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Tutorials

Shining Light on Photo Editing

Taylor Sijan

This lecture and demonstration was originally given at the 2019 NCECA in Minneapolis, MN.

Unless otherwise noted, all images and video should be credited to me (Taylor Sijan) if you use/share this material in any way. Thank you!


Editing Photographs of Ceramic Work in Adobe Lightroom Classic

The scratches on the left side of this image were blended in using the Adjustment Brush on the right side. Photo and work by Taylor Sijan. 2017.

The scratches on the left side of this image were blended in using the Adjustment Brush on the right side. Photo and work by Taylor Sijan. 2017.

With the increased use of social media platforms as marketing tools and the success of online marketplaces and galleries, there is more emphasis placed now than ever on having beautiful, clear images of your work. More often than not, a potential client, publisher, graduate school, or residency is exposed to our work solely through the 2-D digital images that we share through the internet. When we take our 3-D work and flatten them into images, every detail is important and those details can be easily lost or distorted for the amateur photographer. This was a problem for me when I was an undergraduate student in ceramics, when I was at a loss as to how to photograph my work because it was not a part of our curriculum. It was by discovering techniques for post-production editing in Adobe Lightroom Classic that I was able to create an attractive portfolio suitable for applications. 

Examples of under, neutral, and over exposure. Work by Laura Nave, photo and editing by Taylor Sijan. 2017.

Examples of under, neutral, and over exposure. Work by Laura Nave, photo and editing by Taylor Sijan. 2017.

Why go through the trouble of learning photography and editing skills? It may seem easier to outsource your photography needs by hiring a professional, but costs can add up quickly, especially for those who generate a lot of work. There also may be times when you need to photograph a piece ASAP for a fast approaching deadline, or when you realize one particular shot needs to be retaken and edited, and that hiring someone on short notice or for a small project is not worth the cost. Money aside, exploring your potential as the photographer of your work will allow you to develop control over composing and marketing your own brand or portfolio, and allow you to work on your own timeline. Additionally, when your audience or a juror is unable to physically engage with your work, you will need to consider how to engage them with your photography. By documenting your work, the experience will help you think about the way that you create objects and the way that they communicate as an image. Learning to edit your photographs is critical because it is the best way to ensure the image is as close to the real object as possible, down to minute details.

For this tutorial, I will be focusing on portfolio photography suited for juried applications which are typically photographed with white or graduated backgrounds to showcase the work in a straightforward way. This is not an introduction into how to use your digital camera, although much information exists online for specific models and I encourage you to familiarize yourself with your equipment and shooting in manual mode as best as you can before diving in.

White or Gray?

Neil Celani’s photo booth set up for white backgrounds. Work and photograph by Neil Celani. 2019.

Neil Celani’s photo booth set up for white backgrounds. Work and photograph by Neil Celani. 2019.

To decide what color backdrop you need, consider what the images are going to be used for, and who is going to be looking at them. White is popular for product photography, website portfolios, online articles, printed magazines, etc. where seamless integration of images is important for design and marketing purposes. Gray or graduated backgrounds are commonly used for academic portfolios and submissions to juried exhibitions. Not only are these darker backgrounds classic, but they also are easier on the eyes and highlight greater detail on your work for jurors who sift through hundreds of images during a review process. Be sure to purchase a background big enough to create a sweep that is 18” larger than your biggest piece on every side and a minimum of 50” long.

The left side of this image is unedited. Notice the slight hue to the white background. On the right, the edited, seamlessly white background integrates perfectly with my website. Work and photo by Neil Celani. Edited by Taylor Sijan. 2019.

The left side of this image is unedited. Notice the slight hue to the white background. On the right, the edited, seamlessly white background integrates perfectly with my website. Work and photo by Neil Celani. Edited by Taylor Sijan. 2019.

Invest in a Digital Camera

The photobooth set up at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I am using a Canon Rebel XSi. Photo and work by Taylor Sijan. 2019.

The photobooth set up at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I am using a Canon Rebel XSi. Photo and work by Taylor Sijan. 2019.

