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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Developing Your Style

Shallow depth of field is part of my style. Here I used a telephoto lens and a wide aperture to achieve it.

Serious photographers work hard to find their style. Searching for that certain something that says "this is the work of "x."" It can take years for a photographer to develop their own personal style. And some never do, happily content snapping away without ever committing to a particular style.

Style is borne out of many things. Visual styles are often first developed through studying other photographers’ and artists’ work. That process usually starts when we are very young children before we even have any interest in becoming an artist. And it continues and grows after we pursue photography as a craft. And that stylistic inspiration isn’t limited to just printed images and photography. Often as children we may see scenes in real life, in movies, or on television and some of those images get imprinted on our brains and end up influencing us for a lifetime.

For me, some of my earliest visual influences came through many sources. Things that influenced me greatly included my visits to parks (being out in a natural environment,) being out after dark in New York City (mesmerized by glowing lights in the darkness,) flipping through my mom’s album collection (the amazing covers,) some of the illustrated books of my childhood (most enchanted by forest scenes,) the circus (the spectacular of performance and action,) a religious prayer book illustrated with nature photos (peace through a connection with nature,) and television (especially the musical performances on variety shows where the performers were dressed in sparkly outfits that would sparkle and hypnotize me as a child.) Those things had a great influence on my visual tastes and still impact me today. Take the time to think about it and you will find that you too have a list. Those early influences likely have had more of an affect that you realize. Making a list could help you on your way to discovering your personal style. Writing it down helps you sort it out better.

Other factors that can strongly influence your style are your subjects and available shooting situations. Your subject matter often dictates how it needs to be captured. If your preferred style is of, for example, light and airy high key imagery with no shadows but what you have to shoot are buildings and scenes under harsh high contrast lighting with strong shadows, then things are not going to work out for you at that particular time. You will need to either adapt your style or come back at another time or find another subject. But that is the thing about style, you’ll find that your subjects will influence your shooting style. If you live in a city surrounded by such high contrast scenes in daylight, you’ll find through practice how to make those scenes work photographically. And then suddenly that high contrast look becomes part of your style. Or you can find that you can’t work with it, and then opt to shoot only with artificial light or during overcast days.

But don’t forget that you don’t need to shoot everything the same way or under the same lighting conditions in order to have a personal style. I have a love of different lighting situations and subjects. I use whatever techniques necessary to capture the best possible image of whatever it is that I am shooting at the time. But everything still ends up coming together well as a collection in my body of work. And that’s the thing about style, some aspects of it are so subtle that you may not even notice it while you’re shooting. The way you compose a scene or frame your subject are a big part of your style, even if they may not be as obvious as some other stylistic aspects such as key, lighting, or color preferences.

Other strong factors contributing to your style are your photographic knowledge and gear. Your gear influences your style simply because of how certain cameras and lenses record a scene. For example, using a compact camera will render scenes with deep focus because of the smaller sensors in those cameras (do an internet search if you want to learn more about the physics that are the reason for this.) You will find creating images with shallow depth of field, an aspect of my own personal style, an impossibility with those types of cameras. If you shoot with a Holga or pinhole camera, you will find creating images with deep depth of field and high sharpness an impossibility. Is it the camera that influences a photographer’s style or is it the photographer that chooses to use particular gear to support his style? It can be either and sometimes even both.

I think an SLR or ILC (interchangeable lens camera, the new mirrorless wonders) along with a two zoom lens basic kit is an ideal place for any photographer to start gear wise. As your experience grows and your style develops, you can add more lenses to your kit as needed. I myself bought lenses over the years to support my then current work and had often found that those tools made an impact on my style. Both by supporting my style and also by influencing it, which I will later explain in this post.

Here are some tips on how to develop your own personal photographic style:

 
Observe & Critique The Work Of Others
Yes right back to the beginning again: observation. Only this time more proactively. Spending time looking at other photographers’ work helps us to decide what types of images are pleasing to us and also inspires us to try new things photographically. Putting into words what exactly it is that you like about an image can help you to remember to incorporate some of those elements into your own shooting repertoire. I am not encouraging to copy someone’s work exactly, although trying to duplicate a photo exactly can be a great learning exercise. Rather, I am encouraging you to find inspiration to try new techniques. Expanding your range is one way to help grow your own personal style.


Observe & Critique Your Own Work
Taking the time to critique your own work is an invaluable tool to develop your own style. I discuss learning through the editing process in my blog post "Editing As Part Of The Learning Process." In addition to using that time to critique your technique, you can also use that time to observe any trends in your work. Those trends are clues to your personal style. When gathering images that you wish to print or share online, try to put those images into collection folders in your computer. Organize your images by theme and you will often see a stylistic trend throughout your work. If you do not, don’t worry. You just haven’t developed your style yet. Keep shooting and working at it. If you do, you’ll eventually start to see a stylistic trend emerge.

One of my most viewed & repinned images on Pinterest.
Post Your Work Online
There are many online communities that you can post your photos to. Comments on those sites can range from simple compliments to more wordy critiques that often contain clues to help you understand and find your photographic style. Because of my adventures with 3D digital art, I used to post a lot to an online community called Renderosity, which is primarily a 3d imaging art site. After I redeveloped my love affair with photography again in 2006, I started posting my photos there. The photo community there is very small but helpful. Through the comments I received there, I started to discover my own personal style. While I may have eventually noticed a style throughout my work, I do feel that posting there helped me to develop my style much quicker than I would have been able to do on my own. Another benefit to participating in an online community is that you will also learn by critiquing the work of others. Taking the time to verbalize exactly why you like someone’s photo not only helps them grow as an artist, but also you as well.

