Paweł Jurgielewicz Photo

Photography uncovered

Lately there has been a worldwide discussion about the new law in France that forces marketing agencies to put an information that their photos were refined by an artist. If they do not do this they will have to pay fines proportional to the marketing budget. The French government in that way clearly wants to stop the propagation of unrealistic beauty ideal. Thin, almost anemic models with ironed faces and silk-soft skin can be seen in every color magazine around the world. That kind of photography gives not only an impulse to buy something that is advertised by a particular photo but also gives a kick to our subconsciousness.

I want to be like him/her! But, I will never be…

We live in times of tremendous amount of data, constantly bombarded with news and visuals trying to affect our behaviour and future decisions. Psychologically our brains are not adapted enough to properly cope with it. If every single person from the billboard bravely shows his/her perfectly shaped body the natural question is: who am I? what am I doing here? It is like asking for the trouble…

The center of fashion

The part of the French government explaination of such a movement is to prevent their people from a low self-esteem especially among young people. So either agencies will start to stigmatize their millions-of-dollars-worth campaigns like every pack of cigarettes or they will find out other solutions. Personally I believe that they will choose the latter option. There are dozens of ways to deceive human perception even without retouching. Looking at the first option:

Can labelling change anything?

Actually, a lot. Photographers and all creatives in general are very picky about details. They try to reach the perfectionism because they know how human beings work. Even if you do not know how to name something that might seem to make a tiny difference they will catch it in advance. The text that is put somewhere in the corner inevitably distracts eye making potential client less interested in the product. Then conversion rates go down and men at the top level of the corporation are sad…

It is not my problem at all!

At least for now 😉 . Not constrained by any laws I will show you today a few examples the way I use retouching to enhance my photos. Going from flat and not interesting but having some hidden potential pictures to those that actually try to tell a little story.

I have to say that I am not a guru of postprocessing. I am still beginner and continuously learning things. Any of you would probably do this differently – that is totally OK. Probably some of the pictures you would perceive overprocessed – it is also OK. The key is that I am admitting to change how pictures look. Before and after dynamic comparisons that I provide below will give you better understanding how I managed to put more life into these pictures. I believe so.

Let’s get the ball rolling!

This shot was taken at the Cuisines of the World Festival in Saint Genis-Pouilly at the South America booth. They had a small blackboard with names of fresh drinks they were offfering. Original picture was not that inspiring – not really black blackboard with some text and graphics. How about making it much darker and transforming text into neons? Much more interesting, to my taste.

What a lovely and climatic autumn Sunday in Annecy! Wait, it is not autumn but the middle of July. Swapping green tones to orange, pumping contrast and adding artificial fog below the bridge on the water gave romantic undertone to the whole composition.

It was the second time I was in Chamonix at the top of the Aiguille du Midi. When we finally reached the terrace we saw ubeliveable view on the beautiful mountains and the speeding glider flying around the top of the mountain. Amazing. However, when I looked at the pictures at home they were not that impressive. Polarization, tonal contrast and virtual source of light in the top right corner did the trick. After adjustments it looks almost as awsome as I rembered that. What is more, this picture generated the most likes (until now) on my Instagram. I have impression that unedited version posted at exactly same time with the same description would not have caught as much attention.

This frame was also taken the same day as the one above but originally it is just human in the air on the blue background. Yes, self-critique. Although the picture suffers a lot from the aerial perspective the clouds look somewhat interestingly especially on their borders. The key things that breathed life to it were:

  • color gradient from blue to yellow (from the top to bottom),
  • fog between the mountains,
  • extended tonal contrast which allowed to highlight light shafts below the clouds and colors of the paraglider.

Such treatments turned everything into paragliding to the direction of the sunset. Pretty romantic.

Be prepared for the unpredictable. Most amazing things will probably happen when you do not have your gear. Probably you have your phone – call it in emergency. This was exactly the type of this case when I was coming back from work the Sun was shining through the clouds giving amazing dance of light on the nearby mountain villages. The interesting thing about this photo retouching process is not the slight color correction but I had to do something with these awfully looking poles and power lines. It actually took me much more than a while to beliveably patch all places but the result is much, much better. 

