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Transform A Vacation Snapshot Into Art Using Photoshop Actions

Yesterday, I shared information and images of my family vacation to the Southern Caribbean.  Today, I’ll show you an edit where I transform the image from a snapshot into a photo I am printing on a gallery wrapped canvas.

I took the following photo in Curacao, while on board a trolley.  I could not stop and compose it properly.  I was in a moving vehicle with 50 or so people. As such I quickly snapped the image and figured I’d see if I had something workable later.  I often hear photographers on my blog and on Facebook say to other photographers, “you need to get it right in camera.”  Some even think Photoshop action makers, or even Adobe Photoshop in general, enables photographers to cheat and not learn to take great pictures without editing.  I do agree Photoshop is a tool that sometimes helps less than perfect photos.  But sometimes, for example when you are on a tour and cannot stop to get a better shot, it is the only way to not miss capturing an image.

To me it is more important to document the moment, especially on vacation, than just forget it because things were not ideal.  What do you think?

Now for the edit:

  1. I started by using MCP Fusion Actions Set – and ran One Click Color. I left everything at the default opacity.
  2. Next I ran the Magic Markers Action. Normally you paint this action on just where you want it. But I wanted it everywhere so I inverted the layer mask instead (Ctrl + I: PC or Command + I: Mac). It was a bit strong, so I lowered the opacity of that layer to 45%. I loved the pop of color – do you?  The buildings, if you’ve ever visited Curacao, actually are very close to the intensity in the after.  The original snapshot did not truly capture how vibrant they were.
  3. Lastly, I cropped it to a 20×10 ratio.  There was so much sky in the original and that guard rail was pretty ugly too.  So as I cropped I also rotated the image slightly.
  4. I am printing this as a 30×14″ gallery wrapped image, but am having the lab digitally stretch the sides, as I do not want to lose any of the print.  I could stretch it myself but it’s quicker to have them do it.

curacao 600x944 Transform A Vacation Snapshot Into Art Using Photoshop Actions

 Transform A Vacation Snapshot Into Art Using Photoshop Actions

Jodi Friedman, MCP Actions

Jodi Friedman is the founder of MCP Actions. She designs popular Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets that make editing faster, easier and more fun.

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58 Comments

  1. 1
    Diana says:

    I think the ‘after’ image is spectacular and a great way to capture the memories of your vacation… amazing!!!

  2. 2
    Jean Smith says:

    So love this image! Will make a fabulous canvas!!!!

  3. 3
    mark says:

    Hmmm, would love to try this with some of my pics…

  4. 4
    cort says:

    It is still a snapshot, a better looking one, but for me it isn’t art. Getting it right in the camera is important, the problem with too many photographers today is they think the image is created on the computer in Photoshop not in the camera.

    We should be encouraging photographers to take the time do it right, to wait for the light, find the right angle and yes, get it right in the camera. Instead we encourage so-so images, excuses and excessive post processing in Photoshop.

    • 4.1
      Dawn says:

      I say boo to this comment and bravo to Jodi for capturing a memory that will remind you of the great time your family had on vacation. And bravo to you for letting your vacation be a VACATION and I’m sure your family appreciates that you did not stop to perfectly set up and compose every shot since that would have taken time from making memories for your family. I did not read that she was claiming it to be perfect or that she expects it to hang in a gallery. Jodi, keep up the great work!

    • 4.2
      Bob says:

      A snapshot is an “amateur photograph.” This is by far not a picture from an amateur. Sometimes, you have to take what you can get when you can get it. I would rather have a picture of something, than nothing at all. If you only take the ones you can get at just the right angle, with just the right light, with the right pose….you are missing out on so much more.

    • 4.3
      Jenn says:

      I agree with you cort. I live in an area where every day I struggle to make business against people who take so-so images and get away with busibess from excessive photoshop. The fact that I can compose and have great images in camera excites some people, but not enough to drag business away from those so called ‘photographers.’

      I went to school, learned to properly shoot, and can take a decent image in camera. Heck, i can compose and shoot with film – most of these cheapies are so used to shooting in auto and fixing in photoshop that they would not be able to shoot in film.

