Lighter or darker…

This decision is one that we all tend to face whenever we’re at the moment of capture because we want to keep the highlights to a minimum, but we don’t want to make the shadows too dark. Exposing to the right side of the histogram makes it so that we have more data to work with…For some reason, this is how digital photography works. This also means that the dark parts of the image get darker and the possibility of digital noise gets greater; this isn’t a problem if the shadows aren’t all that important (HDR can always try to fix this), but if they are and we want to preserve them without causing too much noise, then we might just have a problem. Preferably, I tend to want to get the image right as best as possible in camera, but I can easily muck this up; so, sometimes, it doesn’t quite work out the way I had planned it and adjustments later on in post-processing muck it up.

- White Trumpets -
– White Trumpets –

The above shot was one of those where post-processing made it a little too dark; tweaking the contrast & clarity darkened the greens too much, so I bumped the exposure up by +0.2 in Lightroom to bring back some of that light & some of its glow that I saw when taking the shot. The white was good, but in the process of tweaking the contrast & saturation, the overall image, apart from the white flowers, got darker and that was what I didn’t want to happen. The initial exposure was really close, but I wanted to tweak the localized contrast & saturation a bit and it had the effect of darkening the greens a little too much. I’m not much of an ‘expose to the right’ kind of photographer, so refining becomes a bit trickier for me and, truth be told, it’s definitely something I’m going to live with as a result; what this does mean is that I’m having to rely on exposure adjustments more often than I otherwise would have to deal with, but that’s the trade-off.
Most of the time, dealing with a single shot, there’s a trade-off because of range, but that’s the thing about it: there’s always a trade-off and how we adapt to it is how our vision shines through, or doesn’t shine at all. If we miss it, then we can choose one of two things…learn from it or go stomp off & forget about it. In the end, it’s about making a choice to do one of the two things and I’m pretty sure I don’t always make the right choice.


The mood…

Sometimes I get a brilliant idea, or I get bored and just decide to mess around with my camera to see if I can grab a few decent shots. The funny thing is, when the two collide, I usually end up with shots that I thoroughly enjoying and really learning from. The other day, for example, I was getting a little bored and wondering when I’d get a chance to get out and just photograph something, anything, of any decency. So, I went outside and found some hibiscus flowers to photograph in the evening light; needless to say, it had been raining & the sky was a little too dark, but it worked.

- Raindrops on Hibiscus -
– Raindrops on Hibiscus –

On the above photograph, I ended up tweaking the colour temperature, clarity, saturation, & using the tone curve adjustment apart from adjusting the noise levels. Sure, it’s a darker image & a moodier one than I’m used to, but it is a more emotional image than I’m used to; I could’ve lightened it up, but it works, in terms of feel, just as it is here. I’m never really even close to perfect with this, but I did score this one a slight touch darker than it was in reality and I kept it that way for this version because of the feel of it all…And it isolates the flower & raindrops just right for this specific composition. With other shots, I had them a bit lighter, but this one, at least for me, easily holds its own when put up alongside the others.

Personally, I just wanted to get something right on this shoot, so getting even one close to decent was good enough for me; getting several really good ones was definitely a good thing for me. To a certain extent, it’s like that in life because we need to be willing to go out there when the weather isn’t all that great and we might just be surprised; sure, we all need to take our time, but we need to be able to also reach out for help & inspiration. In a way, we, myself included, always need a little inspiration to get out there go about things with a positive mood, breaking away from defining ourselves by the labels that society puts on us.

Where’s the editing…

I thought I’d do something (kind of) fun this time around while I was revisiting some old shots from a trip to Cascade Falls in the province of British Columbia…In the image below, where exactly is the part of the scene that has a distracting element cloned out? I was finally able to muster up the concentration to be able to successfully clone it out; it was a small part of the scene, being a piece of trash, but it took up a large part of the balance of the scene itself, even though I only realized it after I had imported the photographs into Lightroom.

