instagram

How to edit photographs in Instagram

#nofilter

This hashtag means, “This is straight out of camera. It looks great without any effects or editing. It’s all down to me.”

Well, even if they’re telling the truth (ahem), they’re sadly mistaken. The camera/phone has to process the shot to create a jpeg file. It applies sharpness, contrast, brightness, adds blacks, reduces noise and compresses the file, having already determined colour balance and exposure. That’s quite a lot of work.

Also - like it or not - pretty much every image can be improved - SHOULD be improved - with some further work. Editing is to an photographer what revision is to a writer, presentation is to a chef, or pruning is to a gardener. That’s why #nofilter doesn’t really impress. Depending on the image, I’d say the editing makes up between 20%-40% of the final impact.

Editing begins with correction, which gradually becomes improvement, which then runs into creation (which is at the opposite end of the scale to #nofilter). Everyone has different views to where the boundaries lie, how much to do or declare, and the context of the photo and its purpose will also largely determine this. Note that the ‘creation’ aspect is very limited in Instagram, but I’d certainly place the ‘filters’ in this camp.

So the first thing to say when editing is: ditch the filters. But not for the reason above. But instead, because they make an image look processed: all style over substance. And for anyone who cares about creating nice imagery, why put all that effort into taking a photograph, then leave the rest to an algorithm you don’t understand? I’ve found doing the editing myself informs my photography, and my photography influences the editing.

Some of Instagram’s filters, which apply an instant ‘look’ to an image.

Some of Instagram’s filters, which apply an instant ‘look’ to an image.

Let’s think about what we’re trying to achieve.

The approach

For me, the rule is to make an image look as good as possible, without making it look like you’ve done much at all. And remember, edits are global. That is, the effect is applied to the entire image. So for instance if you wanted to darken something, then everything gets darker. Improvements will therefore have trade-offs: a good reason for a light touch.

OK - the ‘correction’ part' is easy - is it too dark, does it need cropping etc?

When it turns into improvement, it’s then about asking what the picture is about, and emphasising that aspect. So if it’s a picture of friends, your adjustments should mainly consider their faces, and so may involve Brightness, Saturation and Sharpness. If it’s a sunset silhouette, you’re looking at Contrast. If it’s a portrait of your grandmother, best to skip Structure. If the subject is centre-frame, you might be considering cropping, or the Vignette tool. And so on. With global edits, the trade-off means you have to let the rest of the frame fall where it may.

It is not about sliding every slider each way to see what looks nice. That’s time-consuming and results in an over-processed look ‘just because it looks good’. You’re not being sympathetic to the right treatment. Plus if you’re spending more than a minute editing, that’s too long.

We’ve dealt with the filters. Let’s look at the editing tools now, starting with the most essential one: the crop.

The editing tools

crop.jpg

Crop

This is on the very first page, and not immediately obvious as it sits near Boomerang and Layout. Instagram defaults your image to a square, and this function returns it to its original shape, if different. You can crop in/out by pinching/squeezing, or move the canvas around.

When to use

Always. It can be used as a trim to tidy up the frame. It can be used more severely to cut out unwanted elements. Or it can be used to radically recompose and change the meaning of the image.


Lux.jpg

Lux

Also often missed, this appears at the top of the filter page. It’s the odd one out in that by clicking on it, it automatically adds 50%. It works on contrast, saturation and sharpness, and gives a bit of a ‘pop to flat images.

When to use

Nearly always, and roughly between 10-30. Never above 50. Be careful to press ‘Cancel’ - not ‘Done’ - if you don’t want it.


Adjust.jpg

Adjust

Since you can crop on the opening edit page, this is only useful for perspective correction.

When to use

Almost never. Occasionally you’ll have something large or small at the edge of an image which looks wrong, eg a face in a group photo. Otherwise, it’s only necessary if your image relies on exact angles, parallel lines etc.


Brightness.jpg

Brightness

I often return to this tool a couple of times during editing, as Highlights, Shadows and Contrast all affect overall brightness.

When to use

You should use this for almost every photo.


Contrast.jpg

Contrast

This is about how much ‘punch’ there is in your image; it’s the difference between the shadows and the highlights. Be aware this will affect the saturation of an image.