      On the other side of it, i do like to do a lot of snap-bys on vacation and fix later. Its really hard for me to take time away from family vacations and fun and compose shots all of the time instead.

    • 4.4

      Cort, Art is subjective. It is art to me, and I am making a print for my wall. To you it may not be. That is fine.

      I fully admit and explained that it was created from a snapshot taken while on a moving trolley tour of the island. The trolley did not stop for me to compose an image. I took what I could.

      I encourage people to capture memories. My readers are both hobbyists and pros. When you are with your kids/family on vacation, the goal (or mine anyway) is to document the time not spend minutes or hours composing photos.

      So yes, for a professional portrait or landscape image, we should encourage lighting, composition, etc. Though those often can be enhanced in Photoshop too.

      For everyday lifestyle images I feel using a tool like Photoshop can make snapshots look better – whether they are “so-so” or incredible.

      • 4.4.1
        Jenaroo says:

        Cort (and other haters) you know that the site is called MCP Actions, right? It is about enhancing your images with tools like photoshop. If you see no use for these tools, you can go elsewhere.
        A few comments – I think Jodie offers a good mix of providing tools and posts to help people become better photographers so that they can get it right, the first time, in the camera. And….I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the vision for this website isn’t about “encourag[ing] so-so images, excuses and excessive post processing in Photoshop.”
        Shitty Photoshopping is shitty photoshopping, and many of us have been guilty, but sometimes it is part of our own personal journey…and…if I over process my shots, is it really hurting anyone but the people I force to look at my pictures?
        As an aside, I have some of my daughter’s ‘art’ on my fridge. I think the pieces are beautiful and each one has meaning to me (and probably only to me – but isn’t that what makes it art, it speaks to me and elicits an emotional response?). I personally don’t care for any of Degas’ work, but does that lack of appreciation mean that he’s not truly an artist?
        Anyway, I’ve probably lost you by now, you probably had a rage black-out when I called my daughter’s fridge art ‘art.’ Are you itching to tell everyone that her lines aren’t straight and her composition is off….. ??

      • 4.4.2
        Jenaroo says:

        Cort (and other haters) you know that the site is called MCP Actions, right? It is about enhancing your images with tools like photoshop. If you see no use for these tools, you can go elsewhere.

        A few comments – I think Jodie offers a good mix of providing tools and posts to help people become better photographers so that they can get it right, the first time, in the camera.

        And….I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the vision for this website isn’t about “encourag[ing] so-so images, excuses and excessive post processing in Photoshop.”

        Shitty Photoshopping is shitty photoshopping, and many of us have been guilty, but sometimes it is part of our own personal journey…and…if I over process my shots, is it really hurting anyone but the people I force to look at my pictures?

        As an aside, I have some of my daughter’s ‘art’ on my fridge. I think the pieces are beautiful and each one has meaning to me (and probably only to me – but isn’t that what makes it art, it speaks to me and elicits an emotional response?). I personally don’t care for any of Degas’ work, but does that lack of appreciation mean that he’s not truly an artist?

        Anyway, I’ve probably lost you by now, you probably had a rage black-out when I called my daughter’s fridge art ‘art.’ Are you itching to tell everyone that her lines aren’t straight and her composition is off….. ??

  5. 5
    Angela says:

    I love it! I have some images that would make great art. May have to give this a whirl!!! It is going to be a great canvas!!!

  6. 6

    Beautiful! Way to catch the image in the moment and then make it fantastic! Thanks for sharing. I always learn so much from your blog.

  7. 7
    Saundra McClain says:

    This photo is so nice. Your photography and photoshop skills are amazing!!!

  8. 8
    ile g says:

    The comment from the ever-perfect-commenter Cort above,”We should be encouraging photographers to take the time do it right, to wait for the light, find the right angle and yes, get it right in the camera. Instead we encourage so-so images, excuses and excessive post processing in Photoshop.”

    The author’s disclaimer in her post above, “I could not stop and compose it properly. I was in a moving vehicle with 50 or so people. As such I quickly snapped the image and figured I’d see if I had something workable later.”