- Cascade Falls Creek -
– Cascade Falls Creek –

Now that the challenge has been dropped, it’s time to get on with how the image was edited, apart from using the spot removal tool. Using my powers of concentration (I’m joking here about having them), I used the split toning, noise reduction, tone curve & clarity tools to warm it up. Why? Because I wanted to bring it into the way it felt the minute I saw it and I used other edits done the day of the shot to compare it to. For me, it’s extremely helpful to have edits from the day of, or at least a day or two later, because it gives me something to compare later revisits to and something to work off of. This one, had a comparison image to work off of and although I did use it, I went about refining this shot differently, mostly because I had an idea to work off of…And I wanted to try it from a different angle, or approach.

It’s usually better to have something to compare an edit to when you’re revisiting a shoot you’ve done some time ago and that’s why I usually do a few first-run edits after I’ve imported the shots. It also becomes a learning experience for me along the way because it shows me how I would’ve originally refined a shot and what I would, or wouldn’t, do the next time around. Most of the time, I get into revisiting old shoots when I’m bored or wanting to learn, or try, something new, so having a comparison edit to use as a reference is a big help & bonus. So, I’m going to try my best to learn in the process and keep photographing!

Disappointments & surprises…

While no one really likes disappointments, especially myself, I’ve come to think of them as necessary for learning. And I’m not just saying this because of the American elections that have just passed either; elections in which both nominees were a bad choice. Sometimes, we have to take what we can get and make something beautiful out of it…Something that makes us see something for its value. We need to work with how things turn out and try to show that we can be better than how they turned out.

- Leaves of Autumn -
– Leaves of Autumn –

Sometimes we need to get out of our metaphorical lane and do something different; for me it was exposing the shot above lighter than it really was, by at least a stop. I didn’t care too much about color initially (I could fix that in post-processing), but I cared about atmosphere, so that’s where I put my concentration towards. It was darker than this in reality, but it didn’t feel like that at all. Somehow, along the way, a thought was put into my mind that I should get out in the wet weather (not nearly as wet as I’ve ever done) and work at getting a good shot. As a result, the weather was a disappointment, but the shot that resulted from it was the surprise. I got out of my usual metaphorical lane by working against the impulse to go darker to match reality and instead go lighter to match atmospheric feel.

I’m beginning to think that having one without the other isn’t a good thing because balancing out disappointments with surprises leads to a healthy learning curve. We should be working for a healthy balance in our photography, one that’s creative, inspiring (or at least some of the time), and not without at least a little bit of growth now & then…The kind of growth that gets us out of our metaphorical lane.

On workflow…

Sometimes, we all think of workflow as a set-in-stone way of doing things: taking a photograph, importing it onto a computer, tagging & processing it, editing/proofing it, and then printing it. The funny thing is, the order can change with each photograph…apart from the first two stages, which usually stay the same. If we take vision to be the key element in a photograph, then it influences not just which stages we use & which we don’t, but how we go about them; editing might be used a bit more, or less, tagging will usually be done more thoroughly, and often times, printing might be done a bit more to get a physical copy in our hands to proof instead of on a computer screen.

- Pondering Food -
– Pondering Food –

Take, for example, the above photograph and how it looks; I followed the stages above word for word. The thing about it is that the editing stage had a certain flow to it, for me, that goes about something like this: fiddle with the tone curve (but scrap that particular adjustment), tweak the clarity slider, adjust for the blown shadows by tweaking the blacks, tweak the exposure, and then soften the digital noise. I’m not too sure of the order of the last two, but they were done and I finished off with a barely visible vignette. Why do all these adjustments? My reasoning was to make sure the contrast was better (Clarity slider), unblock the blacks (no super-black spots in case of physical printing), brighten it up slightly (to help with the blacks & recover some dark areas that were slightly too dark), fix the noise (it was a bit noisy) and add a ever so slight vignette (to narrow the focus)…And, along the way, I’m trying to keep it a believable shot. Although I don’t always follow these steps, or do these adjustments, they serve a purpose: to make the photograph reflect the feel & mood of scene as I shot it.

