More often than not, the awesomely dramatic photos that you see on the internet are a combination of two steps-

  1. Clicking a good composition in good lighting conditions and right camera settings – This blog is more or less about this first step- framing a good composition, using the right camera settings and playing well with the light.
  2. However, there is another step, which often makes average looking photographs seem much more dramatic. This is the post-processing step.

Now, a lot of people may object that good photography should be all about using the camera and not the photo-editors. But then, art is also about letting your imagination take over and making your photographs more interesting in various ways, than they would otherwise be.

Let me take a small example below and illustrate my point.

Step 1. Shoot a subject that stands out

Here’s a photograph taken by a point and shoot camera (albeit a more expensive and sophisticated one)- Sony HX9V. I take many photographs, so I prefer to use a P&S in the “intelligent”auto¬† mode. – There’s a reason it’s called intelligent :-) . Most of the time it works for me. Surely, it cannot match the finesse obtained through a SLR manual mode, but as I said, it works well for me, most of the time.

Four Red Chairs- by the Lake of the Woods

Four Red Chairs

As you can see above, although there is some “potential” in this photograph, yet it is not something that can be called “interesting” . Not yet, anyway.

Although, on the positive side, the subject- the 4 chairs, does provide a good contrast to the background. That’s where the first step is important. You may learn to use the camera settings over time, or atleast learn to photoshop- but you also need to pay attention to the “composition” of the photograph, at the same time. (Some tips on composing landscape shots in this post).

The camera settings for this pic were:

  • Focal Length: 6.6 mm
  • Aperture: f/9.0
  • Shutter speed: 1/320s
  • ISO: 100

Step 2. Processing the photo

Now this is where, I love Picasa. As a free software, it provides many options/filters and is also very easy and convenient to use for multiple pics. Below is the series of steps that I took in processing this pic an arriving at the final result. Note, that I did not have a final image of this pic in my mind- I just tried the various filters, based on the thumbnail previews and followed my intuition. If someone asks me the exact logic of the steps, I may not be able to give that. But use your aesthetic sense, and you may end up very satisfied with the final result – as I did :-)

Step 2.1 Straighten the pic: Use the horizon or water line as the benchmark

Step 2.1 - Always straighten the photo before doing any other post-processing


Step 2.2: Use Auto Contrast to check if the lighting could be made any better. Also try different settings in tuning (shadows, fill light, highlights) to improve the lighting in the photograph. In this particular one, I only used Auto-Contrast.

Fix the lighting in the photograph

Step 2.2: FIx the lighting in the photograph. Use Auto Contrast or Tuning options to achieve the desired look


Step 2.3: Check to see if the image could be improved by changing saturation/using boost or Auto-color. In this particular photograph, I didn’t use any of these.

Step 2.4: Now play around with various filters. I had some idea that I wanted to decrease the level of the detail in the photograph, as well as improve the contrast. I tried a couple of filters/effects and settled on orton-ish

Post processing- filters

Step 2.4: Play around with the filters/effects. "Orton-ish" applied here.

Step 2.5: Next,  I used cross-processing

Red Chairs: Cross Processing

Step 2.5: Red Chairs: Cross Processing

Step 2.6: I then applied Soft Focus and Graduated Tint

Red Chairs Soft Focus

Step 2.6: Apply Soft Focus & Graduated Tint

Step 2.7: Finally, I played around some more with shadows and applied border.

Here I am showing three final version of the same photo. These have different levels of shadow effect and some variation in soft focus size. Let me know which one you like the best.


Version 1

Red Chairs and Lake of the Woods- Final Version 1


Version 2

Red Chairs and Lake of the Woods- Final Version 2

Red Chairs and Lake of the Woods- Final Version 2


Version 3

Red Chairs and Lake of the Woods- Final Version 3


All in all, I am quite pleased with the final versions and the fact that I managed to click these chairs when I did!



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