Two rules however. One: don’t post if you can’t find the time to comment on others’ works. That is especially important if posting to a smaller online community, such as Renderosity’s photo galleries. For a larger site like Flickr, the best way to get views and comments is to post in groups. These groups also require you to participate. It’s a give and take to participate in these groups online, if you don’t comment and favorite other photographers’ work, you can’t expect them to do the same for you. And two: don’t be mean. If you don’t like a photo, no need to comment. But if you do choose to comment, never be cruel. You may choose to give advice on how to make a photo stronger, but unless the poster requests an honest critique and solicits advice, it is best just to keep your critique to yourself. It is a great idea however, to critique the image in your head for your own learning process.

Experience helped me to capture this scene as I envisioned it in my mind.
Build Your Photographic Knowledge Base
One of the best things about photography is how diverse it is. No matter how much you know, you can always learn more. There are so many different types of photographic subjects that you can stay busy for a lifetime experimenting with all of them. First, make sure you know all the basics. Learn by taking a course or workshop, reading books and magazines, watching instructional videos, or reading on the internet. And most importantly, by then doing what you have just learned about as nothing beats real life experimentation.
Having a solid foundation of photographic knowledge will help you whether you want to record a scene realistically or if you want to go even further and manipulate the scene to record as you envision it. By having a wide photographic knowledge base, you can chose to use advanced techniques that would be unavailable to a less experienced photographer. Once you have mastered the basics, you can beyond just taking a nice snapshot and instead record an image with style.





Build Your Photographic Kit


As I have already mentioned, your gear can have an effect on your photographic style. Besides the obvious benefits and limitations of your chosen type of camera and its system, there are other factors that can influence your style. Some lenses lend themselves well to certain types of imagery. For example, a lens with a wide aperture that is capable of recording beautiful bokeh lends itself well to dreamy, shallow depth of field imagery. Or it would in my hands anyway, since my style is biased that way. But a photographer that normally shoots deep focus images, may find that having such a lens leads them to experimenting with shallow depth of field for the first time. That lens can then possibly have an influence on the evolution of that photographer’s style.

My EX25 Tube has influenced my compositions this year.
I like to add to my kit slowly. Choosing to add lenses and accessories to my kit one at a time and fully exploring each new item before buying something new. My last purchase was an Olympus EX25 extension tube. It has strongly influenced my shooting style over the past 7 months that I have been using it. I have been exploring new compositions and find myself using it every time I do any serious shooting. I have found that it has influenced my compositions even when I’m not using it. I am just seeing in a whole new way this year because of working with it this year.

If you already have a personal style, you should chose gear that supports your style and also fills in the "holes" in your gear bag such as perhaps the need for a lens in the telephoto or wide angle focal lengths. In my case I needed something to help me record better macros, which is why I purchased the Ex25 extension tube. That purchase filled a "hole" in my camera bag and also supported my love of closeups which are part of my photographic style. Other past equipment purchases that influenced my style were my Lensbaby and both of my telephoto lenses – a 40-150mm and 70-300mm (80-300mm and 140-600mm in 35mm size equivalent.)

What equipment will end up influencing your own photographic style? Some ideas are to try focal lengths not already covered by your kit lenses. Macro lenses, extension tubes, and tele-extenders can also help you enter the exciting world of closeup photography. A new camera can also end up influencing your style as well, especially one with an expanded dynamic range or high ISO capability, or perhaps some other feature that you never experienced before.



A favorite from my Altered Vision series.
Use Filters & Computer Effects
Some photographers like to use filters, either in the computer or optical filters on the lenses, as part of their style. When done skillfully and with artistic expression in mind, rather than done just as a gimmick, filters can be effective. Don’t be afraid to experiment, and if you find a technique that works for you make it a collection of images using those techniques. Even though I prefer to do most of my effects in camera, I have a few collections based around computer effects such my recent Altered Vision collection which is based on a computer filter to mimic cross processed film.







Expanding my range by shooting wide.




Expand Your Range
Don’t be afraid to experiment with new techniques even if you already have developed a style. Many artists evolve their styles over a lifetime. Experiment freely and don’t be afraid to add new techniques to your repertoire.


Take Snapshots
Don’t be afraid to take photos just for fun without worrying about where they fit in with your photo collections. You may choose not to display those images as part of your portfolio, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take them. I often need to remind myself of this one.

Get A Professional Critique
Having your portfolio reviewed by a professional at a portfolio review session is a good way to help discover your personal style. A pro can objectively tell you where your photographic strengths and weaknesses lie. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, especially if you are paying for the review.

Get Out There & Shoot
That’s the very best way to develop your style. All the reading and photo viewing alone won’t help you develop style, only a lot of image taking will. In the days of film that is the main reason why professional photographers’ work were so much better than that of hobbyist shooters. They were just out there more often, and shooting more photos than the average enthusiast. It was just too expensive for hobbyist shooters to afford the high costs of such luxurious frame after frame shooting sessions. With digital that has changed, and hobbyists can now shoot all the photos they want without having to worry about throwing away money by taking risky shots. Memory cards and off computer storage (dvds, removable hard drives, etc.) are cheap now. Take advantage of that fact and shoot, shoot, shoot!

All these tips have helped me develop my own style. I hope these tips get you off to a good start to developing and evolving your own photographic style. Now turn off your computer and go shoot something!

Here I used my Lensbaby lens. Soft and dreamy images like this one are a big part of my photographic style.

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Friday, August 9, 2013

Is Technology Overrated? Part 2



Technology. I admit that a lot of it doesn’t impress me much. I’m not one to buy into the latest and greatest little gadget just to say that I own it. Oh sure, there are many cool gadgets out there. And camera technology has come a long way since I first started taking photos. But a lot of features on new cameras, I doubt I’ll ever use. My opinions on new technology have been covered in my old blog post, "Is Technology Overrated?"

