Hi everybody – I’m back from a whirlwind trip out West – three seminars in one week (LA [seen above], San Francisco & Seattle), plus a talk at the Canon Experience Center in Costa Mesa. Had a really fun time, and met some really cool people along the way. Thanks to everybody who came out. OK, onto what’s up this week:
The Eclipse is here Hope you caught Erik Kuna’s excellent post on Friday called ‘7-tips for shooting the Eclipse’ and if you didn’t, here’s the link. Erik and Kalebra hosted ‘The Grid’ this week and their topic was photographing today’s eclipse and there’s lots of great info that episode as well, so I’m embedding it here below. Hope you get some great shots!
2017 Worldwide Photo Walk Update We’re just a couple of weeks into this year’s walk and it is already rockin’! Here’s a quick look:
Photo Walks already up and running (you can join these today): 547
Cities with approved walks not yet released by the leaders: 949
Photo Walks started by leader and in draft mode (almost ready): 84
Number of walkers signed up for walks so far: 5,272
New Photo Walk Prize Category for Kids More and more parents are bringing their kids along on our Photo Walks, and getting them involved in this social photography event, and so this year, with Canon’s gracious help, we launched a new prize category for the competition for kid’s under 16-years-old, and the winner in this Youth category gets all this stuff:
How cool is that!!!! A big high-five to Canon, and all our sponsors who stepped up big time to support this new category for our youngest walkers. :)
My September Seminar I’ve only have one Lightroom seminar date coming up in September (I had to reschedule Houston and Dallas due to a scheduling conflict), but it’s in an awesome place — Denver, Colorado. Hope you can join me for the day.
Good luck tonight at the eclipse. Here’s to staying safe, and getting some once in a lifetime shots! :)
Millions of Homes in America Will Go Dark Monday Afternoon, Are you ready? [guest post by Erik Kuna]
Seriously, unless you’ve been living underneath a rock in the U.S.A (which might not be a bad thing lately) you know that there’s a total solar eclipse happening Monday for around four hours starting on the west coast of Oregon at 9:04 am PDT and moving all the way to the east coast in South Carolina to end at 4:10 pm EDT. While total solar Eclipses happen every year or two, it’s rare that they cover so much land mass, in fact, it’s been almost 100 years since something like this happened in America.
Being photographers, it’s an event that gives us a unique opportunity to capture unforgettable images of this rare event. Recently, I had an opportunity talk to some Astrophysicists from Kennedy Space Center while covering the NASA/SpaceX CSR-12 mission about the 2017 Eclipse. During that time, I picked up some great tips that I wanted to pass along here for you all that I’m hoping will help on Monday if you’re shooting. Fair warning that most of the tips I’ve also been hearing all over the place lately in many of the coverage about the eclipse, but they also clued me into something that made me explore one topic that I haven’t seen discussed much online. More on that later. For now, let’s give a quick rundown of 7 tips for shooting the Eclipse.
#1- Be Safe and Bring the Right Equipment
Yes, Yes, I know, I know. If you’ve heard anything about the eclipse, you’ve probably seen this in every article, video or news story. But, this is very serious. The Sun is a super mega bright ball of light, burning at 10,000 degrees with parts of its corona reaching into the millions of degrees and just like your skin will get sunburnt, so will your eyes, and fast and it will be permanent. This is nothing to mess around with and goes for every day of our life. Don’t look into the Sun whether it’s the Eclipse or not, without approved protective eyewear, period. Moving on.
Just like with your eyes, you’ve got to protect your camera sensor if you’re going to be pointing the camera at the super-mega-uber bright ball of light. So, if you’re going to be taking images while the moon is eclipsing the Sun, you’ll need to use a solar filter or solar film to protect your camera. Just as you’ll need a pair of eclipse glasses to protect your own eyes, your camera needs protection. With that said, if you’re one of the lucky few in an area of 100% totality, you’ll have the two and a half minutes or less where the Moon completely blocks the Sun you can remove the filters and eyewear so you can see the Sun’s outer atmosphere or the corona. This is the holy grail of the Eclipse, it’s the only time we can see the corona with the naked eye.
