Use every trick in the book to become a better photographer

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Words/photographs: Tony Eveling

Part 4 of 8…..Have a go at everything! Photography is fun and creative, and so be creative and see what happens….

Moving on from good old-fashioned snobbery, but still related to that, is to embrace all forms of photography, post-processing, styles and genres. Have fun and experiment.

If something new comes out that catches your attention, there will always be people who roll their eyes back and dismiss it. Fast forward 5 years and those eye-rollers are all pretending to be early adopters!

I say don’t roll your eyes back…go and have a look, you won’t know if something is good or bad unless you find out for yourself.

Use every trick in the book to become a better photographer
Epping Forest

Part 4 of a series of 8 articles that are non technical, that describe my own attitude to photography. My aim is to reinforce the fact that photography in all its forms and formats is fun, highly creative, enjoyable and rewarding. From HDR to smartphones to instagram to large format black and white….Find a little corner that fits your personality and lifestyle…and allow your unique creativity to flourish

when Holga cameras had a bit of a comeback a few years ago (maybe 8 or 9 years ago), it became very popular, because it was fun and Holga cameras produced photographs with a look that was different from conventional cameras.

Now, in recent years, there are filters and effects that use software to create the effect without hardware, and messy film processing.

So what was all the fuss about? Holga cameras are cheap plastic cameras with cheap plastic lenses, and the camera body leaks light. So you get a lot of distortion in the image and the light leaks add colour casts and affect contrast.

But moving on from that, introducing light leaks and color casts using post processing software was and is very creative.

For me, the film processing required for genuine Holga photography is just too cumbersome now. I am so used to the ease of digital, that even a little fun with film is too much effort for me!

However for some, revisiting film would be a rewarding experience for some people, and if you choose an old defunct film camera for a few pounds/euros/dollars you will often get a unique look that gives your photography a distinct style.

If you couple that with good photography ideas, good technique and composition and you will create appealing photography unique to you.

For me though, I am a lazy photographer. I have tried some of the above, but I always come back to digital. For me it is just easier and the immediacy suits my personality.

You have to do what suits your personality, to the exclusion of all online ‘advice’.

One of the hardware related things I do is to create high resolution multiple image stitched photographs, not necessarily panoramic, but sometimes a twenty image photo using a 50mm lens creates a final image that cannot be achieved any other way. Again, experimentation and trial and error got me there, and it’s a flavour of photography that I find greatly satisfying.

I would never have got there though if I hadn’t tried something new. That is the key…don’t dismiss things as gimmicky, go out and have a go. The worse that can happen is that you know for sure that you don’t like something.

Epping Forest, England, UK
Epping Forest, England, UK

The above is about 20 images stitched together to form one image. It was the only way to effectively depict what I saw in my minds eye.

What inspired me was the graphic and angular shapes made by the branches.

In reality the tree trunk at the bottom was straight ahead of me and the branches at the top were above my head when I looked straight up. The best way to depict this as a flat image was to take 20 50mm images and stitch and flatten them in Hugin software to create the look and feel that I wanted

After all these years I still find Hugin software both faster and more accurate than Lightroom and Photoshop.

Phone photography used to be dismissed when smartphones were invented. Now they are a fully fledged option for photographers. The smartphone has an immediacy that no other photography has. It’s informal and fun and can be online in seconds!

Instagram started off being dismissed as unworthy by some photographers, Adding Instagram filters and gathering loads of followers seemed to really irritate some photographers. Now it is pretty much universally accepted.

That’s why we should try everything and dismiss nothing.

Applying instant filters like instagram will not turn you into a great photographer, but it will bring out a feeling from the photograph that may have been there at the time of capture, but got lost somewhere in translation.

If you don’t try, then how will you know that it will or won’t work for your photography?

The four forest photographs below was an experiment that I liked the result of. A series of ten images have been posted in the gallery section of my website. These were produced using Nik Software’s Analog Efex Pro, but this kind of thing can be created using Instagram and other software.

So have a go yourself and have some fun too.

What it does is create a stylistic similarity between images that joins them up. So that although the colouring is different, they become linked by style and subject.

There is no replacement for good ideas, moments of inspiration and good composition.

But for me, photo manipulation on a computer is essential, and critically important.

The way that I make photographs means that I consider light as being a component of composition. And as photo manipulation programs like Photoshop and Lightroom manipulate recorded light, it makes photo manipulation an essential layer in my picture making process.

If you look at my images most may look quite literal, but they differ significantly from what my cameras sensor offered me. Sensors record light, and software presents that light to you as a viewable picture.

If you don’t post process your own images then you are allowing your camera to apply its own post processing, which usually means you get a more bland an image than if you processed it yourself.

Have a look at my before and after page on my website for examples of what my sensor gave me, and what I ended up with.

Every photograph I take needs significant processing to get it back to what I saw, not only what I saw in reality, but also what I saw in my minds eye.