I have been happily using my two Olympus E1 cameras for 7 years. Yes, even in 2013 I’m still using this camera that was originally released in 2003. And many people have enjoyed my photos captured with this old dinosaur of a camera. And not just online, but also as printed photographs for home decorating, magazines, and books. Granted, the E1 is a bit of a cult classic. Many photographers feel the same way as I do about this brilliant camera which has outstanding ergonomics, and amazing color rendition. Last year, I did start to feel the desire for an upgrade though. I would like a few more megapixels, better high ISO performance, live view and in camera image stabilization. But no available cameras at that time really appealed to me and I figured I would wait one more year or so.

But then it happened. A publisher contacted me about using some of my images for large wall prints for the lucrative home d├ęcor market. I’ll be honest here, this is a major dream of mine. It always seemed to me an almost unattainable one, an opportunity for the extremely lucky & marketing geniuses or for the already famous. But then I saw the image file requirements and my heart sank. My images are half the required size. The jury is still out on whether my sizes will be able to upsized to meet the size & quality requirements. So far the deal is still on the table, so we’ll see what happens.

So I know it is most definitely the time for that upgrade, and now I find myself immersed in the world of technology as I do research for my next camera. Ugh, technology. Since I have always been loosely following the advancements in camera technology, I’m not exactly starting at ground zero. I already had an idea of how many megapixels we’re "at now", how much high ISOs have evolved to offer better image quality and less noise, and was already aware of such advanced new features such as live view and video capabilities. But now I need to know which cameras have the features I can use for my type of photography and how they fit into my tight budget. I am also concerned about how I will like the ergonomics of those cameras, my E1 has spoiled me with its layout and handling which work perfectly for me. I dearly love my E1 and its lenses, and I am so familiar with my gear that I can work with it in near complete darkness. Yes, it’s pretty obvious I do not want to switch.

And just why did I mention the love of my lenses, like they would be replaced as well? I use a DSLR don’t I? Just upgrading the body, right? Well, for most brands that would be the case but there is a little thing I like to refer to as the "Olympus Situation." There are rumors that they will no longer be making their regular 4/3 DSLR cameras, opting instead to only manufacture mirrorless ILC (interchangeable lens compacts), which they market as micro 4/3. They are smaller because they are mirrorless (hence the micro moniker) and have no optical viewfinder. My lenses can be used with those cameras, but only with an adapter and never quite as seamlessly as with micro 4/3 lenses as they will focus slower and be a bit "clunky" for these much smaller bodied cameras. At this point it is only a rumor, and another rumor has been recently dropped stating that there is in a fact a new Olympus camera on the way that will be able to use my 4/3 lenses available this year. So far only rumors, so we’ll see what happens.

So now here I am, doing the research for my new camera. Spending time reading reviews in print and online and trying to crunch those numbers. Luckily, I do not need to rush into this as I have decided to make the purchase around January. But this research is not a favorite activity of mine, I much rather be using my old cameras than researching a new one. Or perhaps I could even be catching up on editing my photos, an activity that I am now a little bit over 2 months behind on.

Right now I am seriously looking into the Nikon system, specifically the D7100 camera. I had almost bought a Nikon in 2006 when I bought my E1. Do I regret my decision? No, I do not because the E1 restarted my love affair with photography and I will never regret the time I spent using that camera and building my kit and image archive. And truthfully, I am no even sure that I will switch brands. I find Olympus to be a company that is innovative (they were first with live view amongst other innovative features) and they build solid and dependable cameras. I have put heavy use and some abuse on my cameras and they are still up and running. Even though I love my DSLR with its optical viewfinder, I am not ruling out that sideways jump to the micro 4/3 systems. I am seriously looking at the OMD EM-5 camera of theirs. I have never been a fan of electronic viewfinders, but there are some users out there that have brought up some very valid points as to the benefits of mirrorless cameras. Since I am not buying until around January, there are many months of research and possible new releases to consider.

 

So has all this recent research changed my mind about technology. No, I still think it’s overrated. I just can’t see buying into new technology if you don’t really need it. But that’s the thing. Do you really need the latest and greatest in new technology? That is always the thing you should think about before parting with your hard earned cash on any new gadget. And the more I read about some of the really cool features available on these newer cameras, the more I get kind of excited about it.

Here are some of the things that I think are important to consider while researching a new camera purchase:

High Megapixel Count

Do you dream that one day your photos could be printed large? Or even better still, do you actually print your images large or even print them at all? Or maybe you are one of those people that like to zoom around in your photos to look at all the little details that are so easy for the naked eye to miss. Despite my current conundrum, I still genuinely feel that 5mp is enough for many people. I have printed as large as 11x17 and have heard of others printing as large as 30x40 with careful upsizing. Remember, bigger files will result in you using more storage space. You will use up your memory cards quickly and fill up your computer’s hard drive faster with those larger files. And you will require larger capacity off computer storage options (dvds, removable hard drives, cloud storage, etc.) and quite possibly a more powerful computer to process them. The prospect of shooting with the 24MP D7100 makes me a bit apprehensive about those things. Thinking about the reality of having to store those large image files may actually slow me down while capturing photographs and may possibly make me really think about whether a photo is worthwhile taking. This could result in me slowing down and taking better photos. But it may also stop me from taking that occasional snapshot for myself, or from experimenting and fully working the subject which could result in me never growing as an artist (see "It’s All About The Good Shots.") It is something to consider.

