Photoshop Your Image

Is this fair to highly edit and retouch an image like I did below and enter a Photography contest? Just curious what you all think. I never edit like this BTW and enter, so you might guess how I feel about it.


Those of you that have no clue what I will be explaining here can please vote just to voice an opinion. But if you have little clue how to photo edit, your answer may be no on principle.

I will show you the steps to create the finished image on the right.

Here is the actual jpg original, my worse shot of this statue taken on a bright, sunny day. See how I make it acceptable.

What I did first was crop the image. I did this mostly for working on a close up shot.

Then I selected the statue to isolated the background. I used the Magnetic Lasso tool.

Next, make a copy by hitting Ctrl J to make a new layer and name it statue. Turn off your new layer by clicking the eye to the left of the layer. Hold down the Ctrl key and click the new layer button at the bottom of the Layers Panel. With the color picker, make the selection R 202, G 158, B 119, then click Alt backspace to fill the layer with the new color.

Now on the layer filled with this color, go to the Filter menu and choose, Render>Lighting Effects. Now, if you are on a new Mac like I am, you must change to 32 bit from 64 bit to add the Lighting Effects to the menu. You Windows people no problem. I am giving Windows key strokes, BTW.

Use the default settings. This creates the new lighting background for your image on this separate layer, just like the little preview to the right.

Now we enhance the image itself, not the background. Select your Layer, statue, and hold down the Alt key and go to Adjustment Layer and choose Levels. Check the box to use the previous layer as a clipping mask. This only applies levels to the layer below. Set levels. See the vast improvement?

Choose Curves for increasing contrast. Adjustment>Curves. Set to Strong Contrast for maximum contrast or move the curve until you are pleased. The wavy line moves. Try it. I used Strong Contrast, though.

Now merge all the layers. The keystrokes are Alt+Ctrl+Shift+E to merge into one layer. Name your new layer Final.

Go to the Image menu and scroll to Apply Image. This allows you to control light and color by Channels. I will let you experiment here because it gets a little complicated to try to graphically show you this step. Make sure to be in the RGB Color mode though.

Make a layer copy and choose Convert to Smart Filters. Go to Blur and click Gaussian Blur. Set a value you like. Mine was 2.9.

Change the Blend Mode to Screen and set the opacity to 40%.  We softened the lighting with the Blur. Then you merge all the layers again.

Here it gets much more complex, but we can simplify and stop here. I did a few more steps after Flattening to clean up the image. I added a 4 px inside stroke to contain my lighting.

What do you think is fair? Which do you prefer? This is a technique from the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP), called From Simple Images to Creative Ones. I, of course adapted it to one of my images and changed it up a bit.


44 thoughts on “Photoshop Your Image

  1. I have no problem with how an image is produced. The image is the thing. That’s not to say that I don’t have great respect for those who create great images ‘in camera’.
    Images are manipulated with darkroom techniques too, not only digitally.

    • You make a strong point. Photography is art, so why not always make it such. Otherwise everyone would still have a polaroid and a bunch of luck. I guess I just have an enormous respect and admiration for a good photographer’s ability. And a little jealousy to boot because I can not master it easily like other art forms. I have to treat my camera as my ‘friend’. I have never even got a mention in a photography competition, so at some point may resort to photoshop if I can not get my camera to ‘cooperate’. LOL.

  2. I’m truly impressed with the transformation. I have a few bug shots that I truly love but after cropping, the resolution and color are a little disappointing. Is it ok if I were to send these photos to some make up artist before submitting them to Photography Contests?

    Actually, I kind of assumed that high editing is not allowed in contests. Good that you raise this because I may be very wrong.

    • I guess I look at color manipulation as the main culprit. Doing if for arts sake is fine, but these catalog companies do it all the time and when you buy the plant, it never looks like in the photo. As for a competition, the image is all about the art of the image, so editing is really expected.