Sometimes workflows are tweaked, especially when it comes to the order of anything between taking a photograph & printing, or displaying, it. The thing about this is that it should depend on our vision for the shot(s) we take; I’m never perfect in this regard, just trying to be. Working through each photograph doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll follow a specific workflow pattern, but it makes it a little simpler if we work at our workflow while remembering the joy of taking photographs and keeping that itself (and what it felt like) at the center of the workflow. We all have different ways of going through our varying workflows, depending on how we take photographs, and I’m definitely not saying one is better than the other because there’s a certain uniqueness in how we go about it and apply different treatments to each photograph in the editing stage, if any treatments at all.

On the purity of the image (Pt.2)…

While part 1 focused strictly on why editing & purity were too closely tied (sometimes), this one’s a bit different because I wanted to delve a little deeper into the purity of the feel of the image, regardless of editing (for the most part). It’s at this point where the image can cease becoming a photo and morph into more of a photo illustration because of too much editing; it’s editing to make the feeling true (or pure) to the original scene. What’s trying to be accomplished here is the attempt to make the image more faithful to the feel of the scene than technically perfect.

- Blue & White Streaks -
– Blue & White Streaks –

Like in the above photograph, I could’ve adjusted the aperture to focus more on the central flower, but I found that working just with the Clarity Slider & Adjustment Brush brought the shot closer to the feel of the image. By pushing the Clarity down, I lowered the localized contrast across the entire image, while the Adjustment Brush was used to bring the local contrast up in the single flower. The purpose of the shot was to bring out that single flower in good, crisp focus, the way it was by looking at it, without making the rest of it a blur around it. While we don’t see scenes like this in reality, scenes can often feel like this when we focus on one part or section of them…And that was what I was trying to go for with these edits. It may not be technically pure, but it’s as close to emotionally pure as I feel I could have gotten it.

It’s a kind of balance that is often a struggle to maintain, mostly because the feel of the image isn’t exactly what comes right out of the camera, especially when it comes to the localized contrast (Clarity) of the shot. It’s something, as the photographer, we struggle with when presenting our images because if we push our editing too far, then it becomes less of a photograph and more of a photo illustration. The balance of the two forms of purity in the image (technical vs. emotional) is one that can change the presentation from a photograph into an illustration…and which one we favor over the other is what makes the difference.

On the purity of the image…

While the biggest part of this (the purity of the image) is all about if it’s been edited or not, I think what should be more important is about the vision & feel; have they been altered or not by the edits or by just importing them onto the computer, printed out, or even just shown? I guess it comes down to the preoccupation with the tools instead of how it looked to the photographer when he, or she, took the shot and how he, or she, presented it. It’s a bit shaming when the first thought that comes into our minds is how the photographer edited the photograph instead of how the photographer felt when making the shot.

I agree that we can’t just always ask the photographer whenever we want to, or even ask what the original intent was because, to a certain degree it should shine through in how the shot is presented. But we can’t just assume that because the shot is shown that there is all there is and just move on; there’s something to be said by looking at it & examining it for its colors, shapes, tones & lines. Why just pass it by without giving it a second look? Just passing it by without looking closely doesn’t do it, or the photographer, justice; look closely at it and think about what it could mean…Sometimes it can be a learning experience by examining it. J.M.W. Turner made amazing watercolor landscapes, using amazing qualities of light for his subject; by looking at some of his, we can see how he portrayed light and sometimes this can spark a creative impulse in how we take a photograph.

- Cherry Blossoms -
– Cherry Blossoms –

Often times were get too caught up in the supposed purity of the image that we tend to forget what the image portrays/says. We don’t look at the image to examine what it’s saying, if anything at all, but we only look to see if it’s been edited. For example, in the above shot the editing plays only a minor part because, at least for me (the photographer), it’s about the lightness of the cherry blossoms, not about how much, or how little I edited the original shot; it’s mood is one of the lightness of the cherry blossoms on the tree, contrasted with the evergreens behind them…It becomes about the beauty found in nature, captured in the cherry blossoms. In the end, it’s not so much about how much editing I did, or how pure the image is, but about the mood & message it contains. Sometimes we have to put aside  the temptation to examine photographs to see if they’re edited, or not, and focus on what it actually says in regards to composition & light.