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Doc Green’s Woodturning Site

Part 1: Image Editing - What it’s all about

If you have ever been frustrated and annoyed while attempting to correct the color balance or resize a photograph of a turning, a part of the problem might be that you are using an editing program that’s not well-suited to the task. They are not all the same. Many of them assume too much control in determining what corrections should be made. You are left out of the loop, so to speak, and the results are seldom really great.  

My objective in this and the following articles is to illustrate how basic image editing is done in Photoshop Elements. It is not a super complicated or mysterious process, and most importantly, you are in full control. Specifically, I describe cropping, adjusting the brightness and contrast, correcting the color balance, resizing, and a bit more.

Hopefully, this material will help you make an informed decision as to whether you should invest in Elements. Correcting a color balance, adjusting the exposure, or resizing an image does not have to be a pain. Of course, if you get good results with another program, there’s no reason to change.

I stand to gain nothing if you get Elements, except perhaps I will see more and better pictures of your turnings posted on the web. That would be good.

If you post a photograph of a turning on the various forums and messageboards, more people will see that photograph than will ever see the turning in real life.  That is unless the turning goes to a museum or permanent gallery in which case the matter is too close to call.  Therefore, the photograph should be as good as we can manage, to show the turning in its best light, so to speak.  

Almost all images straight from the camera can be improved with a good editing program.  In fact, it is standard practice among the better and more experienced photographers to edit an image to improve such things as placement of the image within the frame, brightness and contrast, and color (white) balance, if necessary.  

The following photograph illustrates the power and capability of image editing.  The first image is straight from the camera, underexposed and shot with the wrong white balance setting on the camera.  The second is after cropping, adjusting the exposure, and correcting the color balance.

I’m sure that nobody wants to post a poor picture of a great turning, but I see it happen all the time.  In such cases, I suspect that either no editing was done, or it was done with a quick-fix program that lets the computer decide what the final result should be.

On a separate but related matter, what I see and hear indicates that more turners are frustrated and confused by the need to resize an image for posting to the web than any other aspect of taking and publishing a photograph.  At the same time, every photo-editing program I’ve seen has resizing capability, often in the form of “Save for Web,” or something like that.  

The problem is, again, that the program does everything for you and often doesn’t bother to give you any details.  You are left wondering if it really worked.  With Photoshop Elements, resizing is easy and it tells you exactly what the file size will be before you commit to the operation.  

“I’m a woodturner, not a photographer!”

Yes, I know.  Few turners are professional photographers, but there are many well-known turners who are also pretty good photographers – which probably explains part of the reason they are well known.  Good photographs of good turnings get noticed!  

If you have the capability to shoot a reasonably good photograph, you can take it to the next level with only the basics of photo editing.  However, I think it’s important to invest your time, effort, and (a little) money wisely: get a good program at the outset.  My choice, unequivocally, is Photoshop Elements.

Adobe Photoshop Elements

This program is the “little brother” of Photoshop, a well-known and very sophisticated program.  “Elements” does not have all the features of the full-scale Photoshop, of course, but it’s now in Version 11 (eleven) and has more capabilities than the average non-professional will ever use.  The current version of the full Photoshop is now CS6 (as of May 2013).  

I’m a long-time user of Elements.  I’ve dabbled briefly with other photo-editing programs but have not yet found one that I prefer over Elements.  

So why do I like Elements?   

(1)  It’s the real deal.  Full Photoshop is, for all intents and purposes, the standard by which others are judged, and Elements becomes more powerful with each release.   Further, it has enough advanced editing capabilities that if I want to get better at image editing, I don’t have to buy another program.  All I have to do is learn more about using what’s already there.

(2)  It allows me to retain control over the changes made to the image.  When I change the brightness, for example, I can change it a lot or merely tweak it a little simply by moving a slider in a dialog box. I can see what the effect of the adjustment will be before I click OK to accept it.  

(3)  There is a large volume of books, DVD’s, and videos available that give step-by-step instructions on how to use the program.  A lot is on line, free for the clicking.  Nothing frustrates me more than to have a piece of software, a CAD program for example, and no information available to show me how to use it.  I’m not a “click and discover” kind of person.  

What’s the disadvantage?  You have to pay money for it; it is not free.  However, the cost of the program plus a book to explain how to use it is about $100 (US).  This is about what a nice bowl gouge will cost, but it’s not nearly as much as some of the fancier tools I’ve seen.  

Is Elements complicated and hard to learn?

It is a powerful and sophisticated program and with that comes complexity.  At first, the sheer number of tools in the toolbox and the long lists of items in the drop-down menus are intimidating. And, if you are fairly new to the details of photography, there is a lot of new words and jargon you will have to learn. This is why you should buy a book along with the software.  

One of the drop-down menus is shown at right.  Fortunately for beginners, most of the items can be ignored.  

You will have to devote considerable time to reading, studying, experimenting, and perhaps watching online videos (youtube and more), of which there are many. And no doubt, there will be times when things don’t work, which can be frustrating.  

The most important thing is your level of commitment to learning at least enough to perform the basic editing operations.  It will not be a free ride.  You must pay your dues.  

That’s the bad news.  

Here’s the good news --

The Elements editor offers three different options for editing an image, based on your level of experience.  These options are built right in; there’s nothing extra to buy.  You select the option with a mouse click at the top of the editing screen.  

Expert:  All the tools and menus are there with no explanation.  It’s assumed you know what you’re doing so the screen is not cluttered with notes and icons to explain what each tool or function does.

The photo at right shows the Expert screen after the brightness and contrast adjustments were selected.  

Quick:  This just the opposite.  It allows you to adjust the lighting, color, white balance, and so forth, by moving sliders that appear in a panel next to the image.  It also has the one-click “quick fix” and automatic correction buttons that you can try, to see if, by chance, the results are good.  

The photo at right is a screen shot of the Quick Edit screen with the exposure adjustment panel expanded.   

The Guided Edit lets you select tasks from dozens of different categories, such as color correction or lighting and exposure.  When you select a task, a panel appears that gives a step-by-step procedure for performing the task.  In most cases, the sliders for making the adjustments are right there in full view, ready to use.  If a special tool is needed, an icon is included for you to click to open the tool.  It’s like working through a tutorial except that you are editing your image for real.  

The screen shot at right is the Guided Edit screen. The first dozen options are shown in the panel to the right of the image.

At right is the Guided Edit with instructions for cropping the image. The program has already drawn the cropping box and is waiting for the user to make fine adjustments by moving the tabs on the sides and corners of the box.

With these features to help you along, it’s hard to imagine that you will not be successful if you give it a reasonable effort.  And nothing says you have to limit your image editing to photos of turnings.  Snapshots of family members (i.e., grandkids), travel photos, and the shots of those old folks at the woodturning club may also benefit from a little editing.

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