Sun’s Corona Shot of the Sun’s Corona courtesy of NASA Credits: Miloslav Druckmüller, Martin Dietzel, Shadia Habbal, Vojtech Rusin
Keep in mind the area of totality is very small, only about 70 miles wide. See NASA’s interactive map for the exact areas. If you’re outside this totality, you should always wear solar glasses and protect your camera with solar filters. One caveat to that is if you’re going to take a few wide-angle picture of the eclipse here and there with a smartphone and not going to point your camera at the sun all the time, you do not need a solar filter. Apple even issued a statement the other day in an article from USA Today where it confirmed it. DSLRs should be fine too for temporary exposure. We all shoot sun flares and position the sun in our shots from time to time and I’ve never heard of anyone damaging their sensor from occasional use. Of course, as with everything, in moderation. Bottom line, if you’re going to point your camera, smart phone or anything at the sun for a long time, use some sort of solar filter especially if you have a telephoto lens on your camera or smartphone.
Besides your camera and a solar filter and glasses, having a few other pieces of equipment can also come in handy during the eclipse. Using a tripod is a must to let you stabilize the camera and avoid taking blurry images. You’ll really want to use a tripod during the lower light moments around totality or if you’re using a telephoto lens. Also, using a shutter release timer or trigger will allow you to make better eclipse photos with less blur. If that strikes a chord with you, you’ll also want to use mirror lockup to minimize vibrations in your DSLR.
#2- It doesn’t matter what camera you have
Taking an awesome photo has more to do with you as the photographer than your camera model or brand. Yes, the equipment helps, especially if you’re going for a particular type of shot of the eclipse. Like if you want something like these multiple exposure close ups, you need a telephoto lens on a tripod.
However, if you have just a camera phone or a kit lens, you can still take great photos during the eclipse. The best piece of gear with you is your own vision. (which is why you better be wearing those solar glasses) Of course, you have to work with what you’re given, so if you don’t have a telephoto zoom lens with a solar filter, maybe focus on taking landscape shots, or capture reaction shots or capture the changing environment. Which leads me to the next point…
While we’re all focused on that magnificent ball of burning gas and plasma that’s being blocked by either a large rock or just huge piece of cheese (if you get your science from Folklore) remember to look up, down and all around. You’ll see changes in the way shade appear or the way the sunset comes from 360 degrees. This is the “other” side of the eclipse that most people miss. Landscapes will have long shadows, creating odd lighting across the landscape. Light through trees leaves will create creating natural pinholes, which will also create mini eclipse replicas on the ground. You can even create awesome pinhole effects with things like colanders, strainers, or even the holes in Ritz crackers.
Almost anywhere you point your camera even if it’s not into the sun, it could give you unique photos, so be on the lookout to compose some creative perspective, environmental shots or wide-angle photos that can capture the eclipse experience. Even reaction shots from people watching the eclipse might end up being the most memorable ones of the day.
Along these lines, if you’re a KelbyOne member make sure to join our photo contest over in the Community starting Monday where we’re looking for the most creative shot of the Eclipse. The winner will be selected by the KelbyOne Community and will win a ThinkTank SpeedFreak v2.0
#4- Know the Sun you’ll be dealing with…
Remember earlier I mentioned there was something big that I haven’t seen many people talking about with the eclipse. Well, here it is! Know where the sun will be and what you’ll be dealing with in the exact location you’ll be, and know it now, before the day of the Eclipse.
What do I mean? Well, if you’re in Oregan you’re going to have a very different perspective on the Eclipse than someone shooting in South Carolina. Why? The Angle and Azimuth of the Sun. What’s that you ask? Well, it just means how high off the horizon and in what location the sun will be relative to your position. Why is this so critical? This will change what gear you bring, what technique you might want to use, the lens you might want, your composition, the type of shot you plan, basically everything. You might have a vision for the image you want to create but the Sun isn’t going to cooperate. So, you’re might need to need to adjust your vision slightly.