  3. Impressive manipulation. I don’t mind people photoshopping their images, though I do very little of it myself because I want to learn to use my camera better, not my computer. Photos have been retouched ever since there were photos. I would have expected photography competitions to have clear guidelines about how much digital manipulation is acceptable, I suppose, but there again I would have thought it was impossible to police.

    • A photographer can pretty easily spot excessive editing in an image like I did I think. There are tell tale cues. I am like you, I try to enter photos I think I made a decent shot then may sharpen it a bit or add contrast. I need to be a better photographer mostly, and not rely on photo editing software. Plus shooting a RAW image would help too and then drop it in Lightroom for some minimal touching up. I always find this an interesting question. I can improve an image with a little time, so always wrestle with do I keep editing to where there is little left of the original?

  4. I’ve always thought of Photoshop and that ilk of image treatment programmes as a modern-day version of Ye Trusty Olde Dark Room… Photoshop might make a lot of the changes simpler, but it doesn’t essentially change the fact that images have always been treated and enhanced before display.

    (Also, my mother has a few colour photographs from the 1950’s that my grandfather took as black-and-white, developed and then coloured by hand so painstakingly detailed that you couldn’t see they weren’t taken in colour.)

    • I used to love darkroom work. That is where I could express creativity. But creativity always masked my actual skills with the camera. I have to take so many different exposures to get a nice original shot, but I guess that just comes with the territory. I just am a really impatient photographer.

  5. That’s an amazing edit – you would never have guessed that it had orginally looked like that. I think you could get away with that in a competition – no one would know unless you put a name and location to a statue.

    As for a flower – I don’t think you could ever isolate the image and still make it look good. A shallow depth of field and a good lens is the most natural way to create blur.

    I’ve no problems with whatever software folk use in a competition with their photographs as long as they follow the rules. Some use adobe bridge in photoshop (like me) and some picasa. My only problem with picasa is that it doesn’t reduce the quality for the internet.

    • Rosie, I can isolate a flower, just need different tools, and much more time. I did it in one post,, but did little in the way of enhancing improvement. I could have changed the background easily. Drop in a cool sky, easy. I know that editing has always been done and I worked/learned in a darkroom with black and white film. Editing really is just a fact of life, and is expected, but it does make it more unfair to those that can’t.

  6. I pretty much figure most of the photos entered online have been photoshopped somehow or another. I does not bother me, actually. I figure the one with the most talent will win.

    Now, as a side question to you… Since I am going to make the leap to the world of photo touch-up… which product should I purchase?

    Then I will be back to use your handy lesson. Hope there will be more.

  7. Interesting. Whenever I try to reduce this question to a hard-and-fast principle it doesn’t hold up, but generally speaking I’d say it depends on the contest rules 🙂 and more generally whether the digital editing enhances or alters the original photo. Cropping and making “dark-room” type changes to saturation, color balance, and contrast seem fine to me, but substituting one background for another doesn’t, unless it’s entered in a special “digital editing” category. I think there’s still an assumption that a photograph shows you what’s “really” there, even if that reality has been dramatically skewed by the photographer–in fact the relationship between the photographer’s “vision” and the “real thing” is half the enjoyment. But the photoshopped background was never there at all, so it strikes me as crossing the fairness boundary (in a contest situation). If I were to purchase a photo, though, I wouldn’t care about any of that–I’d just want it to look good.

    • I agree it depends on the contest. Many times I have read the judge encouraging improving an image in these amateur contests. In a professional contest, I would say all goes because this usually is someone’s livelihood and the caliber of contestant ability is raised. Not to mention a professional undoubtedly is very adept at Photoshop or Lightroom. It is all about the art of the image too. The problem with determining what is acceptable is often a mute point. Like adding in water reflection, lens flare, shadowing that is not there, etc. , things that make an outstanding shot, if done well, goes unnoticed pretty much as not being there in the image in the first place. Like they do in advertising.