    Any photographer can say the first statement above. Any excellent photographer can say and admit the second statement that follows. If there is a photographer in this world that can get it right EVERY time and in every exposure then I sure as heck don’t want to meet them. People like that can’t grow, they can’t learn, they cannot expand. Even in the years of film even some of the best photographers dodged and burned in the darkroom. You can bet your butt Ansel Adams worked some pieces of his photographs to pull out a little more horizon.
    So now, people adjust in Lightroom or Photoshop. Big deal. It’s evolution. Sometimes getting the shot is much more important than getting it right and if it takes a little work afterward to make it breathtaking then so be it.

  9. 9
    Chris Moraes says:

    Wow! I can’t believe the before and after. I am new to Photoshop so really impressed to see what can be done. It looks great Jodi and will make a beautiful canvas.

  10. 10
    lisa Wiza says:

    I Agree that art is subjective, this for me is a reflection of Jodi,s creative talent. the gifting is in taking a decent shot from a moving vehicle and then having the eye and creative talent to transform it postproduction into some thing worthy of hanging on the wall. Id definetly hang it on mine :)

  11. 11
    Liz says:

    This is really impressive! If I didn’t know any better I wouldn’t even guess this was derived from the before shot. Awesome! I wish I could edit my photos like this. I have some from Italy that I would love to make pop like this! Beautiful!

  12. 12
    Aimee Hernandez says:

    Wow its really great that you can get a final product as that from the original photo! well done!
    I agree with what ile g has to say!
    As for me its also a work of art while you are adjusting the colors or how it will look in the end..It’s like in painting if you don’t get the colors that you wanted you add some more..

  13. 13
    Liz says:

    And shame on the people who are being so critical. We should be helping each other out and lifting each other up. Not everyone is going to like every photo, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t “art”. I don’t care for a lot of images that I have seen taken by “professionals”. Everyone’s style is so different. We can’t judge others work like that.

    • 13.1

      They must not have been taught the expression, “if you donot have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” When I ask for opinions, I know I am opening myself up for critique. For example if I say “do you like the colors or composition of this image” but when I or others post to share, it is interesting what people will still volunteer.

      I am pretty used to it, but I sometimes feel bad when someone posts a photo on my facebook wall and people attack it. If I see something they could easily tweak I may help and advise, but not just say unproductive comments to make them feel bad.

  14. 14
    danielle says:

    Thank you for sharing, I am gearing up to go to Cuba for my wedding this weekend then off to the Philippines and knowing what I should and shouldn’t bring is huge! Especially since I am bringing a dive camera as well :)

  15. 15
    Donna says:

    I love this shot and I have several vacation pics in my home that would probably not impress many people, but they do mean something to me and I love them because they are part of my journey as a photographer. Although, I do wish I could go back to a few places and take them now that I have improved!

    On a side note, how do you get the printer to digitally stretch the edges. I tend to really fill my frame when I shoot and have run into this issue with several canvases. I ended up doing black edges so that I didn’t sacrifice the image, but I’m intrigued by this digital stretching you speak of here.

    Thanks for all of your great advice and information!!!!

    • 15.1

      It is something you can often pay your lab to do if you do not want to. Or some have it as an ordering option. For example Color Inc has that as an order option – they take the image and cover the sides without losing the frontal image.

  16. 16
    Elly says:

    Jodi! Wow! Wonderful post… I am a newbie in the photog world…sigh…and it sure is frustrating, exciting, overwhelming…and I could go on…but I’ll stop there. :-) Anyway, I appreciated your post…it was on a topic that I think we all wonder- the best way to capture a vaca with HQ photos IN the overwhelming world of photography- but never think someone would actually take the time to share their approach/perspective! Thank you so much! I love posts that share how THE PROFESSIONALS are THINKING when they take pics…”First priority is this, then this, and so on…” It helps me gain perspective of how to organize all the different settings in my head! Haha!

  17. 17
    Elly says:

    ps…Beautiful pictures! :-)

  18. 18
    Lonna says:

    I do not have to write a book here,it is wonderful. I LoVe it.

  19. 19
    Lonna says:

    Like I said, I LoVe this photo shot. Jodi, I will look on the site to purchase those actions, just a little support.

