In isolation

Much is made about keeping the subject the key part of the photograph and I fully agree, but a little chaos can be a good thing; as long as it’s there for a reason. We know that living in isolation isn’t a good thing for our mental well-being and Christians believe that man is not meant to be alone (Genesis 2), so from this I know that being in complete isolation isn’t a good thing at all. Where this relates to photography is when we think that we become so important that we don’t need anyone for input; when this happens, we cease to learn and stop growing. How do I get past this? I look at other works by others put out there, whether it be on other blogs out there, photography books, other photographic tools, or asking others, it’s a way for me to learn. I’m not exactly outgoing when it comes to my photography (at least not face-to-face), so that part doesn’t exactly come all too easy for me. We all get inspired by different things and in different ways, so isolation (in the personal sense) isn’t all that good to begin with.

- Mushroom & Grass -
– Mushroom & Grass –

When it comes to certain subjects, a large aperture will work better than a smaller one; I know it sounds obvious because the depth of field is shallower & more isolating with the larger aperture, but it also makes the background & context of the subject nearly irrelevant. Irrelevancy isn’t something that is necessarily a good thing, mostly because it keeps the eye from moving around in the photograph and can often make the view bored with it quicker than should be happening. In my opinion, the above photograph gets away with this somewhat by simulating a wider aperture because of a gradual filter with negative clarity for anything outside of the circle, creating a kind of vignette of clarity around the subject; I refined it this way not just to draw the eye the way it does, but to show the miniature scene the way it felt when I first shot it. While the shot doesn’t strictly stick to the leave-as-shot rules, it does stick to the feel of the scene itself and it sticks to the emotion of the time it was shot.
Getting the feel of a scene in a photograph has mostly been a long struggle for me and I’m far from getting it even half of the time. Maybe it’s my stubbornness that causes this or maybe it’s just that I work without all the bells & whistles that most other people work with, but, either way, I’d rather be doing this and learning as I go instead of just reaching the next step quickly and then wondering where I go from there. I get bored all too easy, especially for someone that isn’t prone to being hyperactive…Even if I do have my crazy moments.

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Wearing the past…

When I look back, I’ve come to think that we tend to wear our past mistakes like they’re what define us and, in a way, it’s kind of true, but in doing this, we put ourselves down so far that it’s hard at times to get up. We all make mistakes and we all have things that we regret, but I’ve come to realize that the Creator’s given us one way out. I’ve made so many bad decisions that I’ve come to think that I can’t do it on my own and I’m totally right in thinking that; I can work at something so hard that I lose sight of the bigger picture. When it comes to who we trust and who we think have our backs, we need to look to those that will walk alongside us, not whispering things in our ears that beef up our pride because we need to stay humble, something I’m so often forgetting.
For myself, reading & photography have been ways that often seem to get me realizing just how small I am, yet just how much the Creator cares for each one of us…Why else would such a messed up creation look so good if it wasn’t for something bigger behind it all? There’s always a flip side to the good and we need to tread that line carefully so that our pride doesn’t get the better of us, making us think that we can’t do it on our own; we need to wear our past to the point that we don’t treasure it as the only thing, but so that it reminds us to stay humble, something we all can easily forget, myself included. I want to remember the past so that I don’t repeat it, but I don’t really want to let it define who I am. When it comes to what I think photography does, for me in particular, I think it’s a bit of escapism in that it helps me focus on something else besides what mistakes are in the past; it’s almost as if it’s one way of me wearing the past quite loosely and not letting it get to me too much.

- Pink Lily -
– Pink Lily –

When I think back on what I’ve done, with my photography, in the 3.5 years since this blog was started, I wonder if how I started was a little stronger and I’ve been taking it a little too laidback when it comes to refining, or even taking, a shot of a scene; sure, I’ve changed a bit in how I go about things and why I do them, but have I lost sight of purpose & inspiration? If I’m being honest with myself, I think I have, at least to some extent, but I hope I’m also learning as I go because, if I’m not, I’m going to lose sight of why I’m doing it in the first place. I don’t think I would’ve gotten the above photograph the way I did if I had done it back then, but I’ve learned a few things since; my inspirations have changed and my tastes have morphed a bit over the years, so it’s no wonder that I’ve grown at least a little in photography. I’m nowhere near perfection, but that’s okay because it’s a journey that I’m glad I’m on.

