So, you’ve returned from your big summer holiday with a healthy tan, a newfound appreciation for fish tacos and a couple of SD cards full of photos.
The first two aren’t a problem (provided you can find a regular source of good fish tacos), but the latter can be a major headache – hundreds of shots that need to be brightened, cropped, straightened or otherwise fixed to create the perfect photo record of your trip.
Naturally, clever tech can make tasks like this a lot quicker and easier. So we've lined up three easy ways to make your holiday snaps look amazing.
Fix your smartphone photos
It’s 2016 and smartphone cameras are officially excellent, so you’ve chosen to take all your holiday photos on your mobile. But now you’re noticing that the horizons on otherwise lovely landscape shots are wonky and your smartphone’s lack of useable zoom means some photos have simply too much going on, leaving the subject lost to the eye.
Most smartphone camera apps have at least a handful of rudimentary editing functions, but few are as elegant as the Visual Supply Company’s free Android and iOS app. Among its editing features are a straightening tool (adieu, wonky horizons!) as well as a crop tool that lets you cut off distracting sections of your composition to draw more attention to the subject.
VSCO also offers sliders that can shift both vertical and horizontal perspectives – essential for making photos of buildings look “head on”, like they were taken from an elevated position rather than from the ground. The app also keeps a copy of the original, so all of its editing functions are reversible even months later.
Camera phones’ lenses tend to be wide, which sometimes results in too much going on in photos and distracting the eye from what you want to be the main subject. Tap VSCO’s crop tool and you can trim off the fat and help focus the viewer’s eye on what’s important. There are seven aspect ratios to choose from.
Tweak like a pro
Google Nik Collection (Free)
Previously a premium offering from Google, the Nik Collection is now available gratis. It’s a set of seven desktop apps that offer simple-to-use pro-level tweaking options for photos.
Dfine lets you reduce noise in photos, Sharpener Pro lets you enhance details, and Analog Efex Pro helps recreate the look of vintage film cameras. Color Efex Pro is great for colour correction and colour-changing filters, while Silver Efex Pro lets you create and tweak black-and-white images. Viveza lets you adjust colour and tonality and HDR Efex Pro is for merging several images together to create a single high dynamic range shot.
Nik’s tools can also be used as plug-ins for an editing package you already own (like Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture), but they work just fine as standalone apps. Each Nik plug-in has its own star skill, but you can combine several for each image you edit – Google recommends using Dfine to reduce noise, then Viveza, then Color Efex Pro, then Silver Efex Pro (if you’re converting to B&W), then sharpening with Sharpener Pro last.
Pick a photo with a wide range of lighting – one with both bright and dark areas in close proximity. Open it in Silver Efex Pro and try one of the presets in the left-hand column until you find a good base, then use the sliders and boxes on the right-hand column to tweak until the image really bursts with contrast. Boom – you’re a moody monochrome master.
Kill the noise
Remember when you took selfies of yourself and your significant other sipping cocktails in that dimly-lit quayside bar you loved so much? Well, chances are those photos are grainier than a jar of mustard, because the lack of available light meant your camera needed to increase its ISO sensitivity – and as ISO settings go higher, speckles of noise become increasingly apparent in images, destroying detail, contrast and colour purity and making everything look uglier.
Most cameras have some kind software-based noise reduction function built in, but it’s often better to turn that off and remedy it using a third-party program – and Noiseless is among the best.
It employs algorithms to tweak the appearance of pixels in a way that retains detail while minimising noise. It offers a far greater level of control than most built-in noise reduction solutions, so you can tweak the amount of noise reduction for each image separately. That means you won’t overdo it to the extent where photos are smoothed out so much that they start to resemble paintings.
That's not to say that your selfie isn't a work of art, mind.
Open a noisy photo and zoom into a problem area using the 200 percent view. You can then try all the presets arranged on the right to see which offers the best balance of noise control and detail retention – or hit the Adjust option for ultimate control over every criteria. The yellow slider bar can be dragged back and forth to preview the effects of each change.