As we approach carnival season, Somerset style (see below) and the photo opportunities that creates, we spent last meeting huddled around various laptops editing in a handful of different editing programmes following on from Marko Nurinem’s virtuoso display last week. So there was Lightroom (of course) but also GIMP, Smart Photo Editor, Picasa, and Photoscape with CS2 (free from Adobe and all quite legal here is how to get it) ACDSee getting honourable mentions from new member Gary.
Now, you long term readers of this blog will know that the world divides into two camps, the Get-it-right-in-the-cameraista’s and Ye-Accolytes-of-Photoshop. As an avowed Get-it-right-in-the-cameraista I sure do a lot of editing. The argument is that the more you get it right for you in the camera the less fiddling around you have to do in post-production. In my case it comes from a youth spent shooting expensive slide film on a shoestring budget. In these digital days, when the hardware is still expensive but the marginal cost of the next image is a fraction of a penny, what that is really about is expanding the chances of achieving the image you want to capture. The principle categories in photo editing programmes are those that alter the fundamentals of the image and those that layer effects on. Of course the real world contains a bit of both usually, but the fundamental approach will be one or the other.
If you are shooting in RAW the images can seem a little flat and dull – remember that what you see in the viewfinder is either a reflected image of the actual light falling on your subject or, in CSC’s and compacts, effectively a jpeg. Sometimes a little cropping or erasing extraneous details make for a more satisfying final product. Maybe a shadow could do with lightening or a sky darkening to get back some detail, or a blemish on the skin would be more flatteringly removed from the portrait. Smart Photo Editor is the proprietary, paid for (£19.95 ‘on sale’ and a bargain stand alone and £34.95 as a Photoshop Plug in) programme I use and also Gimp and Picasa, both free. Others use other combinations, some paid for some free.
Your ambition may not quite extend to the do everything Photoshop (yet at least) and I will venture two reasons pecuniary why you may not, one more obvious than the other, viz: (A) you don’t have the set up or space or need for it to make the most of it and (B) Zombies. The former is more obviously expensive than the latter, and I don’t want to get into an endless and ultimately fruitless kit pornography rant, so ’nuff said, but the latter can have quite an impact on the pocket. Let me explain.
Fortunate as most club members are to be living in a city that has an “Official” policy for handling of a Zombie outbreak, that isn’t quite what I mean – though there are worrying sightings. Zombies are those little items, small denominations, that walk out of your bank account every month without much thought. In isolation they are not a lot. Their attraction is their affordability, the trade is made worth it by the perceived quality/quantity you get in return – at the point of purchase. You get a lot of things with Adobe’s Creative Cloud for photography for £8.57 a month, no doubt. A more detailed and flexible programme there is yet to be brought to market, though the gap may be closing. It is, I suspect, a lot more than most amateur photographers need, but it’s always nice to have some extra wumph under the bonnet. If it wasn’t no sports cars or sports bikes would ever get sold. For a vocal minority bragging rights are always the primary concern.
That, though isn’t quite the point. Are you going to pay (and keep on paying) £102.84 straight out on something you might need? No? But might pay £8.57 a month on something that is more than you need, something you can expand in to. It’s there and it ticks over and you get used to it. But, when is it just one item? When it’s a couple, or three, it grows. £20.00 a month isn’t a lot to spend on a hobby, say on editing and storage. £240 a year is not an inconsiderable amount to waste. Certainly less than a divorce lawyer when the other half finds out how much you really spent on that camera body. That’s halfway to a very decent new lens or a goodly second hand one even on £20.00 a month. The zombies keep on walking and are easy to add to, easy to forget. The costs add up. On the other hand it keeps you up to date and Adobe get a steady revenue stream, pirate copies are fewer and far between. Easier if you are self employed and you can claim it against tax, of course.
Not that I am seeking to dissuade you. The reality is Adobe first, the others a long way behind when it comes to sales and it is a de facto industry standard, which in itself generates market share for Adobe. Our focus, though, was on a broader range of editing opportunities as well as Photoshop. We looked a little at the alternatives to Photoshop on the Ask Reflex evening, this evening was a chance to get closer to the subject. From a little tour round I would say that there is a great deal that you can do with a little practice, patience and occasional lateral thinking as members showed how they adapt what they have to get what they want.
There is another benefit to using editing software that may not be immediately apparent, at least at the time of shutter release and really is about getting your money’s worth. Through cropping your original image you can often find more than one image possibility from a given frame. (Don’t confuse image crop, cutting out bits of a bigger picture with sensor crop the physics of collecting the same amount of light on different sized sensors). You effectively recompose the photograph, albeit with less data in it. It might be that the light and shadow falling across a landscape actually yield two very different moods when you isolate each area and you now have three opportunities from one frame. I would say that, in work flow terms, cropping is the first thing that you do, because you have the essential character in view that you want to work with. The crop is basically a magnification of the connection that drew you to take that frame in the first place. There are frequent chances to re-crop a frame rarely do we crop so tight that there isn’t any wriggle room and even then, sometimes, going more extreme tells a different story. Of all the editing you can do this is perhaps the simplest and the one with the biggest potential, which is why I would suggest it’s the best place to start the editing.
follow the link as it will show you the dates and also has descriptions of themes. Click on the individual carnival websites for start times etc. Below is a copy of Myk’s post on the club Facebook page:
“This year’s Someset Carnival season is almost here. If anyone would like to attend one of these events as a group, please see the dates and locations below.