And to get a picture looking like I want, I will do anything absolutely anything. Why wouldn’t I?

Other compositions of mine are benefited by the application of HDR software.

I will use every trick in the book.

Photoshop curves, and slider prejudice

I do use curve presets (that I have created) in Photoshop, and I have a plentiful supply of Lightroom presets that I have created over the years. I use them all the time.

It seems perfectly acceptable to me that after I’ve gone half way round the world to get a set of photographs, that I then post process them to my own particular taste.

If someone online mocks me for spending an hour post processing an image I really like, I’m going to ignore them. Your images are precious and you should treat them to the best post processing you can.

My processing techniques often add colour casts in a uniform and predictable way, which allows me to create a look that is consistent throughout a series of images. Like these for instance

In modern photo manipulation software, all sliders are very sophisticated and should be investigated to see if they fit in to your own workflow.

There used to be a time in Photoshop when sliders destroyed pixels. The Brightness and contrast slider would destroy the image. The only credible alternative was to use the curve function.

Photoshop, Lightroom and all other post processing software have long since resolved this problem, but this ‘prejudice’ about using sliders remained for a number of years.

Usually if someone tells you the only way to manipulate an image is to use curves, it’s probably because of this lingering prejudice about sliders that was eradicated by Adobe and everyone else about 15 years ago!

Actually if you use Photoshop, a lot of the sliders have a ‘legacy’ version. The legacy versions are the original pixel damaging versions, so you’ll be able to see the damage they did. But you still might want to use them, if only from a stylistic point of view.

The point that I’m making is that you should try everything. Do not flinch, just try it. If it’s new, try it. People mocked Instagram as superficial piffle when it came out, and now look at it.

Try to always be an early adopter.

So get out there and play!

As a photographer I only care about the final image. I don’t really care how I get there as long as the photography (compositionally) is high quality.

Technical quality is secondary to the composition of the photo. Plus a bit of creativity can always get around such ‘problems’

So, anyway, enough of that…Before I end this topic I just want to talk a little bit more about the software side of things…

Most software like Nik Software, or Topaz, or Photomatix have trial versions.

There are now some competent Lightroom alternatives like Luminar and ON1

You should download them and trial them…they are at the very least, good fun.

My own software of choice is the subscription version of Lightroom and Photoshop, plus I have an older free copy of Nik Software, which I used to use all the time, but I just use Lightroom these days…

How you take and process your images is entirely up to you. My only advice is to try everything, experiment and treat photography like one big adventure!

Don’t be worried about using HDR software or whatever. The thing is that sometimes you may have a great composition, that will only reach its full potential after significant post processing.

Also, don’t be scared of taking technically ‘poor’ images. What matters is the composition

Take the picture regardless, and have lots of fun!

For me a photograph is a unique thing, and what I see in my minds eye at the time of capture, is rarely if ever what I see on my computer screen after the initial conversion from RAW file.

What happens next is whatever is needed to re-create what I saw in my minds eye, because what I see in my minds eye is the photo, not the numerical values recorded on the camera sensor.

And I will use any trick or technique available to me in order to get the photo looking right.

HDR, Black and white conversion, heavy vignette, light vignette, colour, or just a bit of contrast using the slider, I don’t care, as long as I get there.

Because if it looks right, then it is right.

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  • Thank you so much for this insightful article. I have been taking photos with Google Glass and editing them with a combination of the G+ photoediting tools (which now incorporate Snapseed), MS Paint, and Photobucket. I will try Nik, based on your recommendation. I can’t afford Photoshop so is there any other affordable editing software that I can use with Glass?

    • Thanks very much for the comment!

      I use Nik Software as a photoshop plugin, and although I have used it (briefly) as a standalone application I am not sure it was designed to be standalone, so you should check in the Nik Software forums first before buying, so that you can see what the experts say!.

      But don’t forget you can download the trial version of Nik (from Google) and see if it works for you.

      You can also download a trial version of Adobe lightroom, so you can see if you like that combination. (Lightroom is much cheaper than photoshop)

      Both Nik and Adobe offer the full version for 2 and 4 weeks respectively. Try before you buy!!

      But Nik is in my opinion head and shoulders better (and more suitable for me) than software like Topaz.

      Also, don’t forget GIMP, which is an open source (free!) photo manipulation program. This software is as ‘professional’ as Photoshop in terms of quality and is similar in format and functionality.

      I do know that people write free plugins for GIMP and one plugin is one that allows third party Photoshop plugins like Nik Software to be used as a GIMP plugin. Again I don’t have full details, so you will need to checkout the forums to get advice.

      I tried to get used to using GIMP, but because I already had Photoshop, I always used that instead. But it is very good, sophisticated software.

      I am not familiar with Google Glass at all…..

      I hope that is a little bit helpful…! And, happy snapping!

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