While a phone camera works in a pinch, I highly recommend you invest in a digital camera, as this will allow you to shoot in RAW format. This format creates larger files with more information, making them better suited for the fine-tuned editing of high resolution photos. JPG images become easily damaged during the editing process leading to graininess or pixelation, which is why I recommend only editing RAW files. You can save the edited versions as JPGs later.

Protip: In addition to using a tripod, I also like to set my camera on a short self-timer so that no movement from my hands (either holding the camera or pushing the button) jostles the camera as the photo is taken.

Focus and Angle

The most important things to remember when you are taking your photos, are that the pieces are in focus and taken at the angle you desire. Those are two things that we can not edit during post-production. For example, a functional pot is typically photographed in such a way that both the front and back lip of the piece are in focus, and captures a portion of the interior below the back rim of the pot. Since we can’t change the focus and angle later on, it’s important to zoom in and review the images you are taking every so often to make sure you have what you need and that it looks crisp. It is always better to take 20 photos of one piece at various angles than taking 2 photos, only to find out after you’ve started editing that you need to go back and take more because of positioning or focus.

An example of a photograph taken at a poor angle. Shot with iPhone 6. Note the distortion of the form due to the phone’s camera.

An example of a photograph taken at a poor angle. Shot with iPhone 6. Note the distortion of the form due to the phone’s camera.

An example of a blurry photograph, taken while accidentally moving the camera. Not enough light on the front of the piece.

An example of a blurry photograph, taken while accidentally moving the camera. Not enough light on the front of the piece.

Nice angle showing part of the interior glazed surface, back rim in focus, no distortion, and good graduated background transition. Work and photo by Taylor Sijan. 2019.

Nice angle showing part of the interior glazed surface, back rim in focus, no distortion, and good graduated background transition. Work and photo by Taylor Sijan. 2019.

Once you have clear photographs, it’s time to edit them. I edit all of my photographs in Adobe Lightroom 5 because it is powerful, easy to use, and saves your original image so that even after you have edited and exported the photo, you can go back and change or reverse any edits you have made. Don’t fret if your images seem too dark, too bright, or off in some way. Nearly everything other than focus and angle can be adjusted in Lightroom.

Some common problems we can easily edit are:

  • Adjusting incorrect white balance (if your image is too blue, yellow, green, purple, etc.)

  • Reducing glaring highlights and brightening dark shadows to reveal details

  • Adjusting a washed out or stark graduated background to create a seamless transition from light to dark

  • Correcting over/under exposure (too much or too little light being let into your camera lens)

  • Cropping negative space around the object and straightening the piece

  • Removing scratches, dust, fingerprints on your background or work

  • Tweaking individual colors so they are true to the original

Left side is the original image. On the right, I’ve brightened the shadows around the foot of the piece to reveal details. Work by Ted Adler. Photo and edits by Taylor Sijan. 2017.

Left side is the original image. On the right, I’ve brightened the shadows around the foot of the piece to reveal details. Work by Ted Adler. Photo and edits by Taylor Sijan. 2017.

On the left, the original image. I’ve created a higher contrast graduated background by using the Graduated Filter tool on the right side, brightened shadows under the pot, and corrected the white balance. Work, photo, and edits by Taylor Sijan. 2019.

On the left, the original image. I’ve created a higher contrast graduated background by using the Graduated Filter tool on the right side, brightened shadows under the pot, and corrected the white balance. Work, photo, and edits by Taylor Sijan. 2019.

While it is possible to use Lightroom to remove imperfections from or enhance your pieces, I do not recommend editing your work into being something that it actually is not. With great editing power comes great responsibility. Using Lightroom to edit your work should be to make up for flaws in your photography process, not flaws in your work. Most of the time, other artists can tell when an image is heavily edited and if your 3D work gets into someone’s hands and they discover your images were misleading, you could lose credibility as an artist. It’s like going to see your favorite band, only to find out they are terrible a performing live even though the produced album sounded great.

Also, there is no one correct way to edit. I hope that by sharing my style of editing that you will be inspired to experiment and find your preferred way.

