Use every trick in the book to become a better photographer

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

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

Epping Forest
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, it became very popular, because it was fun and Holga cameras produced photographs with a look that was different from conventional cameras.

I am not saying that photographers should drop everything and go and buy a cheap Holga, it’s just an example of how trying new things will help you be more creative.

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. And it is that look that appealed to people. Both the professional and amateur photographic community embraced the new, old technology. The Pros made a bit of money and the Amateurs had fun. And everybody created unique photography in some way and learnt a little something that maybe they didn’t know before. So, in principle, that has to be a good thing

Revisiting film can be a rewarding experience, 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, personally, I am a lazy photographer. I have tried all of the above, but I always come back to digital. For me it is just easier and the immediacy suits my personality.

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

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

Epping Forest, UK. The above image looks literal, but it’s not. This 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. But 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 30 50mm images and stitch and flatten them in Hugin software to create the look and feel that I wanted

And that brings me to the software for processing digital images. There are three main types of digital camera that is financially accessable to most. And they are the compact camera, the DSLR, and the smartphone.

Phone photography has an immediacy that no other photography has. It’s informal and fun and hurts no one!

That style of taking photographs goes hand in hand with software like instagram, and the instant processing effects that can be applied to a photo.

This is often dismissed as unworthy by some photographers, but if you are an enthusiast and you love photography, then try it, have a go. Create something fun or exciting or compelling in some way. And then you will know if it suits you or not.

But don’t dismiss it just because a few million teenagers around the world are using it to document trivial things badly!

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 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. But what the default values gives you is often a bland rendition of what I saw.

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? I will use every trick in the book.

I do use curve presets (that I have created) for a particular look for a photograph that I like and then store them for future use. They usually 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

Using curves is important in my post processing, but I only use
them for compositions where I think they are needed. I use curves
as a sophisticated brightness and contrast setting, and a lot of the
time they can be replaced by the contrast/brightness slider.

Random tip

My advice is not to use curves for colour correction. That is
something that was promoted 10 years or so ago, and I have no
idea why. Adjusting colour, contrast and brightness using curves can be a bit of a random exercise at times. Colour correct an image using white balance if you are converting a RAW file, or use temp/tint sliders if you are processing a file in Photoshop (called the ‘color balance’ adjustment in Photoshop – look for the weighing-scales symbol) or Nik Software or some other such software.

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

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

Used sensibly, sliders do no harm to your image and the results can be more predictable than playing around with curves, and other more ‘advanced’ tools

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.

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

My own software of choice is Photoshop (not CC) coupled with Nik Software. Since Nik was taken over by Google it has become a single piece of software for a relatively cheap price that in my opinion has the best HDR software and the best Black and White conversion software on the market. And that is just a fraction of what it can do. I personally use it all the time and love it!

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 software like Instagram, you may find a use for it, like some of your ‘rejects may look great with an Instagram makeover

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

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 that is the photo. 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.

  • 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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