So I'd been meaning to make a photography/Photoshop thread for a while and Naeblis finally bugged me into doing it. I know we already have a PS thread, but that's mostly visual/graphic arts kinda stuff (hats off to Jon for that btw). I thought this'd rather be more of a photography composition/critique/tutorial kind of thing and see how it went from there... There's no substitute for a good composition. Whether you do it by cropping after you take the photo or in camera, a badly composed photo is a bad photo, period. Keeping that in mind, here are 2 simple "rules of composition" you can use everywhere, from a Hasselblad to a VGA camera. The Rule of Thirds is probably the most well known composition technique out there, and for good reason. The idea is quite simple. Imagine the frame to be divided in 3 vertical halves and 3 horizontal ones. Place or line up the the object(s) of interest along where those imaginary lines would intersect. This will produce much stronger images than the usual, cliche object in the center photos. Here's an example: Here's a side-by-side comparison: A corollary from the rule, is that something interesting should fill a third of your frame. For example, the horizon should be placed on the lower or upper thirds and not the center. You'd place it in the lower third if you wanted to give more space (the remaining 2/3rds) to, say, an amazing set of clouds during sunset. On the other hand, if you wanted to show off a beautiful landscape and the sky was meh, you'd put the horizon on the upper third to reduce emphasis on the sky. Have an image: Secondly, here's an obvious one about asymmetry in photography. Basically, if you have an "error" in your photo, either try to minimize it or try to make it seem that it's deliberate. A good example would be tilt. People love to tilt their photos. If you want to do it, make sure you tilt it a lot. That makes it "artistic". A little bit makes it look like a mistake. You can do this with other things too. For example, one person in a photo is an anomaly. A group is you "showing the everyday life" of a place. Take two examples (of the tilt thing): (Slightly Tilted) (Very Tilted) As a footnote, let me make clear that every single "rule" of composition can/should and often is broken to produce excellent photos. I myself do it every now and then. But these are a good starting point. Similarly, there are lots of reasons the photos above work or fail - but the rules are a good first thing to get right Now, moving on to post processing (after camera stuff/editing/Photoshop). I love post processing, plain and simple! It's easily half of my workflow. Without getting into an extended debate about it, I'll say two things. First, Ansel Adams did it. Second, I don't think there's anything more noble about walking three steps to the right on location over moving a cursor 30 pixels to crop the same. Anyways... I'm going to be using Photoshop for these because it's pretty much the standard. PS Elements has rather parallel controls. I know a lot of you use GIMP (cough*Oz*cough). I've never used it, but from everything I hear, it's got enough analogous tools for the purposes of this post. At its heart, I think PS boils down to three things. Possible the most crucial of those are Layers and Layer Masks. I know a lot of people have trouble getting this concept so I'll try and be as simple as I can. Think of layers like sheets on a bed. You only see what is on top. Why's this cool? Layers allow you to make adjustments/edits on a per layer basis. You can add contrast on one layer, sharpen the photo on another and then add saturation. Then you decide you don't want the photo sharpened or more saturated. Just delete that layer and that particular effect is gone without affecting anything else. Similarly, say you have 10 layers with 10 different effects, you want to see what the photo looks like without one of those. Just turn off the layer! And you can rearrange them too. You can blend the layers too, similar rules applying. First you want to Duplicate a layer. This is so that the new layer is not 'empty' (which are also possible, and have other purposes). The point of this is ensure that the actual Adjustments/Edits (Contrast etc.) you make subsequently do not damage the original photo. This allows for what is called non-destructive editing. Ctrl/Cmd+J is the keyboard shortcut, or Layer>Duplicate Layer from the menu, or right click and Duplicate Layer. Then you can proceed to modifying the photo as needed. Have some visuals. Layer Order Switched This takes us to Layer Masking. Masking is basically a fancy word for applying the layer selectively. I'll show this through an image: (Larger Copy) In the screenshot above, notice the Layer Panel on the bottom right. I had a black and white layer on the top, and a colored one below. I added a layer mask to it by pressing the Add Vector