Following my last blog post on the Essential Skills for photography, the question was posed “Where I’m stuck is the step between picking the strongest image and playing with software. How do I decide what to do with it. ” This seemingly simple question is one of the most fundamental in photography and is one that I found myself wrestling with for a number of years. This is how I resolved the for myself. As I am a Landscape Photographer I will speak about scenes but you can apply this approach to most forms of photography.
The key to deciding how to edit an image doesn’t start when you download the image to your computer, it starts much earlier. It even starts before you even lift the camera to take the shot. It actually starts when you spot the opportunity to capture an image. When something catches your eye and you recognise there is a photograph to be taken, at that moment you should be working out what has captured your attention.
Having identified something that is attracting you to a scene you will begin to take photographs. It’s unlikely your first image will be what you wanted (if it is you are either amazingly talented or very lazy) so you need to experiment with angles and composition. As you work with a scene your vision for the image should become stronger. This is the vision that will become so important when you come to edit your image later.
Having a strong vision is the key to understanding how to edit your image.
Having selected the image that you want to work with; the one that best represents your vision, you should ask yourself 2 questions:
- What defects is the image suffering from that I need to correct? Perhaps it’s too bright or it looks a little flat. Perhaps it has a lot of dark areas which look ugly and need to be opened up. Spend time looking at the image and identify what you don’t like about it. Defects in the image hide your vision from the viewer.
- Now consider your vision and ask how can this image be enhanced to better convey my vision for the photograph? This should take you right back to the reason for taking the picture in the first instance. Why did you take the picture? How can you emphasise this aspect of the image to the viewer?
As you consider these questions, make notes about the changes that you would like to make. Don’t try to get all technical about how you will make the adjustments, just describe the changes. If you want to make some dark areas lighter, write that down. If you want to make the pinks more vibrant and colourful, write it down. If you think the image looks a little hazy and you want to give it more snap, write that down.
Once you have the list of changes you need to write out a plan for the adjustments you will make. Start with the global adjustments and work down to the smaller localised changes. Also try to make the corrections and fixes (question 1) before you make the enhancements (question 2).
I hope I haven’t made this sound easy as it’s not. It takes years of practice to develop your own styles and preferences as well as the skills necessary to be able to make the adjustments. But preserve and improvements will come.
In this final blog post of the series I will introduced the sixth skill that I believe is essential in producing great photography.
There are two aspects to this:
- Technical skills to be able to make the adjustment
- Aesthetic skills so that the adjustments are pleasing and not taken to an extreme
For the first element you must understand the image editing and adjustment tools that you use. You must also seek to use the best and understand how the different controls can be used to manipulate he image. You also need to understand this from the perspective of a photographer or an artist. You are not interested in lightening an image or adjusting the contrast, you are interested in creating illusion. Illusions such as sharpness and clarity. You need to understand how to control and manipulate light.
As you master your chosen tools you also need to understand the aesthetics of the adjustments you make. Your adjustments should be believable and realistic. Take your adjustment too far and the image will appear ugly. This is art and this is where you can truly introduce your vision.
Now it’s your turn. What have I missed? Do you agree with the skills discussed or do you find the concept of these skills too vague? Let’s share some opinions.
In an earlier post we spoke of exploring your subject in order to realise a clear vision and strong communication. It’s likely that this will result in many photographs of the same subject with only small variations between images. What we can’t do is present all these variations to our audience and expect them to select the best one; that’s our job as the photographer. I recall attending a wedding where the photographer was shooting continuously. When the bride and groom received the proofs the photographer had presented them with almost 1700 images and expected them to pick the 20 they liked best.
Being able to edit your images in order to select the best one for any particular subject is an essential skill that’s often overlooked. Let’s say we are faced with 20 image variations for a subject we have been shooting and we need to pick the best one. Which is best is quite subjective but:
- It must have a strong composition – if we can’t recognise a weak composition to weed out poor images we need to study this.
