The Art of Screen Shots – Post Shot Techniques

Sometimes, after you take you screen shot and have a proper look at it outside of your game, it becomes apparent that the bit you wanted doesn’t really stand out against the rest of the shot.  This is where post shot editing comes in.  This post is going to briefly highlight some software options and then go through some techniques with examples.  This is a slightly longer post than usual but bear with me, the results are worth it!

In order to make post shot alterations, you must have some photo/image editing software.  Here are a few options:

  • Microsoft Paint:         At the basic level you can use Paint to do cropping and resizing and some minor touch ups and edits.  Sometimes this is all you need.
  • Google Picasa:            Probably the most accessible and easiest to use of this list, Google Picasa is a free photo editing software that can organise your vast library of images as well as do a fairly wide variety of edits.
  • Adobe Lightroom 3:   My software of choice.  Many options available and all non-destructive to your image.  You can also export images from you original in a plethora of formats and quality levels.
  • Abobe Photoshop:      The big daddy of image editing suites, Photoshop is almost unlimited in what you can do but can require some fairly advanced knowledge of how it all works.

I would encourage you to start with Picasa if you aren’t confident.  It’s a free download and very easy to pick up and start using.  I used it for a while before finding Lightroom.  I still use it to catalogue my images.

My edits are simple as I prefer my shots (both screen and photo) fairly close to natural.   The example I will run through will be done using Lightroom but I will try to mention how to do similar edits using Picasa.

Cropping

It can be impossible to get the shot exactly as you want it from just the view you have on your screen.  You could try to manoeuvre your character around to find the perfect spot, but even then this isn’t always possible.  The best solution is to crop.  Make sure that what you are trying to capture is on your screen (establish angles, etc) then get rid of the unnecessary material by simply cutting it away. By far and away this is the most effective tool you have at your disposal.

I tend to crop every shot.  No joke.  In pretty much every screen shot you end up with unwanted clutter, usually around the edge.  By cutting it away you remove it as a distraction or detractor from the image.  Here is a shot I have taken of the lake under Nordrassil, the great tree in Mount Hyjal.  I’m going to use it as my example throughout this post.

This image has unwanted ‘stuff’ around the outside edges of the shot.  I don’t really need to see half trees that are not part of the focus subject.  Solution, get rid of it all:

That’s much better.  Now the rubbish has been removed, but leaving something to frame the shot, the resulting image is much cleaner and removes the distractions.  You don’t really want to see all that, so why have it at all?  Both Lightroom and Picasa use the cropping tool to draw a box around the part you want to keep.  Simply expand or shrink it till you have bit you want to keep inside the box.  Both programs have undo functions if you decide you need to change the crop.

Blacks and Brightness

What you see in game is not always what the image will look like on someone else’s monitor, or even once you have uploaded it to a website.  Often the image will appear darker than you thought.  I usually try to err on the side of increasing the brightness to combat this.

What I do is make it look how I want on my monitor in Lightroom then upload it to my page.  Often I find it now looks too dark, so back it goes for a brighten.  On the flip side, fiddling with the black level in your shot can drastically improve the overall depth of colour, so I usually up the black then fix the brightness from the adjusted levels.  Here is the image after I have worked on the blacks and brightness:

To do this in Lightroom and Picasa it is as simple as moving the appropriate slider.

Colour

Another effect I almost always use is colour correction via saturation or vibrancy.  Another easy fix done using sliders in both Lightroom and Picasa, upping the colour saturation/vibrance can add that little bit of pizzazz to you shot.  As with brightness, the colours on monitors are all different and can look a little washed out.  Erring on the side of increasing the colour is a good thing in my mind (unless you are deliberately going for a low colour or black & white shot of course!).  Making the grass just that touch greener and the sunsets a little more red really make them stand out.

No one wants to look at slightly green grass or a dull sunset so why give it to them?  You are not adding colour per se, just highlighting what’s already there.

Here is the shot after I have adjusted the colours:

Clarity

I find that in the transition from what I see on my screen to what I see when I open the screen shot, image sharpness seems to decrease.  To counter that and take some of the fuzziness of the of shot away, I increase the clarity (or sharpness in Picasa) of my shots.  This gives a little more definition to everything and depending how high you increase it can give a different look to the shot again, with everything in “super-relief” for want of a better term.  To do this, Lightroom has a clarity slider whilst Picasa uses a sharpness slider.

Here is the example with increased clarity (can be subtle depending on how much is applied):

What I hate most about just using the original screen shot is that on my monitor they come out as though they have this haze film over the top of everything.  Getting rid of that is my prime objective, and I need to use all the techniques I have mentioned so far to do it!

Finally, I want to show you the contrast between the original image and what we ended up with.  By no means a perfect image, it does serve the purpose of showing what can be done.

There is of course, much more that can be done.  Photoshop introduces image layering, burning, filters and much more, whilst even Lightroom has plenty to offer.  It comes down to getting in there are seeing what does what.  Fire up an image and see what you can do to it by adding effects.  I learn by doing with this kind of thing, so if you’re anything like me, jumping in the deep end is possibly the best thing you could do!

V

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