When to use

Most of the time: the majority of images need a little boost. However, with misty landscapes and images with a calmer mood you might want to go the other way, reducing contrast.


Structure.jpg

Structure

Similar to the ‘clarity’ tool in professional editing programs, this tool lies somewhere between sharpness and contrast, and gives a crunchy, hi-definition feel to an image.

When to use

It pulls up texture, so definitely not to be used on a portrait of your grandmother as it would be unflattering. But for a photograph of her hands, it would be fantastic. I use it a lot for detail and abstract images.


Warmth.jpg

Warmth

This gives a red/orange hue sliding right into the positive; sliding to the left (negative) gives a blue/green hue.

When to use

I rarely use this except to give a bit of a ‘look’. Use sparingly - you never want to push this too far in either direction.


Saturation.jpg

Saturation

This determines how strong the colours appear in an image. Strictly, it’s about how much grey there is.

When to use

Naturally, images relying on (‘about’) colour may benefit from saturation. But you’d be surprised how effective a slight reduction can be, typically between -10 to -20, especially in more moody/soft-light portraiture.


Colour.jpg

Colour

This tints the highlights, shadows, or both with a colour and to a degree of your choosing.

When to use

Rarely, if ever. And extremely sparingly. It gives the image a look (in the same way as the filters do). So as soon as it’s noticeable, you’ve gone too far.


Fade.jpg

Fade

This reduces the blacks and colours. Again, it gives a very obvious look to an image.

When to use

Perhaps on a misty scene, but otherwise never: this belongs among the filters.


Highlights & Shadows.jpg


Highlights

This deals with the brightest parts of an image. Sliding to the right can ramp them towards white, whereas to the left darkens them.

Shadows.jpg

Shadows

Like highlights, but covering the darker tones. Sliding to left pulls them towards black, while to the right lightens them, revealing shadow detail.

When to use

Nearly always, for both. While degree is a matter of taste, more contrast tends to be more desirable; pulling them apart achieves this, resulting in punchier and simpler results which work well on the platform, but at the risk of losing subtlety and detail. Bringing them together has a softening/fading effect, and can result in an HDR-type look.


Vignette.jpg

Vignette

This darkens the edges of the picture, drawing the viewer’s attention to the centre of the frame.

When to use

Use for anything where the corners are unimportant, but they must already be (slightly) dark. On a light background, vignetting looks horrible, or at least makes the image look overly processed eg sky.


Tilt Shift.jpg

Tilt Shift

This is a naughty little cheat tool, blurring everything outside the target area. Blur can be radial, with both the size and location of the focus area set with pinching and moving. It can also be linear, where the width and angle can be changed. It’s a lot of fun and has immediate impact.

When to use

For snaps - if you use this, it’s very obvious and unnatural.


Sharpen.jpg

Sharpen

This is an essential tool, even though the results can be hard to see at anything less than about 50%, especially on small screens. It gives that final little tweak. Our eyes are drawn to - among other things - anything sharp, so it’s an important part of the process.

When to use

Always.


Final tips

Left to right workflow

Work left to right, and go back if you need to. A dot will appear underneath the settings you’ve changed. Remember, you don’t need to use every tool.

left to right.jpg

Touch and go

Keep checking the before and after. By holding your finger on an editing screen, you’ll see how the image would look without that adjustment. On the main screen, it shows how it would look without any adjustments applied. Touching and removing is a handy before/after view.

Pull back.jpg

Ease off

With that last point in mind, pull back on your effects, as they compound one another. 34 Saturation, 47 Contrast, 45 Highlights, -28 Shadows: all of a sudden you have a very heavily-processed image. 34 should be 20; perhaps bring 47 down to around 30, and so on.

I hope this is of use! Happy ‘gramming.

Recent work - June 2017

Here's a collection of (mostly) recent shots:

For this portrait, I used the  Magmod  gobo to create a window light. Really lovely bit of kit!

For this portrait, I used the Magmod gobo to create a window light. Really lovely bit of kit!

A quick portrait for the charity  Sense , who were working with Wayne McGregor dance at their new studios at the Olympic park.

A quick portrait for the charity Sense, who were working with Wayne McGregor dance at their new studios at the Olympic park.

