Applying effects in post processing used to entail a procedure that involves several steps. It was important to understand what each step did to the picture. Even the seemingly basic effects required working with multiple layers, which can be daunting even for an intermediate level user.
However, technical know-how has become less important, thanks to the influx of one-click (or one-tap) image editors that apply preset filters on pictures. This has become an unbelievably easy affair. Whereas before, one needed to study Photoshop or GIMP intently, nowadays, any non-chalant kid with a mobile phone can fire up Instagram or call up any filter and that would be the end of it.
Of course, if an effect can be applied just with one step, that means there is little control over the effect. That leads to a greater likelihood of an effect not being able to serve the picture well. This ease of use also leads to the pitfall of overusing effects, even to the point of relying on them to fix bad pictures, which usually doesn’t succeed.
An entire manual could be dedicated for just the basics of effects and image enhancement. However, it is only a small part of MMS 173 and therefore, coverage of this subject will be minimal. In fact, there is little expected of you beyond familiarizing yourself with basic post processing tasks as prescribed in this manual.
At the very least, there are two main pointers I would like you to keep in mind when it comes to applying effects.
First of all, understand that just about any effect will be at its best over a clean, adequately composed and exposed picture. And it is an important lesson to learn in photography. Effects are for enhancement, not for making miracles. It could turn a good picture to a great picture. But with hardly any exceptions, it cannot turn a bad picture into a good picture.
Secondly, you need to learn when to and when not to apply an effect. And when it is appropriate, know by how much. Granted, your level of reliance to effects will eventually boil down to the style of photography you want to learn. The effect has to have a tasteful end result, and not the equivalent of a 55 year old drag queen with a hangover. But at the same time, I don’t think I’ve heard a lot of people complain that there is not enough effects in a picture.
I do not believe that there is any book or tutorial that can be regarded as a definitive rulebook when it comes to effects. But I do believe in one thing — an effect has been properly applied if it has enhanced a picture in such a way that a viewer will say it’s a great picture and that if he or she even bothers to say something about the actual effect, it will be nothing more than an afterthought. Unless you’re deliberately after some specific look and feel that makes it necessary, an effect must complement a picture and further drive the narrative behind it, not transform it into something completely different.