  8. Donna, I don’t know what I think about this. I certainly don’t have any problem with cropping, which is all I did to the image I entered in GGW contest. The only other thing I ever do is add shadows in Picasa. Perhaps the contest rules should specify whether photoshopping the image is allowed. It is a very complicated question because if photography is art anything goes. Carolyn

    • I just see many edits in these contests and think those that do not have the capability are at a disadvantage. Most everyone has the ability to sharpen, add saturation and contrast with the photo apps that come with the computers. iPhoto on the Mac has a pretty good set of basic tools. You can see how easy it is to make a huge improvement with more advanced apps, take a really flat image and give it some pop. I never have finished in the competition, so it is hard for me to comment about this really. That is why I posed the question. I just wanted to see if others had an opinion on this.

  9. Wow I never thought people did this in the contest..I just assumed they took a picture like I did by looking for the right light , focus etc…I do not use photoshop because it is too expensive for what I do right now but again wow…I have only entered once before and of course did not win…we shall see…wish i knew which one it was…mmmm

  10. I knew it *could* be done, but have never even tried altering my photos. I would think for a contest it should rely more on the talent of the photographer and that specific photo they took, not how good they can photoshop – unless that is why they are holding the contest, and it is understood by all.

    • The contests for photoshop users produce some incredible imagery. It often uses techniques that a traditional photographer would not use, like when I turned a photo of me into an avatar. It started as a photo, but in no way resembled one in the end. Or when I do a ‘painting’ of a flower which starts as a photo. But in the flower instance, some of that manipulation can yield some very real looking and much improved results. Hard to tell that it is not a flower that was shot that way in the first place. Like arranging the leaves and stems in an interesting form to better the composition. So easy to do.

  11. Hi Donna – it all depends on whether the comp specifies ‘straight from camera’. As long as we stipulate it’s been photoshopped, no harm. Very impressed with how you isolated the statue – when I lasso all extraneous bits come too.

    • If I were masking out the background of a complicated and busy subject and background I would use the plugin, Mask Pro of onOne Software. Or I would mask it out in Photoshop. A much better way to select by using Channels.

      The magnetic lasso in Photoshop works pretty good here though. A step I did not show was refining the edge of my selection. I used Modify>Contract, to move the selection in by 1 px, then inverted the selection to select the background, then deleted the background. It removes the halo look with bits of the background coming along for the ride. Usually I Refine Edge with a slight feather too. Way too much info to show, but I just wanted to show readers how easy it is to change up a background. I should have used a tree against a gray sky then replaced it with a blue cloudy sky. Hard to tell it is not an original when it is finished.

  12. Donna your post (and comments) are quite fascinating. I sometimes use photoshop, but mostly don’t want to spend the time it takes. I did use it to mask my sweet little grandkids faces, that was fun to see the transformation. As for contests, I’ve never thought any of my photos worthy of entering… but hope to do so someday. You pose a good question, but honestly how could the use of editing ever be monitored? Perhaps it would have to be an honor issue.

    • Like you, in blogging there is really no time for the photo manipulation. Sometimes I really need an image to make my story and I know it is too out of focus or too flat, but still use it. In fact, to make this post took me longer than most. When you are playing with levels and curves rather than hitting contrast to make the fix, it takes longer. But you can dial in the accuracy and really make the image sing. I did not even spend the time on the statue as I would have if making it for a print ad say.

  13. I greatly admire the skill of photographers who not only take great images but recognize what would make that great image even better and then have the editing skills to make changes. It’s all way beyond my mediocre ability. So I’m not opposed to editing in general. The rules of a photography contest should state whether edited images are acceptable. If I’m looking at images that have been entered in a contest I’d like to know which ones are untouched and which ones aren’t. Do all gifted photographers also have the technical skills to edit? Maybe they know what needs fixing or enhancing but editing requires good computer skills in addition to the artist’s eye.