- Of all the images with a strong composition, which one conveys our vision and communication best? If we don’t know, it’s because our vision isn’t as strong as we thought it was and we need to spend more time developing this.
- If we are producing a series of images we need to ensure all the images work together. If we have one image that stands out above the rest we will make all the others appear weak. If we have one weak image it will stand out and damage the story being told.
If we really do have a few images that are similar and all very strong, just pick one. The rest of the world will never know we had a difficult choice to make. They also don’t care; they just want to see a great photograph.
I will introduce the final essential skill tomorrow.
In my previous blog post I introduced the third skill that I believe is essential in producing great photography. Today I will try explain another of these essential skills.
Understanding your equipment
Now please don’t confuse this with knowing how to use the features of your camera. The ability to pick up and control a camera is a given skill that every photographer needs. No, this skill is about understanding and appreciating the characteristics of the equipment at your disposal and understanding how we can use this to strengthen our communication with our audience.
An example to understand this a little better is if we were shooting a portrait. The subject would need to be the person in the image. What we therefore want to avoid is having multiple people dominant in the frame as these will be distracting. If our composition and technique is very poor it may leave our audience unsure which person is the subject. To make it clearer we might chose a long lens so that we can concentrate on a single person in the frame. We might also use a wide aperture to create a shallow depth of field. This will ensure objects behind our subject are thrown out of focus, so emphasising the subject still further.
A second example is where we use of Wide Angle lenses in Landscape Photography. Unless we move in close to our subject and include something in the foreground, the image loses impact as objects recede very quickly into the distance.
These examples are about understanding the characteristics of your equipment and then being able to make decisions about how use them to create strong compositions.
I will introduce another essential skill tomorrow.
In my previous blog post I introduced the third skill that I believe is essential in producing great photography. In today’s post I will explain another of these skills.
This is probably the first of the recognised traditional camera skills and one the many people will answer with when asked what do you think are the essential skills for photography. But a lot of people when starting out in photography (myself included) struggle with knowing how to create strong compositions. I can remember reading lots of books on the subject but never quite grasping what was being said. What I had failed to understand is that composition can’t be reduced to a set of rules that if followed will produce the best compositions.
Whilst it’s true that a strong composition is recognisable, it’s almost impossible to arrive at the perfect composition. What you need to strive for are strong compositions. Whilst you can follow some guidelines, it’s better to train yourself to recognise good composition as well as the faults of poor composition.
If your composition is weak it will hamper your photography as it will hide your vision and communication. When you get it wrong, the composition will jar with the audience and they won’t invest the time necessary to appreciate your work. Your communication will be hidden by the noise of poor composition. It’s a little like experiencing a small amount of static on the telephone line. Whilst you can still hear the conversation it becomes more difficult to hear the message, requiring more concentration. Your audience is choosey with their time as it’s precious. If they can’t hear your message clearly, they will move on to another message that is clear.
I will introduce another essential skill tomorrow.
In my last blog I introduced the first skill that I believe is essential in producing great photography. In today’s post I will try to explain another of these skills.
Communication and Vision
Vision is about understanding what we have seen that inspired us to want to take a picture. Once we understand this we can begin to think about how we want to represent this to others. This recognition is something that we need do this at the point we take the picture. If we don’t we will probably find later that we just didn’t quite capture the image right.
When we notice an opportunity and decide to take a picture, we may not make the best capture on the first effort. To know we have achieved the best result we need to take time (where possible) to explore a scene or subject. This is not just to check things such as composition and technical image quality but also to ensure our vision comes through as strongly. If you are not clear about what our vision is, how do we expect others to understand and appreciate your work.
The same argument also applies to being able to select the strongest image that best represents our vision. And when we come to work on our best image we need to understand how we want the finished image to appear. How should it look in order to best represent our vision. We need a clear image before we start to work on any adjustments.
