Photography is an art form. The ability to translate something that piques your curiosity into an image that conveys a message or tells a story to viewers comes with years of practice, knowing your equipment, and creativity. It also involves knowing what to do with images after you download them to your computer. Beginning photographers snap lots of pictures of things that interest them, but the resulting images rarely hold the interest of people who view them. An image taken by an accomplished photographer holds the viewer’s interest. The viewer’s eye dances around the image, but is drawn back to a specific area of the image, the focal point as determined by the photographer, the area of the subject matter or scene that caused the photographer to stop and take a picture.
A good photographer has the ability to envision an image in his mind’s eye before he brings the camera to his eye. He looks through the viewfinder, which in essence is his canvas, and determines how best to tell a story or convey a message with the elements he sees in the viewfinder. The message can be the beauty of the scene or subject matter; it can be joy or it can be sadness. The artistic photographer looks in the viewfinder and determines which items will convey the message to viewers, and then zooms in until the only those items remain in the viewfinder. He then chooses what he deems is the ideal vantage point, composes the image, and takes the picture.
The image the photographer envisions in his mind’s eye may be a far cry from what the camera is capable of delivering. The image your camera displays on the LCD monitor has been processed as a JPEG image, and may look perfectly acceptable. However, the image you download to your computer, especially if you used your camera’s RAW format to capture the image, is a watered down version of what you envisioned and what you reviewed on your camera LCD monitor. Therefore you’ll have to do some post processing to breathe some life into the image.
Some photographers would argue that post processing is not needed if you capture the image in your camera’s JPEG format. And some photographers think that post processing is cheating. I am a proponent of getting it right in the camera, but I also know that without post-processing, my images would be bland and lifeless. All of the great photographers like Ansel Adams knew this and did their post processing in the darkroom with chemicals and papers that were toxic. Fortunately, we can achieve the same results, and in some instances better results in our digital darkroom.
If you shoot in JPEG format, the JPEG image your camera delivers is compressed during processing. Even though your camera’s RAW image, which in essence is a digital negative, may pale in comparison when you first download it to your computer, you have more data to work with and with a bit of judicious post processing will be able to deliver an image that looks like what you envisioned when you stopped to take a picture. The image below is a RAW capture from my Canon EOS 5D MKll. The image is flat and lifeless, even though it was an absolutely breathtaking afternoon in beautiful Myakka State Park.
When I saw the image in Lightroom, I knew I had my work cut out for me. The image lacked contrast, and was very bland, a far cry from what I saw. With a bit of basic processing, tweaking the tone curve and using split toning in Lightroom, I was able to bring the image to life. The following image is the end result of my processing in Lightroom. But I often use other filters and processing in Photoshop to achieve the images I envision in my mind’s eye. This will be the subject of my next blog post.