    • I think many photographers have Photoshop as a tool. I am betting that many of the older ones still rely on their own techniques and abilities though. In fact, I read recently of a ‘famous’ nature photographer just learning to use Photoshop. I was so amazed because his images are so spectacular, it was hard to believe they came straight from his camera. That is why I am always wrestling with this issue because there are those who don’t need the extra help of photo editing. The use of filters and special lens and the knowhow to use them is all some need.

  14. a wonderful lesson Donna,
    I think if the competition doesn’t say you can’t then anything goes, for textile competitions where entry is by digital image then the competition states if no digital editing is allowed, if it doesn’t then it’s allowed,
    almost all the things can be done in a darkroom including changing background (you cover the photopaper so it doesn’t develope for areas of the negative you don’t want) in the old way lots of competitions were for slide only entries to stop editing,
    as for ‘some people don’t have …’ this still applies even if editing isn’t allowed as some people have more sophisticated cameras than others and always have, the only way it could be a ‘fair’ contest is if everyone had the same camera and took shots in the same place on the same day,
    as to your photos not getting a mention, it’s all asthetic so the judge has different taste to you, you have loads and loads of people who you give a great deal of pleasure to by sharing you photos, thank you,

    • You stated quite a lot here on the former way of photo competitions. I do remember the slide only submissions. I follow some photographer sites and find some use some pretty basic cameras in the field, yet their photos make mine look like a kindergardener shot them. Much has to do with the knowledge and experience of the photographer too. But mentioning the camera and lens are good points, but the understanding how to really get the most out of them is a result of a real level of experience.

      I loved dark room work for what you mentioned. In fact that was my main love of photography. I may have a tendency to resort to that more had I not started blogging. I made a real effort to improve my photos as shot. I never expect to really finish in a photo competition, like I have in art shows. It is more the fun of it, plus I get visits from photographers that may have never stopped in to my blog.

      • the other things I meant to say were as I see Christine has said it’s in the ‘eye’ of the photographer, you couldn’t have done your example if you didn’t have the ‘eye’ to see the potential of the photo,
        and remember that professional photographers take LOTS and I mean lots of photos, I always remember my first introduction to this in a photography book where the writer started by saying he was returning from an early mornings shoot of the sunrise and had 9 rolls of 35mm film on the back seat and thought he would have one or if lucky 2 good shots! I was stunned but have realised professionals got through a LOT of film and now with digital even more photos, Frances

        • True on the amount of images to get a good shot. My post on GWGT today,, to take the 11 images, I took 95 photos. I could not have been so lucky in film because I would have thought about the cost of three or four rolls. Not making a living from photos, makes that out of the question. Your comment made me look how many I took for that post. I never really think about it in digital when just shooting a medium sized jpeg. If I was shooting RAW images, then I would be thinking on it more for using up the card too fast. But you have to admit, the old film prints had so much more depth with film. I can add grain in Photoshop, but that real depth is missing. I often think about getting out my Nikon F2 and running off a roll or two.

  15. Photography is art and having the skills to use photoshop properly and actually SEEING what works to enhance an image is not something many can do. I cannot do it – I don’t have that sort of “eye”. Not everybody can do it so its art, in my opinion. But here a thing … I actually prefer this particular photograph before the photoshop magic – but I do see the beauty in the enhanced image too.

    • The trick is not to show your hand as having done any special editing work. In print ads, they often do it up big and there is no question, but they are going for maximum effect. Some images you just can tell though. Like I mentioned. I can tell an image over saturated, over sharpened, and image where filters are used, where lighting and shadowing is incorrect. In my image in the post, I did not adjust for proper lighting, so you can tell it is manipulated. I just generalized rather than adjusted and added a proper light source. But having lots of free time (like where does that come from) I could have worked it up better.

  16. We are waiting on the results of the GGW contest? The most interesting bit is the judge’s comments. That teaches me, to look at the photos differently. It seems we need two different classes. Photoshopped. And NOT. I do admire your skill, both in taking the original picture, and then in enhancing it.