The reason I included communication under this heading is that our image or images need to communicate our vision. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that our photograph is our medium of communication but our vision is our message. The clearer our vision, the stronger and communication, the better people will hear us.
I will introduce another essential skill tomorrow.
Someone recently asked me what I thought were the best skills to develop in order to improve their photography. The question is an interesting one as the answer depends on your current level of skill. Despite this I thought I would have a crack at documenting six skills that I think are pretty much essential if you want to produce great photography.
As I’m going to share my thoughts with a little explanation, or you might wonder why I have made the choices I have, I thought I would turn this into a short series of mini blog posts. As you read these you may agree or disagree with my ideas. If you have any strong feelings about a particular post please do comment as I’m really interested to hear the views of others.
So here we go…
Inspiration and Opportunity
This is the ability to tune into your inspiration and recognise the opportunities for great photography. As we go through each day we are presented with almost limitless opportunities to take great photographs. If those don’t register with us we never bother to capture the picture.
Even when we do recognise the opportunity, with so many how do we know which ones to pursue? Each time we pause to capture a photograph there is an opportunity cost to our work in that we have less time to pursue other opportunities. We therefore need to do more than just recognise the opportunities; we need to be able to distinguish a good opportunity from a great one. This requires us to have the confidence in our ability to make the decision of how best to invest our time.
One tool that can help is to understand our inspiration. What is it that we want to take pictures of? What are the specialist areas of our photographic interest? If we understand this and concentrate our efforts pursuing these, it will pay dividends. Let’s not wander aimlessly through our days snapping random photographs. Let’s be led by our inspiration to create great work.
I will introduce another skill tomorrow.
I’m usually really excited to be announcing a new book launch but recent events have somewhat dulled my enthusiasm. I received the final edit over the weekend and as always my editor has done a great job. I thought about delaying this but then decided I wanted to try to regain some normality. I also had the opportunity to dedicate the book to the memory of my mother.
Despite my subdued mood I am very pleased with the content. I think the book is pretty unique in its approach to developing peoples photography. Having said that I will probably find several hundred people now write to me to say it reminds them of another book.
Additionally, if you would like to get a free copy of my book “How to Avoid and Remove Image Noise with Nik Dfine 2″, this will be available for free download on the 2nd August and 3rd August from the amazon Kindle store.
Please feel free to spread the word and I hope you enjoy.
I had intended to get out yesterday for a long walk (about 20 miles) as I find it helps to clear my mind. In the end the 24 hours of torrential rain and quite severe thunder storms put an end to my hopes.
Today was much better though and despite not having the time for a 20 mile hike I did manage a drive over to the Peak district and a clocked up 12 miles over the hills.
The first thing that struck me when I arrived was how low the water level was in the reservoirs. Above is one of the images I shot with the Sony RX10 and it makes me wonder if we are heading for another drought with all the nice weather we have been having.
As a side note for those of you wondering about my use of the RX10, I have tended not to use it much as I don’t find the images anywhere near as crisp and sharp as my Micro 43 cameras. Despite that the camera has a lovely feel and is a joy to use.
For this particular image I didn’t use the usual Nik sharpening tools but opted for Focal Blade. This is an excellent although quite complex sharpening filter which I have been using on and off for a number of years. I don’t know why but it appears to achieve better results than Nik Sharpener Pro with the Sony images.
The other thing I did was apply Contrast Master which is a contrast adjustment tool from the same people who produce Focal Blade (PhotoWiz). I was reasoning that the images from the Sony seem to lack contrast and pop which is easily corrected in Contrast master. Having just printed this image at A3+, the detail is excellent. It also has a very nice quality to it, very much like film.
I just thought I should try adding some grain and making another print. I’m off to experiment…
This week has just run away with me again. I think the problem (besides too much work and my mum still being ill) is that I love to experiment. I have just spent the last hour developing some Lightroom film-like presets. So I decided to save some time and share a recent image processed with one of the presets – no other adjustments, just a Lightroom preset.
Have a great weekend everyone.