Evolution of a Photo

Over the last month, I’ve finally started learning how to edit photos using my editing software. My journey into photography has been very slow. I spent most of 2021 learning basics – how to use a camera in manual mode, how to set up photos (both in terms of composition and exposure settings), etc. I learned how to take pretty decent photos straight out of the camera with little editing beyond cropping and such.

But that’s only the beginning. This year, my goal was to learn editing techniques. Back in February, I learned a few editing techniques from How to Take Awesome Photos of Cats. I began to do more with my photos, using the built-in tools on my phone. Jason bought me the software I wanted for my birthday (On1 Photo Raw)…but then it took me months to open it for the first time. I was so intimidated. It wasn’t until Ambrose graduated from basic training that I decided to use the new software for my edits, and MAN those photos definitely suffer from my inexperience. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, I struggled with the software tools, and the end products feel gimmicky.

So in September, I watched a bunch of online tutorials. They weren’t “how to use the software” videos, which don’t tend to stick in my head, but rather videos that showed the editing process for individual photos from start to finish, using a bunch of the tools. That’s the kind of tutorial that helps me to learn. After each video I finished, I’d grab a new RAW file that I’d saved and go to town on it, trying to learn all the basic things I could do. A photo of an Empress Leilia butterfly on my deck is one of the shots I practiced on. The above photo collage includes, clockwise from top left, the unedited version (straight from the camera), the edited (non-creative) version, and two creative versions to make postcard-like images.

A recent online project had me itching to try my own, so I decided to make a spotlight photo (single light source, using a cucoloris, or cookie). I chose a small bottle of scent I’d bought from Turban de Moda at the Muslim Culture Fest in Austin the previous weekend for my subject. The bottle is absolutely gorgeous and I thought would make a great spotlight! Now, I don’t have a studio, professional lighting, or special tools to make this kind of photography easy. Literally, I set this up in my bathroom, an old curtain thrown over the back of the toilet, camera propped up to the right height by a tissue box, my cookie made by cutting strips out of an index card and then taped to a flashlight for my light source. I set my camera to 85mm, 100 ISO, f5.6, and 0.8 seconds, then put it on a timer so that I could press the shutter and then get the flashlight into place before the photo was taken.

The entire process was a bit ridiculous, and frankly, I wish I’d had some kind of arm I could have propped the flashlight up with because my hand is always going to shake a little, which will always cause a little fuzzing on my focus object at that long of a shutter speed. However, after experimenting with angles of light and rotation of the cookie, I got a shot that was as clean as I could manage in my makeshift setup:

Straight out of the camera, this isn’t a bad shot – but it could be better. The base cloth was too purple, the perfume too green. The orange stripe from the wall was distracting, and too much of the teal shower curtain was visible. My focus depth created a sharp strip across the entire photo, when I wanted only the perfume bottle and its immediate surrounding to be in focus. The photo also needed to be cropped, tilt-corrected, cleaned up a bit in terms of the light-shakiness, and vignetted. I don’t even know how to do the advanced things in the software yet, but even with my minimal knowledge, I was able to modify individual colors, remove the extraneous background, blur out the parts that were too in focus and sharpen the parts that needed that extra tightening. I couldn’t get the shakiness out of the bottle completely – I would have needed the flashlight to be entirely still for that – but in the final photos, it’s only visible if you zoom in real close.

As I’ve said in the past, I’m sure I’ll find things that I could have done better in the future, when I know more and have more experience. But for now, this photo makes me so happy, and I’m excited to have already learned so much!


About Amanda

Agender empty-nester filling my time with cats, books, fitness, and photography. She/they.
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