High ISOs

This is one advancement in technology that I can really get behind. Even though many of my images are actually captured during the daylight hours, I do often work under somewhat dim lighting conditions. I live in a wonderful wooded area with lots of trees and shade and I like to shoot handheld (see "The Tripod Hater’s Tips For Sharper Handheld Images.") That means I need to use fast shutter speeds to prevent camera shake and that’s where high ISO capabilities come in handy. Newer cameras have greatly improved not only what the top high available ISO is, but also render less noise and more image detail than the cameras of just a few years ago. If you shoot most of your images in very bright sunlight and seldom find the need for anything higher than ISO200-400, then you’re covered with pretty much any camera made after 2010, no worries for you. More about noise in my post "What's All The Noise About Noise?"

Dynamic Range

A camera with high dynamic range, the ability to capture details in both the brightest highlights and deepest shadows in an scene, is a wonderful thing. Most digital cameras only can record detail in about a 5 stop range in brightness. That means you will have to decide whether you want to retain detail in either the highlight or shadow areas of your scene. Sure there are special shooting and computer techniques to help extend the range, but those require extra time and effort to achieve. You can read more about that in my old blog post "You Can Always Fix It In The Computer Later." I admit that I like to use limited dynamic range as part of my style. For example, I love capturing images with black tree trunks and bright glowing leaves. But remember, you can more easily limit dynamic range than extend it. Taking away detail is easily achieved. Adding detail is not possible. The ability to record a higerh dynamic range is one of technology’s goodies and camera manufacturer’s keep making great improvements there.

Autofocus

I’m old enough to remember when autofocus was a relatively new thing and a big deal. And 26 years later, it is still a big thing. I got my first autofocus SLR camera in 1988 (my first SLR was a simple manual everything camera) and I can say from experience that it has come a long way since then. It’s faster, more accurate, and can even track and predict focus on moving subjects. I hear that the D7100 has 51 focus points. Wow! And you know what? I still hear of photographers with cameras with many focus points and advance focusing features still choosing to use either manual focus or just the center focus point. Sometimes even with all that technology, us mere morals can focus faster and more accurately under some circumstances. As a macro shooter, I find myself focusing manually often. But as I age and my eyes have more difficulty seeing, I do find myself favoring autofocus for some subjects. And I’m sure I’ll be relying on it more as the years pass. Yes, autofocus is a very nice thing. Nonetheless, I recommend using a camera that has the ability to quickly switch to manual focus when necessary.

Video

Most DSLR carmeras offer video now. I have mixed feelings about it. Many of my older & newer digicam/compact cameras feature video capabilities but I have seldom used it. I do admit I have a few quick video clips that I would like to record in mind, so I most likely will experiment with the video feature in my new camera. But if I could be offered a discount for the same camera without video capabilities I would go for the video free version. There is no such option though. And I may feel differently about it after using it, but I doubt it.

Live View

I love this! The capability to view the live image on your LCD while recording images is a wonderful thing for a shooter like me that likes to shoot low to the ground to capture macro view of flowers, bugs, and other goodies in nature. It is also great in crowd situations where you may need to raise the camera above your head to get the shot. With live view you can also get a preview of how your image will record at the current camera settings, very handy so as not to waste time and shutter rotations on poorly exposed images. Yes, technology really brought it with this feature.

WIFI/GPS

It doesn’t get more technological than these features. If you work with an editor that needs your photos right away, or if you travel a lot and want to upload your photos to the cloud this is a great feature to have. WIFI can also be used to remotely control some cameras, and that is pretty cool as well. Not all cameras feature it and not all WIFI is created equal, specific details as to what the WIFI can do may vary. So it’s not enough to know that a camera or device has WIFI capabilities, but also what those capabilities entail.

GPS is great if you want to record the exact location of our photos, especially handy if you want to share the locality or return later in the future. Not something I really see myself using, but for some photographers it may come in handy.

Personally, I don’t feel the need for these two features. But who can tell? Not having used them, I can’t say for sure. And again, if given the option for a discount for not having it installed, I would choose the discount. But I could see myself experimenting with WIFI capabilities, but not so much the GPS.

Advancements In Photo Technology

This includes the recording of accurate colors, expanded available shutter speeds and flash sync speeds, wireless TTL flash, advanced metering modes and more. These are the things that I look for and the things that are most important to me. They are seemingly less glamorous to many casual camera buyers. But they are the things that are most important to serious shooters and should not be overlooked when making a new camera purchase in favor of some of the flashier features.

Photo Filters, Special Effect, & More

Many cameras now also offer special effects that can be done in camera. Super saturated colors, muted colors, pinhole camera effects, high contrast effects, black and white, etc. Many of these things can be done during computer processing, but sometimes it can be fun to experiment with these effects in camera. These fun features intrigue me, but never would bear much weight in my purchasing decision.

The Numbers

Ok, the final "feature" here is not really a feature but something we see a lot when reading the specs and reviews. It’s all too easy to get caught up in comparing the numbers: numbers of megapixels, numbers of features, numbers of resolution and color accuracy on the charts etc. But seldom are the comparisons that easy. My digicam Olympus SP500UZ is 8mp and my Olympus E1 is only 5, but the E1’s larger sensor and superior lenses record sharper images with less noise than the SP500UZ. If you were to just compare number of megapixels, you would not believe that statement. If you, like me, are looking for a new camera, read the reviews and check user forum’s for owner’s honest opinions and concerns. You can also pixel peep image samples online. Sure, look at the numbers in reviews, but don’t let them rule your purchase. Also be aware that some of those online image samples may not do the camera justice if the shooter was less than skillful in their capture. Another thing to consider is ergonomics and handling of the camera. If a camera is too heavy, unbalanced, or just unpleasant for you to use then it won’t work for you no matter how stellar those numbers make that camera look. Everyone has a different preference for those things, and only you can decide.