For Example, let’s say you’re going for a multiple exposure landscapes shot with the moon eclipsing the sun or any type of tighter landscape shot with the sun and the moon where it’s not just a very small speck in the sky you better be on a plane to Oregon while you’re reading this post. Even at that, the sun is going to be between 27 and 45-degrees up in the sky in the western states like Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming. However, knowing that is valuable information. You’ll have the opportunities people in other places like the Southeastern U.S. don’t have, where we’re going to be dealing with 65 to 70-degree angles on mid afternoon sun for our Eclipse. With that kind of angle, we’d need a very very wide wide-angle to capture the sun being eclipsed in a landscape. Not to mention that the sun would be a speck in the frame.
To illustrate the point here’s an example of something you won’t see from the 2017 Eclipse unless you see a bunch of ocean in front of it, the angle of the sun relative to the horizon is too small for any land mass during the 2017 Eclipse.
Another thing to consider besides the angle is that Azimuth. That way you’ll know where the sun will be in your frame not only on the horizon but in the scene or part of the sky. For example, don’t expect to get a beach shot of the eclipse on the Oregon coast or even the South Carolina Coast, unless you’re on a boat. The Sun’s azimuth will always be in the opposite direction. That one is a little more intuitive, rising in the East and setting in the West, but again just something to consider when planning.
Transversely, if you’re looking for an awesome shot of the corona or the greatest eclipse, hopefully, you’re on your way a little northwest of Nashville, Tennessee. There you’ll experience a long eclipse where the axis of the moon’s shadow cone passes the closest to Earth. (Weather permitting, of course, it’s looking like a lot of cloud cover is predicted around this area as of Friday)
#5- Practice Now
You have a couple days, and be sure you know the settings and capabilities of your camera before Eclipse Day. Start by shooting the Sun today during the times which the Eclipse is passing over you. That way you’ll know a few things. First, you’ll master the angle and azimuth of the Sun at your location. Frame up the shots you want and get your settings right. This will allow you to have a good starting point. If you’re wondering what time it will pass over you, check out this interactive map from NASA.
Our cameras and even camera phones have adjustable exposures, which is essential to help you adjust your image during the varying eclipse lighting. This is the key to getting a good eclipse shot. As for focus, make sure you know how to manually focus the camera for sharp shots and then lock your focus so your camera won’t try to adjust focus with the varying brightness. Plus, use live view to compose the image, it’s less dangerous than looking through the viewfinder especially if you’re going to be risky and shoot without a solar filter. As far as settings for a DSLR camera, the best way to determine the correct exposure is to test settings on the un-eclipsed Sun this weekend.
For the best results, you’ll want to dial in your settings manually, which is another reason to practice. Get your DSLR out of auto mode and go manual, using a fixed aperture of like f/11 or so and the lowest ISO you can go, that’s ISO 100 on my Canon. Then, try shutter speeds to find the optimal setting. You’ll probably be around 1/1000 to 1/4000 with a solar filter but just find the setting that works best for you. This will give you the exact starting point you can use to take images during the beginning stages of the eclipse. That way on the day of the Eclipse you’ll just have to adjust your shutter speed settings as the lighting changes. During totality, the corona has a wide range of brightness so it’s best to use a fixed aperture and ISO and multiple ranges of exposures from approximately 1/1000 to even as high as 4 seconds. Make sure to take your filter off during totality. I’d suggest bracketing your exposure too. There’s a lot of detail in the sun but you’ll see some things better over exposed and some thing better under exposed.
Here’s an example of different exposures of the sun and about the same time:
You can see the little difference in the sunspots and better to take multiple exposures than miss some sort of detail you’ll want later. Also, shoot in RAW if you can, it’s going to give you the flexibility you want later since you’re shooting a bright ball of light.
Now, If you’re going to miss getting the shot you want this time around, never fear, another total solar eclipse will be coming back to America in 2024 traveling from South Texas up through Maine. So, you’ve got 8 years to practice! Who knows though, by then we might be shooting Ultra HDR holographic light field cameras.
#6- Its mother nature, be flexible
As with anything that relies on the weather, it’s a roll of the dice. If you’re a landscape photographer, you know exactly what I mean. Unfortunately, with the Eclipse, there are no do-overs, missing your alarm or “we’ll just try again tomorrow morning” kind of plan. It’s a one and done kinda thing, so that’s why I can’t stress enough the practice element.
So, check the weather before you go out Monday to see what you’ll be dealing with before you leave for your shooting location. Maybe even come up with a backup plan if you get cloudy weather and try to have a backup location if the weather looks like it is not going to cooperate. If all else fails, NASA has tons of live coverage of the event on their site the day of the Eclipse and while I know it’s not the same, the weather just might not agree.
#7- Share your experience
The 2017 Eclipse is predicted to be the most photographed one-day event in history. Share your eclipse experience with friends and family afterward. Use the hashtag #Eclipse2017 or upload your eclipse images to NASA’s Eclipse Flickr Gallery.
While you’re out trying to capture the perfect eclipse shot, don’t forget to take a break from shooting every so often and look at the eclipse with your own eyes. And, just because I can’t stress it enough remember to wear your eclipse safety glasses for all stages of the eclipse except for the totality.
Thanks for letting me share,
Speaking of sharing our experiences, here are a few of my shots from this weeks NASA and SpaceX CSR-12 launch. Big thanks to NASA for allowing photographer’s access to shoot these events. The Dragon spacecraft atop the rocket in these pictures docked with the International Space Station just a couple days ago with a laundry list of awesome science experiments and cargo. There’s even a huge experiment on board that might lead us closer towards a cure for Parkinson’s disease. If you’ve never experienced a rocket launch live in person, it’s probably up there with an event like the moon passing in perfect alignment with the Sun and the Earth. Plus with the frequency that Kennedy Space Center is launching rockets nowadays if you’re in the area your chances of seeing one are very high. I can’t recommend it enough.
In January 1927, the first ever color photograph taken underwater appeared in National Geographic. The picture introduces us to a hogfish living it up in the Florida Keys, and underwater flash photography was born. Photographer Charles Martin, with an autochrome camera, teamed up with marine biologist Dr. William Longley, and together, they headed to the Florida Keys. The biggest problem they faced was underwater illumination, and they solved it with magnesium flash powder. That’s right, explosives! And those of us who remember film days thought developer was nasty!
That little hogfish changed the course of photographic history forever. It’s been ninety years since the days of Martin and Longley’s experiments, and underwater photography has progressed by leaps and bounds. Modern camera and lighting technologies have made it possible for us to explore the beautiful underwater world and to take our love for water, photography, and creativity to new heights.
…or should I say depths.
I have always had two passions: photography and the water. I picked up my mom’s camera when I was ten years old and never put it down: I knew I wanted to make pictures. After high school, I attended the University of Florida and then moved to Daytona Beach where I worked on various projects and building my book. I got the opportunity to head to Los Angeles and work for Turbo Magazine & Import Tuner. After a few years on staff, I decided to branch out on my own again and started pursuing a career in advertising, working in all creative aspects from photography to creative direction to production. Growing up in Florida I played in the ocean, springs, and rivers. Later, I would also dive them and complete instructor level training with the 2 top SCUBA agencies in the world, PADI & NAUI, and becoming a NAUI certified SCUBA instructor. Then, eleven years ago I combined both my passions and started focusing on underwater photography and I’ve never looked back.
Let’s be honest, underwater photography looks awesome. It is eye-catching and different, and it gives us a view into a world that most of us do not get to see every day. Using a camera underwater can be difficult, with many more challenges than we face on dry land. How many have tried it with a disposable camera on vacation, a GoPro, an iPhone housing or even the ol’ “fish tank in the pool,” only to come back with lackluster images?
I know I have. But that was part of the learning curve, and there are different techniques needed for underwater photography that I have picked up over the years. Hopefully these pro-tips will get you started whether you are a new to photography or a pro making the transition to the underwater world.
1. SAFETY This is something we don’t normally think about in our daily photography, but it is the most important. Make sure you are a good swimmer and are comfortable in the water. Safety must come first. If you don’t feel good about swimming without a camera, you are putting yourself in danger when you add a camera to the mix. You don’t want to be thinking about keeping your equipment safe or adjusting your camera settings when you should be focused on safety. If you are going into deep water, make sure you have experience with snorkel or scuba gear and that operating this equipment is second-nature for you. Learn to dive properly first! You can’t focus on buoyancy control, camera and strobe settings, and composition all at the same time, so you should have enough diving experience that you do the buoyancy control part automatically.
