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.
Before I get into the details of this post I need to point out that I’m not a fan of the false colour effect in infrared. That said I do quite like the look of the image above. I realise this is a personal choice and you may or may not like the effect. Despite not liking this effect (other than the odd image) I continue to use the technique as I find it often helps in the conversions to black and white. The increased colour seems to make it easier to separate objects in black and white .
The starting point for the conversion is an infrared image that has been correctly white balanced. You can see the starting point below.
As I have mentioned previously in this blog, getting the white balance correct in Lightroom and Adobe Camera RAW can be problematic. Here is an example of the image as seen in Lightroom despite using the correct custom white balance.
I have now found out how to correct this and will post something separately on the subject.
Once you have your image white balanced, take it into Photoshop. Here we will do something called a channel swap between the red and blue channels using the Channel Mixer. You can see a screenshot of the channel mixer below.
In case you are wondering there isn’t a cannel mixer in Lightroom or Elements.
First select the Red channel in the channel mixer. You will notice the red slider is at 100% and the other two sliders are at 0%. Change these sliders so that the blue channel is at 100% and the others are at 0%.
Now repeat this process selecting the blue channel. This time set the blue slider to 0% and the red slider to 100%. The channel swap is now complete and you will see an effect similar to that above.
You can also swap any two channels and are not restricted to the red and blue. The red and blue channels tend to produce the best results though.
Now as I mentioned at the start of this post, I use this technique to support conversion to black and white. With that in mind, here is the final image back and white image. Let me know which image you prefer.
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 promised I would do it if anyone asked, and you have. You can now download my Faded Summer Colour Lightroom preset for free. The preset was used to create the image above and the one in my previous post.
You can download it from a new Presets and Textures page on my Lenscraft website. You will need to log in as a member to download the file (but membership is free). When you download the zip file it contains the preset, installation instructions and a thumbnail sample image.
I hope you enjoy.
Yes, I know that I keep going on about using emotional triggers in photography but it’s a fascinating subject. It’s also a great way to make ordinary images more interesting. And if you want to consider yourself as more of a visual artist than a photographer, I would say it’s pretty much essential.
Today’s example shows the creative impact colour and tone shifts can have. For your reference, the original image is shown below.
The global changes I have made are to the colour, exposure and the contrast. I have also increased the clarity in some areas of the flower using the Lightroom Brush tool. If you look carefully on the lower stem above the bud, you will find a greenfly hanging upside down. I thought twice about removing it but decided to leave it in.
If I were to produce this as a finished arty image I would probably blend the image with a textured background to add even more appeal. But as this example is about colour and tone, I have restricted the adjustments to exposure, contrast and colour. If you are wondering which tools I used to make all these changes, everything was done in Lightroom.
If you are a Lightroom user who likes the image and are interested in recreating the look with some of your own work, please let me know. If it’s a popular adjustment I will make it available on my Lenscraft site as a Lightroom Preset that can be downloaded.
I have posted a few blogs now talking about creating emotional impact in photographs. The subject is something I find absolutely fascinating but it’s also a double edged sword. You see each person’s background and experiences will dictate to a large extent what triggers an emotion. There are of course some things we are all hard wired to respond to such as a kind smile, but in general it’s our past experience that we link to with emotional triggers. The double edged sword I mention is that whilst these emotional triggers can create very powerful photography they can equally fail to have any impact, leaving the viewer wondering what the image is about.
So what sort of things can trigger an emotion?
There is the subject matter – examples might be a cute image of a baby or it may be an image of a subject that triggers nostalgic feelings. If you are from the UK you might instantly start to date the image above in your mind, possibly linking it with hardship or good times. But if you are from another country you might not understand the image at all; it could be meaningless to you.
Colours can trigger feeling such as blue making us feel cold and reds are warm. But it goes beyond this as certain combinations of colour used when toning an image can trigger feelings. Some pastel shades are particularly helpful in this respect and if you look carefully you will find this used in lots of advertising materials. Ever wondered why cupcake packaging all follows a similar theme.
Some special effects such as a simulated light leak or film scratches or film grain can all trigger emotional memory (even if you never shot film). This is possibly why some of the software packages that simulate film have become so popular in recent years.
Light can trigger emotional feelings as in the following image. This small out of focus image of light reflecting on water triggers a very strong emotion in some people that reminds them of lazy summer days spent relaxing, possibly in their childhood. Personally I love it even though it’s of nothing in particular; it may not do anything for you.
Why do I keep talking about this? Because I think it’s a route to creating more compelling, powerful images. If we can identify different ways of triggering peoples emotional memory we can create more striking, enjoyable and enduring images.