So do I still feel that technology is overrated? Yeah, pretty much. I just can’t see parting with lots of cash for features I don’t need. Perhaps you are in the same position, and if so I hope this post has given you some things to think about. There is no need to spend extra money on features you simply won't use. And while I acknowledge it is time for an upgrade, I am only doing so because I feel the need for it and not because it is simply available or because I want to show off. My purchase will be based on my needs not on the seduction of technology. My last choice served me well for over 7 years and I’m sure my next one will too. Yes, I am stubborn, and resistant to change and technology, but at least I’m happy!

***

There are so many cool features on new cameras, that I could not really touch on all of them here. And as I research further, I keep learning of awesome new features. Some of which I can actually imagine myself using. If you know of a camera feature that just drives you wild with joy, feel free to shout about it here in the comments. Yes, I moderate and approve the comments first before publishing, but that’s because I want to keep spammers off my blog – not to censor people with alternative views.

I would love to own all this! But don't. This is an official Olympus from their facebook page.

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Sunday, July 7, 2013

Editing As Part Of The Learning Process


Ah, the editing process. Many photographers dislike the process of editing. Maybe it’s because they shoot too many photographs and it takes so long to sort through them all. Or maybe it’s because they prefer spending their time shooting. Or perhaps they dislike it because it’s "truth time." Are those images that you worked so hard to get really all you had hoped they would be?

But then there are those photographers that love the editing process. The sorting, editing, and enhancing process is enjoyable to them. They use the time not only to edit their photos and add to their archive of great images, but to also to critique their work and analyze what exactly went right in the good images and what went wrong in the bad images.

I admit to being a bit of both types of photographer when it comes to the editing process. I take a lot of photos and choosing between similar captures can be a bit daunting. As I do try to get my images as close to "perfect" at the time of capture, the enhancement part of the process doesn’t usually actually take that long. If I find myself having to spend too much time fixing problems in a particular day’s shoot, I’ll stop and ask myself if the images are worth the effort. That’s part of "truth time" and also the first step in learning through editing.

When I first started taking photos I shot with film cameras and it was a lot harder to learn through the editing process. The photos were processed by a third party, and while going through a stack of prints I was not only judging my work as a photographer but also the processing work of whatever lab technician worked on my prints. Sorting through slides wasn’t much better either. Viewing 35mm slides through a loop wasn’t much fun and didn’t allow me to see much of the fine details that I had tried to capture. A slide viewing machine that projected images onto an 8x10 screen fixed that problem to a degree, but still was not an experience comparable to what can be seen on a computer monitor.

When I went digital I found that the editing process could be a great teacher. Unlike some film shooters that printed their own photographs, I had never before had any real control over how my printed images looked. After going digital I was the one solely responsible for the quality of my photographs. I could now change the color balance, clone out distractions, brighten, add contrast, or whatever else I wanted to do limited only by my imagination, software, computer power, and skill.

At first the whole process was daunting. There were, and still are, so many photos to sort through. And so many photos had flaws. What to do? Should I waste hours of computer time to try to fix them? Save myself the time and mass delete them? Sell off my equipment and give up on photography?

I did a bit of the first two options, and never seriously considered the third. But as I edited those early photos, I started to notice photography mistakes that I would make repeatedly while out in the field. It was then that I realized that I could use my editing sessions as opportunities to learn how to better my photography.

Each year my photography improves, and it is in great part because I use my editing sessions as a learning opportunity. Here are some tips on how to learn from your editing sessions:

RAW editing while this flower was still in full
bloom insured me that I would have a high
number of creative shots that I would be happy
with even after all the flowers have died off.
Raw edit ASAP

I find that I learn the most from my RAW editing sessions when I process my photos as soon as I can after taking them. That is because the memory of the actual scenes are still fresh in my mind making it easier for me to judge issues such as color balance and to observe how different lighting conditions actually end up being recorded on my digital sensor. I find my RAW editing sessions to often be a relaxing and educational experience.

If you shoot JPEGs, you don’t need to be denied the learning experience that RAW shooters enjoy. If you shoot JPEGs, you can view your images in the computer via either your operating system’s photo viewer or using your favorite photo organizing/viewer program such as Photoshop’s Organizer. You don’t need to use this time to give yourself a lengthy critique of each image, but rather just make a quick observation of any photographic errors that you may have made, such as improper white balance or exposure. You can also use this time to delete any obviously useless shots, such as completely out of focus images.

Learn Even More During Your JPEG/TIFF Editing Session

After editing your RAW images (or doing the quick JPEG edited as outlined above,) you may decide to further edit your images in Photoshop or some other image editing program depending on your workflow. I discuss workflow in "Go With The Flow." Some of the things that I have learned during this stage of editing are:

Experience through past shooting and editing
sessions made it relatively easy for me to
compose an image such as this one where the
background color was purposefully placed
behind my floral subject.




Composition

I used to find myself cropping a lot of images in the computer. After noticing that fact during my editing sessions, I taught myself to be more observant in the field and take the time to compose better images in camera. Yes, I still decide to crop in the computer from time to time. But not nearly as much as I used to.
















Depth Of Field



Past experience was again helfpul in recording
this image. I chose a wide aperture to blur the
distracting trees in the background so that the
viewer's attention would be focused on the glowing
leaves and tree trunk silhouettes since they were
what initially attracted me to the scene.
While I was no stranger to photography and the subject of depth of field when I first started using a digital SLR, I was finding it more challenging to achieve soft, out of focus backgrounds with my new equipment. Actually, I wasn’t even thinking about the real importance of achieving shallow depth of field in my images until I noticed how many of my photos could be better if only the background wasn’t so distracting. After noticing that problem, I started to recognize which situations could benefit from shallow dept of field and taught myself how to render prefect depth of field using my equipment. For me, shallow depth of field is more than just a tool to help my subject pop off a cluttered background, but also part of my style. You may also notice the opposite may be true in your photos, with deep focus being more to your liking and part of your own personal style.