2. CAMERA & HOUSINGS The best quality underwater photography is still pretty expensive. However, you can still get some decent images on a budget. On the low end, a GoPro can do a pretty good job as an entry into underwater photography. However, it is limited by the fact that there are no manual controls. Some “waterproof” point-and-shoot cameras can do a little better job, certainly the ones that have manual controls and that you put into a housing. The best option is to use a DSLR with a waterproof housing with strobes.
3. GET CLOSE And then get closer! All those little particles in the water between you and your subject are called “backscatter,” and cause images to look less clear and more hazy, especially when light hits them. The closer you are to the subject, the fewer problems you will have with clarity and contrast. This means that most of the time you will be using a wide angle lens underwater. Telephoto lenses will not work very well shooting through a large volume of water.
Pro Tip: While you want to get close, do not chase the marine life. Doing so never got an underwater photographer anywhere except back on the surface, quickly, with a memory card full of bad shots. Be patient, set up your shot, and wait for the scene to develop. It doesn’t matter how good of a swimmer you are; the fish are faster.
4. BRING BACK THE LIGHT Water is nearly 800 times as dense as air, and it sucks out color from full spectrum light. Specific frequencies of ambient light get absorbed at different depths. Remember the mnemonic ROYGBIV (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) from high school chemistry?
Underwater, red nearly disappears at around 5 meters (16.5 ft.), followed by orange at 10 meters (33 ft.), yellow at 20 meters (66 ft.), green at 30 meters (99 ft.) and eventually even blue at 60 meters (198 ft.). In other words, there are not many colors left at deeper depths. That’s why so many underwater images look blue and lack color contrast. The best solution is to add artificial lighting by using underwater strobes that will bring back color, create contrast, accentuate textures, and retain details that were lost from the water’s absorption of natural light. After purchasing a camera and housing, strobes are arguably the best investment you can make to improve your underwater photography.
Pro Tip: If you don’t have strobes, they miss-fire, or your subject is just too big, try black and white and boost the clarity & contrast!
5. ALWAYS SHOOT RAW The flexibility of RAW files will allow you to bring back some of the contrast and color to your photos. Also, there will be a blue cast to most of your images since many of the warmer red wavelengths don’t make it into deeper water. You can use RAW adjustments to help balance out the color spectrum.
6. SHUTTER SPEED Shooting around 1/125th will freeze motion underwater and still leave a good amount of ambient light in your scene. Move your shutter speed up a couple of stops to darken the background or down a couple of stops to have a lighter blue. Make sure you know what your camera’s sync speed is to avoid that annoying black bar from crossing your photo.
7. GO MANUAL Beginning your underwater photography foray in “auto mode” is not a problem, but eventually you will want to start using manual controls. While “auto” or “program” works fine on land, those settings were designed for shooting in air, not water. Additionally, if you are using an external strobe, you will want to manually control your exposure, as your camera won’t be able to automatically balance the natural light in the scene with the additional light from the strobe. TTL can be a mixed bag and it’s not consistent underwater.
Pro Tip: Light is quickly lost the deeper you go, so you will want to bump up that ISO. With modern DSLRs ISO sensitivity isn’t much of a problem, and you can easily shoot at 400 or 800 with no noise.
8. THE RIGHT LENS Unlike topside photography, not all lenses are best suited for underwater use. Deciding which lenses are most useful actually goes back to rule number 3: the need to get close. Because you are forced to be in close proximity with your subject, you will need to use lenses with close minimum focus distances. This is why underwater photography is usually categorized into either macro or wide-angle, as the lenses that work best for shooting close are macro or extreme wide-angle lenses. Midrange zooms tend to have minimum focus distances that are too far for underwater photography, so you can leave that kit lens on land.
9. SHOOT UP! Underwater subjects look better when shooting them with a slight upward angle. The tendency to shoot down is a more natural one, as we are usually swimming with the reef below us, but images of the tops of most subjects shot this way are almost never appealing. By shooting up, you can include the water column in your image and can create necessary contrast between the foreground subject and the background.