Worth it…

For me, the question of editing a photograph has meant me thinking if it is worth it at all or to just give up; I mean, I know I most likely dropped the proverbial ball to begin with, so why bother with it at all. The problem with this thinking is that I’m so often blinded by emotions and a first impression that often doesn’t look deep enough to begin with; I’m so let down by the image turning out murky at first glance that I completely shove it aside. Some of the time it gets worse when it’s after some kind of event that gets me ticked off, like some game where the referees were one-sided, or when something else rubbed me the wrong way; I just need to remember that some things are out of my control and I can’t let them get to me like that. The way I’ve found to get back to an image that I thought was a bust is just to suck it up and try to see if I’ve missed something, which I usually have.
For the most part, when I think of an image as being worth it, I have to admit I’m almost always wrong the first time around when I dismiss an image; the closest thing to a decent reason for this is that the emotions are still raw when I look at the photograph. When I think of it, going into editing too soon can really be something that doesn’t end well because I either get carried away with the refining, or I just ignore something that I should have been paying attention to in the first place. To tell the truth, neither of those outcomes really helps at all because my mind isn’t thinking too clearly at that point; what is really needed is to calm myself down and then look through the image to see if there is some worth in it after all. Most of the time, if I’m honest with myself, I do end up finding photographs that really have some worth in it; it amazes me at just how often I completely brush them off as not worth it, only to find that I end up learning something when I do choose to edit them…Whether it’s a new way of expression or a quicker way of making the image turn out a certain way, there’s going to be some worth.
It’s not like we can’t all afford to slow down once in a while and really enjoy what we’ve got; I’m beginning to think that it’s really necessary to do so now, more than ever, especially because of the nonstop media attention & bombardment we’re facing in our daily lives. Sometimes it’s the boredom of nothing to do that can make us want to just get up and do something and, sometimes, it’s the need to slow down after a long day. Most of the time, when going through photographs for refining, slowing down is just what’s needed to get a good, clear idea of what the image is saying.

- Perch -
– Perch –

Mistakes & madness…

Thinking about all the times I get frustrated when an image doesn’t turn out alright, I usually end up forgetting about the photographs entirely; the easier thing to do would be to see if it didn’t turn out right because of settings, or if it’s because I’m just not looking at it right. I mean, it’s not always evident that I’m looking at a mistake or something that just needs a bit of a boost because I’m dealing with a RAW file that needs refining; RAW files contain quite a bit more info than JPEG, but the flip-side is that they will usually, if not always, need refining to get the shot out to where we want it to. Personally, the refining means that more skill & time is needed, something that’s more of a learning challenge, making each shot more of an investment than your typical JPEG.
When it comes to revisiting old photographs I’ve taken, I’d rather have the RAW versions because they’re easier to work with and give me more of a leeway when it comes to making any adjustments. This way, if I make mistakes, I have a base image that’s not affected because I’m using a format with more give & take in terms of the information contained within it; RAW files are usually at least 7x the size of JPEGs and require time to go through them, needing programs like Lightroom or Photoshop to work with. I’d rather get it right in camera, so RAW files help me better in this because they give me more base information to work with and they don’t lose quality each time I save them to a new location or make refinements. Sometimes, it creates a bit of madness because those files come out looking a bit murky, but when they’re properly interpreted (saved to a file format that everything can read rightly), they come out just as good; RAW files are basically the digital version of film negatives, so they require lab time…In this case, it’s digital darkroom type programs like Lightroom.

- Out of the Tree -
– Out of the Tree –

Mistakes are also easier to overcome in a RAW file, but that never means that the format is a cop-out for getting things right in the first place, it just means that smaller mistakes are somewhat easier to correct. These days, when we have so many options of what we can do, mistakes come easy, and so does the madness, but if we’re really serious about it, we can take the time to learn from them. Like the shot of the leaves in the above photograph, we can come out of a rough spot and grow, if we want to learn…We just need to get past our own mistakes, something I’m still struggling to do most of the time.

