Monday, May 30, 2011

TAKING SNAPSHOTS OR CREATING IMAGES

In my home town of Boston, there is a saying that is very true;  "Every baseball fan thinks they can manage the Red Sox but very few football fans think that they could coach the Patriots." Because most of the fans started playing baseball or softball  as children and continued right up to and including college, they think it is simple. It is true that the strategy is far simpler in baseball than in the chess game strategy of football. What people forget is all the small details that go into managing a baseball team, especially a pro team. Just keeping all the highly skilled and paid players happy and motivated is not a small feat and where many managers fail. 


Baseball is a game of individuals playing as a team. When a batter is up, he is not playing as a team that often. Baseball is simple, you hit the ball, you catch the ball, you throw the ball and many times a player's success has nothing to do with the team's success. A batter can hit 400 and the team may not be successful. In 1941, the Red Sox's Ted Williams hit for a 400 average, the last player ever to hit 400.  That team had five future Hall of Famers playing for it and still finished second. 


I think photography has become just like baseball. Almost everyone has a camera of some type from expensive DSLRs to simple point and shoots and even cell phones take a pretty good picture, although it is a glorified point and shoot. When the digital age in photography came to be, it brought many really great innovations.  What people may nor think about is that over all, it lowered the price of photography. The cameras and lens prices have not gone down but photographers no longer have the cost of buying rolls of film and then the cost of processing the film. 


When I switched over to digital I was paying around $25 for a roll of film plus processing. Now I can spend that much for a flash card and use it over and over again. Plus I can see some of my mistakes on the camera's LCD screen saving us from wasting what would have been film and lost images. It really has been a great resource for photographers but it has also opened the door for some really bad photography. Even worse it has produced many boring images. 


People have a camera and learn how to mechanically use it but do not take the time to learn the art of photography. Photography is a special art. It combines art and science more so than any other art. It takes time and effort to learn it well and then more time to refine your skills. In truth I really do not think you ever really learn all there is to it. 


If you study your camera's manual and practice just the steps to working the camera, you can take pictures. If you put it on program mode, you can possibly take okay pictures. If you do not work on the artistic part of your photography then technically they might be okay but your images will not have the wow factor. They will not stand out from the others, will not have any soul and in a single word be boring. They might be great to you and interesting to you and if that is all you're shooting for, congratulations you have reached your goal. Just do not subject the rest of us to them. 


Okay maybe your mom will love them or at least say that she does. She is your mom!!!  I mean if you have some really good snapshots of your kids, we will all like them and they might even document their cuteness. But please do not take a snapshot of a rock, when the rock takes up a 1/8 of the photo, with the highlights blown out and the shadows gone black and make us tell you we like them!!!  These are images that I call snapshots and in my early years I took lots and lots of snapshots and not many really good images. Hopefully I am making images now. 


In this post I will attempt to speak to how I make a snapshot into an image. Some of the steps are done in camera some require post production. Like all professional photographers, I have software programs that I use in my post work. My programs are listed  in the order I use them which is also the order of frequency that I use them.

Lightroom (LR) is the one software program that I use on every image I take. I almost always (95%) shoot in raw. Lighroom is the leading photo management and editing software solution. It will convert my raw image into a jpeg when I export the finished images back to my external drive. It is not the only such program but after researching and trying other programs, I feel it is the best program of its type on the market for me. I do about 95% of my editing in Lightroom. 


I then move on to Photoshop and I use Photoshop for two primary reasons; sharpening and noise reduction. Lightroom has both of these features and they have improved them a great deal from the original Lightroom but I still am not totally satisfied with them.
I actually use a photoshop plugin for noise Imagenomic Noiseware (Win) , their MAC edition. I feel it is the best in speed and quality. 


I do all my sharpening in Photoshop (PS) using unsharp mask. As in most photoshop things, there are more than one way to sharpen using it. I like the unsharp mask but many like 'smart sharpen'.  I have two other software programs that I use a lot less; Nik Filters and Topaz Adjust.

Of the two, I use Nik the most. I can mimic many things I use to do in camera with this program. Topaz is a program I use on maybe only 5% of my images. It can give you some interesting effects but in my opinion you need to be really careful not to over use it. 


