5 Simple ways photo editing software can transform your youth sports photos from ordinary to awesome
I know what you’re thinking “Yeah, I know there are programs like Photoshop that can do all kinds of amazing things but I barely have time to even download the photos off my camera much less learn how to use super complex software for editing them.” Fair enough. But what if the edits were super simple and quick to apply? Wouldn’t you have to at least think about it? Keep in mind, no one is saying you have to edit every photo. Maybe just pick out a few favorites to share with family and friends online, include in a holiday photo book or make a framed print. It’s completely up to you. My guess? Once you see the dramatic difference these simple edits can make, you’ll be using them on a regular basis.
PHOTOS IN THE RAW
One of the things that’s most confusing for newbie photographers is file formats. I know y'all aren't into techy details so I’ll keep this simple. JPG is the the most popular choice simply because almost everyone has at least heard of it. There’s nothing wrong with JPGs but keep in mind that it's a compressed file format. And while that does help keep file sizes down, it can also lower the amount of information your camera collects. Less info means lower quality.
On the other hand, the RAW file format is exactly what it’s name implies. It’s all the raw data the image sensor collects when you take a picture. Yes, the file sizes are larger but having all that data gives your software more information to work with which translates into greater control when editing. The downside is that unlike JPGs, RAW files require specialized software to open and edit them. Your camera probably came with software that will open them but not much else. I would highly recommend going with something a little more sophisticated. I’ll be doing more in-depth posts on image editing software in the future but for now, check out my down and dirty recommendations at the end of this post for a few options.
LET'S GET SOMETHING STRAIGHT
If you stop and think about it, shooting sports photography is little like a sport in itself. Getting great shots often depends on your ability to zoom in quickly, frame the shot, and follow fast moving action. Like any sport, the more you do it, the better you'll get. Still, no one is perfect and one of the things that often suffers when trying to quickly capture an awesome action shot is keeping the picture level. But unlike athletes, photographers have the ability to fix our mistakes after the game is over. Even the most basic photo editing software will include tools for rotating and cropping images. Adobe Lightroom (pictured above) even provides guidelines to help align the image using vertical and/or horizontal guides in the background. Keep in mind that fixing the alignment will result in at least some image cropping so be sure give your pictures a little breathing room by not zooming in too close when composing your shots. It will give you more options when editing your photos later.
CHILL THAT NOISE
Let's face it, shooting indoors sports can be super frustrating. Your camera is thirsty for light and most gyms don't provide much more than a slow trickle. Sure, we have all kinds of tricks and workarounds like increasing the ISO and exposure compensation settings but that usually results in photos with a grainy look that photographers refer to as "noise". The higher the ISO the more noise you'll see in your photos. A good photo editing app will likely provide noise reduction tools but there are also apps that specialize in just this task. My favorite is called Noiseless (pictured above). It's one of those tools you run across every so often that feels like it's performing some kind of magic right before your eyes. It's normally $70 (kind of pricey for a one-trick wonder) but this link will let you download it for $19.99.
A HAZY SHADE OF DULL
When shooting sports outside, you would think that clear blue skies would be the ideal shooting conditions but I actually prefer at least some cloud cover. Direct sunlight can often create harsh shadows and blown out highlights. A thin layer of clouds provides plenty of light to freeze the action without creating overly sharp contrast. On the downside, flat lighting can sometimes result in slightly dull or hazy photos. A good photo editing app will fix this problem by providing tools to adjust the vibrance, dehazing, saturation and clarity of an image. You don't want to overdo it but as you can see in the example above, a slight increase in the vibrance and dehaze sliders in Lightroom will punch up an image nicely.
I STAND COLOR CORRECTED
Whether it was an impromptu family photo in the living room or a sporting event in a gym, we’ve all seen those photos with the weird yellowish/orange (or sometimes greenish) tint. Most modern cameras have white balance settings that can be adjusted based on the type of bulbs being used to light the scene you're shooting but how many people actually take the time to do it? Personally, I’ve never changed the white balance setting on my camera. Why? Mostly because it’s so quick and simple to correct the problem in Lightroom. In addition, many photo editing apps let you save a set of adjustments and apply the exact same adjustments to an entire batch of photos. The technique is often referred to as “batch processing” and it’s a huge time saver, especially when you have hundreds of photos all taken in the same lighting conditions.
THE BOTTOM LINE
When people think of photo editing software, they often think of Photoshop which has a well-deserved reputation for being a highly complex (and pricey) piece of software that can take years to learn. Most folks understandably don't have any desire to make that kind of commitment and have just come to terms with the various flaws in their photos. But there's no longer any reason to put up with crooked, noisy, hazy photos with weird color tints. Not with the range of awesome software available on the market that are not only easy to learn but also very reasonably priced. I've even put together a quick list of some of my faves below. (You're welcome).
What about you guys? Are there quick and simple edits you use all the time? Is there a software option I didn't mention? Drop me a line and give me the details. As always, if you have any youth sports photos you're particularly proud of, I'd love to see those too.
DOWN AND DIRTY PHOTO EDITING SOFTWARE RECOMMENDATIONS
Adobe Lightroom CC
The most popular software among professional photographers is Adobe Lightroom. It’s available as part of Adobe’s Photography $9.99/month subscription plan that also includes Photoshop, their premiere image editor. In addition, you get 100GB of online storage and iOS versions for your iPad and iPhone. Basically, you'll have every tool and capability you’ll ever need. If you’re serious about photography and are willing to dive into the deep end of the pool, I say go for it. Honestly though, Lightroom and Photoshop are probably WAY more than most people need. If you're looking for something a little less intimidating and a lot less expensive, you can't go wrong with any of the options below.
ON1 Photo RAW
ON1 Photo RAW 2018 is a full-featured pro-level image editing and organization application for both Mac and Windows. Available for a one-time price of $79.99, there's also a free trial version you can download to try before you buy.
Skylum Luminar doesn't have the image organization features of Lightroom or ON1 Photo RAW but the editing features are still top notch and it even includes an artificial intelligence filter that analyzes your photos and makes dozens of optimizations automatically. Available for a one-time price of $69 (Enter coupon code BOUCHER at checkout for $10 off), there's also a free trial version.
Affinity Photo is another powerful photo editor and comes in at the lowest price of $49.99 (They often have discounts around major holidays as well). If you like to edit on the go, check out the award winning version available for the iPad.
Another solid option is the new Pixelmator Pro. Easy to learn but still powerful, Pixelmator Pro is the big brother to the wildly popular Pixelmator. It's Mac only (sorry Windows fans) and is available for download from the Mac App Store for $59.99.
And for those of you who are looking for the absolute most dead simple solution to photo editing for the cheapest price, you should check out PhotoLemur which uses artificial intelligence to automatically enhance your photos. You can even adjust the intensity of the adjustments and batch process a whole group of photos. The software was recently purchased by Skylum and is normally $34.95 but if you use the coupon code SKYLUM40, you can get it for under $20.