What you get is not what you see (at first)
Like a lot of my photographer friends with an online presence, I get a lot of emails and messages asking me about how I create my images. I can’t really say that I have one set workflow that applies to all images I work on on my computer. Each one requires a different approach, even if some things remain constant. Sure I use Lightroom, Photoshop, and a host of third party plugins but I’m not going to write about those things today.
Today I wanted to share some before and after photos from my archives and talk about some of what it takes to create on of my images in terms of trying to re-create what I am seeing when I capture the initial exposures. The job of a photographer has never ended with the click of a button — That’s not even where it begins. In fact, it’s just a midway point in the creative process of producing a final good photograph.
To see the before and after effects on the photos, just slide the bar in the middle of the photo with your mouse by clicking and dragging. This should work on most up to date browsers like Safari, Chrome, and Firefox.
For those of you that can’t see the images with the slider, I’ve added a slideshow:
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Is it Magic?
In a word… Yes.
I don’t mean that in a smart ass way, but in a true sense of mystery about the creative process of art. I want to learn how to do every kind of photography! I have some exceptionally talented photographer friends who’s work I absolutely adore. Much of what they do, to me, is magic.
“Art is magic… But how is it magic? In its metaphysical development? Or does some final transformation culminate in a magic reality? In truth, the latter is impossible without the former. If creation is not magic, the outcome cannot be magic.”
If I knew how to do all the cool things that these photographers do, their work would seem less extraordinary and brilliant. In a way, I’m glad I don’t know how they do some of the post processing and lighting that makes their photography stand out. My ignorance adds to the mystique of their creative photography.
I knew my ignorance would pay off one day!
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I love this quote by Degas (I also love his art).
“It is all very well to copy what one sees, but it is far better to draw what one now only sees in one’s memory. That is a transformation in which imagination collaborates with memory.”
To me, the process of editing my images is much like a painter working on a canvas from memory. The scenes I photograph are not always shot at the perfect time of day so I have my work cut out for me when I begin the editing process. No matter what the scene looked like to my eye when I was there, there is little chance that the camera sensor will be able to capture the dynamic range of light of the location in the photograph I am taking.
I’ll see a lot more detail in the highlights and shadows of the scene in front of my camera than the sensor will capture in a single exposure. So I take many different exposures (from 3 to 14) and blend selected exposures together on my computer using a series of techniques one of which is HDR or High Dynamic Range imaging.
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I’ll let Wikipedia explain the technical details of HDR imaging:
“In image processing, computer graphics, and photography, high dynamic range imaging (HDRI or just HDR) is a set of techniques that allows a greater dynamic range between the lightest and darkest areas of an image than current standard digital imaging techniques or photographic methods. This wide dynamic range allows HDR images to represent more accurately the range of intensity levels found in real scenes, ranging from direct sunlight to faint starlight, and is often captured by way of a plurality of differently exposed pictures of the same subject matter.
In simpler terms, HDR is a range of techniques geared toward representing more contrast in pictures. Non-HDR cameras take pictures at a single exposure level with a limited contrast range. This results in the loss of detail in bright or dark areas of a picture, depending on whether the camera had a low or high exposure setting. HDR compensates for this loss of detail by taking multiple pictures at different exposure levels and intelligently stitching them together so that we eventually arrive at a picture that is representative in both dark and bright areas.
The two main sources of HDR imagery are computer renderings and merging of multiple low-dynamic-range (LDR) or standard-dynamic-range (SDR) photographs. Tone-mapping techniques, which reduce overall contrast to facilitate display of HDR images on devices with lower dynamic range, can be applied to produce images with preserved or exaggerated local contrast for artistic effect.”
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Now most of the photo enthusiasts who read my blog will know most of this technical stuff already, but I thought it would be cool to share a bit of the not so technical parts of the process and how I see it in terms of art.
Getting back to what Degas said, I believe that my photos (most of the time) are a truer representation of what I saw as I was shooting the scene. The photo of the canoes at sunset is a great example of this. I vividly remember that scene as being breathtaking, however, in the before photo we see little sky detail and the glow of the sunset is pale in comparison to the sunset that I remember.
If exposed for the sky, you would see more vibrancy in the sunset and details in the clouds, but then the canoes would have been silhouetted and that’s not what I saw with my eyes. To me, I’m painting the scene from memory when I edit the photo on my computer. Is it a true representation of what I saw? Probably not, but I’m not going for accuracy; I’m striving for a beautiful photo.
I’ll leave the accurate images to the photojournalists. Even with photojournalism, I often wonder how using black and white images is acceptable but what I do with my images would be considered “altering” reality.
“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.”
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In the end, the images that I create and share here on my blog are just my interpretation of what I saw and experienced. I think the same can be said about all photography. The style is evolving with time and I’m looking to take what I do to new levels all the time. This can mean trying to improve my craft in a myriad of ways including going to new and exciting locations, trying out some new gear, or testing new software that allows me to be more creative.
“If you want to take better photos, stand in front of better things.”
I’m looking forward to standing in front of a lot better things than my computer monitor in the weeks ahead. Once I’m back from these series of trips, I’ll be sharing some new photos, adventures, and I’ll be adding some new sections to the blog including a section on iPhoneography. I’ll be reviewing travel gear, iPhone camera apps, professional photo software and more.
Enjoy more travel photos and stories: