Our job as photographers is to capture the best possible image in the camera – an image that captures mood and the message we want to tell about the subject. Post processing of this image should always enhance or supplement the ‘story’ of the image and should not detract in any way. For example, in the photo of a leaf on Abraham Lake, I made a careful composition that showed the story of the leaf, the ice and the wind. It took me several attempts to pull out the best photo possible from this scene. Once I captured what I wanted in the camera, I turned to the digital darkroom to enhance the message. First, I converted the image to black-n-white to selectively manipulate contrast to bring out the snow and ice patterns. I then added back the original colour information in the photo from a duplicate colour image and then I shifted the colours slightly in the scene to enhance the cold mood but bring out the warmth of the leaf. In the end I think my processing choices enhanced the mood and feel of the photo. To learn how I did the processing on this photo be sure to come to our talk Enhancing Story and Mood in the Digital Darkroom to be held this Monday, January 21st in Cochrane (Note: There’s a catch to this one! You gotta be registered for the Persistent Vision Photography Seminar first!)
These days with all the funky software plug-ins out there most of us tend to go a little gimmicky with our processing choices adding ornamentation over function. If the processing is obvious, your story will be diluted. Samantha and I find that most people fall into the over processing trap especially with HDR photos. For example, in the first pairing of images below the left side of the frame shows one of the five exposures captured for HDR processing . The right side of the frame shows a typical ‘overcooked’ HDR image. This image was not overly exaggerated from the kind of results we commonly see! Yech!
Usually when we process HDR images we try to make the final result look more like our eye saw the photo (see the image below). There is a time and place for grungy, cartoonish, HDR images but we don’t think that place is with the subject above. Why? Because our ‘story’ was not a fake, shiny plastic landscape but a beautiful, natural landscape. We’ll also be talking about our HDR processing workflow in our talk this coming Monday.
In the end, we always ask ourselves: does our processing bring out our story, or is the processing starting to become the main attraction? If our processing doesn’t add, or worse if it detracts from the story, we’ll go back to the drawing board and try again.
This article was previously published in the Spring/Summer 2011 issue of Outdoor Photography Canada. If you don’t want to wait nearly 2 years to see these articles then subscribe to this great magazine 😉
Photographers are their own worst editors. We are simply too emotionally invested in our images to be objective about them and, as a result, we keep a lot of images that really should have seen the deep end of the trash bin. A critical skill to develop is to remove our bias toward our work and look at our images with a healthy skepticism.
For me, the ultimate test of a photo’s value is the test of time. Does it still excite you and have meaning a week, month, year and even ten years after you snapped the photo? If it does, then the image is a keeper. But in a practical sense we simply can’t let our images age like wine and come back ten years later for a taste test to pick out the keepers. What we need is a system that lets us be objective in the shorter term.
Many of us come back from a shoot and then edit immediately looking for the ‘killer shots’. Often we use a rating system and rank our favourites as 5-star images. These 5-star images get processed right away; we quickly share them on the web and show them to friends. The 4-star and lower rated images we store on hard-drives, forgotten about until maybe (a big maybe) we revisit them many months later and cherry-pick a couple of ‘over-looked’ images. The remaining images gather pixel dust languishing in a library of forgotten hard-drives. We vow at the beginning of each new year to ‘deal’ with these languishing images but probably never will. Possibly we hope that like wine, the longer these images are ‘aged’, the better they will get. They don’t.
I find if I process images immediately after a shoot that I keep more images than I would if I returned to edit the images at a later date. As well, some of the 5-star images in my initial pick aren’t really that good after all! And surprisingly some images that I initially rank low actually end up being my favorite images. Time removes my emotional attachment and lets me edit more objectively. For instance in a recent shoot from the Cypress Hills in October of last year, I immediately went through the 500 images I shot in four days and kept nearly 100 images. If I had processed all these keepers right away I would have ended up with a whole bunch of filler images and only a few really worth hanging onto. Recently I went back and looked at those 100 ‘keepers’ and tossed away 80 of them I initially thought were great! In the end, time proved to me that there were really only 20 images worthy of adding to my files.
So the moral is that I try to build time into my editing workflow. Immediately after a shoot I will do a preliminary edit. In this edit, I delete obvious errors: photos that have poor focus, bad exposure and flawed compositions are removed. All the rest of the photos I keep and back up on an external hard-drive. Then, and this is the critical key, I wait at least a month before I return to final editing of the photos. After a month all the excitement of the shoot is gone; I have moved on emotionally, and I can be objective and ruthless. I become a machine on the delete key!
In this final edit, the images I initially thought were killer have lost a lot of lustre and some overlooked gems emerge. I see the shoot with fresh eyes and I can quickly pull out images that have lasting impact and clarity of message. In the end, I keep ten percent or less of the images that I shot. The rest are permanently deleted. My system is lean and mean and my image library is filled with only my best work. Time is your best friend when it comes to objective photo editing: use it wisely! To learn more about how Samantha and I use time and the delete key to make better editing choices be sure to come to our Enhancing Story and Mood in the Digital Darkroom talk on January 21, 2013 in Cochrane, Alberta (NOTE: this talk is only offered to Persistent Vision workshop participants, so don’t delay if you were planning on coming to that event March 15-17, 2013.)
