Camera Manufacturers algorithms
embedded in their digital cameras do a fine job in providing good
exposures for a great many occasions. But they do make standardized
assumptions about what the "correct" result should be and/or what the
majority of users would like to have.
those most especially precious shots of yours, do they get the full,
individual attention they really deserve? Or do the manufacturers'
standard menus truly cover your particular subjects and scenes? If not,
you should consider giving your best - or otherwise most valuable
pictures - the finishing touch in the digital darkroom.
Do you remember - or have you seen - what it took the
amateur of not so long ago to optimize his or hers pictures in the days
of the wet/chemical darkroom. Enlargers, filters, clocks and timers,
lamps, sink and trays, paper, chemicals, thermometers ---- and most of
all time !
Today we can have it all in our comfortable
studying room at the tips of our fingers; we have no costs on paper and
chemicals before we are ready to print that ultimate masterpiece of
ours; we can do it in broad daylight - and we don't have to spend a
fortune on costly equipment and consumables, (including the film
So, if you like good pictures there is really no
excuse. Go get started with some digital imaging. Besides being
rewarding in regards of making good pictures excellent, it is also a lot
of fun. But one word of warning, though: The more you improve and the
more possibilities you discover, the more you will explore and want to
try out - so, the digital darkroom hobby may turn out to be quite time
consuming after all !
Now, this is not
intended to be a digital imaging tutorial - there are so may, so
excellent tutorials out here on the internet already. But I would like
to point to some basics for you to consider, if you would like to try a
bit of image processing yourself.
However, before we proceed: REMEMBER that your original photo right out of the box is your valuable "digital negative". It may look a little dull; not so snappy in contrast; not so vivid in colour as you would like. But it may contain more useful information than you would know at first sight - and when you start increasing contrast, pushing brightness, sliding colour balance etc. you start discarding some of that information. And that precious information may in a great many instances be irretrievably lost, once you press the save-button. Therefore, keep the original in a safe folder/directory and do your work and experiments on a copy of your original. As you do your experiences and learn, you might want to return to that original more than once!!!
Most cameras come with
some kind of software that can do more than just assist you in
downloading your pictures to a computer. A few are just rudimentary
viewers but most have capabilities beyond that. Typically they will at
the minimum allow for modifications in brightness, contrast, gamma and
colour balance. They will also have an "autofix" or "autoenhance"
function and possibly some means of sharpening.
If you are new to this game, try playing around with
these functions to get an idea what they may do for you: Try increasing
gamma on an underexposed (too dark) image and see if you can bring out
hidden detail; try if you can make a dull, flat image more vivid by
means of contrast and brightness changes.
You will soon discover that small, simple
modifications may sometimes (but not always) bring additional life to
More advanced software packages:
The King of digital
imaging software is Photoshop. It is an excellent software suite for the
professional/semi-professional/very serious amateur; however, it is
quite costly and it also has more functions and options than most
amateurs will probably need (or learn) to utilize in a life-time. Less
can do for a start and there are smaller yet very efficient siblings in
the "photoshop-alike" family. There is also a lot of freeware available and if
you cannot find all you need in one package, you may start with building
up a small library of software packages, each with its own particular
strengths. I started that way and learned a lot until I grew tired of
opening and saving images all the time. What you see here on these pages
are the results of my work in PhotoImpact 12 and X3 - a software suite that was
very modestly priced, yet has so many options available that I am still
exploring them after several years.
that you get
here are some essentials regarding functions and controls that I
recommend that you consider before you start downloading or buy your
(Note on terminology:
Each manufacturer uses brand-specific names for certain functions.
However, they more or less do the same as described below, and they
should be readily identifiable from a study of the product literature
for any specific brand)
the outset and from thereon after such functions should be
treated with the utmost suspicion. They perform a series of
operations automatically and quite often either have no effect
or degrade the original picture. In my PhotoImpact, Autoenhance
and definitely overdo things, while Autocontrast and Autocolour
only work to an acceptable degree in a limited number of cases.