Product photography for  Fruitflow , a natural supplement which improves blood flow.

Product photography for Fruitflow, a natural supplement which improves blood flow.

Noma Dumezweni, who plays Hermione in  Harry Potter and the Cursed Child , wins best actress at the Mousetrap Awards.

Noma Dumezweni, who plays Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, wins best actress at the Mousetrap Awards.

Shot for The Times, there weren't many options for this portrait of an entrepreneur. They wanted him photographed outside next to some goalposts. Sadly, the goals were half-size and we only had a few minutes before the kids' teams took over the pitch. We did what we could, but it quickly turned into the photographer's (dreaded) "Man in a Field" situation, which I obliged but - well, let's just say there won't be a blog post about this shoot. As the saying goes, "I don't want excuses -I want pictures."

Shot for The Times, there weren't many options for this portrait of an entrepreneur. They wanted him photographed outside next to some goalposts. Sadly, the goals were half-size and we only had a few minutes before the kids' teams took over the pitch. We did what we could, but it quickly turned into the photographer's (dreaded) "Man in a Field" situation, which I obliged but - well, let's just say there won't be a blog post about this shoot. As the saying goes, "I don't want excuses -I want pictures."

Roy G. Biv and all that. Apparently, Isaac Newton added the indigo (previously they used to think there were three colours, then five, then six in a rainbow). And nobody knew what a rainbow was until the 17th century. The Greeks thought rainbows were a path created by the goddess of the rainbow, Iris, linking us to the immortals. Anyway, there aren't three, five, six or seven colours, but millions, all blending into one another.

Roy G. Biv and all that. Apparently, Isaac Newton added the indigo (previously they used to think there were three colours, then five, then six in a rainbow). And nobody knew what a rainbow was until the 17th century. The Greeks thought rainbows were a path created by the goddess of the rainbow, Iris, linking us to the immortals. Anyway, there aren't three, five, six or seven colours, but millions, all blending into one another.

While I was waiting...

I've said elsewhere that one of the things I like about Instagram is that it's a place to put all the images which don't belong anywhere else. Too random for Facebook, not relevant for clients, and neither suitable nor strong enough for my portfolio. But worse would be to leave them on a hard-drive, forgotten in a cupboard, forever. While browsing my IG feed, I noticed that a great number were shot while I was waiting around for something.

It's an interesting category. These are the kind of images which, most of all, should fall between the floorboards. These shots are either an afterthought or noticed when you're thinking of other things. They're the result of time spent idle, with no planning or prior intention, and they wouldn't exist but for the opportunity of a few free moments. 

A friend was delayed. St Pancras station, London.

A friend was delayed. St Pancras station, London.

In a cafe, waiting for a coffee.

In a cafe, waiting for a coffee.

In a car park, on arriving early for a shoot.

In a car park, on arriving early for a shoot.

One New Change, London. Waiting for permission from the site manager.

One New Change, London. Waiting for permission from the site manager.

Underground station sign (I had arrived early).

Underground station sign (I had arrived early).

Archway. Meeting a friend. 

Archway. Meeting a friend. 

I don't remember where this was but it's a lamp-post (or was, originally). Strictly, I wasn't waiting and I knew I wanted to do this for a while, but it was taken on a break between shoots.

I don't remember where this was but it's a lamp-post (or was, originally). Strictly, I wasn't waiting and I knew I wanted to do this for a while, but it was taken on a break between shoots.

Taken through glass in a queue at an airport.

Taken through glass in a queue at an airport.

Cracked glass at Sushi Samba, London, while waiting for people to arrive for an event.

Cracked glass at Sushi Samba, London, while waiting for people to arrive for an event.

Gelled flash through opaque glass. Waiting to do a portrait, I was playing around with the idea of using a coloured spot behind the subject. It wasn't working (there wasn't enough space to spread the light), but did make this interesting shot. 

Gelled flash through opaque glass. Waiting to do a portrait, I was playing around with the idea of using a coloured spot behind the subject. It wasn't working (there wasn't enough space to spread the light), but did make this interesting shot. 

London. During dinner at a press launch.

London. During dinner at a press launch.

Photographed while the film crew were interviewing a subject. I did actually send this one to the client along with a couple of other stock images from the day (there was a lot of waiting around).

