Lesson 21: Editing for quality - clarity, brightness & contrast, and filters

Now that you have cropped your photo to get the best composition, let's look at editing for quality of color, light, clarity and overall feel. 

Before we get started, though, just like I do not recommend that you zoom in your camera while you are shooting on your smartphone, I do not recommend that you take photos with a filter already applied, or that you edit within the Photos app itself, beyond simple rotation. As I described in lesson 20, it's much easier to play around with adjusting different edits in Camera+

Another one of my favorite things about Camera+ is that you can control the intensity of pretty much every setting and filter that is offered. This gives you a high degree of control over the edits on your photo without requiring you to have a lot of technical knowledge.

It also means that you don't have to be held hostage to some of the more stylized filters that many apps offer. Retro filters are very popular these days, and I think that many of them look great, but at the same time, those filters are going to look dated in years to come, and they also tend to give those photos a less natural feel.

I do edit my iPhone photos a little differently from my DSLR photos - a little more saturated and stylized - but I still keep it pretty "clean." I encourage you to use editing to more closely match your photos to the feelings of the moment rather than trying to give the moment a different feel.

Think of your photos as your interpretation of the moment, an opportunity to share your perspective and voice.

Clarity:

  • This is the one setting that can really transform your smartphone photos. In Camera+ it is available as a scene, but to control its intensity, go to "The Lab" and use the Clarity setting from there. 
     
  • You may find that this setting at 100% makes your photos a little too stylized and almost like an illustration. Depending on the photo, something in the 40-70% range may work better.
Without editing

Without editing

Clarity at 50% - it's a subtle difference but look at how much more detail you can see in the sand.

Clarity at 50% - it's a subtle difference but look at how much more detail you can see in the sand.

Brightness and contrast:

In Camera+ you can adjust Brightness and Contrast in "The Lab". Most filters essentially add Brightness and Contrast as well as adjusting colors slightly. Adjusting Brightness and Contrast yourself gives you more control and is particularly helpful when you have a dark photo (for example from lesson 15) and want to increase brightness more than a filter will, without a radical change in colors.

Increasing contrast prevents your photo from washing out too much but I generally don't find I need to use it too much.

Clarity at 50% and Brightness at +44. Because of the light and shadow in this photo, increasing Brightness has the biggest impact of all - you don't even really need a filter after doing that.

Clarity at 50% and Brightness at +44. Because of the light and shadow in this photo, increasing Brightness has the biggest impact of all - you don't even really need a filter after doing that.

Clarity at 50%, Brightness at +44 and Chrome at 50% (see section below on filters)

Clarity at 50%, Brightness at +44 and Chrome at 50% (see section below on filters)

Filters:

Selecting a filter:

  • Camera+ offers 6 sets of 9 filters - a total of 54! That is an overwhelming number to pick from.
     
  • I would certainly play around with them, but aim to come up with 2-3 favorites rather than choosing from all 54 filters each time. Not only does this make it simpler and quicker, but it also gives your photos a consistent look, which you will really appreciate when you come to put your photos together in a wall gallery or album.
     
  • For example, my go-to filter is Chrome (under the Standard set). It’s clean and adds a little brightness without going too yellow (which is a pet peeve of mine - I tend to edit my photos more on the “cool” (blue) side rather than the “warm” (yellow) side). 
     
  • For black and white, I like Noir (Standard), or sometimes Ansel (Retro) or Silver Gelatin (Analog).
     
  • And I have a few others I sometimes play with if I’m looking for something a little different for a particular photo - for example Madison Ave (Analog), Contessa (Analog), or Overlay (Special).
     

Setting filter intensity:

Chrome at 50%, Tailfins at 46%

Chrome at 50%, Tailfins at 46%

  • As I mentioned, this is one of my favorite features of Camera+. Once you’ve selected your filter, you can click on “Advanced” and dial the intensity of the filter up or down. Again, depending on the photo, I usually take it down to 40-70%. 

Layering filters:

Yes that’s right, you can also layer filters onto each other, which adds a whole new world of options! Again, don’t get too distracted by all the possibilities. I actually rarely layer filters, but there are two situations where it can be particularly helpful:

  • When you want to add a little bit of a lighting effect such as from Expired (Analog), Diana (Analog), Tailfins (Retro) or Toy Camera (Retro). You can layer in a little bit of a flare without going nuts.
     
  • When you want to add a bit of brightness to a black and white photo. Typically you are not going to want to take a black and white filter down below 100% because then it won’t be fully black and white anymore. But layering, say, Chrome (Standard) on top of Gotham (Hollywood) will add a little brightness while still keeping it pretty moody.
Gotham at 100%, Chrome at 50% - a little too dark

Gotham at 100%, Chrome at 50% - a little too dark

Gotham at 100%, Chrome at 130% increases the brightness (you could also do this via Brightness and Contrast but it is convenient to be able to play with the two sliders in the same screen instead of switching back and forth)

Gotham at 100%, Chrome at 130% increases the brightness (you could also do this via Brightness and Contrast but it is convenient to be able to play with the two sliders in the same screen instead of switching back and forth)

Put this into action now:

  • Decide on the editing app that you are going to use - I recommend Camera+
  • Choose a photo and import it into your editing app - crop it per lesson 20, if you like
  • Try applying the clarity setting
  • Edit it using brightness and contrast.
  • Try different filters and choose no more than three as your favorites
  • Try dialing the intensity of the filter up and down
  • If you are ready, play around with layering filters
  • Edit and save your photo three different ways, then decide which one you like best

Note: when I am done editing a photo in Camera+, I “Save and Remove” the photo so I have the finished version in my camera roll. If you want to try different versions of the photo, you can instead “Save and Keep” and then continue to edit, or you can import another version of the photo to start over from scratch.

Here are some more before/after iPhone images to give you some ideas:

Today’s photo prompt: What makes your child light up?
Next up: Fine tuning - brightness & contrast, highlights & shadows, temperature

Note: I'll be giving you daily photo prompts to help you in your photo-a-day project, but they are completely optional. Ultimately you should choose the photo for your project that best reflects what you most want to remember about the day.

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