What Makes A Photo Work?

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Lightening Up A Puffin!

The original image as presented for feedback.


Our Anonymous Photographer has captured a great portrait of a puffin, complete with a supply of fish for lunch! However, squish your eyes together and look at the photo a little blurred - where does your eye go? My eye goes to the dark wings, not the head, and then it is distracted by the light surroundings.


I think this is a classic case of a great capture with incomplete post-production. I can't think of a photo I have taken that wasn't improved by some aspect of post-production. But post-production doesn't need to mean 'lots of post-production', as this example will prove. Our Anonymous Photographer has all the ingredients in the file, ready to go.



My first adjustment was simply to darken down the file. This brings back detail into the important areas, inluding the face and breast. I'm darkening a JPG file, so darkening down a raw file would give an even better result. Note how there is now detail in those highlights. However, the foreground rock is a little on the light side...



By darkening the foreground rock, the eye more naturally moves up to the body of the puffin and his/her head. The light areas are attracting the eye because the surroundings have been darkened.



A subtle darkening to the sky above has helped further, but now perhaps the wings of the puffin are a little dull...



The final adjustment is to lighten up the wings and increase the contrast - so now there are three areas that catch the eye - head, breast, wings - before it goes wandering around a darker and less interesting surroundings. Perhaps the final image could be a tiny big lighter overall, but as explained before, working from a JPG file creates some limitations.


Our e-book on How To Win Photo Competitions isn't just for making better competition entries, it's full of great advice on improving all your photos - you can find it here.


And if you're interested in a photography tour/workshop in the next 12 months, I have trips going to USA, Arnhemland, Georgia/Armenia, Iran, Greenland/Iceland and Mexico. Full details on the Better Photography website!

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