Photographed while the film crew were interviewing a subject. I did actually send this one to the client along with a couple of other stock images from the day (there was a lot of waiting around).

London, in between corporate portraits. The 'razor' building can be seen (centre) through curtains. 

London, in between corporate portraits. The 'razor' building can be seen (centre) through curtains. 

Not quite waiting for paint to dry, but the next best thing.

Not quite waiting for paint to dry, but the next best thing.

Various gas pipes and pressure gauges in a factory corridor. I have absolutely no idea what they were for.

Various gas pipes and pressure gauges in a factory corridor. I have absolutely no idea what they were for.

The Tower of London, the Walkie-Talkie, the Cheese-Grater and the Gherkin. Taken from the event space at the top of Tower Bridge at dusk, while waiting for speeches to finish. 

The Tower of London, the Walkie-Talkie, the Cheese-Grater and the Gherkin. Taken from the event space at the top of Tower Bridge at dusk, while waiting for speeches to finish. 

Photivation (two) & Instagram

It's been a few months since I started on Instagram (@alexrumford). I wanted to share some of my experiences. 

I still love it - and I'd like to think that my newly-rediscovered enthusiasm has fed into my regular work. I'm looking for images everywhere, all the time. I have tried to post a least once a week, even if it's something timely from my professional or personal archive. After all, the latter contains heaps of photos which would otherwise never have seen the light of day.

I love how everything is on the same platform: award-winning photos are followed by a throwaway shot of a coffee or the view from a hotel window. This is important - there's no pressure to categorise which images you're proud of, which are serious, and which you're merely posting as nothing more than a photo status update. And it's hard to tell the difference: everything is viewed on the same terms, and on its own merits. For myself, some pictures which I really like receive no attention, yet others which I put there to break up a quiet few days get likes. 

I've noticed that I'm taking mostly abstracts and details. I'm not sure if this is to do with my own preferences - an abiding and personal interest in what I enjoy about photography (outside of the profession) - or because these shots tend to be, almost by definition, 'found' pictures, suited to the iPhone and a busy life going to different places. Often with just a few moments available to capture them, and without being powerful enough in themselves neither to warrant more than a couple of frames (nor, indeed, very much attention), they suit how many of us treat photography. Rarely do I shoot more than a few frames on my phone of a subject.

And this is interesting for me: one of my guiding principles is that photography ought to be a process and not an event, hence shooting a *lot* of frames in my professional work, and working around the subject.

With Instagram, I try to get to the nub of what I see as quickly and efficiently as I can. In equal parts I'm therefore always unsatisfied with my effort, but also under no pressure to produce anything of worth, or feel like I would. Not to say I don't try to get the shot right, but that (and equally because they're nearly all abstracts and details) it's often more about the feeling than any kind of deeply-considered or committed art, or anything else. If that makes sense. 

The adjustments bring them to, and sometimes above, the reason for the photo. They emphasise what it is you meant to say. Again, as with spending time on the actual image, it follows that I then won't post a photo if I find I'm spending too much time messing about: adjustments aren't there to save a bad photo, and they won't. Although they can - and do - hide mediocrity and flaws below layers of contrast, saturation and clarity ("Structure"). It can be hard to tell, sometimes, and perhaps I'm partly guilty.

In my defence, I *never* use any of the named filters. I only use the adjustments, simply so I know what I'm doing. I usually have an idea beforehand of how I see something, and how I'd like it to look. I will (on occasion) go completely the other way, or play with various adjustments, just to see. But obviously most shots fall into a category, and require a specific approach. Anyway, I've noticed I tend to keep the photos fairly natural-looking. Perhaps I have to. Since my feed is dominated by abstracts, I can't have too many which I've pushed so far as to end up into that most-hated abstract category, where the first - or, worse, the only - reaction is, "What is it?"

Finally, I love the search icon, which opens up an endless stream of images to browse. I need to continually refine my feed, as so much is irrelevant and gets rather tedious (I've seen enough B&W images of birds on telephone wires, thanks!) I like to see fresh and unusual work outside of what I typically 'get'. The feature which I'd like to see would be a 'recommend' button. A place for you to list your top suggestion(s) for others to follow. 

Follow me! - @alexrumford