You have undoubtedly heard both familiar phrases before. “Get it right in camera” is the purist’s view, believing that the only purpose of post-processing is to restore a faithful version of the subject. “Fix-it-post” on the other hand, holds that the shutter click is only the start of the creative process; post-processing is a valid way to create and extend the message of the original image. Adherents to the first position hold that any editing beyond the bare minimum renders an image outside the realm of photography; not worthy of a ‘serious’ photographer’s attention. The ‘Fix-in-post’ crowd looks at the “get-it-right-in-camera” crowd as creatively stunted; out-of-step with the times and the technology.
I’d like to suggest a different approach: sticking exclusively to either view suggests arrogance or laziness, possibly both, and does a disservice to both.
Shooting during the “Blue Hour” - after sunset, or before sunrise means setting up a tripod for the long exposure times you will need. But, sometimes it’s not possible to set up a tripod; the location may be too crowded, there may be rules against setting up a tripod at your location, or maybe you just forgot to bring it along.
Here is a way to rescue the situation by shooting hand-held at really high ISO, with very little noise.
Looking for something that will motivate you to get out shooting? Why not try a Four-Season project? Simply pick a location close enough and accessible throughout the year so that you will be able to get to it at some point during the peak of each season. Pick a location that will highlight the changes in each season…. gardens and parks make good subjects; city skylines perhaps not so much. Many landscape subjects will work well, but here again there should be a significant difference in the landscape from one season the next.
The rest is easy: find a location that works, set up your tripod and shoot. The framing doesn’t have to be exact, but the closer each image is to the other three the better and more impactful will be your series. These can be shot handheld, as was the case with the four images above, but a tripod will make it easier to reproduce the framing from one image to the next. I exported a copy of the first image (winter in my case) to my phone and used it as an aid to find the same (more-or-less) position and framing each time I returned to this park near my home.
As a photo project, this will require a greater commitment than most, but the results are worth it. Aside providing motivation to get out and shoot, the results of a well-executed four-season project will look great printed large and hung in your office, studio, or home.
They are also in constant demand at stock agencies and greeting card companies… try searching “four seasons” on the Getty Images web-site.
Now is a great time to start a four-season project
Winter is about to breath it’s last gasp, so start now and you won’t have long to wait for your spring image.
Lightroom Classic has evolved over the last while to include a rich set of tools in the develop module. Photoshop is still better at somethings than Lightroom, complex selections and masking, for example, but I find little reason to round trip to Photoshop for perhaps 95% of the work that I do. Some of the more powerful features in the Lightroom Develop module are I think, under utilized or misunderstood. So, in the video here I’d like to show you some of these, in the hope that you will find them useful, as well.
My online course. "After the Click, Refining Your Vision in Adobe Lightroom" is newly updated and expanded. I wrote this course partly as a response to many other courses out there which for the most part are based more in procedure; focusing on process... sliders and check boxes, etc. Instead, the focus has to start with vision and intention; where does the image need to go in order to realize the photographer's artistic goals? Once that is clear in your mind, only then can you start to edit an image. Instead, we start off the course with a discussion of photographic vision and how the tools in Lightroom can be used to refine and shape this.
The most important elements of success for any image are set at the moment you click the shutter. All we can do later in post is to refine and strengthen what is already there. The visual weight relationships are a good example of something that can be successfully refined using the tools in Lightroom, so we spend time understanding visual weight and how we can influence this in post.
Written material (fully illustrated) covering 145+ pages and 3+ hours of video instruction. Plus, ask me anything (well, photographically at least) plus upload images for discussion.
Our best images are much more than simply good composition in good light.
Our best images are successful because they evoke an emotional response in our viewers; transporting them back to a place and time, allowing them to experience a moment in the same way we did as the photographer. To truly succeed, our images need to resonate with the viewer in this way.
The mood created by or within an image helps to set up the viewer’s response to an image, making them more receptive to the visual message you are trying to convey.
Explore this idea a bit more in the accompanying video
For most of the time its been around, the local adjustment tools in Adobe Lightroom have paled in comparison to the power and precision of the comparable masking and adjustment tools in Photoshop. Lightroom’s attraction has always been its intuitive ease of use. The gap between Lightroom and Photoshop noticeably narrowed with the introduction of the Range Mask feature added to the local adjustment tools. It’s now much easier to quickly make very precise and refined selections for your local adjustments within Lightroom, and as is typical of Lightroom the process is simple and very intuitive.
In this video tutorial, we take a deep dive into using Range Masks with local adjustments in subtle ways to enhance three-dimensional form and texture in your images. In the video below explores the power of this powerful easy-to-use tool.
However, before we get to the video, this needs to be said: despite the power of these tools, they are just tools; incapable of any artistic expression on their own.
That's the photographer's job.
All the elements that make strong images must be present first: good visual design, light, and a sense of the moment. All this, or any other post-processing tool can do is refine what is all ready there
If you would like to learn more about using the tools to strengthen the visual elements of your images using the Range Mask and all the other tools available in Lightroom, check out my online course:
"After the Click - Refining Your Vision in Adobe Lightroom" on BPSOP.com:
This is such a simple concept, and yet it’s so often overlooked by photographers.
I’ve been re-reading Jay Maisel’s “It’s Not About the F-Stop”. Among so many jewels of wisdom contained there, this one stood out: “Wait for the Trigger”. How often do we encounter a lovely scene, point our camera at it and press the shutter? How often is the result a lovely, well-composed background without anything significant going on? I see this often in my classes and workshops, particularly so in travel images. How many pictures of the Eiffel Tower have you seen that look remarkably alike?