Recently I posted a blog entitled Emotional Challenge where I spoke about my recent interest in the emotional aspect of photography and how we could create images that had more emotional impact. As an initial example I posted the image of a seagull flying over the sea. Now some of your reading this will be relating the image of the seagull to seaside holidays, perhaps recalling childhood memories. Others though may have an entirely different perspective of the image.
If you are not from a climate where the seagull is a common sight on the coast you may not have any emotional memory to attach to the image. Instead you may see a huge open stretch of water with a bird gliding graceful over it and flying off into the distance. For you the emotional message in the image is one of freedom.
Today I have posted a few variants of the image that are also intended to add further layers of emotion, using various tricks or rather emotional triggers.
The first variant below has cropped the image to a square format. Whilst this possibly doesn’t give as dynamic a composition as the standard rectangular image, it is none the less a trigger. Some people will associate the square format with older cameras. The other change in this example was the vintage effect. Here lighting and colouring have been used to create the impression of older photography. All these changes were achieved quite quickly in Lightroom using the crop tool and a few gradients.
The next example is a little more complex. This takes the Lightroom conversion and applies effects using Nik Analog Efex 2 (which is a recent release). The effects here are light and colour adjustments, blur, vignette, dust and an edge effect similar to the old Polaroid film.
In the next two examples the results of the Nik Analog Efex filter have been added as a layer in Photoshop to the Original Lightroom image. The blending mode has then been changed on the Nik layer. In the first of the two the blending mode is set to Soft Light.
In this second image the blending mode is set to Overlay.
All these images are likely to mean different things to different people but all are likely to have an effect. If we can isolate the emotional triggers from great images and then learn how to recreate these in our own work, our photography will improve. But this carries two significant dangers. Firstly people are likely to either love or hate your work. Secondly your work can become a cliché and the effects boring.
I never said it was easy.
Recently, besides buying lots of new equipment, I have become interested in the challenge of introducing emotion into photography. With some photography (mainly involving people) it tends to be a little easier. You can catch that moment of joy or the look in a subjects eye but with landscapes it becomes a little more difficult. Sure you can show wonderful, breathtaking scenes but this doesn’t always translate into an emotional element.
What I want to achieve are images that evoke an emotional response or a feeling of nostalgia. The only tools I have to do this are my camera, choice of composition and post processing “effects”. This is probably a worthy challenge to set myself and one that I don’t yet know how to achieve. It’s also going to be made more difficult as not everyone will see the same or respond in the same way to the same image.
Above is a simple image which is not much different than how it came out of the camera. I think it has potential through the composition and subject matter to evoke emotion. I suspect with more processing it could achieve a stronger impact.
What do you think?
Looking back some 3 to 4 years, I was a devoted user of Lee Filters although they were far from perfect. I didn’t think the quality was great and I can point to examples of colour shifts in my work. When I moved to Micro 43 I found the Lee 100mm filters were too large so I switched to using Hi-Tech 85mm filters and then more recently the Hi-Tech 67mm.
I was very pleased with the Hi-Tech filters and they were also much better value than the Lee equivalent. That was at least until I purchased the Sony RX10. When I use the 85mm Hi-Tech filters with this camera (the 67mm filters vignette badly) I find the sky takes on a purple tint. I can correct this in Lightroom using the grad tool but it’s annoying. What’s interesting is that this isn’t a noticeable problem when I use the filters with the Olympus EM5.
Now enter the GM1 and I found a similar problem was now occurring with the 67mm Hi-Tech filters. It’s not as strong an effect as the 85mm filters on the Sony but I can still notice it. Again, the effect isn’t noticeable when using the filters with the Olympus EM5.
It was this small but very frustrating tint that has taken me back to the Lee filters. I decided to bite the bullet and invest in the Lee Seven 5 filters, and I’m so pleased that I have. These filters and holders are very well made indeed. Best of all there is no discernible colour shift on any of the cameras I use. What really hit home for me was when I used the 0.9 Grad for this image and found the effect to be perfectly natural. If there was going to be a colour shift it would be with this filter but the results are excellent.
If you are thinking of investing in the Lee Seven 5, my view is that the expense is well worth it.
I’m really interested in something and need your help. I love photography software and in particular filters and editing tools. I’m always on the lookout for new software that’s good and want to know what recommendations people have. Here are a few of the filters I already use in my workflow:
- Nik Collection
- Topaz (B&W Effects, Star Effects, Adjust, Detail)
- On One Software Perfect Photo Suite
- Photomatix (HDR)
- Photo Wiz (B&W Styler, Contrast Master, Focal Blade)
- Neat Image Noise Reduction
- Qimage Ultimate (printing)
- Akvis Magnifier (resizing)
- Helicon Focus (image stacking)
- Hugin (panoramic stitching)
Now I don’t want just names of filters and adjustment tools you have heard about, I want recommendations of tools you use and think are great. What do you recommend I look at?