Yesterday was Club Tuesday for me, my neighborhood Photo Club had the monthly competition night. It is the most popular club night, as it is about watching pretty images and talking about photography. It was also an open competition, that means we allowed any subject.
We had the judge offering his opinion, and he was generous and consistent. That’s good. I like it when judges are consistent.
If I would have been the judge, I would have been more harsh towards images with technical issues. I find them always distracting from the moment you notice them. I then have to remind myself that the images are about stories. The judge yesterday was keen to see a story in the images (that’s good!), but I think not enough eye for the telltale signs of over-processing. That’s not so good as I think it does not help us if we get away with it.
The technical aspects are the easiest to fix. You have time to reduce noise. Crop the image. Sharpen just enough. Tone down the color saturation, increase the contrast of a dull image. That stuff. Straighten the horizon. Wait, I think no one failed yesterday with that one, great! So I don’t have to write another “Dutch angle” article.
Some images just overdid it. I could see the entire range of over-processing. Too saturated. Too much sharpening (halos). Too much cropping. Too much selective color. Too much visible compositing where it shouldn’t be.
I had to go back to my older mobile phone images to illustrate the issue. This is an image where you definitely get color noise if you lift the shadows too much, as it was way underexposed for the statue:
I exaggerate to make the point, but when you raise the shadows, and there was not much to raise in the first place, then you get something like that on the left side — color noise. It is easy to remove. The image on the right had the color noise (in Lightroom it would be the ‘Noise Reduction — Color” slider) removed, and a bit Luminance Noise. A lot better.
Yes, yes, there are other issues. It was just an example for the noise.
Too much cropping
To be fair, this time we had more images in the competition which would need more cropping, but we had some too tightly cropped. The author cropped away a distracting background, but the subject (a bird in low flight) was now too close to the top frame border. It looked like the top border was pushing the bird down. An image like that where you can’t get it right — if you crop, it looks bad — if you don’t crop, it is not great either. The best option is to not enter it into a competition at all. But sometimes you didn’t notice until the judge points it out. Lesson learned. That’s why we have these competitions, to learn from mistakes.
Halos because of over-sharpening
This happens way too much. I’ll tackle that in more detail in a future article, because it is worth understanding what causes it. The image above also had that issue (you probably noticed that). I’ll show you what I mean with halos:
Have a look at the two images below. The left side in unsharpened. I put a dark and light shape next to each other.
The image to the right had maximum sharpening applied by my image processor. You can see what sharpening does: at the border between contrasting parts, it tries to enhance the contrast by making the dark edge darker, and the light edge lighter. It then puts a gradient towards the further away pixels to create a smooth transition. The effect is that you get a bright (and dark) pixel halo edge around an over-sharpened object. There are ways to avoid that. The easiest is probably to reduce the sharpening applied.
But the first step is to recognize that something went wrong.
Landscape images have often that challenge around the area where the sky meets the land/mountain/sea. Watch these areas closely when you apply sharpening.
Where and when to crop is often a matter of taste. I crop when I want to remove distracting things, when I want a different aspect ratio or when there is too much space around the subject. Let’s have a look at this bird here.
Get rid of the twig in the upper right corner.
Well, the twig is gone, but now the crop is too close!
Even worse! Leave space in front of the head.
Better. I removed the twig with the spot removal tool. No crop needed.
If you want to be extreme, you can get rid of the entire background like that:
Sometimes that works. Not sure with this one here… Probably too much?!
Ok, that’s it for today. There are several other common issues I haven’t touched yet, I’ll come back to that soon.
Thanks for reading, I appreciate it.
And as always, have fun taking pictures!