you’re ready to start the fun part!

Retouch the Color layer

By retouching the color layer, you are going to even out all the color tones of your subject’s complexion and to remove dark and light areas.

Clone Tool – the Clone tool can be used to even out the color tones or experiment with different blending modes. Normal, Darken and Lighten are very good effect modes to use on the color layer. You may also need to adjust the opacity (the degree of transparency) of these blending modes.

Dodge and Burn Tools are a couple of other useful tools to even out dark and light tones of the skin tones.

As with almost any Photoshop function, there are various ways to get the results you desire. The tools mentioned above are good starting points for working on the color layer, but the possibilities are endless! Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Retouch the Detail layer

Click on the Detail layer, which contains every detail of your portrait image. There are a wide variety of tools you can use to fix skin imperfections, ranging from wrinkles to acne.

Clone Tool – Use the Clone tool with mode set to normal and just clone out imperfections, sampling (ALT/OPT key click) from a desirable area to paint over an imperfection in another area.

Healing Brush Tool –  The Healing Brush tool works similarly to the Clone tool and will sample textures from nearby areas to make a seamless patch.

Spot Healing Brush –  Spot Healing Brush works similarly to the Clone tool and Healing brush, but does not require you to sample a source area. It will automatically sample from another area to repair the target imperfection. Use the adjustable brush sizes to paint over spots and remove them.

Patch Tool – Like the Healing tool, the Patch tool will match the texture of the near-by area for a seamless repair. Make a selection over the area to be repaired and drag the selection over a good area. For best results work on small areas at a time.

Content-Aware Patch –  Similar to the Patch Tool, but with the Content-Aware Patch you select a good area and drag it over area to be repaired, and the tool will match the texture.

After image

After image

Once you have finished retouching the color and detail layers of your image, you can simply turn off the layer group to see the before and after of your work. (This is also a handy review tactic as you are working, to see how your adjustments are affecting the image.) Because all the retouching you have done are applied to the two new layers, it is completely non-destructive to the original image.  So, if you are unhappy with your first results, you can simply delete the retouched group and start over.


A – Original image B – Air-Brushed look retouching C – Frequency Separation retouching



Portrait retouching can be accomplished by using many different methods, and various software and plugins designed especially for that purpose. This article is meant to give you a Photoshop option for retouching and enhancing your portrait photography. The great feature of this method is the ability to separate the detail from the color and tones before retouching. Do you have any tips for portrait retouching?

The post How to do Frequency Separation Portrait Retouching in Photoshop by Bruce Wunderlich appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Categories: Digital

Why You Should Make Dark Images

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Street scene

One of the most unexplored aspects in digital photography is the dark image.

With digital, we have built-in light meters, histograms, incredible ISO capabilities, and processing programs, which make it much easier to expose our images brightly in all different lighting situations. This can have the effect of making photographers feel that they need to expose all of their images with a neutral histogram, where you can see the image perfectly well, with some information in the highlights, mid-tones, and shadows.

This is often what you want to do, but not always.

When you are using Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, or the Automatic modes, your camera’s light meter has the aim of making whatever it is focusing on a neutral grey. Thus, it has the tendency to overly darken scenes with a lot of bright highlights or to overly brighten scenes with lots of dark tones.

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The Lake, Central Park – NYC

Because of this, when you photograph in dark situations your exposures can end up being bright as if they were taken during the day. It’s easy to think that this is okay, and often it is, but it also makes it easy to forget that sometimes a dark image is a good thing too. There is nothing wrong with making an image look like it was taken at night. There is nothing wrong with making the image tougher to see, like the scene was to your eye as you captured it.

For me, it was an experience when I started to look at older photography books and came across images that I couldn’t quite make out. ‘They should have been brighter”, I immediately thought, but then I realized that I liked them. I realized how natural and moody it made the images feel. I had to put in more effort to make out what was going on, and I liked that. It felt moody and real.

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This image could have been made brighter and still worked.

Technically, to achieve this on Aperture or Shutter Priority, you need to lower your exposure compensation (+/-) setting when you are photographing subjects or areas with a lot of darker tones. I usually default to -2/3 or -1 stop, then tweak from there depending on the situation. You can even take it further by going into full Manual mode to override the camera’s light meter. Since the lighting is fairly consistent in many dark situations, this is often a great way to shoot.  I do this when shooting at night, in train stations, alleyways and many indoor situations. You can even shoot like this during the day by strongly underexposing your image.

If you notice, in the images in the article, the highlights are represented as middle grey tones. This is called exposing for the highlights and that is a key for making a dark image. Get used to seeing lots of deep blacks and mid greys. It can help to take a file into Lightroom and play around with the exposure to get a feel for how an image can look at different exposures. When shooting in dark situations, which means you will probably be using a very high ISO, you will want to make sure to get the image as close as possible to the prime exposure in the camera. But when you are learning it can only help to experiment in Lightroom to find the exposure that you like the best.

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Nightlife Street Scene, East Village, NYC.

But what is the purpose of making an image dark? There are a few reasons. The first is that in many situations it can feel more realistic. Night images that look dark feel more like the viewer is actually there. They feel accurate and that can go along way for the viewer. Dark images can feel moody, eerie, dangerous, quiet, romantic, scary, weird, or contemplative. Many backgrounds look more beautiful with the dark shadows and moody lighting at night.

In addition, dark images draw the viewer in. Often with photography, the devil is in the details and sometimes it can be hard to draw viewers in to really look around an image. Dark images do that. As the viewer tries to make out the details, they inadvertently start exploring the image in more depth.

So next time you are shooting at night or in a dark area, think about making that image a bit darker.

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Nightlife Street Scene, NYC.

The post Why You Should Make Dark Images by James Maher appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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