I am going to attempt to show how I photograph something and hopefully make it a better image. Some changes are in camera and some are in post production. As I have said, all of these images have been processed using Lightroom and most using Photoshop for sharpening and for the Noiseware plugin.

The first image was taken in Miami from our hotel room overlooking Biscayne Bay (as most of the images were). This was taken at 11PM after we had been out for dinner. I went out onto the patio and as almost always, I took a shot  using basic settings. I like the clouds and how they were picking up the light from the city lights below. 


In the image you can see different colored lights. The different colors are caused by actual colored lights (purple on the bridge) the warm and cooler color lights are caused by the different type bulbs used. Some are tungsten, others are florescent and will photograph differently. Many people will set their camera's white balance control to auto or daylight. What you can try is using different color balance settings to see the effect it gives. In the first image, I used auto. 

Before
 I thought it was okay but then I started trying other settings and when I reached cloudy, I thought it warmed up the images  (especially the clouds just a touch). I also opened up my exposure a half a stop, to give a little boost to the clouds. If I wanted to I could have performed both acts in LR and will tweak my exposure in LR whenever it's needed.



After

This next image was the next morning. The sun had come up but behind a bank of clouds.  On this image, I kept the white balance at daylight, tweaked blacks (contrast) and brightened the mid tones. I also used one of my most used LR tools, the cropping tool. I cropped it into, what I call, my letterbox crop.




I like to eliminate any elements of the image that distracts from the main feature of the image. In this case, I feel the most important part of this image is the sun breaking through the clouds and reflecting in the water. By enhancing the contrast while brightening midtowns and eliminating the patch of uninteresting sky and the pilings in the forefront, I think it accomplished my goal. I think it went from a documenting snapshot to a pretty neat image.  As in all of these images, sharpening and noise reduction were performed.

In this next image, I thought the sky was the most important piece if the image. I did not crop anything out.


 I adjusted exposure down, added contrast and midtown brightness and used the cloudy white balance to warm up the image.


  All the adjustments on this image were performed in LR and PS.

I then wanted to play with this image and using Nik filter and Topaz,  created these two images.



Now you might or might not like them. I do like them. The last one I think is my favorite edition of this image. I think you will agree it is not boring!!!

The next image is the same day, a little later as the sun was higher in the sky. Remember as the sun gets higher, the light gets cooler.
On this one, all adjustments were made in LR and PS. I lowered exposure, tweaked contrast and midtowns, changed color balance to shade and cropped a little bit in LR. PS was used for sharpening and noise reduction.

I am guessing some of the readers might like the original in each one of these examples. If you do, that's fine. It is your personal vision, these are mine. If you at least start thinking about creating images instead of making snapshots that just document, I think you have a head start in creating your personal style and vision.

This last image was the same day after we came home. In my backyard, I saw this turtle. (a yellow bellied turtle I believe?)  This is an example of where you can improve your photos right in the camera.

This first shot is a good example of what people often take. I was standing looking down at the turtle. How many images do you see from this vantage point; of flowers, animals and children where the photographer is standing pointing his camera down?  Yes, it is a turtle and if you know turtles, you can tell what type it is. You can tell it is in the wild! A snapshot that documents, "Hey there was a turtle in my back yard!!"


By taking one step, you can improve the image and make an exciting, fun image. Get down to the level of the turtle and get as close as you can. (I would not use this technique with rattlesnakes, lions or bears).


I also cropped to eliminate any uninteresting elements. Now we have a turtle portrait. You can see its eyes and mouth. I think you will agree it is a much better image. 


Stop taking all your images from a standing position; bend, stretch, sit or get on your knees. Heck, I was laying down on my stomach for this one. If you have any questions about any of this, please ask me. If you would like to see more posts that teach, let me know.









14 comments:

Alpana Jaiswal said...

"There is no art which affords less opportunity to execute expression than photography. Everything is concentrated in a few seconds, when after perhaps an hours seeking, waiting, and hesitation, the photographer sees the realization of his inward vision,and in that moment he has one advantage over most arts - his medium is swift enough to record his momentary inspiration.And you have all the best qualities required for these skills.You are helping people a lot by this post,hope they take advantage of this,and the pictures are fabulous..

