Have you ever tried to explain to someone why you do what you do? How about trying to explain that funny feeling you get in your stomach when you are in the zone? For you, it defies words. It’s a feeling. An emotion. How do you explain or define emotions? For me, it is what drives my creativity, my willingness to be different. It can’t be contained, as some people would prefer. Without that connection to my emotions, I would not be the artist I am. A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with my mother, bless her soul. She so loves me and wants to understand what drives me. When I try and share the connection between my emotions and my creativity, I start to babble. Well I understand it all, but I could not formulate the words I needed to make her understand. So she thinks I’m a babbling artist, and probably most of my friends do, too. But that’s ok, because I understand me. I understand the rush of emotion I feel when I witness the wonder and beauty of nature. I understand the constant craving for learning something new or how to do something better. I understand the feeling of “anything is possible” whenever I pick up my camera. I understand it. It’s what drives me. It’s who I am. It is also a lonely place, because no one else understands, the way I do.
Spent some time in Santa Cruz this weekend. We went to this botanical garden, and I had so much fun shooting flora.
When I first began posting my images online, it was sometimes difficult to hear negative comments. Naturally, I thought my pictures were perfect (what a joke). It actually took a long time for me to understand that the negative comments were not meant as personal attacks, but as “opinions”. Some were constructive, some were not.
Today, I’d rather hear a negative or constructive opinion, than what I call, fluff. Examples, “nice shot”, “Awesome job”, “Good work”. Why? Depending on the source of the comment, they might be suggesting a way for me to improve that I may not have thought about. Now, I can’t
speak for anyone else, but I want to improve, I want to produce the best possible work I can. I don’t necessarily want to hear, well, fluff.
I have begun posting my work to a more professional forum, in hopes I can get opinions and suggestions which will help me grow as an artist and photographer. I am excited about this. The last few months I have been re-editing a lot of my older images because my editing skills have
changed drastically in the last 4 years. Seeing the progression and differences that editing choices make, I am excited to grow and learn more.
Learning, growth and excellence are what I am all about.
I have been studying photography seriously now for about 4 years. I’ve been re-editing a lot of my older digital images. I can honestly say that 2009 was a so so shooting year, 2010 was better, 2011 even better, and 2012, well, it’s not over yet. It amazes me how much I have learned in just 4 short years.
I believe digital photography is two fold. Obtaining the image in the camera is important, of course. But what you do with the image after you take it, is equally as important. Post processing is, I believe, the unspoken, or most ignored and under utilized reality of digital photography. The two go hand in hand. The one who can successfully manipulate a camera as well as the digital darkroom, has the upper hand. It DOES make a difference, along with intelligent choices, like using a tripod, electronic flash, settings on your camera, or even, quality of light.
I applaud all digital photographers who produce works of art and who have the know how to be great. I applaud professionals who aren’t so stuck in the past that they can’t see what it takes to succeed in digital photography.
I frequently get asked how I get such great detail in the white areas of my images. The trick to obtaining these results is first and foremost, proper exposure. For 85% of my shooting, I utilize Matrix metering. However, it really doesn’t matter which mode you use, as long as you use it properly. For instances where I am shooting white, or some other important tone, I’ll switch over to spot metering, and meter on that particular tone. In Lightroom, when I am setting my white and black points, I really pay close attention to the histogram. If you are not careful and don’t pay attention to the histogram when you are adjusting the sliders in the Develop module, you could easily clip your highlights. Sometimes it is not possible to obtain all the detail in the white/highlights, so I just get as close as I can, without adversely affecting the tonal range of the image.
Another thing I pay close attention to is making sure I have a full range of tones. Again, watching and understanding how the histogram is affected by your editing is very important. In Lightroom, I tend to favor NOT bunching up the tones, not over saturating or adding too much contrast. This leaves me with a lot more option when I take my image into Photoshop.
I use Adobe Lightroom as my RAW file converter. I love this program. It does what I want and need it to do. I feel strongly about the importance of applying the best settings possible during the RAW conversion.
For an image to be successful, in my mind, three things must be present. Focus, exposure and composition. After importing my images into Lightroom, beginning in the Library Module, I will browse thru all the images, and mark any obvious rejects. Then I make sure I have added all the tags and keywords which uniquely identify my images. Then I go to the Develop Module. This is where I will make the initial tonal corrections, white balance and framing edits.
Interestingly, when you first open a RAW file, it can look like you really messed up with the exposure. This is because the camera does not do any processing to a RAW file, like it does with other file formats. So the first thing I do in the Develop module is, while looking at my histogram, set the white and black points until the histogram reflects that none of my important highlights and shadows are clipped. From that point, I adjust my midtones until I have a nice balance of tones. I generally stay away from the saturation slider, but will sometimes add a touch of vibrance.
A good friend of mine gave me a good tip about the Clarity slider in the Develop Module. He said to be very cautious when using the clarity slider, because if you use too much (more than 30), it can cause halos to appear around the edges of your subject.
I then set my white balance, by simply clicking on the eyedropper icon, and then clicking on a part of my images which is neutral. If my result does not look right, then I keep looking for a neutral area which gives me a pleasant look and feel. 99% of the time, this works fine, but in the rare cases where I’m not happy with my result, I will correct for any white balance issues in Photoshop.
If my image needs straightening or if the image suffers from lens distortion or chromatic aberration, I will also try and rectify it here in the Develop Module.
I don’t do any noise reduction or sharpening in Lightroom. I like to apply these selectively, in Photoshop. Once all of this is done, It is time to export my image into Photoshop. It is here that I decide whether or not to export to Photoshop as a smart object, or just as a regular file. Exporting as a Smart Object gives you the ability to go back and forth to make corrections to the RAW file without destructively altering your Photoshop file. There are many things I like about this idea, but, unfortunately, there are also a few functions inside of Photoshop that don’t work when you have converted your image to a smart object. So, this is not something I do all the time.
It’s only been in the last few years that I have begun using electronic flash when shooting outdoors. What I have found is that I prefer the fill flash function on my flash unit (the aperture and shutter speed are adjusted to correctly expose the background, and the flash is fired to lighten the foreground, usually my subject). The use of fill flash also enables me to obtain much sharper, crisper shots, along with that desirable catch light in my subject’s eyes..Rarely will I ever use my flash at full power. I will typically power it down, depending on the amount of ambient light available, anywhere from ½ stop to 3 stops. I never use as my main light source when shooting outdoors, as this causes my subject to look like I used a flash, and that is not my goal. I want my subject to look and feel natural.
A very useful gadget which fits on the face of the flash unit, called a diffuser, is a must have accessory. It’s a white plastic object which diffuses and spreads the light across a wider area.
An interesting fact to remember is that the strength of the flash output is not determined by your choice of shutter speed, but by your choice of aperture. I consider the electronic flash to be a critical piece of equipment. I highly recommend that you learn how to use it for any critical work. It can make all the difference.
I am currently undertaking several projects. One of which is to clean off my hard drives of images that belong in the trash, and let me tell you, there are many. The other, building a professional portfolio. I have quite an extensive collection of images which I have taken over the years. Some are just taking up space on my hard drives, and others I actually love.
Since my knowledge of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop have grown over the years, I am finding it invaluable to be able to go back to some of my favorites, hit the ol “reset” button in Lightroom, which reverts my RAW files back to their original state. I can then apply my updated techniques to these images and come up with something that is worthy of being in my portfolio. Now, had I shot all these images in JPEG format, this would not be possible.
Among other reasons, shooting in RAW has enabled me to greatly enhance and expand my existing body of work.
I have always used a tripod to some extent, but over the years it is become invaluable to me. A lot of photographers claim they can hold their camera rock steady. Good for them. I can’t. So I use a tripod, because I love a sharp image.
But hold on, there are more benefits to a tripod, other than getting sharp images. For starters, having my camera, lens and flash unit on a tripod gives me the opportunity to take my hands off the camera, if I so choose. A lot of times, when shooting wildlife, one has to wait for just the right moment. That wait can sometimes be long. Also, I feel more relaxed and am able to think more about what I intend to accomplish.
In addition, having my camera on a tripod opens up many more exposure options than I would have otherwise. I am able to use any shutter speed/aperture/ISO combination I choose. That, in my mind, is worth the trouble of hauling it around with me. I actually prefer shooting with my gear on a tripod, because I know that I am giving myself the best possible chance for capturing my vision.
When I first started getting serious about photography, I would usually concentrate on shooting certain subjects. At first it was flowers, and then for the longest time, all I shot were commercial airplanes. I spent hours upon hours at airports. It wasn’t until recently did I realize what I was really looking for. It wasn’t a subject. It wasn’t a thing. It was “light”.
I remember being told by Vincent Versace, in his Flickr group, Welcome to Oz, “First spend as much time as you can just watching it. EVERY aspect of it, in the morning it’s length, the soft or hardness, how long does it last, overcast days, low light, lots a light, just watch it and slow down enough to truly be taken by it.”
So I started looking for “light”, and wow, was that eye opening. I started seeing light and how it changed an object’s shape, texture and color. I felt like a kid in a candy store when I saw the soft golden light lay on a hillside, or a flower. Then I started to notice the differences between different sources of light being used outside, especially at night time.
I still get this same sense of excitement in the pit of my stomach whenever I see this perfect, soft light.
Anyone can take a picture of an object, but not everyone will see the same thing. Look for “light”.