There's photography, and then there's photography — that is, all of the impressive lenses, filters and techniques that can make a good photo great. But while many popular image effects are only possible with special — and often expensive — photographic equipment, there is a way to approximate many of those results in software as well.
That includes fisheye, tilt-shift, shallow depth of field and more. You’ll never beat the real thing, of course, but we can still come close.
When it comes to colour temperature and white balance, we've been spoiled by our digital cameras. While photographers once required warming or cooling filters to counteract the effects of tinted, coloured or off-white light, modern DSLRs can handle this for us instead.
However, that doesn't mean our cameras always perform this task well — invariably, there will always be images that come out too blue, or too yellow, or just not right. Luckily, we can adjust these values in post-production, and even apply digital variants of the same filters film photographers once used.
Applications such as Lightroom and Aperture offer a simple slider interface for adjusting white balance and colour temperature. However, it's also possible to fine-tune this effect using Photoshop's own Photo Filter, found under Image > Adjustments.
With an infrared filter, photographers can make everyday objects look a little less ordinary. Green becomes white, and blue skies dark, which contributes to the star, otherworldly effect that many prefer.
While many of infrared's other qualities — namely, the ability to cut through haze and glare — can't be replicated in post-production, those changes to colour and saturation can. It's a simple process that requires some familiarity with channels and mixing, but can create a final product that's often far more captivating than your typical black and white photograph. And if you don't believe us, let Flickr show you otherwise.
Despite the very visible distortion produced by this effect, fisheye lenses are popular amongst those looking to capture extremely wide angle scenes. Unfortunately, they tend to be pretty pricey as well.
However, it's possible to simulate the effect in software — and while not exactly the same, can approximate the result of a true fisheye lens well enough. While you can convert any old photo into a fisheye-style image, it's recommended you plan ahead if possible. That way, you can take multiple pictures above, below, and around your intended scene, to give you as much image data as possible — thus avoiding the white space you see in the image to the right. After all, you want to preserve as much of your scene as possible, and only distort as much as you have to. If you have some time to spare, Photoshop's Spherize filter tends to work best, though you can also fake distortion using the Lens Correction filter too.
One of the advantages of owning a lens with a wide aperture is the shallow depth of field it can produce. In other words, a smaller area of the image remains in focus at a time, allowing for a very distinct contrast between foreground However, most DSLR kits don't include lenses with the widest apertures, especially when compared to popular 50mm and 85mm lenses. But we can still simulate the effect with a bit of work.
Most tutorials recommend you create a layer mask of the object you wish to isolate, or blur around. That way we can use Photoshop's Lens Blur effect on the original layer — to simulate a shallow depth of field — making your desired object to "pop." This is just a basic explanation, of course, but there are many, many more in-depth tutorials scattered across the internet, but here's a good one to get you started.
By modifying the above approach for a fake-bokeh photo, we can also create convincing tilt-shift photographs. These images are traditionally created using a lens that actually moves — or tilts — according to the photographer, shifting the in-focus area of an image. The result is a so-called "miniature" effect — seen in this article's lead image — that can skew the scope and scale of an otherwise large, busy scene.
In this case, we also need to create a layer mask around the area of the photo we wish to stay in focus — except we'll be doing so with the gradient tool, instead of the lasso or selection approach used for creating fake-bokeh. This allows us to gradually decrease the level of focus in our image, much like an authentic tilt-shift photo. You can read more about the technique here.
If you've tried any of these photomanipulation effects yourself — or have some tips or suggestions we haven't covered here — be sure to let us know below.