    • Thanks Diana. My post was meant for all photo contests in general, because I do not believe much editing is done in the GGW contest. I have seen some really obvious ones previously, but that is kinda rare. The judges comments are only for those that finish in the top 5 to 7 I think. I never make it into the group, but no matter. The comments are always worth learning from no matter whose images finish. I always like the write up that the judges post initially. They always have tips and techniques to try.

  17. I think you’ve done really a good work with Photoshop! I believe that even using properly these softwares allows to show one’s creativity.

  18. I think you did a great job. Photography can be artistic and can represent your point of view and express your personality. You are not creating a “fake”, but a work of art. Same in painting – very few truly great painters (aside from Canaletto who might not be truly great…) have chosen to represent reality as seen by an impartial eye – it is uninteresting.

    • I think you really capture the essence of a good photo. It will show a mood, feeling or shock or delight. Something magical happens when viewing. You are moved to emotion. Not even all professionals hit this level. Ansel Adams and Alfred Stieglitz come to mind as those that transcend. Others like Annie Leibovitz does some amazing work with people as her subject.

  19. Wow! That is amazing, and I would have no problem with it being entered in a contest, as long as the contest allows extensive editing. A photo is a piece of artwork, and even a simple photo alters perceived reality somewhat, by selecting a particular image and essentially cropping it out of the overall setting. How often do I angle the camera to miss the nearby weeds! I have got to learn more about photoshop!

    • The age old question, lol. Once I was on a garden walk in a local community and was shooting a woman’s garden. Her and I got to talking because she thought I was from the local newspaper and her garden was going to be a feature story. I explained I was going to make her famous the world over on my blog. 😀

      So she seriously asks me if I can edit out all the weeds and replace them with plants she can not grow due to our climate. Gardenia was to replace the dandelion patch in the one corner. And she likes bougainvillea wouldn’t you know and would love to have it on her new trellis. She was pretty darn specific.

      I laughed, tell her I could meet her request, but why spoil perfection. And, I would make sure to angle the camera to avoid the dandelion patch to spoil the pretty garden view.

  20. I didn’t vote only because the answer really depends on the rules of the contest. Most photography contests that I know of have very specific criteria about how much post-processing is allowed. Some just allow cropping, others allow auto-leveling, others the whole range.

    As for post-processing in general, why not? The technology is there and it still is a form of artistic expression. I just read a quote this evening on the header of one of the blogs I visited tonight. “Photography is painting with light.” Still art.

    That said, I’ve met older pro photographers who occasionally go back to film because the “challenge” of capturing a great shot is spoiled by the ease of checking and reshooting in digital cameras as well as editing that can be done in software. It all depends on the individual choice. whatever makes you happy . . .

    • If photography is painting with light, which I believe to be true since an image of an object can not exist in the absence of light, artificial or natural, unless of course you are an organism which ‘produces light’ (like jellyfish or phosphorescent fungus or which most of us do as heat signatures, right?), then it is the quality of light that matters to produce the art, or in the case of the heat signature, the equipment. So if I can take a poorly shot image and turn it into a light filled masterpiece, is that photography or illustrational editing?

      This seems to present a challenge? If I spend lots of time on an image, I can produce an image worth display. So should I enter that image because it is now art? I paint and draw, so creating an image depicting light seems normal, but seeing it in a still life, where photographing it is less then optimal, then adding it back in because I could not capture it naturally does not seem as art-like.

      I know normal editing is expected on almost all photos. Rarely do I shoot one not needing sharpening or contrast. Many of my images just hit the post as is for the essence of time. Some are not too bad either. Some, out of focus and under exposed. My question is when is editing too much. The poll is black and white and really refers to competitions. I am too much a novice to enter most of them anyway, but I could try for one that encourages editing to the max.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s