Typically when I record flower closeups such
as this one, I fire off a few captures to make sure
that one of them will be focused to my liking.
Later during the editing process I choose which
one is the sharpest.

Sharpness

Being able to zoom in on the details in an image make it relatively easy to judge image sharpness. I usually zoom to 100% in Photoshop to judge sharpness in the important areas of my image. Early checks for sharpness taught me that I needed to improve my shooting technique in order to capture sharper images. This is something I could never do while viewing my slides on that 8x10 viewer that I had mentioned earlier.










Through past computer editing sessions, I learned
to check my backgrounds before pushing the shutter
button. Here I moved my camera around until I
was satisfied with the conpositional placement of
the flower and the out of focus highlights in the
background.





Background Checks

When I found myself cloning and spotting a lot of my images, I realized that I needed to be paying more attention to my backgrounds. Paying attention to composition to avoid background distractions helped me to fix that problem. Shallow depth of field isn’t the only answer, and sometimes not even the most desirable one. And while background distractions do still occasionally happen, at least now it’s more often because of necessity rather than because of sloppy shooting technique.










While it not always possible, I try to photograph
the best looking specimen I can so that I can
save myself some computer retouching time later.
Ready For Her Closeup?

Backgrounds aren’t the only thing that that frequently need to be cloned or spotted. I admit that I am still a notorious cloner. I often spot out flaws on my flower and nature closeups. When I first started exploring closeups, I had to clone out spots that I didn’t notice at the time of capture. I learned to be more observant of a subject’s cosmetic beauty. But sometimes flaws still do get overlooked at the time, or sometimes I see them and photograph the subject anyway. If it’s a small flaw and the subject is worthwhile to me, I know I can fix the small flaws relatively easy later on. Not so many spotty surprises for me nowadays.









Camera Technique

In the computer, you have access to a photograph’s metadata, which contains such valuable information such as F stop, shutter speed, ISO, lens and focal length, and more. You can use this information to learn what settings are working for you, and which are not working out so well.

And Even More

While reviewing and editing your photos you can observe many different details, both good and bad. You can learn what things are working for you and what things aren’t. Through those observations, you can adapt your future shooting techniques to increase your odds of capturing the best photographs. In addition to the things I just mentioned here, you can also learn to improve your lighting, posing of human subjects, timing of sports or action photography and much more.

So the next time you are editing your photos, don’t just treat it as a necessary chore but rather use that time as an opportunity to learn how to improve your photography. You’ll improve your photography and may even start to look forward to those editing sessions. Enjoy!




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Saturday, June 22, 2013

My New Online Store


I have been working hard for the past couple of weeks adding new art to my online store. Prints both framed and unframed, greeting cards, canvas wraps and more. Many new images, and some old favorites. Unlike my previous online store, I can now also accept foreign orders! I will be adding many more images over the next few months, so be sure to bookmark my store and check back often.



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Sunday, May 5, 2013

It’s All About The Good Shots

Above: Strike A Pose. I took several photos of this little Redpoll, I just kept snapping until he finally had enough modeling and flew away. I ended up with several keepers, with this one being my favorite. Who cares about how many bad shots there was? It really is only abut the good shots.




It’s all about the good shots. The keepers. The images that spring to mind when you are thinking of entering a photo contest, posting an image to the web, printing an image to get framed, or any other way you like to present your images to the world. It’s all about those images. Or at least it should be.


It’s so easy to get all caught up in the numbers. Shooting a large number of photographs and having only a small number of them come out can make a photographer feel like a failure. It is this sense of failure that often discourages photographers from experimenting with their photography which can lead to a photographer’s work becoming stagnated. A photographer can only grow by experimentation. Experimentation can lead to larger numbers of failed shots. But it is ultimately through those failed images that a photographer can learn and improve their photography. I discuss learning through the editing process in a future blog post.


 Left: Wide angle landscapes are not a specialty of mine. It took a lot of bad shots to capture this good one. While I am aware that my wide angle skills need to be worked on, evident by all those bad captures, I would rather celebrate the good image. And with enough practice, that bad shot number will shrink. Yes, it's all about the good shots but it's never a bad idea to try to try to turn around the numbers and make the good shot number outweigh the bad shot total. Just don't let that bad shot total get you down while still learning new techniques.




There are actually some types of photography that require a photographer to shoot several frames just to get a few keepers. Sports and wildlife are two genres of photography that often require a photographer to fire off  a bunch of shots, sometimes even while using  rapid fire “spray and pray” sequential techniques. By holding down the shutter button while in burst shooting mode, a series of action images are captured. This technique is frequently called “spray and pray”, as the photographer fires off the sequence and hopes that at least one good image will be captured. But in reality it is not a random technique and involves less praying but rather more good timing learned by experience. Experienced photographers that frequently use their camera’s burst shooting mode know exactly when to start the sequence in order to capture the most keepers. That is only learned by experimenting. And even then, there is likely to be relatively few winners compared to the throw away captures. Don’t worry about the wasted shots, it’s all about the good shots.

Above: Nick Jackson stomping on 1-2-3 Kid at a Chikara wrestling show. Normally I try to capture perfectly sharp, action freezing images. But this night the conditions were right to experiment with long exposures and zooming techniques. I ruined a lot of shots by experimenting. But the shots like this made it all worthwhile. I still also managed to capture enough images in my usual sharp style to fulfil my obligations to my publisher as ringside photographer.