  20. 20
    Alice C. says:

    Oh wow! What an amazing difference!

  21. 21
    Alice C. says:

    It’s always better to get it right in camera, but it’s awesome to save a shot too! Especially when the result is that.

  22. 22
    Adele says:

    Wow. Lots of wows. Wow for the way you transformed that shot – I expected there to be a difference, but certainly not that strong of a difference – I definitely still have so much more to learn about PS! And Wow for the picture you ended up with. Beautiful. DEFINITELY worth printing and hanging your home! and finally, Wow. it just never ceases to amaze me that the “professional” photographers are so insecure that they have to bash everything and everyone who isn’t doing it “their way.” I have always had issues with the whole concept of “art”….WHO really is the one to say what is and is not “art” – and of that, what is GOOD and what is not – gotta say – the entire industry needs to get on board with the fact that people are different, and therefore, different things are going to appeal to different people. Get over yourselves, there is no “One Right Way.” Seriously – to even pretend that a photo is only “art” if it is printed exactly as it was taken in camera is ridiculous. Art is the end product, isn’t it? I liked the previous commentor’s description: “speaks to me and elicits an emotional response”…perfect. And I have to completely agree with the other previous comment – helloooooo – this is MCP Actions! If you only believe in in-camera work – why are you here? Just to bash? Sad, so so sad………..keep it up, Jodi – there are so many of us who truly appreciate all we are learning from all aspects of your site!! (and, like it or not – bottom line – the photographers who are WORKING – yeah, THOSE are the professionals, degree/training/in-camera expertise notwithstanding!)

  23. 23
    Carrie Flanagan says:

    Lovely, Jodi! Like the color pop! :0)

  24. 24
    miranda dejarnatt says:

    hi there, i too ended up with tons of albums…then i switched to a yearly book where i place all my favorite pictures for that year. Everyone loves to looks at them, they’re easier to store plus you can get copies if anything was to happen. thanks for the article…..

  25. 25

    GREAT edit Jodi! :) I totally agree – better to capture a moment and play with it later in photoshop then to have nothing! How did you change the perspective? It looks like you not only straightened the frame but pulled the perspective so you are not at an angle from the front…

  26. 26
    cort says:

    Glad I could give everyone a reason to be outraged.

    Just so you all know, I did read the whole blog as I usually do before I replied. I like to be informed before commenting.

    The basic reason I replied is because I saw this as a post that said it is okay to shoot bad photos and fix them later in Photoshop. I strongly disagree with that philosophy. Good photos start in he camera and can be made better in Photoshop if shot right and the right Photoshop tools are used.

    As a photographer with 35+ years experience this whole idea of shoot crappy photos and try and fix them later is offensive to me. I am also tired of seeing so-so photos with lots of excuses why the photographer couldn’t do them right. Excuses, the trolley wouldn’t stop, don’t make up for a poor photo. Get it right.

    If I was going to hang a large photo from a vacation on my wall it would either be a great art shot or one of my family showing lots of emotion. This shot doesn’t meet either criteria.

    It is getting tiring hearing excuses for bad photos, someone has to stand up and point out the emperor’s clothes. The standard ploy is to call it art and them if anyone disagrees scream ART! again and then say they don’t get the art or everyone has a different definition of art. You can claim art all you want but it doesn’t make it a better a photo.

    People seem to be looking for any reason to get away from discussing the actual image as is the case here. This is an okay image, it isn’t a great art shot and doesn’t have any family. Why would you want to hang it on your wall?

    For me photography isn’t a sideline, I am extremely passionate about it, it is what I live to do. When I see people saying it is okay to shoot poor photos and fix them later I find it personally offensive. If you want to dislike me for trying to create better photographers by giving realistic feedback on images then have at it.

    • 26.1
      Jodi says:

      Cort,

      I rarely censor comments, besides spam. I did have people email asking why I didn’t delete yours though.

      In response to your follow up comment, You say you “try to create better photographers by giving realistic feedback” but unless I am blind, I never saw constructive feedback. I wasn’t actually looking for critique per say, but I welcome that far more than just saying the final image was a snapshot even after edited.

