Sometimes you just get bad shots. Great subject, great timing, perfect arrangement and mood… UGH! Bad photo!

The lighting, equipment, subject and environment all conspire to ruin your photography. More often, the culprit is that lowest price, cheap-o camera equipment you keep hoping will somehow produce magically good photos… but I digress  (FYI, even typical pocket digitals can take good photos if you take some time to learn what you are doing).

With a little creativity and some image editing software, you can often turn a yuck image into something interesting. If you luck out, you can even make it look like you DID IT ON PURPOSE! That’s the magic of post production (or what us common folks call “messing around in my paint program”).

Here’s an example of a horrible photo I took tonight of Abby. Bad lighting, wrong settings on my camera… I was trying out some new combinations of exposure and a yellow spot light in my already poorly lit office.  It was so bad, I decided to use it as an example of squeezing a lemon and getting some lemonade. I’ll let you decide if I was successful.

The point is, a bad photo is not ALWAYS destined for the virtual recycle bin.

With a little creativity, and some good old fashioned messing around in your image editing software, you can SOMETIMES turn that dog into a flower, or at least a cute puppy.

original
Here is the original that suffered from terrible lighting and even worse settings on my camera.
First thing we do is a good crop. Careful cropping makes average pictures remarkably better. Learn to crop.
First thing we do is a good crop. Careful cropping makes average pictures remarkably better. Learn to crop.
Then, I used the Shadow/Highlight function to remove some of the darkness. Most image editors have a tool like this. When you remove shadows, you often get grainy textures and an awful lack of contrast but it does give us a little more detail to work with.
Then, I used the Shadow/Highlight function to remove some of the darkness. Most image editors have a tool like this. When you remove shadows, you often get grainy textures and an awful lack of contrast but it does give us a little more detail to work with.

Next, the LEVELS tool allows me to increase the highlights. LEVELS are not linear like a CONTRAST tool. Levels allow you to work with the shadows, midtones and highlights separately. In very basic software like Picasa, you would use the tool called "fill light". For this image, I significantly increased the highlights to create contrast and lighten the image.  At this point, the contrast is still pretty BLAH. I've got a trick for that in just a minute but first, I applied a heavy SHARPEN filter to give the image a grainy old fashioned look. Why? Because the image is so bad to begin with, my goal is not to try and get a good photo; my goal is to get a good art effect. At this point, the contrast is still pretty BLAH. I've got a trick for that in just a minute but first, I applied a heavy SHARPEN filter to give the image a grainy old fashioned look. Why? Because the image is so bad to begin with, my goal is not to try and get a good photo; my goal is to get a good art effect.

Next, the LEVELS tool allows me to increase the highlights. LEVELS are not linear like a CONTRAST tool. Levels allow you to work with the shadows, midtones and highlights separately. In very basic software like Picasa, you would use the tool called "fill light". For this image, I significantly increased the highlights to create contrast and lighten the image. At this point, the contrast is still pretty BLAH. I've got a trick for that in just a minute but first, I applied a heavy SHARPEN filter to give the image a grainy old fashioned look. Why? Because the image is so bad to begin with, my goal is not to try and get a good photo; my goal is to get a good art effect. At this point, the contrast is still pretty BLAH. I've got a trick for that in just a minute but first, I applied a heavy SHARPEN filter to give the image a grainy old fashioned look. Why? Because the image is so bad to begin with, my goal is not to try and get a good photo; my goal is to get a good art effect.

This is where it gets fun. I duplicated the image layer and applied the OVERLAY mode to the layer. Then, on that new layer, I opened up the LEVELS tool again and really jacked up the hightlight and shadow contrast.

This is where it gets fun. I duplicated the image layer and applied the OVERLAY mode to the layer. Then, on that new layer, I opened up the LEVELS tool again and really jacked up the hightlight and shadow contrast.

On that same new layer, I applied heavy SHARPENING again to make it look even more grainy. After that, I lowered the SATURATION of this layer and moved it slightly towards yellow using the HUE & SATURATION tools. This, along with the grainy texture, starts to give us an old timey photo look.

On that same new layer, I applied heavy SHARPENING again to make it look even more grainy. After that, I lowered the SATURATION of this layer and moved it slightly towards yellow using the HUE & SATURATION tools. This, along with the grainy texture, starts to give us an old timey photo look.

The contrast still was not very interesting, so I duplicated the 2nd layer (the one that was an OVERLAY mode) and this time applied the SOFT LIGHT mode. Now we are getting some richness in the contrast.

The contrast still was not very interesting, so I duplicated the 2nd layer (the one that was an OVERLAY mode) and this time applied the SOFT LIGHT mode. Now we are getting some richness in the contrast.

The photo is fairly interesting visually now but lacks any impact. We may be setting our sights to high, but look back and remember what we started with. One more effect and we’ll call it a work of art:

I applied an elongated vignette to give a corner to corner lighting effect. No technical reason, just trying to make the overal composition a little more interesting visually.

I applied an elongated vignette to give a corner to corner lighting effect. No technical reason, just trying to make the overal composition a little more interesting visually.

Not a Masterpiece, Not The Point

Keep in mind… this demo was not an attempt have you create that worldclass masterpiece professional gallery-worthy magazine cover image.

It was an exercise in “rescue creativity” to show you that don’t always have to trash that cute pose or interesting scene that was photo-junk because of bad lighting or the wrong settings on your camera.

My point was to show you that a bad photo can be rescued with creativity. How do you learn that creativity? Simple… just mess around and experiment in your image editing software.  For more examples of creative fun with photos, go here.

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What are your questions about photo editing?

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