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Welcome to "The After-image" - a blog about digital image editing

"Taking" photographs is easy. Making photographs is hard, but worth the effort. Through examples from my own work I want to show you that the image captured by your camera and stored on your memory card is just one piece in the larger puzzle of producing a photograph worth looking at.

"The After-image" illustrates the "before" and the "after" of digital image editing. It isn't a "how-to" with step-by-step instructions on transforming the RAW image into a finished product. That would be like trying to write instructions on how to tie your shoes! Instead, I illustrate what can be accomplished by showing BEFORE and AFTER images from my own work. Each post features an untouched BEFORE image direct from the memory card followed by the AFTER finished piece. (I also provide brief comments on the main issues I faced in working on the image and how, in a general sense, I tried to deal with them.)

I hope this will inspire you to invest time and effort in learning how to produce your own masterpieces! 

Notice I referred to "RAW" image. People serious about photography understand the importance of "shooting RAW" rather than having their camera automatically convert images to the jpeg format. These posts are written on the assumption that you will be shooting RAW.

Don't get me wrong. The jpeg format is great for certain purposes. If you're taking snapshots, want to quickly post photos to social media, aren't obsessive about the quality of your photographs and don't want to deal with anything other than the simplest image editing software, then jpeg is for you. 

But if you want to produce pieces worthy of hanging on a wall then RAW is your best choice. You will have maximum flexibility of manipulate your images - adjusting for exposure, dynamic range, sharpness, etc. - and in many cases will be able to rescue images from sub-optimal camera settings (e.g. under- or over-exposure) in place when you clicked the shutter.

(On the other hand, in jpeg mode the camera throws away much of the data captured by the sensor and "bakes" settings into the image that affect how it will appear. You can't undo those settings - just as you can't un-bake a cake!)

Shooting RAW means working with photo editing software. I assume you have working knowledge of Photoshop, which I use in all my image editing. (I also use DxO PhotoLab - which does a great job of the first stage of the photo editing process where the RAW image is converted to a more widely accessible format like .psd or .tif or .jpg. Photoshop does this too - just not as well, in my view.)

I have been working in digital photography for about 14 years. I am self-taught, and still learning. Digital photography is perfectly suited to self-teaching. Mistakes don't create wasted film, paper and chemicals. You get immediate feedback from your your camera. And when you edit you can't ruin anything because you can always go back to the original image. So have fun, experiment, don't be afraid!


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Lots of interesting lines and angles in this 70-year-old wooden truss bridge spanning the Little Bouctouche River in New Brunswick. An extremely wide-angle lens (12mm) allowed me to stand on the bridge and still fit much of the structure within the frame.

But a wide-angle lens creates significant perspective distortions. Notice the odd angles of the upper cross-beams in the "before" image. I could have avoided this by standing right in the middle of the bridge and pointing the camera straight down the center, but I thought that would have made for a boring composition.

I twisted the image until the cross-beams appeared horizontal. This made it necessary to crop the image - so you see that the "after" image is much tighter to the bridge structure than the "before". The tighter crop makes the curve of the arches more dominant and leads the eye nicely into the frame.

The original image was underexposed and looked "flat". I made brightness and contras…

"Blue House"

The French-Canadian village of Grand-√Čtang on the west coast of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia has a few brightly colored cedar-shingle houses that I have always found very striking. This one, with its electric blue walls and neat white trim, is a beautiful example.

My challenge was to make the house stand out from its surroundings. I wanted to eliminate distracting visual elements. I blurred the surrounding field and hills while leaving the house sharp. I cloned out the barn behind the house to the left, the two utility poles immediately next to it, and the chairs at the extreme right. But I kept the little storage hut because I liked the juxtaposition of the larger blue house against the smaller drab structure. 

I cropped the image a little to make the house more dominant. But I didn't crop too much because I wanted to maintain the feeling I had of the house in its landscape. 

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"Red Dress"

Sometimes you have to be lucky.

There I am, in the trendy Hawthorne District of Portland, Oregon. Across the street is a stylish young couple waiting for the light to change. The hem of the woman's brilliant red dress is wafted up by a momentary breeze. The red of the dress just happens to be complemented by the red hand of the traffic light, and the red marquee of the 90-year-old Bagdad Theater, a Portland landmark. What are the odds?
First, I strengthen the position of the dress as the visual center of the image. That's easy: I crop. I want the red of the Bagdad marquee to frame the image at the top, and the yellow center line of the road to frame it at the bottom. I also want to leave enough in the frame to give you a sense of the street. And I don't want to lose too much of the lettering on the marquee. To get it right I change the aspect ratio to 4:3 from the original 3:2.

Now I want the couple to stand out even more. I darken and blur the part of the image immediately b…