Importing Photographs to Edit in Adobe Lightroom Classic

Above: Importing photographs into Adobe Lightroom Classic.

How to import your photos:

  1. Insert your SD card, thumb drive, or camera’s cord into your computer

  2. Open Lightroom, go to File > “Import Photos and Video…”

  3. On the left, under “Source”, select your SD card, thumb drive, or camera

    • You may need to click on “Include Subfolders” to see the images

  4. Select the photographs you would like to import by clicking the small boxes in the upper left of each image, or click “Check All” at the bottom to select all the photographs

  5. Click “Import” on the bottom right

  6. Once your images have imported (it may take a while depending on your computer, how many files you click on, and how big the files are) click the “Develop” tab in the top right. This is where we are going to access the editing capabilities of Lightroom.

Altering Light and Color on Multiple Photographs

Above: Editing a batch of photographs taken with the same camera settings and lighting by using Lightroom’s ‘Basics’ tab.

Edit the overall image via “Basics” window to the right of your image. These adjustments will target light and color in the image. 

The Basics Panel

The Basics Panel

  1. Make sure “Color” is selected next to “Treatment”

  2. Click the White Balance Dropper Tool underneath “Treatment”, then click part of the image that is supposed to be neutral - white, grey, or black - to correct the temperature and tint. It may take a couple of clicks to find true neutral.

  3. If your entire image is too dark or too bright, you can adjust the “Exposure” slider very slightly (under 1.00 in most cases) only if necessary. It’s important to note that adjusting the exposure is an intense adjustment that damages the data in individual pixels in the image, so if possible, rely on the highlights / shadows sliders for a more subtle, individual adjustment to either light or dark areas, respectively.

  4. If your image seems washed out, adjust the “Contrast” slider to make details stand out 

  5. To make texture stand out on your piece, adjust the “Clarity” slider. This is similar to the “Contrast” slider but the adjustments are more localized.

  6. To adjust the intensity of all colors in the photo, try using the “Vibrance” or “Saturation” sliders (note: this is where most people end up accidentally making their work look much more rich than it actually is in real life, so be mindful to only adjust what you need to make the object look like it does in real life.)

When you take your photographs, make sure you shoot them all with the same camera settings and lighting. If you are editing photographs from a single shooting session, odds are that all of your images will have similar problems to tweak in regards to light and color. It is possible to edit the first image and then apply your basic adjustments to the rest of your images from the session, saving you a ton of time.

  1. With your edited photo selected, go up to “Settings”

  2. Click on “Copy Settings” and make sure to check all the boxes for anything that you’ve edited in the basics tab (see video)

  3. Select your remaining photographs that you would like to apply these edits to from the film strip at the bottom either individually or by clicking the first image, holding down your ‘Shift’ key, and clicking the last image to select all of them

  4. Click “Sync” button at the bottom right of the tools panel

  5. From popup, select adjustments you want to apply to all images (I only check “White Balance”, everything under “Basic Tone”, “Clarity” and “Sharpening” since all other adjustments will vary from image to image)

  6. Click “Synchronize” to apply

The Toolbar

The Toolbar

Once you have applied these universal settings, it’s time to edit each image individually with tools.

Cropping and Straightening Using the Crop Overlay Tool

Above: Cropping and straightening individual photographs using the Crop Overlay tool. Work and photo by Taylor Sijan. 2018.

To resize or trim an image, use the Crop Tool:

Screen Shot 2019-03-03 at 2.18.23 PM.png
  1. Click next to “Aspect” for a list of ratios to choose from, or

  2. To crop at your own ratio, drag the edges of the crop overlay to where you want them around the image. Don’t crop too closely, or too loosely. There should be enough negative space to allow the object to breathe.

    • If you need a specific ratio, such as for a 5x7” postcard, for example, there is a selection to choose from to the right of “Aspect” by clicking where it says “Original.

  3. To straighten, click outside of the overlayed area (where you plan to crop your image) and drag your cursor up or down to adjust the angle of the photograph.