Bel-Air bus stop just after the Worldwide Photowalk finished, I had to rush back home – sorry guys.  I took the picture like thousands that tourists take every single day waiting for the tram. However, the reflection of the fountain was pretty nice. With some addition of autumn look and silkyfying the falling water now it is a good candidate for a postcard.

This year’s autumn is very nice in Geneva. I feel I made a great decision to go for the Photowalk – it pushed my creativity (and patience for my stubborn 50mm/1.4 lens) to the higher level. Chestnut on the green bench with lots of orange-red leaves in the background that gave almost impossible bokeh. Still this was just chestnut on the bench. What if we redefine what this picture presents and name it Loneliness? Really, the sepia conversion is enough. When you know the real name of the picture and you look at it… This is much more than a simple picture. For me it is the story, allegory of somebody’s life, which I am proud of.

The gear you might want to use

If you want to give retouching of your pictures a try and looking for the software to do this here are my three recommendations for beginners:

  • GIMP – free program to create graphics and postprocess images. It has lots of tools that will help you remove unwanted stuff, change shape of some parts of the picture, play with colors and much more. However my impression is that working with this program requires too many steps to achieve relatively simple results and preview windows are awfully unhelpful because of their small size.
  • Lightroom + NIK Collection – absolutely stunning combination that will allow you to improve your images right after installation in a very few steps.  No knowledge about working with layers is needed. You just pick the region and you can soften skin just like that. For example with Silver Efex plugin from the NIK Collection you are able to change your rainy day street into the frame from old Noir films. Cool. Any downsides?
    • Lightroom is a paid software and that would not be such an issue but Adobe wants to make a continuous stream of money from users of their software offering monthly subscriptions and leaving standard licencing forever. In return you get updates and new features regularly. The last version of Lightroom that offers licence of pay once – keep forever type is Lightroom 6 but its support days are counted.
    • NIK Collection was left by the Google that owns it and no updates will be provided since June 2017. In that way any new Lightroom releases might be incompatible with NIK. It seems that NIK has the new owner that will be going to make money from that in the future. For now it is free but probably not for long. 
  • Luminar – currently free in open beta for Windows which looks like a very poor child of Lightroom and NIK Collection – I am not joking. The interface is very Macish, I would say, but 10 minutes will be enough to find out how it works. Really, the interface is very simple. If you just need to improve colors of your photo you will be more than delighted by the amount of available filters and presets. On Macs you have to pay 69 Euros to have it on your own. For that price, however, you get a fully functional and very powerful software (Windows version is for now a beta version, a free preview). In my opinion it is (Macs) and will be (Windows) a real gamechanger as long as they stick to the normal licencing plan. Time will show.


Photography is like painting. You see something that is nice but internally you feel that it can be even better. Taking a photo might be in some cases compared to making a sketch. Making a photo is actually every creative job done to improve what we see. Either with on-scene light, Lightroom or other artistic intervention. Of course it is always better and time saving to have the best picture possible at the moment of pushing the button. This is not always possible. Especially with limited equipment.

You probably spotted that in this set of pictures (almost 😉 ) presented nature only. No portrait comparisons at all. Why did I do this?

  1. People care about their image. If they can look even better after some adjustments they do not want their original picture to be shown on the Internet.
  2. If you catch the idea of nature retouching you will easily incorporate most of the techniques to your portraits. Think about this as your own homework.
  3. This is even more excellent material for even more interesting and demanding article that will for sure and many times come to this blog in the future!

I am strongly convinced that material shown today can make you start to think about retouching as of means of artistic expression. The way to enhance your picture, give it additional meaning, hide something redundant, highlight what needs to be highlighted. Photography is an art of presenting small stories and you are the painter! So share your point of view, try to attract somebody’s attention.

Thanks for reading. Till the next time!

Call to action

You might have seen that there is a lot of artistic content coming to this blog recently – Portfolio, Researchers’ Night at CERN. I am putting a lot effort to do my best. Some of the pictures you can also see on my Instagram account. As I strongly believe that good and visually appealing content is what you want, without Your engagement the information about this blog is not coming to others that might be interested in this as well.

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Thank you!
Paweł Jurgielewicz
Photographer and Programmer