11 photo editing tips from Nepal

11 photo editing tips from Nepal

We were fully immersed in the experience from the moment we set foot in Nepal. Often mesmerizing, sometimes trying, there were days of walking Kathmandu’s dusty, crowded streets, trying not to get hit by a car before we could get our paperwork sorted. Then there was starting out on the Annapurna Circuit when we realized the trek was going to be much harder than we had imagined. There was getting feverishly ill in Marpha where I was bedridden for the day, subsequently leading to taking the bus for a portion of the trek even though we had sworn not to, speeding through harrowing mountain roads with thousand foot dropoffs.

Nepal wasn’t memorable because it was fun or easy, or beautiful from start to finish. Actually, it was none of those things. Nepal was memorable because it set my senses on fire for a month straight.

I’ve tried to apply the lessons I learned in Nepal to photography.

 

1. Look for interesting, not (necessarily) pretty

It’s possible that too many of us are out there trying to create beautiful photos, when we should really be creating memorable ones. Rather than trying to make a pretty but otherwise boring picture, instead I wonder what can help my pictures stick with viewers for a little bit longer.

 

Don't be boring

Hiking above 16,000 feet in sleet, this day was tough. It wasn’t particularly beautiful or fun, and it certainly wasn’t easy, but the experience will stick with me forever.

 

 

Don't be boring

Pretty is boring. Don’t be boring.

 

2. Take good pictures in the first place.

Editing makes good pictures better. Don’t waste your time editing bad photos; just move on.

When you start with something decent, you’ll end up with something better.

 

Blue in Nepal

Blue in Nepal, unedited

 

Blue morning in Nepal

Blue morning in Nepal, edited. The image was cropped, and some tonal adjustments were made to bring out the sky and foreground.

 

3. Keep it simple

There’s a fine line between saying what you need to say, and saying too much. Edit only as much as you need to, and then no more.

 

Morning light original

Original

 

Morning Light in Nepal

Small color and tonal adjustments helped bring out the color from the golden sunrise

 

4. Crop smart

The fastest and most powerful way to edit an image is to crop it. There’s no magic formula for the perfect crop. The rule of thirds can help, but it’s definitely not a hard and fast rule. Strictly following it can actually limit your photography, sort of like telling Jackson Pollock to stay between the lines.

Instead, I go by the look at it test:

Look at it. If you like it, keep it.

 

Mountain crop

Original

 

A much better crop

A simple crop really helped this image pop

 

5. Noise is okay

There is a present day mentality that all noise must be avoided. Photography wasn’t always like that – look at some old shots done on film and you’ll see that for many purposes, noise wasn’t avoided at all. In many cases it was actually embraced.

We’ve moved toward no-noise images for two reasons: lower noise helps sell digital cameras, and it’s better to start with a clean image. That doesn’t mean you have to finish with a clean image, and if noise helps add to the mood you’re looking for then do it!

You might experiment with turning the noise reduction features off in your camera. Some digital cameras actually have quite beautiful noise characteristics. Of course, you can also just add noise in your editing software.

 

Original

Original

 

Difficult trek in Nepal

Difficult trek in Nepal with a bunch of noise! A blue filter was added to make the image feel cold and uncomfortable – just how I remember this part of the trek.

 

Noise black and white

Noise is particularly attractive when shooting black and white

 

6. Dodge and Burn like photography’s greats

Photography’s all time greats (Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, etc.) burned and dodged like crazy. Burning and dodging is oldschool; that doesn’t mean it’s outdated.

It’s as simple as brightening the important parts of your picture and darkening the less important parts. More than any other photo editing tool, dodging and burning immediately adds clarity and focus to your pictures.

 

Prayer wheels in Nepal

An okay picture, but where do I expect viewers to look? The rocks on the bottom are the brightest part.

 

Burning and dodging

Burning and dodging gives this picture a clear and definite focus. I boosted the color to further emphasize the prayer wheels.

 

7. Seeing in COLOR

Whenever I see something I like in an original shot, I push it as far as I can just to see what will happen. I do this with everything – brightness, contrast, HDR, everything. Pushing the sliders all the way to the max inevitably leads to digital ugliness, so I’ll slowly back off until I like what I see.

This method works particularly well when working with color. I’ll jack the saturation slider all the way up, then I’ll back off until the image appears believable (or nearly so).

 

Rainbow original

Rainbow original

 

Rainbow over Nepal

Rainbow over Nepal

 

Colors

Here’s another shot where pushing the color really helped the scene come alive

 

8. Try black and white

While you’re playing around with color sliders, don’t forget to see what your picture looks like when you turn them off. Black and white adds drama and depth to images in a way that color just can’t match. You can push the contrast far higher in a black and white image, creating a dark, powerful picture.

 

Sunrise original

Sunrise original

 

Annapurna sunrise

Annapurna sunrise

 

9. Use HDR when you need it

Sometimes HDR is the only way to take a picture. This happens when the brights are too bright and the darks too dark within the same scene. While I personally am put off by the cartoonish look of many HDR images, careful editing can keep things looking real.

Remember tip 3, “keep it simple.” Overuse of HDR quickly results in a muddy, boring visual mess.

 

Nepal HDR

One of 5 original images which combined to form the HDR

 

Nepal in HDR

This picture wasn’t possible without HDR.

 

HDR in Nepal

Another example: The water’s too bright and the shadows are too dark for this to work as a single image

 

Waterfall in HDR

HDR brings it all together.

 

10. Panorama?

Panoramas are a lot of work, both while you’re shooting and when you’re editing. While the results can be spectacular, it’s slow and inefficient and so I shoot panoramas only when I can’t zoom out any more.

It’s always a challenge to balance a natural look while trying to fit an unnatural width into a single picture, but there are a few photo editing programs that can help. Try PTGui or the free program Hugin.

 

Panorama original

One of 9 original images that went into the finished panorama. This was as wide as my 17mm lens would shoot.

 

Praken Gompa

Praken Gompa: inside a Nepalese Monk’s dwelling

 

11. Screw convention

Popular styles repeat themselves through the years. What’s popular today won’t be popular tomorrow, so don’t bother with it. Edit in your own style regardless of what’s getting hits online today. All of my favorite photographers have their own style that doesn’t always conform to what’s popular at this exact moment.

Finding your own photographic style helps you stand out as different and unique, and what could possibly be more interesting? Just remember to keep experimenting along the way.

 

Sunrise in Pokhara

Sunrise in Pokhara.

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Comment ( 1 )

  • the paper boat sailor

    There’s not a thing I disagree with here. I’ve always avoided HDR however, as I prefer the moody documentary tradition, though I see how you can after all make good use of the function.
    Also, Nepal is one of my favourite countries for travel, culture, food and interesting photography subjects, and it was great to see that you used photos from Nepal to make your points.

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