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Editing Broken Images

I do sometimes like to take a closer look at the bad photos I shot. There are photos that I delete right away but sometimes it makes sense not to do that, because you’d be surprised what you can still do with broken images. Of course, if the images are that bad, you won’t create a master piece by editing it. Broken images are broken images. My point is, you probably won’t go from bad to perfect with it, but it might happen that you go from bad to ok, or even bad to good. This is why it is interesting to take a look at really awful images. Let’s take the image below as an example…

Bad River Picture

Not sure where to start, but there is a lot wrong with the image. Totally overblown white sunlight in the sky, to the point that the green plants are even partly bleached white. Then it’s hard to differentiate the greens, because everything is in the exact same tone. End the scrub structure seems to “eat” the whole image. So, this is a photo you could just delete. Stop! I think the reason why we want to delete images is that we often don’t think out of the box. And this is what I sometimes like to do. This photo might be difficult to fix if you want it to look photo-realistic, but here comes the question. Do photos have to look photo-realistic? My idea is that if the photo is broken anyway, you can try a lot of crazy things with it. And here again, you’re often surprised about the results…

River Picture Edited

I completely threw the idea out of the window to make the photo look realistically good, because it’s not possible with a bad image. Instead you can also try the artificial route. Make the image look like an illustration, like a painting, like a book cover of a mysterious story or whatever happens to the image after you tried tons of effects or changes on the image out. The possibilities are endless, because you can blur out parts of the images, you can make use of gradual filters, you can change contrasts and levels and so on. I think there is no right way to do it, it’s all experimenting to find out how the image does appear differently with certain adjustments made.

In the case of the river photo, I did for example use a bi-colored effect to make the river and the scrubs distinguishable. You can basically set two colors, one for the lower half and one for the top half, and you can make changes to the transparency of the effect or you can rotate it where you want the colors to touch each other. This alone made the river pop out of the image and it is now distinguishable from the background.  The overblown skylight was hard to fix, but I made it appear less intrusive by using a blue graduated filter. I did also make changes to the tonal contrast and so on.  You can blur areas out that are too crips, and you can extract details where they are not apparent. In other words, photo editing doesn’t have to mean that the image needs to look realistically good, it can also mean that you make it artificially look good.

The big question remains, why should you put work into a photo that doesn’t look good from the beginning? I do think that this can be the fun part of photography and photo editing as well. It’s fun to find out if you can fix certain images, if you can make them look interesting even if the original has quite some issues. I think photography and editing is not just about taking a very good image and making it look perfect, I think it’s also about experimenting and trying things with any kind of photo out. So, if you don’t already, I suggest you to explore what you can do with the photos that you otherwise would delete. It’s fun!



  1. That is one of the things that I really like about digital photography versus film. You take a lot more images so you get a lot more duds but instead of chucking them out you can play around with them for fun because you can’t really make them worse and if you don’t like the result you just delete.

    • Exactly. And on top of that you get an eye for it, what could be fixable, what not, or if an artsy look would work. Or you discover new techniques to edit images. I still delete many photos, but often I get an idea like “Hey, I could hide the issues by making it look like a painting” or “It will most likely look much better in black and white” and so on. And as you said, if things still don’t look good, well, then I just delete it, who cares 🙂

  2. Wow, that is amazing! Very inspiring. I have never thought of that before 🙂 I’m very new to editing pictures so. Do you have a certain “approach” you take for a picture like this? Like, a list of things you often do to it? If that makes sense 🙂

    • No, this is difficult to answer because every picture has individual problems. But in case the picture is overall good, it’s often that I just adjust the blacks, the whites, the shadows, the highlights and so. But when the picture is bad, there is a lot more to do than that. So, it really depends on the image. I mentioned a couple of things that I did change with the image in the post. 🙂

      • Right of course I see. Sorry, I did not mean for it to come off as if I haven’t read the things you listed 🙂 Was just wondering, for someone totally new to the concept, how to go about it. Like a “5 steps” kinda thing 🙂 But yeah, every picture is unique, naturally.

        Maybe I’ll actually try to take a picture similar to that one, and then edit it as you describe 🙂 I really love the idea of making it into an art this way. I would adore to have a whole photo album with pictures of the nature around our home shown this way.

        Thank you for the swift response 🙂 Any particular programs you prefer using for editting?

        • Don’t worry, I didn’t think that 🙂 Yeah the problems are often unique so that there is no clear step by step plan.

          I wrote so many tutorials about technology things and PC games on my blog, you remind me that I should also start to write some guides about photo editing. I actually always wanted to do that, but due to the individual software solutions, and photo problems I always found it difficult to start. Maybe I should write about individual editing techniques some day, with example images.

          I do agree with you, using own pictures might be cool. I refurbished my home and I was thinking about printing some of my nature photos to hang them in a frame on the wall.

          My favorite tools for photo editing are Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom. Recently I used Adobe Lightroom more often because Photoshop is a bit over the top for photo editing. Lightroom however is the photographers solution, it just has the things on board that a photographer needs and no fancy extra features. So, for more complex editing Photoshop is still a good suggestion, but Lightroom absolutely will do it and is a more handy tool because it’s tailored for photographers and not graphic designers. With Lightroom I use a free plugin pack from Google, the Nik Collection: because this free plugin pack comes with many awesome filters that you can easily apply to your images, and that allow you to adjust even more things. Each filter can be customized, and on this way you can make really fancy changes to your photos 🙂

        • Oh thank you so for the indepth reply there 🙂

          I see, I have just been using the program that came with my Nikon camera. Thank you for the recommendations 🙂

          That’d be a great thing to write about, those individual editing techniques some day, I’d love to read that. But yeah, I just found your blog a few days ago, so I am sure I have plenty of things to explore on it. 🙂 Thank you again.

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