If you’re like me, you have a Mac and iPhoto and thousands and thousands of digital photos.
Have you ever noticed that your photos don’t look as good as some of the photos you see elsewhere online? Is it the camera? Is it the photographer?
Or, is there something else that other photographers do to make their photos look better than my photos?
Sure, there’s that pesky talent requirement. The ability to shoot the picture at just the right moment, with just the right exposure (what’s that?), on just the right subject or scene.
And, of course, we all know that better photos come from better—or, rather, more expensive—digital cameras, right? Not so fast. Sure, a good digital SLR from a name brand can make for excellent photos.
I’m just not convinced that the photos are always better because the camera is always better.
I have a little Canon something-or-other that has more controls than Air Force One and my photos are about as good as my husband’s new Nikon D-Xpensive One (so much so that the local mortgage refinance center know us by name and smile when we walk in).
So, if it’s not just the camera, not just me, and not just my subject or scene, what can I do to create better photographs? It’s all in the point and click.
First, iPhoto, which all Mac users should have (I’m sure it’s a rule for ownership, complete with a photo ID, decoder ring, and secret handshake) on their Macs. For storing and tweaking family photos, iPhoto is great.
I seriously doubt if all those great photos that I see everyone else taking is the fault or responsibility of iPhoto. Sure, it’s a one click proposition to add sharpness, improve color saturation, and toss in some effects. There must be more to it than that and there is.
Mac users can choose from dozens of photo applications and utilities which seem to guarantee more than Federal Bailout Money™ during a recession-cum-depression.
There’s Photoshop and umpteen gazillion plugins to enhance digital photos. There’s also a nifty, albeit expensive utility for the not-quite-pro with wannabe professional aspirations. It’s called Hydra.
Hydra is a standalone or Aperture plugin which lets your improve the dynamic range (HDR) of your photos, especially good for those who can’t afford the $5,000 camera and can’t master Photoshop.
What you get is a relatively simple and straight forward utility which compensates for a digital camera’s inability to capture the full gamut of light when you take a photo. Sure, you can enhance almost any digital photo in Photoshop and other expensive utilities, including Aperture, but there’s an easier way.
Hydra lets you take multiple shots of the same scene, all with differing exposures, to create a single photo with higher dynamic range. Think of Hydra as a utility which stitches and overlays and morphs the best of up to 10 photos to create one with the best of all 10.
Hydra can handle most standard digital images, from TIFF to jpeg to PSD and RAW and others. It also imports photos from your Aperture Library and exports to Aperture Projects for those of you Mac users who have graduated from iPhoto.
You can easily click between your standard photo and the HDR enhanced image in real time. Hydra comes with a bunch of output filters, smoothness toning, and the all-important see-I’m-almost-a-pro Loupe Tool.
What you get from Hydra can be boiled down to the basics of what you want. An easy, simple, almost self-explanatory interface. If you can handle iPhoto, you can handle Hydra. You also get output photos with stunning richness, the whole reason to add higher dynamic range to a photo.
The end result is photos which look more like the photos you used to envy but now show up on your Mac as your own creation. Of course, you can try Hydra even without Aperture; it works as a powerful standalone utility.
There are other Mac apps and utilities which improve photos, though each reaches a point of diminishing returns for the wannabe pro in each of us. Hydra is easier to use than most, provides similar HDR output, and costs less.
The caveat? It’s that whole diminishing returns argument. Good cameras, good subjects and scenes, and even iPhoto can create very attractive photos. Moving to a professional level requires additional tools, patience, and, yes, more money.