And even if you choose not to use your camera’s burst mode, you may find many missed shots due to misfocus, mistiming, missed exposures, or just plain ol’ bad lucky. If you have a tendency to focus on the numbers of missed shots, sports and wildlife photography are not for you.




Right: Pollinator. I took many captures of this bee enjoying a yellow coneflower. As typical with trying to focus on a small moving target, there were a lot of misfocused and mistimed shots. But this winner makes all those bad images insignificant.



Above: I captured this image of Dennis Dunaway and Joe Bouchard from Blue Coupe a couple of nights ago. I used my compact camera, which meant focusing and timing issues all night. Here, I was attracted to the rim lighting and silhouettes, so I opted for no flash. Long exposures were necessary. Needless to say, there were a lot of blurry shots. It doesn't matter though, it's all about this good shot.

Better also rule out concert, performance, and portrait photography. Performance and concert photography have the same issues as sports and wildlife photography. Portrait photography has the problems of people blinking and moving, and sometimes more shots need to be taken just to get the subject to relax. That all leads to a lot of bad captures that end up meeting the recycle bin.


Well, surely flower photography is a safe bet for success in the numbers game. But wait, now there’s wind to contend with which ends up making your formerly still subject a moving target. Issues with composition, depth of field, sharpness, and background distractions can all ruin a potentially great image. How quickly that recycle bin grows on the quest to a frameable image.

 

 Left: I photographed these Bleeding Heart flowers in a shady part of my garden. Because I prefer shooting handheld, the low light presented a small problem. I fired off many shots to ensure at least one sharp capture. I achieved my goal and the throw aways make this shot no less fantastic in my eyes.



 How about landscapes, still lives, abstracts….? No, I can’t think of a single subject that can’t be captured at its best without a trail of less than fabulous shots being captured. But I am not encouraging sloppy work habits here. Randomly taking photos and hoping for a keeper is not the way to become a better photographer. But deliberately experimenting is always worth the shutter rotations, even if only for the learning experience. Taking less photos just so you can say most of your photos “come out” accomplishes nothing. It’s not about the bad shots. Well, not in this post anyway. I’ll tell you what those bad shots are good for in my next post.

So the next time you shoot pictures don’t get wrapped up in the numbers. Experiment and take as many photos as necessary to get the to get the memorable captures you desire. Don’t fret over the bad shots. It’s all about the good shots.

 
Bubbly Marigolds In Summer. Using a wide aperture, the distant background of trees with lighting streaming through the leaves made for a very deliciously bubbly background. It didn't take too many shots for me to capture this one on this day. But there sure was long trail of experimental bad images made over the years before I perfected my "bubble bokeh" technique. Without experimental trial and error, there will be nothing but bad shots with a happy accident every once in awhile. Don't worry about all the bad shots!

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Photo Purity?

Wrestling action captured at 1/50th second while zooming the lens to enhance the movement recorded. This is one of my favorite images captured that day. Chikara champion Eddie Kingston versus Tim Donst.
Throughout photography’s history, there have always been people that frown upon some of the tricks and tools that many photographers use. Photo purists, as I call them. Photo purists frequently can be heard complaining about things like optical filter usage, fill flash, retouching, the removal or arranging of elements in a found scene, computer effects, and more. Anything other than a straight capture warrants complaint by photo purists. Some of these photo purists have even complained about such things as a photographer’s use of autofocus, or use of any other lens other than a standard 50mm "normal" (for 35mm equipment) lens. They write complaining letters to photography magazines, post their complaints to photography forums, and complain verbally to any photography lover within earshot. I remember often laughing at those letters in my photography magazines, especially when I was first starting out with photography.

So imagine my surprise at some of my own recent attitutdes that I recently expressed in December of last year. As loyal readers of my blog may already know, I do have a preference for getting my images as close to "done" in camera (see my post "Why I Like Getting it Right in Camera".) It is not because of an anti computer or photo purist attitude, but rather because I don’t really like spending too much time fixing images, especially images that could have been better had I just made more of an effort at the point of capture. Plus I just like being out there in nature, enjoying its beauty and experimenting with camera techniques to capture an image that expresses the joy that I feel in the presence of nature’s beauty.

Because I am not a photo purist, I use many "tricks" in my photography. I never hesitate to experiment with different lenses for the visual effects they will render. Fill flash, optical filters, compositional techniques, exposure variations, filters, and movement of subject or objects in a found scene are all techniques that I regularly take advantage of. And I am not shy about using a few tricks at the computer end of things either. Many of my images don’t require much computer editing, if any at all. But many also do, and if an image can be made better in the computer I will not hesitate to take advantage of the tools available to me. I am a notorious spotter of my images. I frequently use the clone tool and healing brush in Photoshop to clean up small flaws, especially spots on flower petals, and to remove any distracting background elements. In "You Can Always Fix It In The Computer Later", I discuss my favorite computer techniques.

So why did I get a little bit annoyed when a few people asked me what computer filter I used on some of my wrestling photos? I had just experimented with zoom and panning effects in camera at a wrestling event last December. It was a bold move on my part as I risked ruining, and did ruin, some once in a lifetime images that could never be reshot. Anybody that shoots wrestling or any other fast paced action/sport, can imagine how hard it is to capture a great shot using those techniques. There are so many throw away shots taken just to capture one great image. Plus I was shooting the event professionally and the pressure was on. I needed to make sure that I didn’t lose too many of those never to be repeated moments. But even as a professional, I still needed to fill my need for artistic expression and experimentation. I was very proud of those experimental shots. I had experimented with those techniques before with varying degrees of success, and that was the first time it worked out that well.

