I don’t pretend to be a photography guru – I’m learning, and though I still have much to learn I’m happy with my progress so far. The photographs I posted earlier this week of Gromphadorina portentosa, the Madagascan hissing cockroach, were the results of my first attempt at photographing insects in a white box, and I was reasonably happy with the results. However, a commentor suggested the photographs could benefit from increased contrast – and he was right! I admit that I haven’t focused much on post-processing so far, as I’m still in a rather steep part of the whole insect macrophotography learning curve thing. I have played around with the different enhancement tools in Photoshop Elements, but for some reason I don’t find them all that intuitive, and just playing around with them hasn’t helped me understand how they work or the best way to use them. The Photoshop online help site wasn’t much help either – in fact, it was all gibberish to me! I started to wonder if maybe I just lacked some basic talent when it came to understanding post-processing.
Fortunately, the commentor provided a link to an excellent article at EarthBound Light called The 1-2-3 of Photoshop Levels. That article opened up for me a whole new world of understanding! It explained that Levels is a better alternative for optimizing photos that Brightness and Contrast, and it did it in plain English! I actually understood it! Well, my appetite whetted, I started browsing other articles at the site and found the object of my desire: a clear explanation of the seemingly misnomored “Unsharp Mask” in an article called Behind the Unsharp Mask: The Secret World of Sharpening. I read it excitedly, just waiting for it to become unintelligibly technical, but it was as clearly written as the previous, and for the first time ever I actually felt like I understood the basics of how to use Unsharp Mask. Well, I couldn’t wait to take my newfound knowledge and apply it to my photos of the already spectacular Gromphadorina portentosa to see if I could make them really pop. The following comparison shows the original photo of the male (size reduced to 1200×800) and the optimized photo adjusted for levels, color, and sharpness (also slightly cropped). What do you think?
Here are paired comparisons of the other photos I included in the original post with their optimized versions (click to see enlarged versions). I would be most interested in hearing any specific comments you might have about these optimizations.
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010