We’ll be making announcements on club meetings so everyone will get to hear about it.
Monday 09/11/15 – Burnham on Sea
Friday 13/11/15 – Weston Super Mare
Monday 16/11/15 – Midsomer Norton
Wednesday 18/11/15 – Shepton Mallet
Friday 20/11/15 – Wells
Saturday 21/11/15 – Glastonbury
The preferred date/venue is Wells on 20/11 as they have market stalls, hot food/drinks and a fairground in the market square”.
Reflex Open Competition Round 1.
Mac Bouchere FRPS was the first speaker of the season and his aim was to prompt us to look at things a little differently, sometimes new things sometimes the same things, in his talk “Bending the light”. Mac presented us with a wide range of examples and he talked about the differences that prompted him and the importance to him of pre-visualisation. Not invented by him but certainly popularised by him, Ansel Adams made pre-visualisation a way into getting the feelings behind what he photographed.
In essence what Mac was putting across was the next step from getting the camera off Auto. Auto is great at getting good results from a number of situations, but it is not particularly discerning and it’s not really what we shell out all those readies on. The other settings give you increasing flexibility before you ever get to post production and given the minimal marginal cost there is very little to stop us experimenting. What Auto does is make decisions based on the algorithms derived from the analysis of many, many thousands of images to derive a set of averages that can be applied within the dynamic ranges of the chips that are bought or manufactured by the camera makers so as to provide us with acceptable images in those situations. Putting a random, but nonetheless convincing number on that, let’s say 80% of our pictures. There comes a time, as our own Gerry Painter pointed out last year, when those acceptable images are just that. Acceptable. But with something missing. Not quite what we visualised.
We can move on to programme modes, that give us a little more control in what we accent and prioritise in terms of light and dark in our images, also in terms of chroma all the way to how much and how intense is black and how much and how intense is white within certain narrow boundaries. In order to truly exploit that we have to explore the more manual options that affect the exposure triangle all the way through to full manual and, of course, post production. Mac’s point was that it doesn’t have to end there and we can, through digitising our print and slide collections, give those a whole new lease of life too. We can push, pull, stretch, colourise, monochrome, blur, merge stain, grain, crop to our hearts content, not just on the images that we take now or have taken relatively recently. Also, and I think most importantly, Mac urged us to get the images we want.
He was quite open about the images he showed us, the ones that would never get anywhere in club competitions to the ones that had won medals. The point he was telegraphing by doing this is that, certainly as amateurs, but it extends to professionals too (they just have more limited opportunities to do it and he is one of those), is that we should use in camera and post production techniques to craft the images we have in mind. There will be glorious failures and successes along the way, but those will be our expressions and our learning opportunities. If we also curate our back catalogue, by which I mean actually go back and look at our “keepers” critically and with a fresh eye, then post production also provides us with opportunities to craft new work from old. Over time tastes, techniques and skills change and grow and we have a useful basis to go back and re-work some things.
You can do this now. Go back, pick a frame from, say two years ago (you really must get round to freeing up that disk space), and rework it. Better yet randomise your choice. You do not, absolutely do not, have to have advanced photo-shop skills to do this. Use something like Google’s Picasa, re-crop, play with the shadows and highlights, darken/brighten it, apply some of the filters, and start to think what it is you like/don’t like. Find some ready-made effects on the internet or in editing programmes like Smart Photo Editor or, as Mac used, Topaz. Just, if it’s a treasured possession, make sure that you are working on a copy. We will revisit looking at photos critically and how to use the results later on in the season, the blog has been there before, but there is a lot to be learned from just messing about with what you already have from time to time. It’s not just a walk down memory lane we are talking about here, we are also talking about the opportunity to use editing software (including the Adobe Suite, Gimp and the other “Grown up” editors), to actually learn and develop from a historical, personal perspective by looking at how our style, techniques and competencies have evolved.
Back on the camera there are other perimeters besides the exposure triangle and filters and presets that can be employed. Techniques such as free-lensing a.k.a lens whacking, DIY Macro, or just exploring the in camera effects, for instance help to mix it up. That, I guess is really the basis of Mac’s message. You already have a catalogue of images, go back and have a look at them, they represent an opportunity to educate yourself using your own materials. And maybe even make a better go of it? Mix it up helps you to not keep taking the same sort of photograph each time you take the camera out, or helps you take the same sort of photograph differently because you have a better idea of what you want to see in the finished image, thereby giving you the chance to control the important elements to that vision. You get more of it right in the camera. In Stephen Covey’s best seller “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” one of those habits is to “Start with the end in mind“. Sound advice because it also helps with those days when nothing seems to work and you end up pointing and shooting in that hit and hope manner (had one of those yesterday at Woodhenge), because I didn’t really know what I wanted to show. What I did think I wanted was a drone but that’s not in my price bracket. What I should have done is concentrate on details, probably very small ones in what is a big landscape. Still, live and learn. So, thank you Mac Bouchere, lots to think about.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Mini groups presentations.