When a few people assumed that I took the easy way out and rendered the effect in the computer, I felt bad. It was almost like all the hard work that I had put into capturing those images meant nothing. I had wondered how many other people seeing those images also thought I used computer trickery to render the effects. Professional photographer Tom Till also expressed this very same view in his book "Success With Nature Photography." There is a photograph of a temple in Egypt bathed in red. He used slide film and the printed image is as it came out of camera. He expressed disappointment over how that image, which he put a lot of effort into getting, was considered a product of digital trickery.

Bottom Left: The zooming technique works well with still nature subjects too. Here I zoomed during a 1/6th second exposure.
Bottom Right: Although I captured this soft and dreamy image of Snapdragons in camera, using my Lensbaby. Some photo purists would probably disapprove.

My strong reaction started me thinking, had I become some type of photo purist? A true photo purist would probably think that the zooming effect captured in camera was even a cheat. No, I’m not a photo purist. Or am I? I started thinking about other photographers’ photos and the images that I liked and the ones that disappointed me. It would all too easy to say I don’t like Photoshopped nature images. But that is not necessarily true. I love beautiful nature photography that has been subtly enhanced in the computer. Slight HDR effects, subtle color enhancements, a little bit of minor cloning/healing to clean up distracting elements. But I do dislike nature images where animals or elements have been added or removed liberally, or images where animals had parts of their bodies rearranged or cloned to create a cuter image. Unless those images are being presented as fine art, I admit that I feel kind of cheated when viewing those photos.


This is about as close to those fantastic butterfly
photos that I have been able to capture in camera.
But I will not give up trying, even if there is a
chance that photos I use as inspiration may in fact
have been composites.
Most recently, I have seen a few stunning photographs of butterflies against beautiful backgrounds of bokeh (out of focus areas) that were similar to what would be captured in a dewy field on a summertime morning. The images appear to be composites, the lighting direction on the butterflies don’t seem to match that of the backgrounds, nor does the color of the lighting. And that made the photo purist in me sad, it cheapened the images to me. I felt that way not only as a viewer, but as a photographer. When I view other photographers’ work that I admire, I try to imagine how I could possibly capture similar images. Trying to capture an image in camera to emulate a photograph that is more digital art than photograph is a futile endeavor. But it is one I find myself on frequently. Unless the photographer/artist indicates the techniques used to create the image, usually revealed only in photography publications or forums, I am left to decide whether the image is heavily digitally manipulated or not. Such is the case with those butterfly photos. Did they create them in camera with only minor color adjustments, or are they in fact composites like I suspect? Can I take a photograph similar to it, like they did? Or did they? But Can I?



So where am I going with all of this, other than to doubt my own actions and opinions? I think it’s an important subject that all photographers should consider regarding their own work. It is not only a question of artistic expression but also of taste and ethics.

Sometimes photographers can go too far with the manipulations and the image no longer resembles a photograph. Taste is a subjective matter, and it is up to the photographer how far they want to take their own images. Viewers will make their own decisions as far as to whether they like the image or not, but unless you are creating a photograph for a client, it is really up to you how far you take your images with in camera or in computer techniques.

This image is pure fantasy. It is not supposed to look realistic in any way. I rendered the background in a couple of 3d imaging computer programs. I blended the resulting image with a posed photograph I took of wrestler Psychosis. I cut him out of the original background, and to further help blend him in with the background I enhanced the lighting in Photoshop and also added some shadows.


Quiet Shades of Striped Gazania.
Here I used Photoshop to create this tinted
black and white photograph.
Generally, photographers that represent their work as fine art have the most leeway as to what techniques they can use. Works of art are expected to be products of the artist’s imagination and most viewers accept the fact that the photograph before them may not exactly be a realistic representation of the scene, or if in fact the scene even really exists in real life.




Although just a photo of a common backyard
bird, this image would rate the approval of
scientists and nature lovers. I used fill flash to
brighten the shadow side of the bird and to
help add a catchlight to the eye. Other than
that and cropping the image in the computer, it
is as captured in camera. I could add something
more attractive than the rope that she is hanging
on, but then that would make this image more of a
fine art interpretation. I may do so in the future,
but for now it is a just a straight photograph.
But photographers that market their work as photojournalism or as nature photography for the purpose of conservation or science, should use more restraint with regard to use of special effects or alterations of any kind. It is a matter of ethics here. How much is too much? Less is always better in this situation. Many have argued over how much is too much, and some people prefer no artistic alternation s be made to such photographs. I feel that minor improvements are acceptable but major alterations should be left to images being presented as art. Many photo buyers and publishers of photojournalism and nature photography feel the same way and insist photographs with little or no manipulation at all.

What about advertising? That’s a subject too big for this post. In the case of advertising it is usually up to the advertiser how retouched an ad is. I’m not sure if there are any legal regulations on advertising photos, there surely doesn’t appear to be any. Extreme skin smoothing, hair cloning, digital weight loss tools, and more all seem to be acceptable in the world of advertising. All that can be said about that is buyer beware. If you are marketing your work to an advertiser, be sure to find out how much manipulation is acceptable before logging in the computer time.




Is this shot a product of digital manipulation? Well, I can't gaurantee that the petals haven't had some spotting to retouch out some flaws without looking at the original. But I can tell you that the colors and the soft bokeh were all captured in camera.

So, are you a photo purist? Or do you take a more liberal view and feel that any techniques should be used to reach the goal of creating an image that expresses the artist’s vision. Or perhaps you are like me, a little of both? And if you haven’t thought about it before, I hope this post gets you thinking about it. There is a lot of good reading online on variations of this subject and some time on an internet search engine will lead you to more writings on this subject. Let me start you off with this great article by Tom Till (yes, again) from Outdoor Photographer magazine:

http://www.outdoorphotographer.com/how-to/shooting/digital-pitfalls-a-cautionary-tale.html

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