Mask Button (highlighted at the end of the panel) - you can also do that by going to Layer>Layer Mask>Reveal All/Hide All (meaning explained in next paragraph). The layer mask is the attached thing to the layer. Notice that the black bits on the mask correspond to the the colored layer below and white to the top Black and White Layer. White reveals and black conceals. This is the bit to keep in mind. In other words, painting on a layer mask with black color hides the top layer and lets the lower layers show through - concealing the top layer. White does just the opposite - reveal. You can "paint" on the Layer Mask using black/White as necessary using the brush tool after you create the layer mask. Just click the Brush (highlighted on left) or press B. Here's the same image without any Layer below. See the "empty pixels" in the center of the image where I concealed the layer - because there was nothing underneath it! (Larger Copy) So why's this cool? Selectively adding any effect. You can go as OCD as you want here - change the opacity of the brush, the hardness, the shape, etc etc. So the possibilities are endless. You can quite literally paint an effect! And that ladies and gentlemen, if you've come this far, is Layers and Layer Masks. Sorry the "basic" trick took so long. But this is fundamental of photoshop. Just about everything on Photoshop builds on this. Once you have Layers and Layer Masking down, everything else is additive. Alright, basics down, let's get to the really cool parts already! Here's an 'intermediate trick' for you. Curves are quite possibly my absolutely favorite Adjustment (edit/filter/effect) in PS cuz of their versatility. Before going to Curves, you must understand the basics of Contrast. Contrast is basically the range of color - the difference between the the darkest and the brightest parts of the image. So adding contrast is nothing but brightening the lightest parts of the image and darkening the darkest parts. Reducing it is just the opposite. The Curves adjustment is basically a graph of the light throughout the image - left is to dark and right is to light. A linear line is the default. Moving a part of the line up brightens the corresponding light level of the image and moving it down darkens. Visuals: Creating a Curves Adjustment. You can also go to Image>Adjustments>Curves. Note that the points act as a...marker (?)...of sorts. Here, I darkened the darks and brightened the brights by using 2 points and dragging down/up. I could have clicked once for a point and brightened those bits if I needed just that or clicked a second time 'line' on the left without moving it down (as in the S curve) to make sure that the darker bits were unaffected by the adjustment in the lighter areas. Also, you can obviously create a "reverse S" to decrease contrast (brighten the darks and darken the lights). Now here's an example: Why's this cool? 3 reasons: 1 obvious and 2 not no much. There's the popular use of the Curves Adjustment to play with contrast. However, you can also use it to just darken or brighten the image (and selectively too by placing pin/markers to prevent a particular part of the image from being affected). And here's a bonus one. Notice the "RGB" in the upper half of the panel? You can click and select Red/Green/Blue and play around with the individual color Curves too. All the cross processed (Instagram type) photos you see? Yeah, that's how this is done - albeit this can be infinitely more precise. Oh, and keep in mind that you can combine this with a Layer Mask to selectively apply the adjustment. In fact a Layer Mask is always automatically attached to any "Adjustment" you use. Btw, you can press the Eye right next to a layer to toggle it on/off. Here's a visual of the entire thing: First off, thanks for holding up with me so far. You're probably wondering if I'm ever actually going to get to something beyond the general stuff, something that you can go and apply to your photos immediately. Worry not, here's an "advanced" trick for you. When I say advanced, what I really mean is highly specialized. I'm sure some of you have seen if not heard of this trick before, the Orton Effect. For a change I'll jump straight to why's this cool so you know whether it's for you or not. Ever see photos with people/fog/grass with that nice and soft dreamy look about it? Or just about any other subject one can think of? If it's anything similar to that, there is a good chance you're looking at an example of the Orton Effect. You can use this to get that cool shiny water, brilliant fog, soft glow about a woman's a face (men and "soft glow" usually doesn't go well ), soft yet sharp flowers, vibrant lush green grass, etc etc. (As with all things photography, the limit to using it, is really your creativity.) You can read the linked wiki above if you want, but basically the principle is this. You