Twelve Favourite Images from 2012 – Winter in the Canadian Rockies Photo Tour (Plus a NEW 2013 Tour!)
Of all the photo tours we do each year, one of my favourites is the Winter in the Canadian Rockies tour because the landscape is reduced to simple graphic elements of shape, form and line. More and more I appreciate the simplicity of winter images (although making them is anything but simple – getting dressed for the adventure is half the struggle!) Each year we offer two winter tours based out of the Aurum Lodge on Abraham Lake. This year both tours are sold out with a wait list. To accommodate those who missed out on booking our regular winter tours, there is still a possibility to see the stark beauty of winter in the Canadian Rockies…. We have set aside Feb. 14 – 18, 2013 for a tentative third winter tour. I say tentative because we need five people to run this tour! So if you are keen on getting the best the Canadian Rockies has to offer in winter and to see and visit secret spots you likely would not find on your own be sure to contact Alan at the Aurum Lodge to register (cost is $1519 plus GST all inclusive! Don’t worry; if we don’t get the five people by January 31, 2013, your deposit is fully refundable this time!) To learn more about the winter tours and what is included please see our tour description page.
Below are twelve of my favourite images from the three 2012 winter tours – to see more photos from these tours go to our Flickr page for Tour 1, Tour 2 and Tour 3. Most of the photos are taken with my tilt-shift lens for the big advantages these lenses give landscape photographers. Plus, I almost always use filters in my photography for these reasons. So get on your boots and gloves and join Alan and me for a winter romp through the Kootenay Plains and Abraham Lake and the Icefields Parkway in Banff and Jasper National Park. Check out the group shot at the end and guess which person is Sam (she has a unique sense of fashion!)
Samantha and I have compiled a webpage listing most of the free articles that we have published on-line (but we are sure we still missed a few). The list of articles is huge and will continue to grow as we add more free content to benefit all who drop by the oopoomoo site. Feel free to share this page with any photo buddy you think might benefit from our ramblings. And thanks for supporting us over the past year!
As many of you who follow the blog know, this past June, 2012 Darwin and I traveled with a group of close friends to the northern clime of Iceland. With 14 photographers crammed into one bus (well, technically two buses were involved since one went kaput in the middle of the road during the trip) and incredible scenery flashing by, there was sure to be great images of the trip at the end! We wanted to showcase the stories, the place and each photographer’s unique view of this amazingly photographic country. A portfolio of images taken on the trip seemed just the ticket. The resulting eBook is more of a travelogue and record of our trip rather than a guide to Iceland. If you wish to visit yourself, Tim Vollmer was our photo guide — check out his dramatic images on his website. So, here’s the eBook just click on the photo below to download! Thank you to all of our friends who came on the trip, and thanks to those who ventured their images bravely forth for publication. And a huge hug to Stephen who put this book together (on the eve of his nuptials, no less!) pro bono for oopoomoo fans. To see even more images from our group please visit the Iceland Flickr Group. And stay tuned for more Iceland over the next few months as we wade through the photos and videos from this amazing tour!
Good stuff should be shared! The article below is reprinted from my column in the Winter 2009 issue of Outdoor Photography Canada Magazine. Support this great magazine and subscribe to get fresh content quarterly 😉
Beyond Documentary Nature Photography
Most nature photographers believe that their photography is purely documentary. The definition of documentary is, “a factual record or an accurate representation of reality” so if all you ever do is record what’s in front of your lens, how can you be anything but a documentary photographer?
Take a look at photos 1 and 2 below. Both photographs are of Mount Rundle at Vermilion Lakes in Banff National Park. Both of these images were captured with slide film and neither of these images were manipulated in-camera with special technique or after the capture in computer software. Both images capture exactly what was in front of the lens. And both images were made on the same evening session. But are these photos “an accurate representation of reality”?
Photo 1 above is shot with a ‘standard’ lens and represents, according to ‘visual experts’, a perspective similar to that of the human eye. Photo 2 below is shot with a 300mm lens and is a small detail shot from the foreground shown in photo 1 but shot later in the day as the setting sun warmed up the face of Mount Rundle. Many people would classify photo 1 as ‘documentary’ and photo 2 as ‘abstract’ or ‘expressionistic’. Both photos accurately show the scene that existed before my eyes, so why do we classify one differently from the other? Can only photos shot with a 50mm lens be called documentary? Does that mean everything shot with a 300mm lens is ‘interpretive’? Can we even define ‘documentary nature photography’?
An acquaintance of mine from Austria recently came to Banff and visited Vermilion Lakes. He had seen hundreds of photographs of Mount Rundle at Vermilion Lakes and thought he had a good idea of what it would be like to be there. He was blown away by how the ‘reality’ of the place differed from what was presented to him in photos. He just kept shaking his head saying, “It’s so different from what I expected!” Were all those documentary photos of Vermilion Lakes wrong? All the photos he had seen showed a pristine mountain lake environment; none of them show the reality of a lake shore paralleled by two busy highways and a shoreline trampled to death by parked cars and pounding foot traffic (photo 3).
