I would like to first apologize for the terrible pun in the title. I know it’s been a slow week here so I also apologize for the lack of content. I haven’t had a chance to go out and really do a decent shootabout and I didn’t want to resort to sharing something sub par. Fortunately I heard back from my friend Mel who agreed to write me a guest post. Fleeing years in a corporate environment Mel started a second career in photography by attending the Rocky Mountain School of Photography career training program. His greatest joy in photography is to turn his camera to the natural world and catch it in the act of doing something interesting, or entertaining, or simply profound. Still learning how to use the craft, he works in a variety of formats including 35mm, medium and large format, digital as well as film. One of his goals for this photography is the use of images in support of environmental education and action to result in common-sense solutions to living in our world. Although his favorite photographer quote is “Anything more than 500 yards from the car just isn’t photogenic” (Edward Weston) he continues hiking off into the woods to check its accuracy! Today Mel is sharing some awesome work he did post processing a few images. I know I have post processing fans in my readership as well as some staunchly opposed to editing any picture. I believe it has a place in photography and I agreed to share this because Mel seems to think of it much the way I do. Photoshop is not a band-aid for a bad picture.It’s more like a little bit of makeup to bring out the best in something that’s already great. In Mel’s case it’s a way to make the picture look more like what he saw and felt.
I’ve been playing around with photography for over 20 years and most of that time I didn’t really enjoy the results I was getting. Raised on years of National Geographic I couldn’t understand why my camera wasn’t turning out pictures of comparable quality, especially when it felt like I was following all the technical rules about focus and exposure. Frustrated, I was continually putting my camera on the shelf, then taking it down, then putting it back. Sadly, it was a case of literally ignoring what was right under my eyes. Yeah, I was reading all the “you can be a better photographer” books – I just wasn’t putting the advice into practice. So, it wasn’t long after buying my first digital DSLR I decided to get some instruction; you know, professional help. Maybe sharing that instant digital feedback with a pro would help me make changes in my habits right on the spot. Wow, what a revelation. The instructor brought home many of the lessons I should have learned before and showed me some new ones that helped bring it all together. “Ah-ha” moments every day. We spent a week in the field shooting and shooting and shooting until the lessons started to become habits. Happily, my camera hasn’t been back on the shelf since and I continue to learn how I see the world around me as well as how to share it successfully with others. One of the first lessons I learned was that all images need processing. The camera’s job is to accurately capture all the information you’ll need to translate the image into YOUR photograph; the rest of the effort has to come from your vision for the scene. For example, here’s a scene right out of my camera:
In my earlier days I would have looked at this image and complained, “that’s not what I saw!” because it looks so weak. Now I know the camera captured all the information I need to create the rich, detailed scene I saw when I pointed my lens in that direction. What attracted me to the scene was the idea of an image revealing the golden look of the sun on the water’s surface, showing off all the texture resulting from the little ripples. I also wanted the silhouette of the boats – no more detail than a dark outline. And I wanted just a hint of the mountains to use as a background frame but with enough contrast to show there are two ridges back there. The beauty of digital photography is you can make changes to the image in real-time and see what you’re getting. First I knew I wanted more contrast in the picture – make the blacks blacker and the whites whiter.
Making that adjustment meant more of the details in the water started showing through and the mountains in the background were more obvious. Next I wanted a richer look to the color, more like what I was seeing that morning.
Although that brought out more of the color it was my intent for the final image to have more vibrancy to it, something to catch the eye.
Now I had the overall feel and tone of the image I wanted but I really needed the eye to focus on the boats as they move across the water in front of the landscape. Most of that water in the foreground doesn’t really contribute to my vision for the image so I removed it.
Now I have the story I wanted to tell with this image along with the emotional sense I felt when I saw the scene. Another lesson I learned was portraying the drama found in a scene.
Static photographs sometimes don’t convey a sense of what’s happening as you look over a landscape but there are ways to bring that out. One is to get some motion in the picture by letting moving objects blur. The other is to get the color out of the way and let black- and-white tell the story. Here’s another image right out of my camera, adding motion with a longer shutter speed:
Well, I got the motion I wanted but it just doesn’t convey the drama I felt standing there. I wanted the final image to offer a sense of the power from the water coming to shore in front of an ominous cloudbank. So I took the color out and increased the contrast to make the surface of the water and the clouds look less peaceful.
Much better but the sky looks odd with that dark spot in the middle (it’s an artifact from using a polarizing filter on a wide angle lens – hard to get rid of in post-processing) so to bring all the eye’s attention on the water and rocks, I cropped out most of the sky.
Now that distracting dark spot is gone and what’s left of the sky just adds to the intensity of the image. However, anyone spending time looking at the picture is going to be distracted by one more object, the bright spot at the bottom.
Yes, I realize that’s a really small spot but it’s the details that make the difference and I don’t want anything taking attention away from viewers so a re-crop took that right out.
This is the sense I wanted the image to convey: the power of the surf against the rocks and the unknown future of the clouds in the distance. The bird on the rock is just a wonderful accident but it does give some scale to the scene. Technical knowledge on how to use your camera and how to post-process digital images is important for getting the final image you want but equally so is knowing what you want as an end result. Why did you bring the camera up to your eye? What caught your attention or stirred your emotions? What is the story you want to tell? Have that in mind first, and then use the tools to create a way to share it with others. Think of it like driving a car. Knowing how to handle the technical aspects of driving can get you from one place to another; however, all those skills are simply tools to serve your decision to be somewhere else.
I hope you enjoyed the guest post today. Check out more of Mel’s great work here. To learn more about how to use your camera or edit your images, check out all of our training posts here. Check back later this week for another Shootabout, I promise not to make you wait much longer.