Unless I forget to remove the lens cap, I rarely delete and simply archive. I would like to believe that I’m a better photographer than I was 2 years ago. I see things differently and how I approach creating new images is forever changing.
With all that file clutter just taking up space, it’s an interesting exercise to look back and compare what I had originally thought was good and/or bad. It’s also interesting to see how opinions have changed.
It feels like forever and a day since we were in Iceland but when I saw an image of Dettifoss this week, I went back to my archived library to see what I had originally passed over as rejects. I remembered being there but I had also remembered coming back without anything interesting to print.
This is what I found. A relatively flat mid-day image of Europe’s most powerful waterfall. It surely doesn’t have the same impact as did standing there inches from the rushing water.
50% of my visualization is through trial and error. Should it be cropped? Does it need more or less contrast? Would I prefer this or would I prefer that?
Once I identified what I did not like about this image, I removed the colour, darkened the sky and ended up with two different images. One was be the original 8×12 but the other a perfect square. Both with very different perspectives of the location.
So I asked the question on Facebook which image was preferred and I feel like I got an equal mix right down the middle. You can see everyone’s comments here, here, and here. Art doesn’t get more subjective than this and how one connects with an image varies wildly.
Some prefer the feeling of standing there looking over the edge into the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river while others much prefer 1:1 and removing the triangle shaped distractions.
There is no answer and I still do not know which one I prefer.
We are happy to feature the work of Fran Gallogly who has fine-tuned her creative vision with years of practice and shooting what she loves. The examples below really do show that creative vision starts in the camera and then can (and should be) carried through to the final processed image. Processing should enhance the artist’s original vision and not detract from it. We love that Fran’s original image is simply gorgeous and easily stands on its own. The painterly effect added in processing creates a new work with a rich feel and results in a variation that also stands on its own.
Fran speaks of the making of the images:
The original photo was taken with my Canon 5D Mark III and 24-70 lens at 1/13s, ISO 100, last December. I used a tripod, cable release, polarizer and ND grads as well.
Years ago when I took Darwin’s online landscape class, he told us we should always have a project to challenge ourselves. Last year I embarked on a project to photograph all of Trumbull’s parks (Trumbull, Connecticut, where I live) in four seasons.
It turned out there were more parks than I thought. I’ve lived here ten years but didn’t know much about them. It was a wonderful experience. I met a lot of very nice people and discovered we have fabulous parks with some great facilities like a community garden, apple orchard, two swimming pools, rails to trails hiking and bike paths, many sports fields and a BMX Track where regional bike races are conducted in the summer. I ended up practicing sports photography there and they made me a manager on their Facebook page so I could post photos of the racers. I also made friends with a family who now bring their children over to enjoy my husband’s model trains. In addition, the editor of a local magazine, Trumbull Life, has published many of my park photos.
At the end of the year I had so many nice photos of both landscapes and people in the parks that I wanted to share it with the community. First I tried doing a slideshow of the best photos in PowerPoint but wasn’t happy with it. Then a friend suggested I do it in Photoshop and pointed me to two excellent videos on how to do this on Mark Johnson’s Workbench series. I followed the directions and put together an 8-minute slide show with music from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. I was able to key the music to the slides, for example, his Winter music plays with my Winter slides, Spring music with my Spring slides, etc. I have asked the head of our town library to play the slideshow (which is in mp4 format) on their lobby monitor so people in the community can see it. Then a friend in the local garden club introduced me to the superintendent of the Parks Dept. in town and he loved it and wants to put it on the town’s web site.
One of my favorite photos from the Winter segment is this shot above of Twin Brooks Park on a Winter day in the fog. The shrubs are a very colorful form of Bloodtwig Dogwood, Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire.’
