Progressions of a Madman: A Journey into My Photographic Evolution: Episode 2

I said when I published the first edition of this series that I wanted it to be a weekly blog, but when you're shooting editorial, working with clients, and running a music publication which requires constant updating and a ton of writing, it's hard to work on a separate blog. I love photography and I'd rather be shooting than writing about it, so this might turn into a monthly series rather than weekly.

But, here we are with the second edition of "Progressions of a Madman", and in the first edition I jumped around between flash photography and available light. In this edition, we're going to stick to available light and start with some of my early photography before progressing into something closer to today - probably from 2016, since I've been doing more editorial this year, more sports (maybe I'll do a segment on sports photography in a later post) and more off-camera flash now that I've finally upgraded flash systems and added a wireless trigger. I've even been doing OCF during the day to balance the background exposure with my subject, so I don't have too much natural-light photography from this year. We'll see where this goes, though.

Anyway, let's get started with a shot from SantaCon 2014:

Nikon D5200, 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 kit lens, just about two weeks after I first picked up a DSLR as a hobby. Let's rip this one apart right now, shall we? It's  terrible , and that's being generous. The composition is horrendous, the exposure was fixed in post - I no longer have the RAW file in Lightroom, so I can't tell you how much exposure I added in post, but I know it was very underexposed - and worst of all, it's not even in focus. I could blame it on the kit lens, but let's be real, I had no idea what I was doing here. The editing isn't  bad , in my opinion, but it's not  good  either and knowing what I do now, I never would have shot this in the first place.  Kit lenses are tricky as hell, they're not good and they're not meant to create high-quality images, but you absolutely can accomplish that if you know what you're doing. I wouldn't necessarily go back to using a kit lens  now  because I've got a brand identity and certain personal standards, but  maybe  I could see myself doing a series where I go out and shoot with a kit lens to show what can be done in capable hands. I'm kind of curious myself to see what I can accomplish with a kit lens now, so maybe that'll be something I do in the future.  2015:  Let's move along, shall we? Here's one from September 2015, back when I was still learning the exposure triangle and still trying to understand that I needed to ignore my meter and expose for my subject. I'll include three shots here to help illustrate what I'm going to discuss. Squarespace has a character limit, so scroll down for the next photo.  ....  ....  Next photo below

Nikon D5200, 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 kit lens, just about two weeks after I first picked up a DSLR as a hobby. Let's rip this one apart right now, shall we? It's terrible, and that's being generous. The composition is horrendous, the exposure was fixed in post - I no longer have the RAW file in Lightroom, so I can't tell you how much exposure I added in post, but I know it was very underexposed - and worst of all, it's not even in focus. I could blame it on the kit lens, but let's be real, I had no idea what I was doing here. The editing isn't bad, in my opinion, but it's not good either and knowing what I do now, I never would have shot this in the first place.

Kit lenses are tricky as hell, they're not good and they're not meant to create high-quality images, but you absolutely can accomplish that if you know what you're doing. I wouldn't necessarily go back to using a kit lens now because I've got a brand identity and certain personal standards, but maybe I could see myself doing a series where I go out and shoot with a kit lens to show what can be done in capable hands. I'm kind of curious myself to see what I can accomplish with a kit lens now, so maybe that'll be something I do in the future.

2015:

Let's move along, shall we? Here's one from September 2015, back when I was still learning the exposure triangle and still trying to understand that I needed to ignore my meter and expose for my subject. I'll include three shots here to help illustrate what I'm going to discuss. Squarespace has a character limit, so scroll down for the next photo.

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Next photo below

This is the original unedited RAW file exported to JPEG in Lightroom. No adjustments, two and a half stops underexposed. I never liked the composition on this even though many would argue that it's not  terrible  and looks like it could be an ad for something, but I ended up cropping this a bit. Let's talk about the glaring flaw: it's underexposed by more than two stops. Now, that can be easily fixed in post, but  why  would you want to fix an image in post when it's easy to get right in the camera? This exposure would be pretty close to what I would want to do  now , with off-camera flash lighting my subjects. I could throw a speedlight camera left with a MagMod MagGrid and MagSphere to light the dude's face and then use another speedlight with MagMod modifiers to light the girl from the front, but we'll talk about that another time.  Here's the original edit of this same image.   

This is the original unedited RAW file exported to JPEG in Lightroom. No adjustments, two and a half stops underexposed. I never liked the composition on this even though many would argue that it's not terrible and looks like it could be an ad for something, but I ended up cropping this a bit. Let's talk about the glaring flaw: it's underexposed by more than two stops. Now, that can be easily fixed in post, but why would you want to fix an image in post when it's easy to get right in the camera? This exposure would be pretty close to what I would want to do now, with off-camera flash lighting my subjects. I could throw a speedlight camera left with a MagMod MagGrid and MagSphere to light the dude's face and then use another speedlight with MagMod modifiers to light the girl from the front, but we'll talk about that another time.

