The Fix

We give new shape to a landscape, sharpen some sheep, and help you improve your photos.



Sheep Thrils

Jessie Cho
San Ramon, CA

The problem: The wide open spaces in this New Zealand scene are a little too wide open. The sheep get lost in the frame, and as a result, the visual tension is diluted -- your eye isn't drawn into the frame at any point. And the foreground sheep are almost out of the frame, making the picture look clipped off.

What now? The first thing we noticed: There's a vertical composition in the frame that's begging to be let out. This gives you a nice foreground focal point, countered by the sheep in the far midground. But with a little more magnification, the sheep now appear fuzzier than sheep normally are -- they're slightly out of focus. We countered this by adding some local contrast and sharpening in Adobe Photoshop CS3. We also darkened the sky a bit. Then we came to the problem of the sheep walking off the frame. As this was the very edge of the image, we added some foreground, using Cut, Paste, and the Clone tool, too. While we're usually reluctant to perform such surgery (really!), in this case we think it's not intrusive and helps to rebalance the frame.

Next time: Look for the vertical, particularly when you're shooting a scene at a wide angle with a distinct foreground element. Don't forget to give a quick scan to the edge of the frame, even when you're shooting fast. And make sure you have enough depth of field to cover everything you want sharp. Here, the photographer could have gone to a slower shutter speed -- say 1/300 sec -- and still kept the moving sheep sharp, while gaining a couple of stops to use a smaller aperture for more depth of field.

Tech info: Canon EOS Digital Rebel, 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Sigma DC lens. Exposure, 1/1000 sec at f/5, ISO 400. Brightness and saturation adjusted in Photoshop CS2.

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Petal Mettle

Jim Forgette
San Andreas, CA

The problem: We confess to usually hating flower still lifes, but we made an exception for this one, a fine composition with a lovely counterpoint between two colors. Which is why some little things bother us: The dark background needs to be closer to a deep black to really concentrate our gaze on the tulip -- to use a term from the film world, it has low D-max. And the stem in the back is just too bright -- it fights with the subtlety of the blossom.

What now? Using Levels in Photoshop, it was a simple matter for us to restore a true black point in the background. We then masked off the bottom of the stem and made a custom curve to tone down its brightness. Notice how these small fixes bring out the color saturation of the tulip, even though we didn't touch the saturation settings. Cropping fanatics that we are, we tightened in on the blossom a little from the top and right, although we're not sure if that improves the composition, or if we went too far. You decide, Fix fans.

Next time: Tweak softly and carry a big fix.

Tech info: Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT, 28-105mm f/2.8 LD Tamron lens. Exposure, 1/60 sec at f/3.2, ISO 200, hue adjustment in Picasa.

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