This blog is all about creative editing with the aim of changing the mood and feel of a single image. Is not about dealing with imperfections (cloning, erasing or cropping). Unleash the creative side of your editing suite. Just one image and a little imagination are all it takes.

On a rainy day, there are not many things to do outside.  So why not sit in front of your computer and have a look at the images from your last trip?

To get your creative juices flowing, and to illustrate some of the possibilities, I’ll use a single picture. This is one of my favourite shots from last year. It was taken on an early morning last July in the Southern Red Sea while snorkelling with dolphins in Fury Shoals.

Straight out of the camera, the shot looks a bit dull, but that is not uncommon and doesn’t mean the shot goes straight in the bin.

Scuba Travel, dolphins, PhotoFINish, editing
The original shot was taken while snorkelling in Sataya lagoon in the southern Red Sea

Dolphins swim very fast and I didn’t have enough time to get the composition exactly how I wanted right on camera. Therefore, I had to crop the image a bit to get the framing I wanted.

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the first step was to get the cropping how I wanted.

Once I was happy with the composition It was time to get the image ready. I tweaked a bit the clarity, highlights shadows, and white balance and the end result was much clearer and sharper image. Something I was very happy with.

A bit of background: There are different editing software options out there and each one offers different levels of flexibility. For many years I’ve been using a combination of Lightroom and Photoshop from Adobe to do the bulk of my editing and Silver Efex Pro for my black and white and colour conversions.

Scuba Travel, dolphins, PhotoFINish, editing
Some small adjustments and suddenly the image is much more striking.

When you compare the two images next to each other, you can immediately see a big difference. The corrected version is so much clear and sharp that you would think is a different photograph altogether. If you want to have this level of flexibility in your post-production, I strongly recommend shooting in RAW mode. a Jpg file won’t have enough information to allow you this range of corrections.

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a small level of corrections let you dramatically improve the image quality.

Now was the time to start playing with this image and find out how far could I push it.

When it comes to editing your pictures in a digital world, the possibilities are endless. It is impossible for me to talk about them all, but these are some of my favourites.

I always split the treatments into two groups, colour, and monotone. If your preference lies in colour images you can explore styles such as Cross Processing or Bleach Bypass. These treatments simulate old film process and with the right image, can create striking results. Monotones cover a large spectrum of images, from old looking sepias to the cool cyanotype or simple black and white. Here too you have many choices, but I must confess, increasingly they are my go-to edits.

Creative editing – Colour options

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This is the base shot I started working on

Cross-process The basic principle behind this treatment was to use the wrong processing chemicals on your photographic media to create a hybrid end result. In the “old, non-digital” world you’d et’s say process slides, using the chemicals for negatives, or vice-versa. Many photographers loved this sort of treatment because of the unpredictability it offered.

Today it can be done by a couple of clicks and you have complete control of the end results.

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This is a simulation of a cross-process resulting from developing slides using negatives process

Bleach Bypass is another process based on the good old film days, which either completely or partially skipped the bleaching stage when processing colour film. The end result was in many ways a composite image of a black and white and a colour layer.

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The Bleach Bypass process looks almost as a desaturated version of the original shot but somehow mantaining the colors
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This is probably my favorite version, I used a series of treatments available on Color Efex Pro

The Nik Collection offers a huge range of plugins for Photoshop and Lightroom that allow you complete control over the colour of your image. 

This is probably my favourite version, I used a series of treatments available on Color Efex Pro

You can push the simulation of the old analogue film a bit further to the point of including the slide frame on your image as well, as any physical damage to the media such as scratches and markings or light leakage, as well as replicate techniques such as double exposures. I personally find the end result very evocative, but if you like it or not is purely subjective.

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Simulation of an old slide including some scratches and other damage to the film

Here are a couple of examples of similar treatments on other pictures

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For this picture, I used a Bleach Bypass. By controlling the strength of the “silver” layer I managed to achieve an over contrasted and semy desaturated image. The end result makes the turtle looks cool.
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The creative editing of this image involved a series of layers at different intensities and modes to create the effect of a double exposure on an old fashion scratched film slide. I do like the feeling of movement the double exposure gives to the shot.

Your single tone options

The moment you start working in monotones you have a huge range of possibilities, from high contrast to get the most out of the shadows, to a high key to get the best out of a bright situation you can play with your photos to get different images.

Start with a straight black and white conversion. This will give you a base to start playing with your photo.

Don’t be afraid to push the limits of contrast and exposure when working in monotones, as the image will be much more forgiving than the colour version.

fishinfocus, Scuba Travel, underwater photography, Komodo Reef
Starting with a direct black and white conversion from the original colour image
fishinfocus, Scuba Travel, underwater photography, Komodo Reef
then start playing with the contrast
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…and push it a bit further here I went to maximum contrast and added a bit of lens vignetting. The resulting image is in many ways a bit ‘film noir”

For this shot, I decided to take things to an extreme. Having a relatively clear and flat background allowed me to almost eliminate it completely and in a way turn the dolphins into blocks of black with very little tonal variation. In the end, I got one of my favourite images of 2017

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Remember that monotone does not refer only to black and white. If you use a separate colour instead of white you can end up with very interesting versions conveying very different emotions. The most popular of these conversions is the sepia toning in which the grey tones are replaced by sepia tones.

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I’m not very keen on this kind of tonal conversion, preferring a cooler range of tones such cyanotype or selenium… in other words, a bluish greyish tint, but again, this is my personal preference.

As you can see, once you start exploring the options your editing software has, you can spend hours if not days playing with your images so don’t be afraid, double-click on that app icon and start a journey into creative editing.

Join me on my next Shark Quest photography trip to the southern Red Sea for a chance to encounter and photograph hammerheads, grey reefs and oceanic whitetip sharks, mantas and dolphins. I will also run editing sessions for the opportunity to explore these and many other techniques.