Here's the original edit of this same image.

 

_DSC0071.jpg

MEH! This is obviously after adding a ton of exposure, but look at that editing. Blah :-( - yeah, this is pretty bad. Not only did I destroy many of the highlights, but I also pulled the shadows and blacks way up and took away any depth from the image. Not a good look at all. Below is the re-edit from abut a week ago for this feature.

That's much better in terms of editing. The contrast gives it bunch, it's got depth in the shadows and darks and just enough highlights to keep detail in the face while still conveying that they were baking in the sun, and the colors are much more true-to-life. It's  still  not a good photo, but this is part of every aspiring photographer's learning process. Capturing a bunch of bad images with a few good ones thrown in from time to time, until you really get the hang of it.  Let's move on to the last one and something more current, shall we?  2017:  (Scroll down, again. Damn you, Squarespace)  ....  ....  ....  Next photo:

That's much better in terms of editing. The contrast gives it bunch, it's got depth in the shadows and darks and just enough highlights to keep detail in the face while still conveying that they were baking in the sun, and the colors are much more true-to-life. It's still not a good photo, but this is part of every aspiring photographer's learning process. Capturing a bunch of bad images with a few good ones thrown in from time to time, until you really get the hang of it.

Let's move on to the last one and something more current, shall we?

2017:

(Scroll down, again. Damn you, Squarespace)

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Next photo:

Alright, so this is just a random photo at the end of NYC Holi, which, for anyone who isn't familiar, is an annual Indian festival of colors. The traditional Indian festival entails lots of dancing and throwing paint on everyone. It's awesome, HOWEVER, this powered paint is VERY hazardous to photo gear, so take a rain cover with you and keep your lens cap on when you're not shooting.  Anyway, it's not the  best  photo, but it illustrates how composition (ignore the old woman getting in my frame) and editing progress over time. The exposure was just about perfect in the camera, so there was minimal editing to be done. Contrast, lights, darks, highlights and shadows and color correction. That was it, until I looked at it a second time and decided I wanted all those colors on his face to really pop. That was when I decided to make use of the HSL sliders and bring those colors to life by increasing the saturation on all of them, and I ended up really liking this photo, as did my subject.   The above was shot on a Sigma 18-35 f/1.8 Art series lens, which is a phenomenal line from Sigma. Gear does make a world of difference, but so does technical skill and knowing what the correct exposure looks like in the camera so you can at least get close. My personal workflow always results in adding some exposure to my images at the end before exporting, but that's just a product of my editing style and how I like to represent my final images, and that's another thing that will change depending on the situation you're shooting in and what you captured the image for. For example, a random shot like this is just for fun and only needs some quick basic Lightroom adjustments to be a finished product. Anything you do after that can be overkill if you don't understand the tools you're using, but you can really make colors pop in a situation like this.  I recently shot models in a studio, using studio lighting, and I processed my images slightly differently than I would an image shot in daylight, even with off-camera flash. Never get stuck in one workflow for everything. Photography like all other forms of art is highly subjective, but post processing is not a catch-all and one size does not fit all. Develop your own workflow even before you've mastered the exposure triangle and you'll see that once you do understand how to expose an image correctly - or at least close - in the camera, you'll notice a difference instantly. Once you know how you want to represent your final images, this photography thing will start to become second nature.  I think next time - I PROMISE IT WON'T BE A MONTH - I'll discuss shooting live music. I know a lot of people are into that and think it's cool, and since I do a lot of it I think it's worth visiting. That's all I've got for now, deuces.

Alright, so this is just a random photo at the end of NYC Holi, which, for anyone who isn't familiar, is an annual Indian festival of colors. The traditional Indian festival entails lots of dancing and throwing paint on everyone. It's awesome, HOWEVER, this powered paint is VERY hazardous to photo gear, so take a rain cover with you and keep your lens cap on when you're not shooting.

Anyway, it's not the best photo, but it illustrates how composition (ignore the old woman getting in my frame) and editing progress over time. The exposure was just about perfect in the camera, so there was minimal editing to be done. Contrast, lights, darks, highlights and shadows and color correction. That was it, until I looked at it a second time and decided I wanted all those colors on his face to really pop. That was when I decided to make use of the HSL sliders and bring those colors to life by increasing the saturation on all of them, and I ended up really liking this photo, as did my subject. 