Ravenmyth said...

I agree Jim, the one you like with the clouds is definitley not boring. The mirror image of the clouds and setting sun bring so much depth and colour to the water...and then into the whole composition. There is so much going on...I especially like the affect of the clouds and colour in the rippling water.

Love the turtle shot...and as always your humour.I know what you mean about getting up close and personal with the subject and yes, been laying down...once very carefully in water.

I will remember your phrase, creating images rather than snapshot...loved the Tutorial and your correlation to baseball...

Roy Durham said...

one of these days i am going to get a camera that is not a snap shot camera. i like the class you are holding. but i think it takes heart to produce the art that you show. thank you and god bless

Aaron said...

Jim, what a great post! it is so important to learn the artistic element to photography.
I have spent the last 2 months dedicating myself to that and it has helped immensely. Are every image keepers, no. but at least by understanding what makes a great photograph i can critique it and plan out how I would take the photo to improve it.

I love the images as always. My personal favorite is the turtle just cuz it made you get down and lie on the ground to take it :)

Jenni said...

If I ever need photos taken I am definitely hiring you. I snap pictures of things all the time but, don't always take great ones. That's probably because I am a writer not photographer, I know my strengths and try to stay with them. This was very informative and I will be trying out some of what you said that I don't already do. Thank you for sharing and as always I love the "images" you have created.

melissa said...

i like the title...creating images... actually, it's recreating the images in two senses... you were able to improve an image and at the same time enjoy doing it...;)

i was reflecting some things with my art mentor and he expressed that photographs seem to be a flat ... paintings and drawings prove more life because they include the artists' interpretation, whole mind and body and takes his/her whole self into it... as regards photography, one sees something and clicks... everybody becomes an instant photographer...

i gladly welcome the new phase of your blog page as it opens me up to new surprises on a photographer's end...

i don't use photoshop in my paintings just a simple 'paint' or image viewer... adjusting lights and effects...

but i found more life in them... after seeing how it improves my works (well at least on photos)...

i truly appreciate how a photographer could actually recreate a picture... that is art for me... and a 'real artist' chooses his subjects carefully... and how they'd look great in his/her photo... i liked how you were able to put all the distractions away and zoomed in the turtle (cropped :P)...

i liked how the colors came out in the clouds...showing more hues than the original...

i see all the details... that's how i like pictures to be... now, perhaps after seeing this, i could paint more landscapes... with your permission :P...

when i paint them your name on watermark will also be there :P...

melissa said...

*seems to be a little bit flat...

sorry, error :P

Nelieta said...

Jim, thank you very much for sharing this info with us. Some of the programs I have never heard of. I use Corel Paintshop Pro which I find more easy to use than Photoshop.

Digital cameras are amazing but it is interesting to shoot with film especially black and white.

Thank you for this great post!

S.K.Delph said...

Wow, I'll have to tune in to help bump up my photo! Thanks for the great tips and program info. Your photographs are amazing.

FherYmas said...

Very few photographer had that willingness to share from within...
So glad we had the Brandano's to make our search easier...

SJ said...

I've just downloaded the trial version for Lightroom, I had Corel previously but I found it difficult. I'm good with experimenting but not with reading and I think I have a little more reading to do to get some real benefits out of it. I guess it helps when you have the experience to go with it too.

I'm still new to having a proper camera but I'm already the crazy lady with the lens as I like to get close to things - although I'm quite happy to keep my distance from the snakes, etc..

Mari Sterling Wilbur said...

Jim, I love that you are posting instructions on how you achieve your gorgeous photos. Hopefully many of my beginner photography followers will soon be using your tips. :D

http://mariscamera.blogspot.com/

AJ said...

I'm guilty of taking snapshots and posting them on my blog! I'm not trained in the art of photography and I haven't even studied how to maximize my point-and-shoot. I do a bit of post-prod, but not enough I guess.

There's so much to take in. I have to reread this post many times. Thanks for your generosity, Jim!

Kriti said...

I would like to compose a song for you - just to let you know how breathless you leave me. This was amazing Jim - as always you never fail to take my breath away with your pics.