Learn Some Photography Tricks for the New Year

New Year's resolutions are a dime a dozen. In the past I've vowed to lose weight, earn more belts in kickboxing class, start another master's degree, and walk my dog more often. Most resolutions get forgotten long before Valentine's Day. This week, though, I'm offering you something different: The opportunity to resolve to learn some nifty photo editing tricks. I collected a handful of the most interesting and useful photo editing techniques from the past few years of Digital Focus. If you need more basic information on photo editing, you might want to start by reading "Getting Started in Digital Photography." After that, though, dig in to these juicy tricks and tips.

Erase People From a Photo

Few things are as frustrating as trying to capture a beautiful photo and being stymied by the presence of other people in the scene. Thankfully, the classic "there's a tourist in my Zen Garden!" problem is one that you can fix afterwards in a photo editor.

You can use digital trickery to remove tourists in a couple of different ways. I wrote about two common methods in "Two Ways to Remove People From Your Vacation Photos." The first method relies on the Clone tool, which you can find in almost any photo editing program. The second requires using a feature available in Adobe Photoshop CS2 or higher, and it involves no artistic skill, just a couple of photos of the scene.

Separate the Subject From the Background

Here's a surprisingly common photo editing task: Removing the subject from the background. Lots of people like to separate the subject (this is often referred to as "punching it out") and incorporate it in a different photo or in a project like a homemade greeting card or poster. There are a lot of ways to do this. Some are simple, some are tricky. My favorite method, though, is using the Magic Extractor tool in Adobe Photoshop Elements. If you don't have that program, you can use the common selection tools found in any photo editor. I explain how to do both in "Two Ways to Remove the Background From a Photo."

Make a Tilt-Shift Photo

Tilt-shift photography is magical. It lets you take a photo of a common, everyday scene, but have it appear as if it's a miniature. Ordinary homes become doll houses; boats in a lake become toys; city skylines become Lego creations. In days of old, you'd need an expensive tilt-shift lens--a lens that literally tilts along its axis so it produces more than one point of focus. These days you can do more or less the same thing with a photo editing program. I've armed you with two ways to do this. You can create a tilt-shift photo in a program like Photoshop Elements, or you can use a free tool available on the Web.

High Dynamic Range Photos

At some point in your photography efforts you've probably been frustrated by the lack of dynamic range in your photos. In a photo with bright sunlight and deep shadows, you typically end up with just one or the other. It's not your fault; no camera can capture the full range of bright and dark that we perceive with our own eyes. There are ways around that conundrum, though.

If you take a series of photos with different exposure levels (such as with your camera's bracketing control), you can combine them on the PC afterwards in such a way that you blend the best bits of each shot into a single high dynamic range photo. Want to give it a shot? You can try it yourself after reading "Stunning Photos with High Dynamic Range, Part 1" and "Stunning Photos with High Dynamic Range, Part 2." There's an even easier way: In "Improve Your Exposure in Tricky Lighting," I showed how you can approximate a high dynamic range photo just by modifying the exposure levels of a photo in your photo editing program.

Add the Orton Effect

There are a lot of effects that are simply impossible to achieve "in the lens"--that is, while you take the photo. Some require a bit of editing on your PC. The Orton Effect (the signature look of a photographer named Michael Orton) is one such technique. It adds a warm, radiant glow to your images by making a "photo sandwich" of sharp and blurry versions of the same scene. You can achieve this effect with just a few clicks, as I explained in "Apply the Orton Effect for Glowing, Vibrant Photos."

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.

Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 640 by 480 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.

This week's Hot Pic: "Double Pinks" by Barbara Hunley, Austin, Texas

Barbara writes: "The hibiscus plant in my back yard bloomed recently and produced two beautiful double-pink blooms that I took this at mid-morning. I used a Nikon D300 with a 90mm macro lens, and I used a gold reflector to enhance the colors."

This week's runner-up: "Fiery Sunrise" by Laura Casey, Rose Hill, Kansas

Laura took this photo with her Panasonic DMC-FZ8.

To see last month's winners, visit the December Hot Pics slide show. Visit the Hot Pics Flickr gallery to browse past winners.

Have a digital photo question? E-mail me your comments, questions, and suggestions about the newsletter itself. And be sure to sign up to have Digital Focus e-mailed to you each week.

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