Pro Tip: Try shooting with the sun behind your subject for a nice back light.
10. DO THE SPLITS And use a big dome. A good split-shot is comprised of several elements: a strong topside scene, a strong underwater scene, and an interesting water line across the frame. The larger the dome port, the more surface area to create this water line. The big dome provides more room for the waterline to move up and down on the dome while still splitting the water. Shoot wide or with a fisheye, because you want to have plenty of room for both under water and topside scenery.
Don’t forget, shooting split-shots is similar to landscape and close-focus wide-angle photography in that you need a large depth of field in order to keep the entire image in focus. In most split-shot scenes, there’s an underwater subject, say a stingray, within a meter or two of the lens and also a topside subject that can be anywhere from three meters to hundreds of meters away. Stopping down to a low f-stop like f16 allows you to keep both scenes in focus, including the water’s surface just in front of the dome.
Pro Tip: The best split-shot will be unusable if blurred out by water droplets on the dome. My preferred method of keeping those drops off the dome is to use my custom mask antifog: baby shampoo. That’s right, this is the good stuff. Putting a dab on the dome, rubbing it in, then dunking it a few times will help shed water and give you a few minutes to capture a spot-free image. In a pinch try licking your dome, it may be a little salty, but the photos will be sweet.
Remember, underwater photography is all about being safe and having fun. Taking pictures underwater is a completely unique experience, and by following a few of these tips you will be producing stunning images that your land-lubbing photography friends will drool over.
My last tip for the day something I tell every student, diver, and photographer: Take nothing but photos and leave nothing but bubbles.
Hello internets! It’s that time of week again! #TravelTuesday here on ScottKelby.com is #HybridDaveTuesdays, where I’ll share some top tips on photography and Photoshop from my background in travel photography. Thanks for your feedback from last week—I love hearing from you, keep it up!
Now for this week, let’s have a look at a common theme on Instagram right now. Take a look around and it’s clear to see that a distinct winner among the top photos in the explore section is photos with crushed blacks. That’s to say that the black point isn’t quite black. You only have to check out the likes of @MrWhisper (well worth a follow, a fellow Londonite) to see that the popularity of this technique is standing head and shoulders above the rest.
When describing this look, it’s common to hear ‘retro,’ ‘vintage,’ ‘milky blacks,’ or ‘crushed blacks.’ In Adobe Photoshop, there’s no button labelled ‘vintage,’ but I’ll show you the basics behind this look, so you can apply it to your own images. It’s worth noting that there’s not one right way to do it, but there are a number of techniques which all achieve similar results, depending on the look of your initial image. To put it in it’s simplest terms, it’s basically the opposite of HDR. Instead of increasing the dynamic range of our image, we decrease it. It may seem a little counterintuitive, in fact, because we’ve been rewarded by our favourite camera companies with some fantastic technological advances, which have allowed us to capture a much broader dynamic range, and we’re post processing to reduce it! We have the ability to make the blacks true black in post, then we go and brighten the blacks! This low-contrast look is popular, but it doesn’t always fit, so it’s important to know the right time to use it.
Here’s a straightforward technique that I use in Photoshop’s Curves panel:
We’ll deliberately introduce some clipping to our image using the Curves panel. For the dark areas, bring the left point of the line slightly up, which raises the brightness of the darkest areas of the image, and slightly to the right, which will reduce the detail. To bring the highlights down, do the opposite on the top right of the line.
The Curves adjustment tool can seem pretty intimidating, but if you play around with it to understand what’s happening, it can be very useful and powerful! It represents a histogram of the image, depicting the dark areas of the image on the left and the light areas on the right. The diagonal line is used to manipulate the brightness of different areas of the image.
So there you have it! Tones made simple—a top tip they don’t tell you! Show me how you get on, as you always do.
It’s one of the hardest things we have to do as photographers — to look at our work and decide whether it’s a good image or not. Is it good enough to put in my portfolio? Good enough to share with my photo club? Good enough to put on 500px.com, or on Facebook? Is it good enough to enter a competition or submit to a magazine? Can I get client work with this image?
Part of the challenge of evaluating your own images is that you have emotion attached to those images. You see and feel things in that image the rest of the world doesn’t see. For example, when you look at your image, you might remember:
How hard it was to create.