combine a normal (sharp) and a brightened blurred image into one, creating areas of high and low detail with a nice glow. Alright, here's what to do. In Photoshop, create a Duplicate Layer of all the work you've done so far using Cmd/Ctl+J. Now if you have an adjustment layer (like Curves) as the topmost layer, duplicating will just give you another curves layer with identical settings. So you Merge Visible (Cmd/Ctl+Shift+J or Layer>Merge Visible) which basically creates a combined layer from all your images below, on the top of the pile. You can also Merge Layer (Cmd+E) to merge the layers together - but this loses the earlier editing you might want to preserve in case the new effect doesn't work out). But feel free to do either. Once you've done this, Duplicate again. So basically you should have two identical layers on the top to be able to use. Set the Blending Mode from "Normal" to "Screen". This brightens the image btw. Then Merge the new two layers (Cmd+E, Layer>Merge Down both work, just note that if you have any layers selected by your mouse, the command will merge those layers and not the top two). Duplicate the layer again to again have two identical overly bright layers on the top. Then go to Filter>Gaussian Blur and apply the filter to the top layer. Radius should be anywhere from 21 to 50 depending upon the resolution of the image and amount of effect you want. This is where you are free to go wild (personally on a 35MP image I usually go from 25-35ish)... Merge the layers again like earlier and change the blending mode to "Multiply". You'll see this darkens the image. And we're almost done. You can see the glowly look I was talking about almost appear, right? BUT we don't want the a blanket effect (I usually don't, because then there's nothing special about the...well...special parts I to specifically add the effect to). So then, go ahead, add a layer mask to the Orton layer (decribed earlier) and paint as you like. Oh, and if done all that you might as well fine tune a little bit more by changing the "Opacity" of the Orton layer to fine tune a little more, just like you can do to the brush as shown on the top of the PS window. (Note: I usually have my Orton layer around 35-50% opacity) Now then, here's a cool Orton example I saw recently! Original Orton Overdose Locally applied and fine tuned Orton Note: The effect adds some contrast to your image too (your brightening the image and darkening it - in unequal proportions!) so keep that in mind. Ahh, so that's about it for this post. And no, I didn't set out to write an essay when I began. I promise my future posts won't be this insane and I'll try and limit them to a paragraph or three at most! How the thread goes is totally up to you. If you want photo critiques, post 'em - I'll post my own pics too. If you want more more PS tricks we could share or something. If you have problems, post where you get stuck. If you want to know something specific like "How do I darken the skies/How do I remove my pimples/" in my photos or something, drop a line. Also, tell me the bits you liked and hated. Was it too basic/advanced? Do you want more composition techniques or post processing tricks? Do you want single tricks or more of a sequence of tricks that builds on the previous? Do you want more stuff in Camera RAW/Lightroom (the other software I use)? Do you help on a filing system for your photos? Anything goes... If you have tricks of your own I'D LOVE to hear about them - composition, post processing, anything goes. Also, post your own photos (using these or any techniques really) too. If you take awesome photos - share the goodness! If you take crappy ones, I guarantee I can show (and will) you one I've taken that's much crappier. But SHARE! To end, I'll share two of my recent fav. photographers. Landscape/travel - Elia Locardi is pretty cool. And since Ash reminds me about how I need more variety, have Jaime Ibarra (has NSFW pics too, though there's an adult filter on by default) for candids/fashion. He's neither most common type of fashion photographer out there nor the most famous. However, his photos have a certain...."look" about them that you can tell instantly. Cheers. A big shout out to Oz for encouraging me to make this; Naeblis for helping with the structure/content of the thread - and the title (to my objections); and, CheddarTrek for quickly proofing it! And a smaller one to Sree for being spectacularly unhelpful. Footnote: Keep in mind that I tried to start with the essentials and build up here. Everything I've done? There are at least 10 other different ways to use the same commands, apply the same tricks, and so on. Similarly, there are infinite permutations and combinations to everything I've done for a host of other uses, be it Layers, Curves, Orton, etc etc. Like the Room of Requirement in a cliche fic, your imagination is your limit really.