Using the Graduated Filter Tool to Alter a Gray or Graduated Background

Above: Editing a graduated (light to dark) or gray backdrop using the Graduated Filter tool. Work by Ted Adler. Photo and edits by Taylor Sijan. 2017.

The Graduated Filter Tool

The Graduated Filter Tool

When photographing on a gray or graduated backdrop, the goal is to create a seamless transition from light to dark with no harsh transitions. To fix a stark or washed out backdrop:

  1. Click on the Graduated Filter Tool

  2. To darken the top portion of the backdrop, click and drag the filter over the top 1/3 of the image. Adjust the “Shadows” slider to the left to darken.

  3. To brighten the bottom portion of the backdrop, click and drag the filter over the bottom 1/3 of the image. Adjust the “Highlights” slider to the right.

  4. You can keep adding new layers and applying them over each other until you get the desired effect.

  5. If Shadows and Highlights aren’t quite getting you the results you want, you can try adjusting the Exposure slider. This is going to target both the backdrop and the piece, which may give you unwanted results that you will later need to mitigate by using the Adjustment Brush. Adjusting the exposure also damages the pixels in the image, as I mentioned before, so only use this slider if absolutely necessary.

Using the Radial Filter Tool to Create a Seamlessly White Background

Above: Editing a white backdrop using the Radial Filter tool, and correcting “blown out” edges on the piece. Work and photo by Neil Celani. Edited by Taylor Sijan. 2019.

The Radial Filter Tool

The Radial Filter Tool

When photographing on a white backdrop, the goal is to have a seamless white background behind your object, so that the piece appears to be “floating” in space within a white website or white page. Sometimes if you don’t edit your backdrop and “blow it out”, there can be an imperceptible hue to the background that shows up when integrating the image into a layout. Meaning, you can see where your photo stops and the website background begins. Make sure you take your photographs with plenty of negative space (the background) surrounding all sides of the piece. You can crop it later if needed.

  1. To fix this, click on the Radial Filter tool.

  2. Set exposure to -4.00, all the way to the left. This is so we can see where the mask is to make sure we aren’t accidentally applying the mask over the edges of our piece.

  3. Click and drag on the image to create an ellipses, place it centered on your object. A shadowy mask should be around the piece, not over it. If the mask is on top of your object, check the box “Invert Mask” to switch it.

  4. Expand the ellipses by clicking on the circle and dragging it outward, until the edges are not touching your piece (as much as possible). The mask should at least be on all four edges of the image on the white backdrop.

  5. Increase the exposure for this mask to +4.00. This will “blow out” the white background and create a true white.

  6. If you accidentally targeted part of your piece, it is possible to use the Adjustment Brush to edit those areas. Watch the video above or below to see what I mean.

Localized Editing Using the Adjustment Brush Tool

Above: Localized editing using the Adjustment brush to correct dark shadows, bright highlights, and scratches on a backdrop. First piece by Ted Adler, second piece by Taylor Sijan. Photos and edits by Taylor Sijan. 2017.

Use the Adjustment Brush to target problem areas:

The Adjustment Brush Tool

The Adjustment Brush Tool

  • Click on the Adjustment Brush.

  • In the drop-down window, select one or two sliders to edit at a time. Too many can become confusing, so keep it simple. I recommend layering adjustments at 30% or less, over and over, to create a seamless blend.

    • For example, if your foot ring is too dark, slide “Highlights” to 30 and “Shadows” to 30 just to start and see how it looks. Once you paint part of the image with the adjustment brush, you can edit that layer by adjusting the sliders as much as you want in the drop down window, until you get the desired intensity of the adjustments you are making.

  • To create a new layer, select “New” at the top. Keep painting layers on your photo until you get your desired effect without it looking overly processed. If you are editing a RAW image, you will be able to layer more edits without the image becoming pixelated (which is why we don’t want to edit JPG format images). You can delete individual layers by clicking on the white dot on the photo where you initially introduced the adjustment brush to select that mask, and pressing “Delete” on your keyboard. 

