Sally Jane Photographic Art

Fact Sheet 7


Pet Photography - The Digital Darkroom - The Basics

Before digital cameras, unless you liked working in the dark with your hands in some nasty chemicals, the photographic process ended once we pressed the shutter release. Now all that has changed as our computers are the new darkrooms of the digital age.

Most digital cameras come with some form of digital editing software. This will usually allow you to correct colour cast, red eye, basic sharpening, make contrast and brightness adjustments, straighten and crop the image, paint or type over the image and make selections that you can either delete or copy from the image. If you enjoy editing your images and you would like more flexibility in what you can do I would recommend buying Photoshop Elements. I work with the full version of Photoshop but many of the features in my version are also available in Elements. In my opinion, you can't get a better program for the money.

OK, so that's the software, but how are we going to use it for our pet portraits?

As many of you will not have Photoshop I will try to only talk about procedures you should be able to use with most basic image editing software. Even a good photograph can benefit from a little tweaking so it is worth loading that program up even if only to experiment. If you do have Photoshop and you would like to know how to use it in a little more detail from what I have here then go to my Photoshop tutorial site.

First things first. Sort through you images and make a shortlist of those you think are promising candidates for your pet portrait. If an image is out of focus forget it. The image sharpening tool will not work miracles so if it is visibly blurred on first inspection it will be too bad to fix. Images that have large areas where the highlights are burnt out are also no good.  Images taken in low light will also make poor candidates as they will appear 'noisy' (speckled with pixels of a different colour). Again, some programs include a filter to remove noise or speckles but often these only serve to blur the image. Crooked images or images with a slight colour cast can usually be fixed OK.

Once you have chosen you image or images make a copy of them. You should only ever edit the copy so you always have an original to fall back on if all goes wrong. First, you might need to straighten the images. This involves rotating the image until the horizon or some other vertical or horizontal line is either vertical or horizontal. You will now have triangles in the corners of the image where there is no data so the image will need to be cropped to reduce its size and crop out these corners. This will make a smaller image but that shouldn't be a problem provided you don't need to crop into your pet. You might also find that you need to crop the image to align your pet up better in the frame. Too much background will probably not do anything for the composition of the pet portrait in any case. Don't be frightened to crop, you can always undo it if you don't like the result.

Next you will need to zoom in on the picture until it is being viewed at 100%. Study the outline of your subject to see if it is sharp. Try using the sharpening tool to see if it looks any better but don't overdo it. All the sharpening tool does it to increase the contrast of any pixels it deems to be forming an edge. Too much and you will end up with a visible halo of light pixels around the edges in your image. You can usually toggle between a before and after view to see which is best.

Now look at the colour, does it look right? Is it a little blue or does it have a yellow cast? Often there is a feature in the program that will sort such things out automatically with just one click but they are not infallible. Try it and see. If not, you can usually change the colour balance manually. The same goes for brightness and contrast.

Once you have finished tinkering with your pet portrait save it and compare it with the original. If you don't like it, make another copy and try again. All the time you have the original safe and unmodified you can practice editing the image over and over again until you feel happy with it.

These steps are pretty basic but they can improve an image no end if used correctly. The next fact sheet will take editing a stage further; altering the images to remove unnecessary distractions or even entire backgrounds from your pet portraits.