Recently I decided to take a video class by Melissa Gallo whose web site is called Painted Textures. She sells lovely textures and also teaches a digital painting technique involving use of the Mixer Brush tool among other things. The class, which can be purchased on her web site, is called Painting With Photoshop. Besides the videos, she includes some textures, brushes and patterns of her own and sample files from the videos. It’s a struggle to learn and get it right for people like me who are not artists. People who have taken her class are invited to join a class Facebook page to share their work and encourage and inspire one another. This helps a lot.
It is a technique I am still struggling with. I think this painting of the park is by far my best effort to date. Like all new techniques it takes practice, practice, practice. Besides painting over the photograph, I also added a soft texture from a company called French Kiss, probably using a Blend Mode like Soft Light. That gave the white sky some color and definition. Besides landscapes, digital painting can be used for flowers, wildlife and even portraits. Right now I am working on some flower photographs as I am an avid gardener and have many nice flower photos.
Art is about personal expression. How do you feel about a subject? What is your connection to what you see? Why are you attracted to a particular subject? What do you want to tell the world? Who are you? These are the bigger questions we need to ask when making our art.The desire to paint, to sculpt, to make music, or to create photographs should be motivated from within and be an expression of you. External motivations like making money, getting likes, or pleasing others will only spoil your artistic expression. Create for yourself.
Once you are creating for yourself and not others AND you are photographing from your feelings and a connection with a subject, then you can think of which camera technique and post processing methods will enhance your message. Whenever I go to the old coal mine in Nordegg (Brazeau Collieries) I immediately feel a sense of nostalgia and sentimentality. Where some people see a hulk of rusty industrial power, I see a romantic dream of the past. It took me a visit or two to honour my inner feelings about the mine but once I let those feelings out, then I could make the images I wanted to make about the mine.
For example, there is a spot in the mine called the bone yard where random pieces of equipment lay scattered about in the grass. I wanted to show a sense of the passage of time and the static nature of the rusting equipment among the living world. To do this I used a solid ND filter on my camera lens to lengthen exposure time so the grasses moved as a ghostly blur around the rusting pieces of metal. This painterly look was enhanced in processing by using the Orton technique. The end result gave me a wistful look.
The selective use of aperture to have parts of the scene rendered sharp and parts of the scene a dreamy blur was also effective for me in translating my dream-like feeling for the mine. I used apertures such as f1.4 or f2.8 to give me a thin slice of sharpness.
Another technique I used to enhance the nostalgic mood was to convert the images from colour into sepia-toned black and white. Many of the scenes inside of the buildings at the mine site are contrasty with bright light coming in through the windows and cavernous shadow areas. To capture the entire range of bright to dark in the image I used HDR exposure blends (multiple images blended together at different exposures) to create one image with complete tonal detail. The final exposure blend is then converted to sepia to give a historic looking image.
If you would like an opportunity to see and photograph the Nordegg mine and find out how this location makes YOU feel, come join me and Samantha along with Royce Howland for our Coal Mines, Canyons, and the Canadian Rockies: the HDR Photography Workshop this May. I know I’m excited to return to this unique industrial landmark…maybe my creative vision will be different this time…who knows!
Quick and Dirty Processing Tips – Retro Photoshop Technique Using Quick Mask for Making Great Skies!
If you saw our last blog post you learned how we used the retro technique of using Quick Mask in Photoshop to paint on local selections. In this video we’ll show you how we use Quick Mask in conjunction with the gradient tool in Photoshop to make more dramatic skies. To learn more about our processing tips be sure to see our eBook; 7 Quick and Dirty Processing Shortcuts for Lazy Photographers.
Back in the early days of Photoshop, one of the easiest ways to paint on a selection was by using Quick Mask. Of course, now there are a million and one ways to do the same thing but even with all the innovations in making local selections, Samantha and I still find we go back to our tried and true method of using Quick Mask. If you want to learn more about how we do this see our eBook 7 Quick and Dirty Processing Shortcuts for Lazy Photographers and watch the free videos below:
Many times we’ve been requested to share our processing workflow. And we never formally did. It’s not that what we do is a top secret or anything. It has more to do with the fact that we weren’t sure if our workflow would actually be useful as an example to anyone. See, we have a secret…we’re lazy when it comes to processing our images. We don’t want to spend lots of time on the computer fiddling with sliders and moving pixels around. We prefer making as many creative choices in the field as we can without sacrificing image quality. As nature and landscape photographers, we really like spending time outside!
