Digital zoom is not your friend. Using it to shoot photos on your iPhone can result in a pixelated (like those fuzzy smears they put over the “innocent until proven guilty” people on TV) image. However, you can still get a great photo out of an image where the subject originally appears too far way. In this tutorial we’ll talk about effectively cropping to both draw the subject of your image “closer”, and also enhance your image through good composition. (Photo composition is a deep subject that whole books have been dedicated to. For the purposes of this tutorial when I say composition I’m talking about the placement of the subject and other features in relation to the center of the image.)
The image used throughout this tutorial was captured while I was visiting a good friend of mine. We were chatting in his front yard and I glanced down the sidewalk to see this miniature lion coming to check us out. He had previously been sunning himself and enjoying a late afternoon cat-nap. I grabbed my iPhone, got down on his level and snapped the following shot:
As you can see, the kitty is quite far away. However, if I had waited for him to get closer to snap any shots I would have missed his humorous squinted-eye stretch. Kitty isn’t placed very well in the shot – nearly center left-to-right and too far up toward the top edge of the photo. The star in the original shot ends up being the pavement. What I needed to do was crop out all the excess and draw the subject closer. I wanted to position the pavement crack seen between kitty and me about halfway down the image to give the effect of a natural horizon. I also wanted kitty off center which is typically considered good form according to the image composition experts. This resulted in the following image:
You’ll notice that we can now detect some pixelation but it really isn’t bad. In fact, it ends up adding some hipster-like noise to the photo by the time we are done with it. (I think noise is some sort of rating of pixelation, if it isn’t bad you call it grain or noise and if it is really bad you call it pixelation. If it’s horribly blocky you call it Minecraft.) You won’t always get desirable noise but if you are willing to go with it sometimes it might inspire you on your way to your final look. Just go with it, that’s what I like to do.
You will also notice that I cropped this to a square because that seems to be the rage these days and works for share services like Instagram. Many of the photo apps available on the App Store have cropping tools. They all work slightly differently. I recommend you play around with all the apps you own that have cropping tools until you find one you like. I like the cropping tools that let you adjust the size of the crop, the location of the crop, and the “zoom” of the picture. The one I tend to use most often is PerfectPhoto. I have honestly never used PerfectPhoto for anything else but cropping so I can’t say if the other features are worth anything but hey, for $.99 I found my favorite cropping tool. Works for me! (UPDATE: I have recently switched to a uni-tasker cropping app called Crop Suey. I like the UI slightly better and it is snappier than PerfectPhoto.)
Now we want to enhance the photo a bit. I don’t like going too overboard here. What I’m looking to do is provide a natural looking enhancement to the photo. To do this I turn to one of the most used photo apps on my iPhone, Photoshop Express. In case you haven’t heard me say this before, Photoshop Express is FREE and has a very simple and fun UI and saves in full resolution. For this photo, I adjusted the exposure just a little to the right (in Photoshop Express you slide your finger across your image left to right to control the amount of adjustment). Then I moved saturation a smidgen to the right and did the same with contrast. Now we have this:
The pavement behind kitty is a little blown out but I don’t mind it so much. Also kitty’s fur has taken on a white “halo” but again, I kind of like it. I just go with it. The grass is nice and green now and the pavement has some interesting patterns. Overall, I think the results are an improvement. So that’s the enhancement step. Next I want to add some effects to really start telling a story with my photo.
There is a true cornucopia of effects apps out there. I covered a few in my Getting Started tutorial. Once you are familiar with some of the effects you can get out of the various apps you’ll know right where you want to turn to finish telling your story in a picture. Don’t be afraid to try lots of different “looks” until you find something you like. I sometimes create 3 or 4 or more different versions of the same image just for the fun of it. If you do this too, you’ll soon become very familiar with the apps you own and which ones give the best result for a certain effect and how to combine effects into that final look that tells the story you are trying to tell. In this case I used Magic Hour, an app that I only recently purchased. The app is pretty simple to use (kind of a funky interface but some folks might really enjoy it) and has fairly good controls over the effects it offers. You can save combined effects into a filter and upload them to a community of other Magic Hour users and download filters for your own use at no charge. I used a filter of my own creation to create the final look for our photo:
Now that you have learned about how you can turn what initially seemed like a wasted shot into something fun and enjoyable, why not go look through your own camera roll and find a few shots to play around with?