A touch of sparkle

Photography is something I like to think I have some skill with. Nothing great, but enough to lift my work above the ruck.

Granted, it took a bit of work and study to get there, and it’s not for everybody, but nowadays I wince inside when I see people publishing photographs that could easily be improved.

Travel bloggers spend a fortune to get to some amazing place, lift their camera – or phone – to take a shot, and then publish the result untouched.

There’s some as can pull that off, but for most of us, just getting a good shot is a struggle, let alone putting some work into massaging it into shape afterwards.

Look at the photo above. It’s the railway station in Dunedin, probably the most photographed building in New Zealand. I took that shot many years ago, using a cheapish fixed lens Canon. What they call a “bridge camera”, in between a point and shoot and a DSLR.

At the time I thought it was splendid, but in hindsight, I had no idea of how to get the best out of it.

I stood across the road from the railway station – and it really is a mouth-watering confection of a building, in what they call Flemish renaissance revival style, earning its architect the nickname of “Gingerbread George” ever after – and took three shots, which I later stitched and cropped to get this merged panorama.

It’s okay, but doesn’t give the best sense of the building. Dark against a bright sky is always a challenge.

I tinkered with the perspective to correct that leaning clocktower, and played with the settings to bring out more of a tonal range. It might be hard to see the difference, but the original image is dull and flat, and the revised version sparkles a little. The changes show up best with the vegetation in the left foreground. The revised image separates the bushes from the station behind, giving more dimension and contrast.

Here’s a more dramatic example. Same day, same camera, on the other side of the building. The station is still in use, but only for a couple of departures a day for a tourist train heading up into the mountains.

I was trying for an artistic effect, shooting along the rail, and not surprisingly, I wasn’t terribly happy with the result at the time.

But now, it can be salvaged. First, correct the level, because it seems just a teeny bit off kilter. Next, crop away anything that does’t belong. Like, most of the shot.

Then I play with the light levels, dropping the highlights, lifting the shadows, boosting the whites and pulling the blacks. Details emerge in the shadows and the bright areas. and there you go. Not a fabulous photograph, but a hell of a lot better than it was.

Nowadays, I’ve got way better cameras, and far more of a feel for composition and getting the right settings for the shot. I must visit Dunedin again to see what I can do.

Dunedin is a marvellously scenic city and well worth the trip. Full of great colonial architecture, a lively cultural scene, some great scenery on the harbour and the surrounding hills, and the only mainland albatross colony in the world. Go out to the old fort on the headland to see these enormous birds as big as a jumbo jet gliding in to their nests.

So there it is. Photographs can be sparkled up with a bit of work in Lightroom. If you publish photographs, it is well worth the effort to do some study or better yet attend a photography course and have your work criticised.

Nowadays, software is pretty much essential after taking the shot. Cropping, sharpening, adjusting light and colour. I’m not into Photoshop, but wonders can be performed there. There are ways of removing tourist crowds from landmarks, sometimes with just a few clicks.

And I’ll make an offer right now. If any of my readers would like me to work on their photographs, send them to me and I’ll see what I can do. Or put them up on a photo site such as Flickr where I can download them. Just give me a shout and I am happy to put a bit of sparkle into a dull shot.

I prefer RAW images, but the standard JPG shots most people take are fine. Preferably ones that haven’t been already fiddled with too much. JPG images lose information each time they are opened and closed, like making a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy.

No charge for the service, at least until I get swamped by eager photographers. I like doing this; it’s like scratching an itch.


Image credits: Britni Pepper

life, photography, travel ,

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