Image Evaluation

Greetings photo enthusiasts!

I'd like to start by saying, Happy Thanksgiving to all of you...whether you celebrate it or not. So begins the race toward the holidays and we're all getting a bit stressed out about now. Just take a deep will be 2017 soon enough.

I've been thinking about my photo critique series. I've gotten lots of submissions and am slowly getting to working on them. It occurred to me, I really don't like being a critic. The word itself is a bit ugly in most people's minds. I get uncomfortable telling somebody that there might be something about an image that they could or should change. Who am I to be that person? I've been told "but you're good at it". Okay, I appreciate that very much but it doesn't make it any easier to essentially nit pick somebody's work. It's tough. I truly have to think about everything that I say since body language and tone are not discernible in written text. Having said that, I believe that having one's photo critiqued can be a great learning experience and this is why I decided to start providing the service. 

I have, however, decided to change the name of the series from Photo Critiques to Image Evaluations. I think the word itself, evaluation, is more indicative of what I'd like to provide. You'll find the text on my web site changed as well to reflect this new ideal. To be perfectly honest, it was all the "criticizing" that I've seen on line for the last 6 months (politically speaking) that prompted the change. I'm pretty much over everyone being so "critical" of everybody else without offering solutions. So I will no longer be a "critic". I choose to simply be, an evaluator of imagery. 

So here goes. My first "Image Evaluation" before the holiday rush.

This image was submitted a couple months ago. I really enjoy looking at it and truly wish I knew where it was taken. But, sometimes things are better left to the imagination and I should just enjoy it. 

One of the reasons I chose to evaluate this photo is not because there's anything that truly needs to be "fixed" or "changed" but rather, to show that there are always times to change the "rules". This image goes against the Rule of Thirds. For those who don't know, the rule of thirds states that if you divide an image or painting into 3 equal parts, that placing your subject either on one of the lines of thirds or where they intersect (think, Tic Tac Toe board), that this is more pleasing to the eye and impactful than if you placed the subject dead center. One popular occasion to go against this "rule" is when you have a reflection or radial symmetry like the images below. But just keep in mind...this rule is not actually a rule, just a suggestion! A suggestion you don't have to follow all the time. 

With the image submitted to me shown at the beginning of this article, I like that the artist has included both the foreground and the sky equally. The sky is interesting. It has great clouds, a splash of color, and just a tad of drama that should not be ignored. The foreground has the most wonderful curve with the winding river leading toward the background. This gives the image a feeling of movement, flow, and vastness. But the horizon is basically in the middle of the image. With the rule of thirds, this would be a classic no-no, but it works in this situation due to the other elements in the image. 

I do think this image could benefit from a bit of editing to make it pop a little more. I brought it into Color Efex Pro4 and added a Tonal Contrast filter to enhance contrast and a Foliage filter to bring out the greens. This could have just as easily been done in Lightroom with enhancing the blacks and going to the green hue and pushing it more toward the green end than the yellow end of the slider. It's amazing how just a couple tweaks of some sliders can make an image look very different and even change how it is perceived. 

I hope you have enjoyed this post. Feel free to share it if you think someone could benefit from the information. 

Happy Holidays! Never stop learning!


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Photo Critiques

Well, after evacuating from a hurricane for the first time in 16 years, (I was here for Floyd) I think it's time to get back to business. I hope that those of you who were affected by Hurricane Matthew are on the road to recovery. My thoughts are with you.

I've received a couple dozen images for photo critiques in the last month and have picked one at random to discuss. I hope that the information I provide here can help everyone reading this, regardless if it was your image to be selected. 

Here is the original image submitted via Dropbox. 

First I'd like to say, I really like the play of color and texture here. Complimentary colors are those that are opposites on the color wheel. Blue and yellow, and in this case, green and magenta are pitted against each other. Noticing natural color contrasts while you're out and about can greatly increase your ability to create a successful image. 

These are the questions I ask myself when I take just about any photo. It's a good practice to keep them in your head while you're learning...and try not to forget them when you're seasoned.  

What's my subject?

How do I focus attention on my subject?

How do I simplify the image?

What's my subject can be pretty obvious in the case of a portrait or a macro shot of a single flower, but it can be a little bit more tricky when photographing landscapes. Landscapes involve just about everything around us so the second and third questions become critical. How do I focus attention and how do I simplify?

