Image information – it’s all in there

Photographers talk about data and information in an image – how to capture the maximum amount and how to capitalize on it to make the final image.  Information in a photograph can be the fine details considered important to resolution, the range of tones necessary to a fine art black-and-white image, or the saturation of colors desired for a bright summer day.  Most people who use digital cameras are unaware of how much usable data their cameras embed in their image files, or how some simple processing can make use of that data to provide flexibility to the photographer who decides what the final photograph looks like.

I’m learning more about this as I explore both digital and film photography while expanding my knowledge of digital processing.  It’s frustrating at times to realize just how much I don’t know – each new tool I learn about makes me lament not knowing about it months ago – but as I become more familiar with what’s possible in processing I find myself searching for new tools to engage my vision for the final image.  It’s amazing how a photo I’d normally delete or pass by can be processed to bring out more character.

For example, this is a picture I made on the beach in Florida, more interested in the low perspective of looking down the beach than anything else:


ISO100, 28mm, 1/30 sec., f/22

Applying some of the techniques I posted about yesterday I found there was a new way to visualize this scene, one that I feel brings more drama to it.


New Photoshop layer, Overlay blending mode, NIK tonal contrast adjustments

What I’ve done here is basically increase areas of local contrast, the small areas in the image where light and dark pixels are next to each other.  Increasing local contrast makes the light pixels lighter and the dark pixels darker, fooling the viewer’s eye into thinking there’s more texture, detail or sharpness in those areas.  This is what gives more granularity to the second image.  I also used my Brush tool on the Overlay layer to lighten and darken selected areas of the image (see my prior post for details on this technique).  I lightened the white sand in the upper right as well as the trees, darkened the sand at the bottom of the picture and darkened the line where the surf meets the sand.  There’s an interesting purple cast to the waves at the surf line; I think this is somewhat a reflection of the blue sky in the white waves but it can also be a color shift in processing.  I also lightened each of the foreground shells where they are white and darkened those same shells where they are in shadow.  Finally, I used the NIK Color Efex Pro tonal contrast tool to dial out local contrast in the sky to soften the clouds.

Did I add any pixels to the original image?  No.  Did I change any data in the digital file?  No.

All I’ve done is use the data found in the original image, changing some values and leaving others alone based on what I wanted the final image to look like and where I wanted the viewer to look.  By the way, in the days of film I could have done all the same adjustments but using techniques I’m really unfamiliar with!  All that matters is getting the most information into your image at the time you push the shutter so you’ll have plenty to play with later.

The lesson I’m learning more and more is what you get out of your camera is just the starting point, a composition that offers a story and perspective.  After the shutter is pushed the final image and tale is yet to be seen, just as a block of marble reveals the final statue only after the artist chips away the unnecessary pieces.  The great thing about digital processing is, unlike the sculptor, I can put the marble pieces back together again and start over to follow a new path to the final image.


2 thoughts on “Image information – it’s all in there

  1. Food for thought, what skill are you learning photography or photographic processing? hmmmn. I like what you did though, it certainly brings the image to life, sky perhaps a bit unreal for me. You do get about in your tea-break don’t you, Florida, very nice!


    • Kate,
      I consider photography a continuous process from initial composition to final image display – the digital techniques are essential to the final result’s creation just as comparable darkroom techniques were to film. Oddly enough, I’m finding the processing possibilities are strengthening my composing eye in the field – any way to get there works for me, eh?

      Tea-break? Not sure about the translation of that one…


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