Photo Editing : let the sunshine in

I love my house, but sometimes it's just so shady. I wish I could cut skylights into every room and let the sunshine in! Shady homes provide a challenge for day to day photography. It's something I've slowly learned to deal with and I thought you might enjoy seeing some before and after shots, with some tips on how I improve the natural lighting situation in my own photos. I wouldn't consider myself to be a photographer in any teaching or professional sense, but I don't mind sharing what I have discovered over the past few years as a hobby photographer.

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These are my basic tools for indoor portrait photography: Nikon D5000 DSLR, Photoshop CS5,

Light Scoop

, AF-S Nikkor 35 mm Portrait Lense, 52 mm Circular Polarizer

After I invested in a DSLR, it took me about 2 more years to consistently use manual settings on my camera. The improvement from my point and shoot to automatic action on the Nikon was so great, that I didn't see the point in making things complicated. I was a bit scared I'd break something if I fooled around with manual settings actually (embarrassing to admit). A friend showed me how to take night photos without a flash, and I was introduced to light meters, shutter speed and aperture (f-value). Teaching myself how these settings worked and when to use them opened up my potential as a better photo taker.

These particular example photos were taken about 4 pm on a partly sunny day, indoors. It was my first day of holidays for the summer, so yes, mojitos! The lighting situation was shady, with the majority of sunlight entering through the front of our house, filtered by the enclosed porch. The kitchen was dimmer than the living room, so for the first photo I used the Light Scoop. This tool clips on to the top of your camera, around the flash. It is basically a clip on mirror that naturally diffuses the light from the cameras flash throughout the room, rather than having it directly blast the subject with intense light. I love this tool, especially with live subjects who won't stand perfectly still while you set your shutter to stay open longer to let in more light. A bright photo with blurred subjects isn't very useful. This tool is inexpensive and a good alternative to external flashes for hobby photographers. I use it all the time.

My most recent technique change is that I've begun to shoot in RAW format. Previously, I was shooting in high quality, and doing all my edits within Photoshop. As it turns out, it's much more effective to improve light, color and clarity while the file is RAW. In both photos, I adjusted White Balance, Fill Light, Clarity, and Blacks.

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I've been a big fan of Photoshop Actions in the past, and have used them in most of my posted photos here on Lune. The problem with action sets is that what works for one photo may not work for the next, which results in you changing settings in an attempt to make the action jive with the original lighting of your photo. I've come to enjoy a more simple approach to giving my post photos a slightly desaturated, vintage look by changing the Levels (find it Images>Adjustments>Levels). You can find a tutorial of how to alter levels over at one of my favorite Photoshop resources Pugly Pixel.

In the images above I increased the Output Levels slightly on the dark end to give an overall fade to bright images. That's all it takes to give a soft look without overpowering the original image with too many crazy layers. I also enjoy throwing in a few black and white images from time to time, which can also be done in raw state with a wider selection of adjustments to each original color.

When you're done editing . . .

Another tip I have for bloggers who enjoy posting their images in the same size with a custom signature or website mark at the bottom is to create your own actions. Here's a simple description of how to do this. This saves me so much time because with a click of F12, my photo is automatically re sized, stamped with my domain, and saved in a general folder I have called Blog Photo Dump. Periodically, I sort through it and place photos in more specific folders that make it easier for me to find them when I need them. I also save the edited files in full size without signature in case I'd like to print them, or submit them to another site or publication.

So those are some basic tricks on how to make indoor photos look light filled, soft and blog ready. Do you have any tips to share with me? I'm always learning. What are you favorite photography learning links?