If you’re anything like me, you’re never quite happy with the results of your latest photographic outing. While many of my shots will certainly do for amateur purposes, I always find myself yearning for those fabulously arty photos that blow the mind. (If you want to see some awesome nature photography, please check out my sister Nancy’s Facebook page or her Flickr account. She’s the real photographer in the family!) But I’m too lazy to learn proper technique, and I can’t afford to upgrade my equipment, so for now I have to stick with what I’ve got.
When I need to satisfy that artistic yen, however, I will sometimes take an okay photo and punch it up a little to increase its aesthetic value – or just to have fun. Well, sure, you say – every single serious photographer out there (especially those whose works get published) manipulates each and every shot! Yes, of course they do. But not everyone admits it. You can usually tell, however, especially when the Photoshopping has gotten a little out of hand: reds that are just a bit too red, that impossibly blue sky, wrinkles which miraculously disappear, etc. Almost all of us do it to some extent; I just wish people would be honest about it when (and if) they give the particulars about their work.
Whether I use my DSLR (a Nikon D5000) or my smartphone camera (which does a better job in certain circumstances than the Nikon), I almost always post-process the results, starting with the simple photo editor that came with my laptop for cropping, colour or contrast adjustment, etc. Another program I use is an app called Pixlr, which is available for Android phones or desktop (I use both; the phone app has more options). I use it to add text to an image, or a special effect overlay or border. And then there’s PicsArt, another phone app. It offers different effects than Pixlr, some of them very cool indeed.
What I’ve never used is … Photoshop! The programs mentioned above are free and do a good enough job; I’ll be darned if I’m going to pay a few hundred bucks for an editor if I don’t have to. No doubt Photoshop has way more to offer, but I’m quite happy with what I use now. (I’ve tried a few other free apps out there, but they were quite disappointing.)
I was looking through my archives for some nice winter- or Christmas-themed images and found one I’d taken a few years ago in Algonquin Provincial Park. While it’s tolerably pretty, it isn’t going to win any awards as it stands. So I decided to have fun and show you some of the really neat effects you can get with just a few clicks of the mouse or taps on the screen. The five shown here were done with PicsArt on my smartphone.
First, the original photo – sort of. “Algonquin Birches” was taken on a dull, cloudy February day, so what you see here has already been cropped and brightened. I also increased the colour saturation a tiny bit so the green would stand out more, and I edited out a distracting branch in the background. (I’d have loved to get rid of the one in the foreground, but that’s where my current software would have let me down; you’d notice!)
For all five images, I was going for painterly or artistic effects. The first one is called Shear, which makes it looks as if the trees were painted on canvas. (Pixlr has a similar effect called … Canvas.)
For the second, I used Cartoonizer. I like the bold strokes of the outlines, and the colouring reminds me of alcohol inks.
Next, I applied the Contour effect. Other apps’ sketch, drawing and pencil effects will yield similar results. I think this would be an awesome tool to create colouring book-style outlines of your own photographs, which you could then, of course, fill in! (I wouldn’t necessarily use such a detailed photo, though. Maybe something with simpler lines. Expect to see an attempt at this in a future post!)
For the fourth, vintagey effect, I used Old Paper, then increased the brightness. The beauty of apps like this is that you can tweak a photo or layer effects to your heart’s content until you get the results you want.
My favourite of these is Watercolor. Most photo editing software will have something called this, with slightly different results. I like the subtle je ne sais quoi it gives the image.
These are only a very few of the options available. Try running some of your own photos through an editing app to see what delightful digital art you can come up with!
Note: None of the companies mentioned here has paid me to talk about them. Although I bloody well wish they would.