The lesson I took from his experience is that there is only one ‘reality’ and that is your own. No one sees the world the same way you do. We all have biases and personal histories that colour the way we see the world. My representation of Vermilion Lakes will be different from yours even as we stand side-by-side shooting together. Neither result is more ‘accurate’ or ‘documentary’ than the other. And that is the beauty of photography as art.
My point here is not that we need a better definition of ‘documentary photography’ but rather we should realize that all of our photos are personal interpretations of reality – plain and simple. I now realize that part of my ‘style’ for drama and colour in photography is because I intensely feel my subjects and I want my feelings to translate to the viewer (or maybe I just see the world through rose-coloured glasses). My photos are less about the subject than they are about my feelings for the subject. Often we get too hung up about how others interpret our ‘reality’. Once you let go of worrying what others think about your photography or how they classify it, only then will your photography truly represent the world as you see and feel it. For me, that is the most interesting ‘documentary’ photography of all! Happy shooting.
In the video below, I show you how to use live view with a dSLR to help determine the precise amount of tilt needed to match the plane of focus with the subject plane. In our upcoming eBook, The Tilt-Shift Lens Advantage for Outdoor and Nature Photography, Samantha and I have published a short-cut to get you to the right amount of tilt faster than using this live view method. But if precision is what you’re looking for and you have time (the scene isn’t running away), then this method is superior.
The new eBook on tilt-shift lenses has also just been released!
Here is the very ‘exciting’ photo that resulted from the video demo! 😉
In the real world of landscape photography, replace this corrugated steel with a subject like a seashore, desert, ice or prairie landscape and the principle is the same: tilt so the plane of focus and main subject plane match. For example, in the photo below of a scene in Iceland, I tilted so the plane of focus matched the top of the grass-covered stone wall. I chose an aperture of f8 not only for good resolution but to increase the depth of field in the photo to cover any areas of the scene that fell out of the subject plane (but most of the scene was pretty much in the same plane as the grassy wall).
Today we feature two videos: the first one shows how the basic shift and tilt movements of a tilt-shift lens looks through the camera. Our subject is a metal wall from the Nordegg Mine. See how shift and tilt alters the view of this ‘exciting’ subject!
The second video illustrates how we use tilt on the tilt-shift lens to alter the plane of focus to match the subject plane. What the heck does this mean? Watch the video to find out more.
From a practical point of view we use tilt all the time in our landscape photos to ‘bend’ the plane of focus to match the subject plane. For example, in the image of the Iceland church below I used 90mm tilt-shift lens with the lens tilted down so that that lupines, church and mountain all aligned into one plane of focus. Without tilt, I would never achieve focus across the whole scene even with an aperture of f22!
The new eBook on tilt-shift lenses has also just been released!
In the photos and video below, Darwin and I show you how to use shift on a tilt-shift lens to correct a perspective effect that occurs with wide angle focal lengths known as keystoning. In the first photo, Darwin used a wide angle lens (a 24mm) to frame an old building at the Nordegg Mine. Any time a wide angle lens is pointed up to frame a subject (or pointed down) we get problems with straight lines in the scene not being parallel to the edges of the image frame. Look at how the building looks like it’s leaning into the frame: this keystoning can be corrected by making the camera back parallel to the building and then using shift on a tilt-shift lens to return the lens to the original composition. The second photo shows the corrected image using shift. Watch the video to see exactly what we did (warning: high cheese factor!)
By the way if you really, really want to be an expert using tilt-shift lenses, then we invite you to take part in our special one-on-one, hands-on tilt-shift lessons in Kananaskis Country west of Calgary, Alberta (we meet in Bragg Creek). Complete one of these three-hour sessions with Darwin or me, and you’ll be a yogi-master of the tilt-shift lens! Cost for a private session is $300 plus GST. Grab a friend, share the session and pay less at $200 per person (max two participants per session). Contact us at email@example.com to set up your session!
The new eBook on tilt-shift lenses has also just been released!
Available dates and times in August are as follows (1st come first served):
August 4: 9 AM – Noon (Full)
August 5: 9 AM – Noon (Full)
August 11: 9 AM – Noon or 3 – 6 PM
August 12: 9 AM – Noon or 3 – 6 PM
In a few days we will launch our long asked for and long awaited eBook, The Tilt-Shift Lens Advantage for Outdoor and Nature Photography. First, we want to thank our fantastic eBook design guru, Stephen Desroches, for an amazing job: this eBook is beautiful! I also want to thank Darwin, for letting me use his tilt shift lenses on occasion in preparation for this publication. 🙂 We hope that this eBook will demystify both the shift and tilt movements of this versatile lens as well as show how we use these specialty lenses as tools for creative outdoor photography. As part of our launch, Darwin and I have made a few instructional videos to supplement the detailed information contained in the eBook. These videos are free; and we’ll launch a new one daily over the next few days. We hope you enjoy!