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Why Does My Photo Look Different?

One question I see getting asked a lot is why your photo looks different from Lightroom to your phone or even from Lightroom to your Internet browser.

There are a few potential answers to this and it really depends on what exactly your situation is, so here we will have a look at the two most common reasons that your photos look different from your computer to your phone.

Computer To Phone

The main issues I see from people here is:

  • photos are much darker on their phone (or have more contrast)
  • photos have a lot more saturation/colour on their phone.
  • photos are a slightly different colour (too blue, too yellow, too green) on their phone.

The reason for this is pretty simple. Phones are made to be quite flashy and exciting; they want you to watch movies and use them as much as possible, therefore they make the blacks very black and the colour is very strong.

This means that when you’re watching movies or scrolling on social media, it’s more engaging, it’s more interesting because there are colours and there is contrast.

Aside from that, different phone models and brands will have different colour profiles. So my iPhone might render things slightly more yellow, whereas your Samsung might render things slightly more blue or more magenta. Your Samsung might not make things as contrasted as my iPhone. It really does very from phone to phone model to model.

So what can you do about it? Not much really. It does depend a bit on the computer screen that you’re using and whether it’s calibrated.

For me for example, I know that my computer monitor is calibrated, therefore it is the correct contrast and the correct colours. If I went to print any of my photos they would print as they look on my computer, assuming I used a good print lab that actually rendered colours and contrasts correctly.

If you take your photos to a cheap DIY print lab than the colours and contrasts might be all over the place. But in general, if your computer monitor is correct, then your images will be “correct”.

That being said if you haven’t calibrated your monitor then it will have its own colour profile which might mean that it is rendering colours and contrast slightly different than everybody else as well, so you’re going to be coming up against two problems. I know some students who have very matte computer monitors, which means their colours and contrasts are very soft and muted, however when they take those photos to their phone, the colours are extremely saturated. In this case, it is a combination of the matte screen AND the added contrast/saturation from the phone!

This doesn’t mean you all need to rush out and calibrate your screen or buy a screen calibrator, unless you’re wanting to become a professional. It’s just worth being aware that even your computer might not be “correct”

One thing I see happening a lot is people driving themselves crazy trying to edit their photos so that they look on their phone like they do on their computer.

To me this just isn’t going to work because while it might look that way on your phone, somebody with a different kind of phone or a different model of phone will actually see those colours and contrasts differently.

The best thing is to try and find a neutral space. Most people will be viewing images with their phones, yes, but it’s impossible to edit for every phone! So find an edit you’re happy with, know that when you finish editing on the computer you may need to lower saturation or contrast a little bit. Get some feedback from others (especially photographers) to see how it shows up on their screens so you can build an understanding of what the general consensus is. If everyone says “it’s too dark” then it’s probably too dark and not just your phone.

But don’t drive yourself crazy trying to make the phone version match the computer version, because the next person who views it will probably have a slightly different colour profile anyway!

Computer to Browser

I haven’t seen this issue come up quite so much, but it does surface every now and then so I’m going to add it here in case you run into this problem.

One thing that I’ve seen happening particularly with Windows 10 (I believe) is that people will see a drastic change in their images from lightroom to the Photo Preview program. I have a Mac so I don’t know exactly what program it is, but essentially this is just the difference between a colour managed program or software and a non-colour managed program or software.

If you see weird problems like this coming up, so for example you’ve edited your photo and then you export it to your browser, and then you look at it and it’s totally magenta, do a quick google search. Put in the name of your operating system and what the problem is. Usually somebody else will have had the same problem, particularly if it something strange and inexplicable like the colour is randomly changing for no reason. 

The Really Important Stuff

Really important? I hear you asking. Isn’t it all really important?

Of course it is! However, there are some things which I believe are even more important than others. 

You must, MUST, MUST, get the eye of your subject in focus. This means the eye will be sharp and detailed, and the out of focus area will be soft and slightly blurry. 

If you aren’t sure what I mean, your immediate priority is to begin training your eyes to see if your image is in or out of focus. 

This is most especially important for images that will be used outside of Instagram. Instagram’s compression and small size means that photos which are slightly out of focus will probably still look in focus. But if you’re taking photos for clients, or you want to have photos for an album or your wall, they really do need to have the focus on the eyes.

Of course, if you’re doing some kind of artistic effect, like a “boop the snoot” photo, then the eyes don’t need to be in focus (though mine still are!). But as a general rule, we should be striving to get the eyes in focus. You might find this tricky at first! But as we work through the next lessons, we are going to be covering a number of strategies to help you get the majority of your photos focusing on the eyes.

 

Eyes are the most important aspect of our photos. They create connection, either with the camera/viewer, or the story/scene. They are the “window to the soul” and we want our viewer to be drawn to the eyes, first and foremost, in our pictures.

Quiz Time!

Let’s have a look at some images – you can click on them to make them bigger. Decide which one is in focus and then hover over the button for the correct answer. A quiz! Yay!

If you’re having trouble seeing where the focus is, check out the next lesson on How to tell if your focus is off, and be looking for the areas of the image with the most detail. Is it the nose? Is it the fur just in front of the eyes? Is it the fur on the forehead? I’m looking more at the fur or skin details then I am at the eyes themselves.