The above was shot on a Sigma 18-35 f/1.8 Art series lens, which is a phenomenal line from Sigma. Gear does make a world of difference, but so does technical skill and knowing what the correct exposure looks like in the camera so you can at least get close. My personal workflow always results in adding some exposure to my images at the end before exporting, but that's just a product of my editing style and how I like to represent my final images, and that's another thing that will change depending on the situation you're shooting in and what you captured the image for. For example, a random shot like this is just for fun and only needs some quick basic Lightroom adjustments to be a finished product. Anything you do after that can be overkill if you don't understand the tools you're using, but you can really make colors pop in a situation like this.

I recently shot models in a studio, using studio lighting, and I processed my images slightly differently than I would an image shot in daylight, even with off-camera flash. Never get stuck in one workflow for everything. Photography like all other forms of art is highly subjective, but post processing is not a catch-all and one size does not fit all. Develop your own workflow even before you've mastered the exposure triangle and you'll see that once you do understand how to expose an image correctly - or at least close - in the camera, you'll notice a difference instantly. Once you know how you want to represent your final images, this photography thing will start to become second nature.

I think next time - I PROMISE IT WON'T BE A MONTH - I'll discuss shooting live music. I know a lot of people are into that and think it's cool, and since I do a lot of it I think it's worth visiting. That's all I've got for now, deuces.

Photo Editing 101: Why You Need to Calibrate Your Display

I've seen lots of talk lately about people who think buying a new monitor (display) will magically make them a photo editing wizard. This is entirely false. While having a high quality display is important and necessary to properly edit photos for color accuracy and exposure (for those times when you don't get your exposure perfect in-camera), simply having a high quality display won't make your post processing any better.

The fact is, yes, you do NEED a high quality display - this is the one I use and was built specifically for photo editing - but you also must have two things: 1) a high-quality, gaming-level video card to support the display and accurately render colors to it, and 2) a professional calibration tool to accurately calibrate your display for brightness, contrast, and color representation. Without those two things, your shiny, expensive display is no better than a $50 piece of junk off the bargain bin.

Now, I'm a PC guy, so I had the luxury of building a PC to spec from the ground up so I could process photos quickly and easily, while having the RAM to handle Lightroom and Photoshop running at the same time, and a video card powerful enough to render colors correctly on a high quality, calibrated display. The other option would have been to buy an iMac with a retina display, which is factory calibrated for superior color accuracy. I hate Apple and have been a PC user my entire life, so sticking Windows was a no-brainer. If you're an Apple user, great, you've already won the battle and can stop reading.

The way the Spyder calibration tools work is quite simple: you connect the tool via USB, install the included software, put the calibrator on your display, press a couple buttons and get out of the way while it does its thing. Its "thing" is calibrating your colors based on the amount and type of light in the room. For me, I calibrate my display during the day with my blinds (shutters for those of you outside the US) open so the sunlight hits my screen, as I've found through trial and error that this offers the most accurate color representation and brightness calibration. Once that's done, you're good to go and if you leave the SpyerPro connected and set it to monitor the ambient light in the room, it'll automatically correct for changes in light to maintain your calibrated settings and you'll never notice a difference.

The OTHER key you need to pay attention to is that you want a display with IPS - In-Plane Switching. What IPS does is allows you to view your screen the same way from any angle. This means that the image you see on your screen when you look directly at it will be the same image you see when looking at your screen on an angle, from the other side of the room, laying down. It doesn't matter how you view your display, what you see will appear identical from all angles. Without IPS, you'll see your image differently depending on your viewing angle and even with proper calibration, your colors and contrast *may* appear differently. I always edit head on, for the most part, so I don't have this problem, but I'd never go back to a display without IPS after seeing the difference.

So, the long and short of photo editing is that if you're editing on a display that is NOT calibrated for photo editing using a professional calibration tool and NOT the buttons on your display, it doesn't matter how good the display is or is not. You still won't see your exposure, contrast and colors correctly until you've calibrated your display. Now that doesn't mean calibrating a $50 display will make your life any easier. The fact is a high quality, high-dollar display will render colors infinitely better than a cheap one, and a cheap display isn't worth calibrating because the improvement will be marginal at best and your final images will still look terrible to someone viewing them on a good, properly calibrated display. Having a good display in and of itself won't make you a better editor until you've calibrated it properly. I saw my post processing go from garbage to what it is now once I built a new PC, bought a quality display and calibrated it, and it's like night and day.

If you really want to be a wizard in Lightroom and Photoshop, invest in a good display and a quality calibration tool and get to work. I may make "Photo Editing 101" a series on here, maybe as a way to show my workflow or some behind the scenes editing, but I will almost certainly be launching a new photo series on the blog in the coming weeks. That's all I've got for now, deuces.