In the image above I would first think that the subject is the forest floor or plant life. That's a pretty broad subject. In this case, I'm thinking (and I could be totally wrong) that the photographer was specifically interested in the pink rhododendron petal and how it plays into the whole image. It's a bright splash of pink in an otherwise somewhat monotone environment which makes it stand out. The textures of the ferns are also enticing as well as the lichen and moss on the rock. There's a lot going on here and I like it all! But sometimes just because we "like it all" doesn't mean we should try to include it all which brings me to the second question...focusing attention. This can be accomplished many ways, choice of depth of field, framing, lines and curves, etc... In this case, I think a simple crop will suffice to help focus more attention where it is needed. My eye is particularly pulled toward the right with the single fern leaf there. It's a nice subject, but perhaps nice in it's own right and should be an image all to itself. Ferns tend to get greedy that way!

First, I cropped the image. It may need more or less but you get the point.

This has helped not only focus attention on the subject, but it simplified the image as well. Got the last two questions in one step...more bang for your buck. The moral is, when in doubt, get closer. Sometimes less is more. I find that the "simplify" step is the one that people struggle with the most. After all, you're sitting there with the whole forest around you, the birds singing, the wind blowing, getting the whole experience. The viewer, however, is only looking at the 2 dimensional result and needs a little more help in getting that "feeling". Simplifying the image often accomplishes this. 

I took it a step further and did some simple dodging and burning with a 50% opacity layer in Photoshop. I've got a YouTube video on it and I find it one of the most valuable tools I use during photo editing...and it's just so darn easy once you learn it! Adjusting the "light" also helps focus attention on your subject. I darkened the "background" and lightened the petal and ferns a bit...and it makes a big difference as seen here. The one on the left is the original and the one on the right is the altered. I did nothing else to the image. Notice how the fern and petals appear more separated from the grassy areas. They appear to pop out just a bit, giving it a more 3 dimensional feel and pulling the viewer's attention to where you'd like it to be. This is a technique I use quite a bit to "guide" the eye through an image. 

I hope you have found this helpful in your own photography. Enjoy your weekend.

And keep those affected by Matthew in your thoughts. Many people lost their homes and some, even their loved ones. My heart aches for you.

I'm going to go hug my family now! :)

Composition For The Landscape Photographer


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Jump Into Infrared...Without The Commitment

Are you intrigued by infrared photography? Those etherial images where green trees turn white as if draped in snow, and blue skies become black as night. Well, I was...enough to convert a small point and shoot camera to try it out. While this won't be a post on how to convert or how to process...that's a whole class or two...I do need to tell you a couple things before I move on. There's a couple ways to get into Infrared photography. Every digital camera has an infrared blocking filter in it to record correct color images. You can remove this blocking filter which allows you to put IR filters of varying degrees on the front of your lenses for different effects. However, these filters are extremely dark and often lead to exposure times in the realm of minutes rather than seconds. A more popular option these days is to have a camera converted to infrared so that it only records IR light and some combinations of infrared and color. These cameras can be used like any other camera with regard to exposure times and you can get fast shutter speeds with great depth of field. However, once this is done, you can no longer use that camera body for regular color images. This is why I chose to convert a point and shoot camera. I was unsure if I wanted to devote one of my DSLR's to infrared and definitely unsure as to whether or not I wanted to carry both my color camera and an infrared DSLR in my camera bag. Heavy! But the drawback of a point and shoot's a point and shoot and I can't do some of the things that I'd like to do with my DSLR like shoot with very small apertures for increased depth of field. 

Well, thanks to the folks at Singh-Ray, I can have my cake and eat it too! I can do infrared with my DSLR without having to convert the camera AND without the exposure times in minutes. I ordered their new 690nm I-Ray filter that mimics the effect of a 590nm conversion on a camera. My point and shoot has a 590nm conversion from LifePixel and I have really enjoyed it. But with the limitations of the point and shoot and not wanting to lug around a converted DSLR, I chose the 690 I-Ray filter to use on my regular camera. It's just like any other filter that fits onto the front element of my lens. The exposure times are still longer than an unfiltered exposure, anywhere from 3 seconds to 20 seconds for most of my test shots, but I find that much more manageable than exposure times of several minutes. I can also use those slightly longer exposure times to my advantage for creative blurs in the field. 

Not only does the 690nm give you some options for creative blur, it also allows some of the visible color spectrum to be recorded on the sensor. So, after a bit of fancy processing, you can have fun with the combinations of color and infrared in your images. These next two images are examples of this technique. I find I use NIK's Viveza and Color Efex Pro quite a bit with my infrared images as the software speeds up the creative process. And note that your images may suffer from light leaks if you use these on a DSLR so cover your eyepiece and use a tripod to avoid shake.