Some of these are a bit tricky, so don’t despair! Just have a go, and then go and look at some of your recent photos. Where is the focus?

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Image #1

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Image #2

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Image #3

Which is in focus?!

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Image #1

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Image #2

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Image #3

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Image #4

Which is in focus?!

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Image #1

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Image #2

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Image #3

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Image #5

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Image #6

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Image #7

Which is in focus?!

 

 

Images 5 & 6!

 

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Image #1

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Image #2

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Image #3

Which is in focus?!

 

 

Image 1!

 

Basic Composition

The other thing I want you to think about from the very beginning, is composition.

Don’t panic! I’m not going to talk about rule of thirds or the golden ratio or whatever right now. I’m going to lay out a couple of super easy “rules*” for you to follow as you make your way through this course. 

  1. Don’t cut off parts of the dog. Don’t clip their ears, don’t cut off their paws. This doesn’t mean you have to do full body shots all the time. Try either: full body, head & shoulders, or head only. Even better than not cutting off their ears or feet, is to give their ears and feet a little space so they don’t feel so “trapped” in the photo.
  2. If the dog is looking to one side, give them “space” to look into. Have a look on my Instagram and you’ll see this immediately. Any time the dog is looking to one side, 2/3 of the frame is empty space for them to look into. 
  3. Don’t have trees, branches, or “things” growing out of the dog’s head (or butt). Check your background, and if you see a tree growing out of their head, move slightly to one side.

And that’s it. But trust me when I say not cutting off a dog’s ears or paws can take you from amateur to proficient as quickly as that. Have a look at the examples below – click on the images to enlarge them

*as always, rules are made to be broken, but let’s maybe master the basics first. 

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Image #1

His head tilt caught me by surprise so I accidentally (almost) cut off the ip of his ear. Definitely not enough space for my liking.

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Image #2

This is much better. Here he was a nice little gap between his ear and the top of the frame.

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Image #3

Getting this "puppy dog eyes" look with this particular lens is really tricky because I can't see the composition. I cut off half Journey's ear and it's no good.

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Image #4

This is much better. Both ears comfortably in the frame.

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Image #5

Here, I was struggling to fit all of Journey in the photo, and ended up taking a seperate picture of the lower part to create more space for his feet, which I'd chopped off. If you're not at that level yet, it's much easier to get it right in camera!!

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Image #6

Here he's crouching down a bit more so has plenty of room above his head, and you can see his feet through the bushes.

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While nothing has been "chopped off" here, I don't like how close Loki's ear is to the top of the frame. I often have trouble fitting him into an image because his ears are SO POINTY. So if you have a dog with sticky-up ears, take note!! especially if they tilt their heads at all.

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Plenty of room above Loki's ears here, and space to crop the image in a little bit if I want to make it even closer and more intimate. It's easier to crop in a little bit (not too much or you lose image quality) rather than try to add more photo around the dog!

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This pup (from pexels.com) has a tree growing out of his head, and is missing his toes.

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This pup (also from pexels.com) appears to have branches growing out of his butt, which is rather distracting from the main image.

Raw vs JPEG

Setting your camera to save photos in RAW is important!

I highly recommend you tell your camera to save photos in RAW format. Some phones can do this too. There’s heaps of info online but basically…

When you shoot in RAW you record all of the data from the sensor. Everything the camera can sense, it records, allowing you a TON more flexibility in editing, bringing out more details and more dynamic photos.

It’s easier to fix white balance, as there’s more data to work with. In the video I said my RAW file felt more “subtle” to edit? Turns out there’s a reason why! Because there’s more data! More data means we can be more careful with our edits, and more subtle in the changes we make.

RAW files CAN look a bit flat and grey straight out of camera (SOOC) – this is because they’re the original files. When shooting in JPEG, the camera takes the photo as a RAW, then converts it to JPEG, guessing how it might look “best”. In RAW, you get to decide what looks best.

This can also mean that your photo files are much larger, but it doesn’t cost that much to buy an external harddrive to save your photos to. Edited photos are even bigger! 

Each camera will have a different place in their menu to change this setting, so you may need to google the manual to figure it out.

Some phones CAN record photos in RAW – I needed to download an app to do this (Halide, but there would be other options). 

JPEG File

RAW File

Note the difference between these two images – ignore the editing, it was impossible to make them exactly the same, as the edits I could do in the JPEG file (on the left) were much less subtle than the file on the right. Have a look at the detail in the clouds especially. Note that these are EXACTLY the same photo – my camera saved BOTH file types for this photo, so it’s not that one was taken with different settings, or with different lighting. They are the same photo, but with different file types. 

 

Note!

It’s possible that if I had under-exposed my JPEG photo (eg., taken the photo intentionally too dark) I would have kept more detail in the clouds. However, I would have then had to do a lot of work making the dog lighter, which could result in loss of quality and noise, or even that I may have lost data in the dark areas, since a JPEG captures less of this information. In the following lessons we discuss balancing light, and I will later recommend that it’s better to UNDERexpose the image, rather than OVER expose it, and lose details in the lighter area…
HOWEVER…

if you are really new to Lightroom, OR if you’re just using a phone, you may just need to expose the photo FOR THE DOG. Which MAY mean you will loose details in the bright areas of the background. 

Again, this is why using a camera, and shooting in RAW will allow you to get the MOST data and information out of your photos.