How much fun you had the day you took that shot.
Maybe it’s a type of shot you’ve always wanted to take.
Perhaps you were with your family when you took it, and it reminds you of a great vacation?
You’re proud of the post-processing you did. It’s the best you’ve done so far.
Maybe it was the first shot you made with that new lens you bought.
Or maybe there’s just “something about it” that strikes you.
You see some or all of that in the image you took of that tree. But to everyone else, your cherished photo of a tree is just that — a photo of a tree.
We’ve all seen trees before. To you, it’s a special tree in some way (maybe one of the reasons I listed above). To us, it’s just a tree. That’s part of the reason why it’s so hard to evaluate your own images, and why it’s so easy for others to quickly see if it’s a good image or not — they have zero emotion attached to that shot — it’s either a good photo, or it’s not, and that’s instantly clear to people who have no emotional attachment to it.
It helps to know there are two sides to evaluating any image… …and they couldn’t be farther apart from each other:
(1) Technical or Foundational evaluation These are the easiest to identify because we have a basic set of guidelines about whether an image is technically correct. Stuff like “Is the horizon-line straight?” or “Is the image sharp?” This is the stuff that often ruins good photos, but on the other hand, if you get every one of the technical things right on the money, it can still be a boring, soul-less, nothing of a photo. Nailing all the technical stuff won’t, by itself, make a good photo but making technical mistakes sure can sink a good one.
(2) The Artistic or Creative Side This one is 100% totally subjective. One person can love a particular image, and another person may not like it at all. It’s art. It’s subjective. If you did the technical stuff in number one correctly, then you can focus on evaluating the photo’s artistic merit. One way is to honestly ask yourself if someone was looking at this would they find it fascinating or beautiful or intriguing? Does the image tell a story they would want to know more about, does it have that special something that moves them in some way? Does it have something that elicits an emotional response of some sort? Happiness? Sadness? Anger? Laughter? Joy? Longing? Interest? Pride? Surprise? Wonder?
If it’s a picture of the old bridge in your home town — one that the locals pass by every day, it had better be a pretty awesome photo, showing that bridge from an angle or perspective they haven’t seen before, or it has to be in unusually dramatic light or beautiful light that it’s seldom seen in, or something that makes this photo of the bridge special, or they’re going to look at it and say, “Yup, that’s the old bridge.”
That’s why the technical side of evaluation is so much easier It’s well defined. You either did the right thing right or you didn’t. However, a technically correct image is only the foundation of how images are evaluated. It’s that “other stuff” – the creativity, the light, the moment, the story, or a magical combination of all that that creates an image that makes people say “wow.” I wish I could tell you exactly how to make an image like that. I wish it was that easy. I wish it was as easy as the technical side, but it’s where the real magic of photography lies.
Let’s Start With The Technical Part The foundational stuff. I think I can help with that, but before I get to that, I have to tell you this: Once a month on ‘The Grid’ (my weekly photography show) I ask our viewers to submit images for a “Blind Critique” (it’s blind because we don’t know or reveal the photographer’s name on the air. The reason is so we can give honest critiques without publically humiliating or embarrassing anyone). It’s hard to get an honest critique of one’s work these days. Your spouse isn’t going to tell you the truth about your images. Neither are your friends or co-workers. Neither will people online (well, there’s always that one guy, right?). So, we try and give an honest critique and give pointers on how to make that image, or that photographer in general, better. Sometimes people send in images that are so good all we can say is “keep up the good work,” but most times we’re able to help with suggestions of what they could do to improve, both in camera and in post processing.
One of the most frustrating parts of being one of the critiquers (if that’s even a word) is that we see people making the exact same fundamental, technical mistakes each time we do critiques. Worst of all, some of these images could have been really great images if they had just paid attention to some of the technical parts, because those technical flaws are so obvious, that it kills the creativity and art of the image.
Some people would argue that it doesn’t matter if there are technical problems however, I would offer that those are the very people who are making technical mistakes and don’t want it held against them or their images. I would say to them — why would you let basic technical mistakes in your image take the viewers mind off the story you’re trying to tell, or the scene you’re trying to capture, or the emotion you’re trying to share?