One exception is Autolevel and related operations (Stretch and
Equalize) that will be dealt with below.
You may give such functions a try, but should not trust that
they are the route to rescuing poorly exposed pictures.
basic editing you will often want to resize your images (i.e.:
making smaller or larger in pixels for upload to the web for
instance); to compress (to make the file-size smaller - not to
be confused with resizing. You degrade the quality of the image
a bit and get a smaller file as measure in kB) to crop (for
artistic/aestheatic reasons); convert format (for example from
BMP to JPEG); convert from colour to grey scale or negative.
More advanced programs will allow
you to perform many such and other operations in a Batch process.
I.e. the software may do the same (exactly the same) series of
manipulations on a whole set of pictures once, you have set-up
the routine for a singele picture - a great convenience, once
you have learned how to use it!!!
are simple to use and may give a useful hint whether a given
picture has room for improvement;
however, they should not be used for serious work, as they will
mostly result in
degraded quality/definition and cplour in some tones in the
final. Used with care, they may be useful for giving images a
finishing touch when other possibilities have been exhausted.
Curves are MUST HAVEs for any photographer. They allow you to
manipulate the levels (c.f. sections 6. and 7. in the foregoing
page) in a much more selective, individual and controlled manner
than you can do using Brightness, Contrast or Gamma. There are
further pointers ("eyedroppers" in PhotoImpact) that allow you
to set the black, grey and white points in an image and thus
change the balance of that picture so that the black becomes
truly black and the white truly white.
And the Histrograms? They are merely
mathematical representations of the distribution of levels so
that you can readily see, where an image is imbalanced both in
the overall brightness ("Master") and in the individual Red,
Green and Blue brightness distributions.
When it comes to special applications such
as analogue film duplication - both negative film and slides -
or astrophotography, these tools are indispensable.
As mentioned above, Auto-operations should in
general be treated with suspicion. However, the three mentioned
here can be very helpful tools - at least for a primary
assessment of what detail has actually been recorded. Before you
venture into individual camera curves and High Definition
Images, (next page) they can actually also be used as the tools
of choice for salvaging underexposed or low contrast images.
They each work with standardized
"assumptions" of what the distribution of levels should be based
upon the actual contents of your image. Autolevel and Strech
basically make assumptions that fill in gaps of underrepresented
areas (the "Input levels" in PhotoImpact) in the Histogram,
while Equalize make assumptions regarding the differences in the
magnitudes of the levels recorded, (the "Output Levels" in
I still use Autolevel quite a lot for
pictures that I find to dull or flat.
||To me, this is
also a MUST HAVE. Many digital photographers insist that their
cameras must have a manual white balance setting in order to
make corrections for the colour temperature at the very moment
before shooting. To me, it is much more convenient to set the
cameras white balance setting to Auto and then concentrate on
just shoot-and-shoot. Afterwards, I can then choose the few /
best that I want to print or display and make white balance
corrections if needed at ease in my digital darkroom.
to White Balance this function allows you to correct for an
overall tint of your picture by setting a point in the as
neutral, (i.e.: a point that you know should be neutral in
colour). Again, this is a very useful tool for "difficult"
pictures such as negative and slide digital duplication.
functions that behave very differently. Colour Balance somewhat
resembles Colur Cast above in that you may pick one colour,
replace it with another and change the whole colour balance of
the picture accordingly.
Adjustment allows you to shift each of the primary colours (red,
green, blue) individually towards towards their complementary
colours and can as such be used for fine-tuning the colours of
an image to your personal taste. One should use this with great
care: It is an entirely subjective operation based upon the
operator's own colour perception (and relying on proper
calibration of the monitor as well). There are no fix-points or
histograms to guide you here, but it may be the last resort for
rescuing images with imbalanced colurs "in more directions".