Sometimes you find what would be a perfect photo except for an annoying blemish or two. Make no mistake: this is an error by the photographer. Part of the art is noticing such things when peering through the viewfinder before taking the shot. However, now that the mistake has been made (and learned from, right?), you might as well salvage what you can.
Take the above shot, for example. This was taken by my wife’s sister as my wife got dressed for our wedding. It really is a great shot! I’d like to know what she was trying to photograph at the time, but she doesn’t remember. My guess is that she was showing off the back of the dress and the rest (the reflection, the backward glance) was just chance. Unfortunately, the CDs on the dresser and the candlestick to the side detract from the overall image.
I’ve re-edited this photo three times now, each time with more experience. Here’s what I can tell you:
- Every change you make should be done on a separate layer. This makes it possible to go back and make changes to your changes without having to undo/redo all the changes made afterwards. Photoshop also has “adjustment layers” for applying exposure/color corrections that can be modified later. Gimp does not have this (but will eventually, I’m sure) so you’ll have to duplicate the base layer before applying these changes. It also means that any touch-ups will not receive these adjustment changes and so have to be done separately.
- Put touch-ups on a new layer. By keeping the modification separate from the original, these changes can easily be undone, faded, or otherwise altered without having to completely revert to the original and start over.
- Power is not the key. Keep the modifications subtle. Like make-up, they should enhance without being noticeable. As soon as a viewer notices a color enhancement or whatever, then he/she is no longer looking at your subject but at the picture itself.
- Remove distractions. Something sharp and detailed that is not your subject will draw the viewer’s eye away from what you want seen. The CDs on the dresser in the above photograph are a perfect example of this, but it also applies to the general background. If you carefully select all but your subject and apply a slight gaussian blur (remember, subtlety), the viewer’s eye will always wander to the still-sharp subject.
- Crop the picture to display what is important. You may find that what is important is not your subject. There are times when it is the space around the subject that makes a photograph impressive.
Sometimes, too, there is an opportunity for a unique effect. My example is a photograph of a person and people often look better in black & white. I chose to desaturate most of the image, leaving just one part in color, thus creating two different and distinct points of interest in the final product. Which attracts your eye the most?