  • If you check on the box “Auto Mask”, the adjustment brush will only target like areas of the image you are editing. For example, in a perfect world, it would only target either the backdrop or the object, depending upon where you started painting your brush. It doesn’t always work perfectly, so make sure you press “O” on your keyboard to see where the mask has been applied. It should show you in red. To hide the mask, press “O” again.

  • To erase part of the adjustment brush mask, click on “Erase” near the bottom of the adjustment brush drop-down menu on the right side of the window. To stop erasing and go back to using the brush, click “A” to return to the settings you were using before you started to erase.

Above: Using the Spot Removal tool to remove dust and crumbs from the background of a photograph. Work by Angela Rangel. Photo and edits by Taylor Sijan. 2017.

The Spot Removal Tool

The Spot Removal Tool

Use the Spot Removal Tool to remove imperfections such as dust, dirt, and scratches from the background or your work. What this tool does is it takes a similar area of the image and layers it over the area that you’ve clicked on to make it disappear or blend in. To use it:

  1. Zoom into your image over the imperfection.

  2. Click the Spot Removal Tool (second from the left).

  3. In the drop-down window, make sure “Heal” is selected.

  4. Adjust the size to the smallest size you can use, as this helps it blend in.

  5. Set opacity to “100”.

  6. Click on the imperfections in the image to make them disappear. I use this most often on scratches, crumbs, or dust on the background that I didn’t notice between shots. You may have to click and drag the secondary circle that pops up if the software has selected an area of the image that doesn’t work for your needs. It may take multiple tries to create a seamless spot removal, so try experimenting until you get the desired effect.

HSL Panel

Above: Using the Hue, Saturation, Luminance panel to make subtle or intense adjustments to individual colors in an image. Work, photo, and edits by Taylor Sijan. 2018.

The HSL Panel

The HSL Panel

If you notice a color is slightly off, use the “HSL Panel” to change the hue, saturation, and luminance of any color:

Use the sliders to tweak colors until they are as close to the physical object as possible. These adjustments will target one color while leaving all the others exactly as they were (unless you choose to alter them). No more washed out or faded colors on your work!

  • Adjusting the hue alters the targeted color toward warmer or cooler sides of the color spectrum.

  • Adjusting the saturation alters the intensity of the color, from completely colorless to over-saturated.

  • Adjusting the luminance alters the amount of light glowing behind the targeted color. Drag the sliders to dull or increase the vibrance.

Exporting Photographs

Above: Exporting the edited photographs for use.

How to export your photos:

  1. Select all the photos you wish to export from the film strip.

  2. Go to File > “Export…”

  3. Choose where to export your files  under “Export Location”.

  4. Under “File Settings” make sure quality is “100”, and image format is “JPEG”.

  5. Under “Image Sizing” check “Resize to Fit”, select “Long Edge”, check “Don’t Enlarge”, and type the longest dimension you desire. I save every image in two sizes: 2000 pixels, and 1200 pixels on the longest edge. If you need a specific size for an application, this is where you would specify such. Set Resolution to “300” pixels per inch.

  6. Click “Export” at the bottom.

  7. Revel in your victory, because you are finished! Enjoy!

Remember, there is no ONE right way to edit. Many of these different tools can be used to alter one specific problem. It’s up to you to find the way that you feel is most efficient. The goal is to end up with an image that does not look like it is edited, but instead looks like you took a flawless photograph. I hope that my techniques were of help to you. Thanks for following along with this tutorial, and let me know if you have any questions by emailing me at taylorsijan@gmail.com.


This project was made possible in part thanks to support from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts Endowment Fund.

Special thanks to Ted Adler, Neil Celani, Laura Nave, and Angela Rangel for allowing me to use their work in this presentation, and to P.J. Hargraves, Suze Lindsay, and Pete Pinnell for their guidance and support with this project.

Unless otherwise noted, all images, videos, and text are © Taylor Sijan 2019. Feel free to share and use this tutorial as a teaching tool, but please make sure to give credit. If you would like updates on when I release a new tutorial, sign up for my newsletter below.