      I smile just thinking about the fun, colorful buildings there, and you may not wish to take photos if you cannot get perfect lighting, but I don’t wish to miss shots because of full sun or, for example, being on a moving tour. It isn’t an excuse; it is life! Again, this wasn’t meant to be in National Geographic. It was a photo capture a memory of what I saw as best I could under the challenging circumstances.

      I make no apologizes for that.

      Now you’ve got me curious. I’ll have to check out your images and site when I have spare time. I encourage anyone reading this to do the same. I assume, based on your words, that we will be impressed and learn so much from your art, especially since you’d never share images from a moving trolley on vacation :)

      Jodi

  27. 27
    cort says:

    Jodi,

    Feel free to take apart any photo on my web site, I welcome any and all comments, it is how I get grow and improve as a photographer. Even after 35+ years I am always trying to get better.

    If you want you can pick one of my images and I will send you a copy so you and your readers can critique it.

    Just so you know, I shoot lots of snapshots, I give them to family and friends. I just don’t post them with my professional work or talk about making them into art. For me art starts in the camera, it is something special, not just to me but the people that view it.

    Just so you know, I wouldn’t share a snapshot from a moving trolley.

    • 27.1

      Cort, that is a shame that you wouldn’t share a photo taken on vacation from a moving trolley. It shows you are human and real. My husband actually was proud of me as he said “maybe you are getting back to being a normal photographer and not a snobby one.” He was mostly kidding, but for a while I had trouble printing anything I didn’t love the light in or angles of, etc. And I missed out.

      I made my family a promise that even if a photo was not perfect, that if it was fun or cute or memorable, that I will at least save it on the computer – in other words not delete it. The exception is a portrait session with my kids. Then I do only pick the best in a group of similar shots.

      Oh and Cort, please read through my post today, 4/19 on the blog. You’re gonna love it. ;) Maybe you can learn to help others by actually providing useful, helpful critique rather than insulting comments as you have done here. If not, see you elsewhere on the Internet.

      Jodi

  28. 28
    Adele says:

    That’s kind of funny….because I use the “emperor’s clothes” comparison to most things that people call “art”…it seems to become one of those things where someone (who IS it, anyway? so called “experts”) decides that something is “art” – and anyone who doesn’t agree is painted the fool, so everyone starts agreeing….art is subjective – beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it just IS. And I guess I just missed two key things in this – the part where Jodi said “hey, don’t worry about taking good shots – we can fix ANYTHING” and the part where Cort offered up something constructive, something helpful, some way for her to “improve” (other than just “don’t do that” I guess….). We’re all here to learn, to share, to grow….from what I have seen from this blog, it is all about the MANY different ways to “do it better”…..and I appreciate that. I shoot zillions of sports shots every year for my boys’ teams, and sometimes, with sports, you capture the coolest image – and yet have missed the perfect shot – knowing some ways to save those irreplaceable moments – that is valuable. Obviously I would prefer to never have to fix them, but, like Jodi said….this is life.

  29. 29
    Stephanie says:

    Curious to know; if Jodi had not stated this was taken in a moving trolley, would it then be viewed differently? If I had not seen the ‘before’, I would not have guessed that was the case.

    Jodi-I hope that all this hype has not ruined this photo for you! Maybe everytime you see it hanging on the wall, you can laugh and still remember the great time you had on vacation, and not cringe recalling the ‘words of wisdom’ that were shared regarding it.

    • 29.1

      The photo makes me smile :) And I love the colors and feel of it. And I also love knowing that it started as a vacation snapshot. So… no I will not be bullied. But after that experience and moreso after the comments about newborn images from some well-known very good photographers, I knew it was time to speak up.

  30. 30
    Jamie says:

    Hi Jodi,

    Would you mind explaining more how you rotated this image? Was that done in photoshop? I absolutely love your picture. I have some pictures from my trip to Italy that I would like to edit this way :).

    Thanks!

  31. 31
    Janine Smith says:

    The final image is amazing. I love the fact that you can take a so-so photo and convert it into something that good. Bravo to you and MCP Actions!

  32. 32
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