Sometimes, an image is so strong that we can look past the fundamental technical aspects and just enjoy it for what it is. Sometimes we get lucky and capture an incredible frame despite doing a lot of things wrong, but luck isn’t a good strategy for creating wonderful images (though I’m happy to welcome luck with open arms anytime it appears in front of my camera).
Harder Than I Thought I wanted to help all those folks who struggle with the fundamentals, so on Friday of last week, I went into our studio and recorded one of the hardest courses I’ve taught in a while. It was hard on a lot of different levels. One part was that I had to share over 100 of my really bad images throughout the class to use as examples of what not to do (including some really cringe-worthy stuff). Stuff I shot years ago. Some more recently, sadly. All that sharing of awful images with an audience of other photographers — that isn’t fun. The other part was conveying the message in a way that wouldn’t make the viewer think that just nailing the technical stuff was enough. It’s not.
I also fretted a lot with my idea of creating downloadable checklists the students could download for each genre I covered in the course (they included Landscape, Natural Light Portraits, Studio Portraiture, Travel, and Location Portraits using Flash). I finally decided to do it but I was careful to remind my students that it is NOT a checklist for seeing if you made a great image. It’s a checklist to see if you covered the fundamentals, and sidestepped some of the traps that ruin otherwise great photos. It’s a learning tool. Not a set of laws.
My video team tells me it’ll be about six weeks before the course comes out because we already have a bunch of courses in the production cue. I am really looking forward to getting it out there, because I think it has the potential to help a lot of people (plus, seeing 100+ of my worst images is probably just good for people’s souls). ;-)
I hope this post helps you realize that the technical stuff, this ground level stuff of photography, is important enough that you should be taking it into account when you’re making images. The technical parts of photography are not laws written in stone, and some of the greatest photos in history have some of these same flaws. Sometimes when I see one of those, I think, “Man, that is an amazing photo! Too bad they didn’t…” – see what I mean? Don’t let there be a “but…” after your photo. Learn the fundamental stuff, and apply it when you can to get that technical junk out of the way, so we can enjoy your story, the emotion, the light, the scene, and viewing your image without any “buts.”
Hope that got you thinkin’ :)
P.S.I’m in Los Angeles today teaching my Lightroom seminar. Between LA, San Francisco on Wednesday and Seattle on Friday, I’ll be training just over 1,000 photographers. I hope you’re one of them. :)
Happy Friday, everybody! One quick thing, then Photoshop time!
I’m going back to Cali… I’m teaching my Lightroom seminar on Monday in LA, Wednesday in San Francisco, and Friday in Seattle. It’s not too late to come out and join me. :) Sunday night I’m doing a talk at the Canon Experience Center in Costa Mesa. It’s gonna be a busy week!
Photoshop Buried Treasure Time I’ve got another in my series on Photoshop Buried Treasure, and this one is about two little known “Recently Used” menus — one for recently used brushes and one for recently used color swatches. Best of all, it’s all automatic (you just need to know where to look).
If you open the Brush Presets panel (under the Window menu); if you look at the top the panel, you’ll see the last seven brushes you’ve used appear across the top of the panel (as seen above).
Same thing with the color Swatches panel (also found under the Window menu); it puts your last 13 color swatches right across the top of the panel (seen circled above).
Kinda hidden, but kinda handy! :)
We’re only a week in, and things are jumpin!!! Here’s a quick look at some stats, as of yesterday:
> We have 856 Leaders approved for walks
> We have nearly 400 Photowalks up and active
> 66 Leadershave created walks, but haven’t released them publically yet
That’s an awesome start for Week One (can’t believe we already have 400 Photo Walks up and running — that is outstanding! Way to go everybody!
I have just four openings left for my Photo Walk in Lisbon, Portugal. :)
Have a great weekend, everybody and we’ll catch ya back here on Monday. :)
P.S.I’m excited to announce we’ve added family and newborn photographer (and KelbyOne Instructor), Tracy Sweeney to the Photoshop World Conference 2018 Instructor Roster. She is absolutely awesome (and a favorite with KelbyOne members). She is gonna rock it! :)