Different ideas…

I’ve often read that there’s usually the proper time of day for photography because of the light and that’s in the early morning (sunrise) or late evening (sunset). But then there’s midday, or noon, when the shadows are typically harsh; what do we do then? I typically spend that time away from the camera, not taking photographs, but then, it can also be a good time & chance to learn what light can do when it is straight overhead. I personally think it’s more of a challenging time, not because of shutter speeds, but because the light doesn’t exactly lend itself to bringing out dimension in what we’re photographing because of the shadows. This is where aperture becomes more important because it modifies the depth & sharpness of what we’re trying to photograph; we can let more of the background blur out to push the subject to the front by making the subject much sharper than its surroundings and give dimension to the subject that way.

- Magnolias -
– Magnolias –

The above scene was quite busy, especially at a smaller aperture like f22, but, at f8, it was just right and created some depth in the photograph. It was shot at about 2 pm, a time when most people would think it that the sun is too harsh for this kind of photography because the sun is still overhead, but it works, at least for me, because the aperture of the photograph created the depth that was needed to make the background still recognizable while still making the subject stand out. A dark blue sky would’ve made it look too polarized in a scene like this, so I tend to work with a UV filter and tweak the colours later in Lightroom, doing careful adjustments as I’m working through the shot. I’m not against using a polarizer, but I would rather boost up the colours in post-processing than tune them down after, hence the reason why I’m usually using a UV filter instead.
Looking at nature, I’ve come to realize that while we’re given this time here by the Creator, we’ve also gone about doing our best to muck it up with all the junk we throw away; just look up trash island on the internet or even pay attention to how much trash is left in local parks whenever you walk by. It’s messed up when you think of it, especially when you go to enjoy yourself…You end up having to clean up trash before enjoying yourself. I’ve probably done it many times over the years, but I’m trying not to do it anymore and I’ve gotten pretty decent at not leaving trash in parks anymore, I think; I guess it comes easier when you’re thinking of photographing a scene and the idea of trash left in it comes to mind…it’s almost as it serves as a warning not to leave it lying around in the first place.

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.

Another break…

Thinking about how many times I’ve missed what seemed at times to be the right shot, I’ve begun to wonder if what I’m thinking is the right shot was completely wrong to begin with; what I mean by this is that we’re often told the perfect shot is completely sharp from front to back, has little to no noise, and has perfect colour. I don’t know about anyone else, but this list can be pretty difficult to achieve within a single shot. Nothing’s perfect when you chase complete perfection in photography, in my opinion, because it comes close to being either technically perfect or creatively perfect; in the end, photography that’s perfect is either a pipe dream or something that’s out of reach for the majority of people.
Sometimes, we chase perfection believing that we can easily achieve it; not that the chase is wrong, but when we chase it, we forget all the good opportunities around us and miss good shots that surround us. Sometimes, it takes a break from editing & refining our photos to recognize a good shot after the fact; I get guilty of this nearly every time I go out to take photographs and it makes me laugh nearly every time it happens now. Sometimes we think something is so out of focus when it’s just that we’ve stretched it when we’ve either printed it, or magnified it too much. Frost photography gets really difficult for me because I can easily miss the right focus point for me; using manual focus (to slow me down) or single-shot autofocus (to make it simpler) are the two focus modes I resort to because continual focus can easily miss the spot we think is just right for the shot…Personally I’m more for single-shot autofocus and manual focus refinement when needed because it means at least a shot of getting something right, or decent.