The question to ask yourself is, “Why this image – why right now?” What makes it unique? What makes it “my image”? Jay’s point is that every image needs a “trigger”, a reason to make that image at that exact moment. Without it he points out, “your picture can become wallpaper”.
Creating strong images is often more about what you choose to exclude from your compositions than what you include. Extraneous objects, distracting bright spots, or other visual detritus rarely add anything to what you are trying to say visually. All elements of your images possess “visual weight”: that tendency for each element to grab and hold your attention. Different elements possess different amounts of visual weight, forming a sort hierarchy of things that grab your attention. Successful images minimize the visual weight of elements in your images that are not part of what you are trying to say photographically allowing those important elements to grab and hold your viewer’s attention. If an element in your image adds nothing to your visual message, it automatically takes away from it. Simplifying your compositions is one of the easiest ways to minimize the visual weight of distractions and strengthen the impact of your images.
“Sometimes things aren't clear right away. That's where you need to be patient and persevere and see where things lead.” -- Mary Pierce
“Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance.” -- Samuel Johnson
These quotes, the first by a 20th century French-American Tennis player, the second by an 18th century British writer, are both relevant to creating great images in the 21st (or any) century. We live in a fast-paced world that demands instant gratification and waits for no one. Allow this mind-set to seep into your image-making and you might end up with images that are less than they might have been.
The importance of studied patience in your photography can’t be overstated. It’s rare to arrive at location, find an ideal subject and create the best image possible in the opening seconds. Situations around your subject develop and change, the light changes, your subject changes, even your thoughts about the image you are trying to create change. Unlike the studio, nothing in the field is under your control; if conditions aren’t right, you have to wait… or plan to return another day. Even when the conditions are perfect: perfect light, perfect background, working your subject is essential to finding that elusive moment where it all comes together. To paraphrase Jay Maisel, that moment where “Light, Colour and Gesture” come together to create that one great instant for you to capture.
National Geographic photographer Sam Abell relates that when he finds and interesting background he will often set up and wait, sometimes for hours, for something interesting to happen in front of this background. (Backgrounds are almost more important than the main subject in a successful image)
This image didn’t require hours, but it did need about 45 minutes, plus a 1/125th of a second to create. I was instantly intrigued by the contrast of the warm interior tones and the blue of the signage and awning in this store in Aix-en-Provence. But it was just another storefront; it needed something more to bring it together and complete the story. Over the course of those 45 minutes I hung out across the street, watched as customers came and went, as people hurried by… and waited. In the fading twilight I had nearly given up when the storekeeper emerged from the store in her blue apron, with a large watering can and began watering the plants displayed on the street. That was the moment I had been waiting for, even though I hadn’t anticipated it at the outset.
Sometimes the action in front of you is unpredictable and is happening so fast that you can’t be sure you have the best image possible in any single frame. Back in the film days, we recognized this implicitly and since we couldn’t instantly review our images we shot lots and lots of frames, “just to be sure”. In the digital age we can instantly review each frame, leading to what NatGeo photographer Cary Wolinsky calls the, “I got it" syndrome. Your camera LCD is a woefully inadequate device with which to analyze your compositions, making decisions to pack up and move on it alone dicey at best. Furthermore, “How do you know you have captured the peak moment anyway?” Situations will always continue to develop and change after you pack up and move on.
The image above is one out of more than 150 frames shot over a half hour sitting on the shore of the Na Pali coast of Kauai. Perched on some rocks, remote release in hand, I knocked off frame after frame trying for that instant when one wave reflected off the rocks and ran smack into the next oncoming roller creating enormous eruptions of water. This is the only frame where this happened.
Particularly where people are the subject, fleeting moments that really make a composition are exactly that: fleeting. Even when you think you’ve “nailed it”, it pays to stay on the subject, vigilant and ready.
The image above on the left, was made from a comfortable seat in a café on the Placa in Dubrovnik. Sitting with a glass of Prosecco, watching people and the flow of life around us, camera in hand. The sun was low in the sky, and a portion of the square where I was sitting and where people were walking by was in shade, while the far wall was still lit by the late afternoon sun. Over the course of a half hour or so, I shot many frames, none of which were working… and then these two girls stepped into the picture, for just a second one of them raised her smart phone, snapped a picture and moved on.
The image on the right was shot from the top of the campanile in Venice’s St Mark’s Square. I had been shooting the pattern of tables in the café below. Something was missing. I needed something to add the exclamation mark in the pattern, to complete the composition. Waiters were moving in and out of the frame as I shot this, but nothing really came together until the one solitary waiter walked out among the tables, struck a pose, and moved on all within about 10 seconds. I think the image was worth the grief I took from my family for being late for dinner that night -- sometimes we have to suffer for our art.
Sometimes as well, we have an image in our head but it’s success depends entirely on conditions beyond our control. If you really want this image badly enough, you have to be prepared to persevere and return until those conditions present themselves.
This fisheye view of the sun rising above the caldera atop Haleakala on Maui took three visits over five years for the weather to cooperate and produce the image I had in my mind. I know I won’t garner much sympathy for having to return to Maui multiple times…. but there you go.
So when you are out shooting, don’t settle for the first frame, work your subjects, find those fleeting moments, keep coming back until you get the image you are after.