The Fix

How to tame a crocodile den, recompose a sunset, and otherwise improve faulty photos.


Croc Stars

Daniel Azam Azmir
Muscat, Oman

The problem: We really like this composition of creepy crocodiles, particularly the outcroppings that, when you look closer, turn out to be…more crocs. The issue is the lighting: harsh overhead, close to backlighting, it can obscure the detail in the crocs if you try to tone down the highlights, and, if you adjust contrast/brightness levels to favor the crocs, you can blow out the highlights. The photographer here made a good decision by shooting in RAW and making adjustments in Adobe Photoshop CS3, including an unorthodox use of the cross-processing preset in Curves to boost sharpness, contrast, and detail. But we still think the harsh sky reflections in the water fight too much with the crocs.

What now? We took the RAW file and made two separate conversions. This way, we were able to use different exposures for the water and the crocs. We combined them in Photoshop, with lower contrast and saturation in the water, and more crunchy contrast and color in the crocs to bring out their texture.

Next time: This was a tough call. Do you wait for more diffuse lighting but lose the snap provided by the contrast? Or try to fix it later? This is where Layers in Photoshop can come to the rescue. If it sounds too daunting, check out the "Understand Layers" Digital Toolbox: Debbie Grossman explains Layers step by step. It's a very powerful tool, much like printing with variable contrast paper back in the old darkroom days, but without the chemicals or stained fingers.

Tech info: Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi, 24-105mm f/4L Canon EF IS USM lens, 1/160 sec at f/8, ISO 200. Canon RAW converter; color balance, saturation adjustments in Photoshop CS3.

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Gull Getter

Jeremy Sykes
Oceanside, CA

The problem: A nice sunset study, aided by the addition of foreground elements as a graphic counterpoint. (Remember: Sunsets alone are usually pretty boring.) The photographer had cropped up from the bottom, which was good, and used (yay!) a new layer in Photoshop to add a little brightening to the rails, walkway, and gull. But there is still too much dark space at the bottom -- it acts like a dead weight in the composition. And while the sky is pretty, we don't need that much of it. What now? We simply cropped the image to give it a horizontal orientation. This takes out most of the dark lower shadow and frees your eye to wander around the rest of the frame. Also, notice how the diagonal lines of the fence now act as a pointer to the gull. Next time: Have the courage of your cropping. And as much as Pop Photo editors keep blathering on that you should always take (or at least try to take) verticals, remember that horizontals sometimes just work better. Tech info: Tripod-mounted Nikon D50, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DX Nikkor, 1/40 sec at f/22, ISO 200, white balance set to cloudy (which adds warmth to the color balance).

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