- Trout Lake Frost -
– Trout Lake Frost –

The above shot was one of those scenes that I missed on the first rounds of refining…I think I passed over it at least TWICE. I had taken a break from looking at the photographs from that New Year’s Day shoot in the morning fog and, having already done more than one round of editing & refining, I was looking through the new sales of gear available at the local BestBuy in the city (a bad habit, I know); it was three days after I had originally taken the shot. Thinking that I couldn’t have missed getting at least on close-up frost shot of the bushes, or believing that I hadn’t really messed one up, I decided to look through the photographs again and this one popped up and it was IN FOCUS (left side), something that I had completely lost in my first round because I thought that while it worked out the beauty of the scene right, the colours were off and it wasn’t focused right. With a little tweaking, it came out just the way I saw it that day in my mind and how it felt…Darn it, I really feel like smacking myself multiple times (metaphorically, of course) for missing this one on the first-time round. Taking those breaks helped me really find this one better than I could have before…Sometimes, time can heal wounds, and sometimes it makes you realize what a dummy you were for missing something (it sure has for me).
We all miss things and we wonder what we were thinking in order to miss whatever it is, forgetting that maybe, just maybe, we really didn’t miss it all along and we were looking in the wrong place. Photography’s like that and so is life…We’ve got to give ourselves a leg up by really looking up for help, not on ourselves. Inspiration is more than just you or me, it’s us working together to really give each other a helping hand.

Layers of sharpness…

What I’ve begun to start tinkering more with in my photography, at least when it comes to shots that are close-ups, is layers of sharpness using depth of field. With close-ups, I need to be wary of my aperture, especially because of the closeness of the subject to the lens itself. What this means is that f8 will most likely not have half the scene in focus, but a bit less than that; for full focus, I’d have to go down to something like f20 or f22. It’s tricky, but I’m still working on it; with so much out there to use as potential subjects, finding one, or more, is not the hardest thing to do.

- Purple & Shade -
– Purple & Shade –

The above shot is one such example because of the aperture which was at f8 and the shutter speed 1/200 with a low ISO. What I was trying to get at with this was to set the flowers against the wooden fence and I figured that by blurring the background, it would really set off at least most of the flowers against the fence and it worked. Looking back at this shot, taken midday & a little darker than normal to bring down the highlights, I did the usual refinements of clarity, localized saturation (vibrance in Lightroom), some contrast & noise, to really set out the colours of the flowers against the fence. It surprised me that it came out as good as it did, especially because I wasn’t working a polarizer; that was mostly due to laziness on my part, but it still worked out, thanks to some decent thinking.

We’ve been given so much by the Creator, so much that I can’t really see why I don’t try to get the most out of a scene and really work at presenting the beauty of the scene in front of me; even with this, I don’t always get it right. In life, we’re given things to work with them for the greater good and, even though I often fail at it, I hope that I can at least get it right more than a few times and inspire others to do the same. I don’t want to compete with others out there, nor do I want others to do that, but I want to bring something to the table that will cause us to look up once in a while or even just lend a hand & be there for others.

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!

Back to basics…

Thinking that I’m going to screw up sometimes comes with the territory when I go about photographing a small area no bigger than that of a football. Why do I do that? I do that as more of a training exercise to get my creative juices flowing; it helps to train me to see things that I would normally just pass up because of their small size. Shots, like the one below, help me hone my focus a bit and work on composition & colour in tight spaces.

- Raindrops & Flowers -
– Raindrops & Flowers –

The above shot had slight contrast, clarity, black clipping, vibrancy (called Vibrance in Lightroom 6), noise, & exposure adjustments to refine it, but it stayed totally true to what it had been when I first captured the shot. These flowers are tiny (about half the size of a penny) and have colour variations that are often tricky for me to capture, hence the colour & clarity refinements. For me, it’s about trying to capture the mood at the time in a small space; even though I was outdoors and free to move around, I confined myself to a space no bigger than that of a small vehicle in order to make myself get used to smaller, more refined movements & adjustments to how I was photographing. In a way, this kind of exercise forces me to get back to the basics & work with what’s directly in front of me.

This kind of thing is a way for me to continually make myself work on the basics so that I don’t forget them as easily as I usually do…This comes WAY too easy for me. Remember the old saying that sometimes we need something to jog our memory? Well, sometimes I need a good swift kick so I don’t forget. Another good thing about exercises like this is that they help to reinforce the basics through repetition that isn’t quite mindless, at least for me. So get out there & challenge yourself.