So what’s changed, you may be thinking. Well, after reading lots of books and watching how other photographers teach processing, we realized that one key message wasn’t really getting out: there is no right or wrong way to process your images. There is only right or wrong for you and your goals. Which means you must take what everyone says with a grain of salt. Just because someone else says you ‘ought’ to manage your images a certain way doesn’t mean that is useful advice for you! Like us, study what other photographers do. Read books. Try things out. Take what makes you happy and achieves your creative vision, and dump the rest. For example, some of our goals are:
- spend as much time as possible making creative decisions in-camera rather than on the computer (we like being outside, right?)
- easy and simple is better than long and complicated if both paths lead you to the same point
- in photography, creative vision begins in the field when an image is conceived and should inform your processing choices – we only move sliders to further this vision, not for ‘cool’ effects that really just amount to ornamentation
These goals inform our processing. When we took a step back and considered our processing, we realized that, in most cases, we followed seven steps with our images. Because there’s a dozen ways to get to your end goal in processing (but not many books written with the express purpose of shortening your time on the computer through unorthodox shortcuts), we thought we would share what we do with you. A warning though! These shortcuts are not safe, typical or even necessarily recommended: but they work for us, and might work for you.
So here it is, Sam and Darwin’s 7 Quick and Dirty Processing Shortcuts for Lazy Photographers.
This Book is For:
- photographers who shoot in raw format and use Photoshop
- shooters who want to minimize their time spent processing in their workflow
- skeptics who want to make up their own mind on what works for them
- photographers looking for a key shortcut or two to add to their processing repertoire
- anyone interested in the way we process our pictures (for better or worse)
This Book is Not For:
- commercial photographers with clients who may demand changes to a processed file at any time
- photographers who enjoy and spend a lot of time processing their work (if you love being creative on the computer, your goals are different from ours)
- photographers seeking a detailed, step-by-step guide to processing your images
- beginners (or anyone who shoots JPEG format only) wanting to understand the pros and cons of various editing programs
- photographers who want to learn processing in an ‘industry-approved’ and standardized workflow
- anyone happy with their digital darkroom workflow
- people who don’t have or intend to learn Adobe Photoshop (or for that matter, anyone who does most of their work in Lightroom)
So… if we’ve whet your appetite and you think there might be a sneaky processing shortcut or two that would work for you, check out our eBook now! We’re heading outside to make images…
Sam and I have been hard at work the last couple of weeks putting the final touches on a new eBook called Sam and Darwin’s 7 Quick and Dirty Processing Shortcuts for Lazy Photographers. Right now Stephen is putting spit and polish on the eBook design. So stay tuned for this eBook coming up soon!
We developed this eBook in response to numerous requests on how we process our photos. We’ve always been hesitant to share our methods… not because they are secret or innovative but because we do things all ‘wrong’. Wrong? Well, let’s just say that the Kelbys and Lyndas out there teaching image processing would be appalled by our unconventional workflow (and we would probably fail their courses)!
But (and here is the important point) our method works just fine for us, delivering results every time with little fuss. And we get our images processed fast. So we thought we would share what we do in the hopes that some of our shortcuts might help you shorten your time processing on the computer so that you can have more time for creative photography in the field.
In the meantime to help you save even more time be sure to check out our article: Image Storage and Retrieval: Are You a Cherry Picker or a Bean Counter?
Are you ready to be a lazy photographer?
This article first appeared in Outdoor Photography Canada in 2011 – if you don’t want to wait 2 years to see them here, then subscribe to this great magazine 😉
Time – A Photographer’s Best Friend
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 to ‘deal’ with these languishing images but 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.
So now I 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 try to 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.
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.