I-Ray filter used on a reflection at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, Charleston SC. 

I-Ray filter used on a reflection at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, Charleston SC. 

I-Ray used for a scene at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, Charleston SC.

I-Ray used for a scene at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, Charleston SC.

Here is a "traditional" look for infrared. This is simply a photo of fern leaves in a conservatory. If taken in color and turned to black and white, the leaves would turn darker, not lighter. With infrared, you can use this to your advantage to create dynamic, high contrast images that entice the viewer. I felt the traditional black and white worked well with this scene. 

So if you feel like giving infrared a try and don't want to convert your camera, the I-RAY filters are a great option. Personally, I love being able to switch to infrared on a dime just by adding a filter. This one is my favorite so far but I'm really looking forward to many more infrared creations.

Don't forget to use my discount if you happen to order one. silvia10 will get you 10% off. 

Have a great day everybody!!  Thanks for your continued support. Feel free to share this with friends who you think may benefit from it.


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The Power of Post Processing

I pride myself on my photo editing. I consider it the icing on the cake of a successful image. It allows me to bring out the best in my images in a way that dropping off my film at Walgreens never could have! I imagine, if film were the standard, I'd be spending an awful lot of time in a dark room. 

Having said that, I certainly don't know everything and there's always something to learn. It's one of my favorite aspects of this art form...I'll be learning for the rest of my life. 

I've often struggled with my night photographs. Most of them are quite noisy by nature and the best time of year to photograph the Milky Way in my area is in July and August, which coincides with the worst heat, humidity, haze, and frequent thunderstorms of the year. So if I even get to capture it, I consider myself lucky. My standard processing has been to tweak white balance, contrast, blacks, shadows, and of course, noise control. I've been mildly satisfied and figured I wasn't getting that amazing color in the core of the Milky Way due to the conditions I'm shooting in. While I was viewing somebody's web site, they had a different approach and so I decided to give it a try and re-processed one of my Milky Way shots I did this summer. The difference is incredible. My jaw dropped. I finally saw what I wanted to see when looking at my image.  

Here is the original processed image. It's a composite with the lighthouse coming from another image. That aside, my Milky Way just looks blue...too blue. No amount of "ooh...ahhh...that's awesome" on Facebook made me any happier about this image. It has to speak to me before it speaks to the public. It is, after all, my creation. 

It's nice...but not as nice as I wanted. First, I'll show you the new and improved version, and then I'll let you know how I did it. The pixels are there, the color is there, you just have to know how to convince it to come out and say hello!

For me at least, this truly looks like outer space, almost a fantasy. That's the way I feel when I look at the Milky Way. I feel like such a small part of something truly amazing and I want to bring that feeling out in my images. 

Here's what I did to accomplish this.

First, I brought the exposure up more than I thought was reasonable. I don't usually push it but this time I did.

Then I cranked my saturation and vibrance to 100%. Don't freak out...this is only temporary, a means to an end.  Yes, it looks heinous at this point. Just expect that.

When I do this, it allows me to make a better adjustment to the white balance. That's the area I was struggling with before with the resulting "too blue" image. I make the saturation and vibrance "extreme" to make certain that when I adjust white balance, it's as close to neutral as possible. This eliminates the "too blue or too magenta" result.

This is what it looks like. Don't say I didn't warn you...Yuck!

When I cranked the saturation and vibrance, I was able to see if the image was becoming too blue or too yellow with the temp slider. I was also able to see if it was becoming too green or too magenta with the tint slider. Once I get a decent mix of these colors, I bring the vibrance and saturation back down to zero.  In this case, I had to make my temp +66 and my tint -30. Every image will be different. 

Then it looks like this. 

As you can see, the colors are much more neutral and the overly blue look has been tamed. After this, it's a simple adjustment of the exposure, making it darker again, blacks, shadows, and a bit of the dehaze slider to get the image above that I was much happier with. 

As you can see, proper editing is crucial, not only to getting the most out of the pixels you capture, but also in allowing you to portray the feeling in your images that you intend. 

This is what my friend, Kenny McKeithan, and I will be teaching at our Photoshop and Lightroom class the weekend of September 23, 24, 25th. From organizing, to editing, to final output, we'll cover it all. 

Never stop learning!



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