NEW YORK • Taking holiday photos can be a snap.

Just ask Deborah Sandidge, who has written books on photography and has been honoured as a Nikon Ambassador.

When she photographed the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption in Santiago de Cuba, she used all her know-how but “I wasn’t getting the emotion” from the photo.

Things clicked when she used software to tweak the image, turning the colour photo into a dramatic black and white.

This is the secret of professional photographers. No matter how good the image they capture is, the editing makes it better.

But it is not just for professionals.

Smartphones come with software that can transform photos from washed-out to wow.

Whether you are editing on a phone or with an advanced desktop digital darkroom program, the controls are similar. “They all do pretty much the same things. They even call the adjustments the same,” said Mr Scott Kelby, founder of KelbyOne, a photography education website.

Framing often is the problem, said Mr Rick Sammon, a photography educator who has been honoured as a Canon Explorer of Light.

When photos include too much, the eye is not drawn to the subject. That can be fixed with the crop tool, which lets you shrink the frame and recompose so the subject is placed where you want it.

Because cameras can “see” only a portion of the range of light that the eye can, in many photos, the darks are too dark and the brights are too bright. “You want the picture to look like it does to your eyes,” Mr Sammon said. “All the software have shadow and highlight sliders.”

Turning the shadows brighter and highlights darker will make the photo look more like it does to your eye.

If that makes the darks too grey, look for the “black point” control. It will make the blacks blacker without killing all the details in the shadows.

When the exposure is set, there is another critical adjustment: clarity, which is generally called something like “sharpness” or “structure”.

“Just think of this as the detail-enhancing slider,” Mr Kelby said. “We admire the details.”

Top photographers know the best time to capture images is around dawn and dusk, when the light has a tint. But they also know that the tint is easy to add.

“Because I am a travel photographer and I am interested in making pleasing pictures, I will often warm up a picture – meaning I will add a little bit of red, yellow and orange,” said Mr Sammon.

Look for an adjustment called “temperature”, “warmth” or “cast” to do this.

Some tools are easy to find on your phone or tablet, but some may need you to dig for a bit.

The location of the controls vary from device to device, but on most phones and tablets, you pick a photo, then touch edit.

That should reveal an icon that looks like a menu, or a dial, which uncovers options.

Often, it is one more layer down for the full set of controls. You may have to touch an arrow or an icon to get there. Check your manual or just keep digging until you get to the longest list of adjustment controls.

Of course, you can alter your photos by just throwing a filter on them. Professional photographers are not necessarily against using filters, especially if you have a style that lends itself to a particular look.

For instance, Mr Kelby points to the Instagram account cestmaria, by Marioly Vazquez, whose photos are all similarly pastel-hued and shot specifically to use with what may be a single filter.

For editing on the phone, Ms Sandidge uses an app called Snapseed if she wants “to put something on Instagram in real time and punch it up a little”.

Snapseed will do more than the average software that comes with your phone. It has a tutorial and you can cancel any changes you make to a photo without fear of ruining it.

The granddaddy of post-production software is Photoshop.

Adobe makes a range of products, some very simple to use, such as PS Express, which is free but requires you to share personal information before you can use it.

But while post-production editing is intended to fix problems, it can create problems of its own.

Ask Mr Kelby for the most common editing mistake people make and he will tell you: “Overprocessing the photos.

“It’s kind of like if you like your food salty, you make it saltier and saltier, you become immune to it.

“But someone else tastes it and goes: ‘Whoa.’ The rule of thumb is this: If people can see that the photo has been processed, you’ve overprocessed it.”


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