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.

*RANT* Learning Photography Isn't Easy

I've been severely neglecting this blog lately, between editorial assignments, baseball games, running a music publication and it just being summer, this segment has kind of taken a back seat. I'd really like to be able to get into blogging more, but coming up with topics has been a challenge. This particular topic, however, has fallen into my lap and needs to be discussed.

I'm a member of quite a few photography groups on Facebook - whether it be concert photography groups, press groups, portrait groups, lighting groups or community groups for products I use, and one thing I've seen over the last few days in one of those groups is new photographers looking to skip the learning process and jump right into owning $25,000 worth of gear they admit to having absolutely no fucking idea how to use.

Just since July 4th, I've gotten into debates with this one particular kid who admittedly is a new photographer with zero photography knowledge and hasn't even mastered basic terminology yet, let alone basic technique like composition and exposure on his entry level Nikon D3400, and he wants to know which Nikon camera is "the best" so he can run out and buy it like it's going to magically make him a better photographer.

Here's a news flash to anyone thinking about getting into photography: THIS ISN'T EASY TO LEARN! Sure, you can spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on professional gear and put it in auto mode and hope for the best, but you can also do that with a point & shoot that costs a fraction of even a basic DSLR kit. There are no shortcuts here, if you want to learn photography you have a couple options.

1) Pay for expensive classes that may or may not be taught by someone who actually knows what they're talking about and can explain current tech to you in a way that will enable you to effectively use your gear, or

2) Take the initiative to teach YOURSELF. Go on YouTube, watch tutorials to understand how your specific camera works, invest in video guides that will teach you how to take your camera out of auto and explain how each component of the exposure triangle determines your exposure. Learn to ignore your meter, learn to be smarter than your camera (because you are) and start with the BASICS! I personally learned to get out of auto by watching - and people are going to scream at me for this - the Fro Knows Photo Beginner's Guide to Getting Out of Auto - yeah, I used it, and it helped a lot. I'd recommend it for anyone who is serious about learning the basics of photography and having a starting point to reference back to when needed.

There isn't a professional photographer on earth who skipped the basics. There isn't a published photojournalist known the world over who skipped the basics. What makes you so special that investing in a $3,000 body that you have no idea how to operate correctly is going to suddenly make you the next Ansel fucking Adams?

I'm entirely self-taught. I learned everything I know about photography through watching tutorials, watching video guides and actually going out and shooting and learning through trial and error how to get shit right in the camera the first time. There's no way around it. Expensive gear won't make you a better photographer; if anything, it'll make you worse because you're crippled the equipment by not using it the way it was intended.

Now, just last night this same kid came into the same group and asked for people to give him their presets so he "learn to edit". HOW exactly is taking someone else's preset and applying it to your - probably underexposed - images "learning to edit"? Yeah, I have presets I use when I edit. Many of them are my own creation, while others are free presets I downloaded, combed through to find ones I like and tweaked them to fit my style of editing and renamed them, but I didn't use them as a crutch to "learn" to edit. I learned to edit the hard way - by actually editing - and my presets all assume one thing: my image was exposed correctly in the camera. They're useless if my image was not exposed correctly, at least until I fix the exposure in post.

On top of all of this, the kid went got an attitude when anyone tried to help him and tell him that he needs to learn the same way the rest of us did: by actually doing it on his own and learning from his own mistakes, the same mistakes the rest of us made early on. That's a sure-fire way to be ignored when you actually ask for help, so good on you for thinking you're such a good photographer 5 minutes into your "career", but it doesn't work that way.

I find it kind of insulting, actually, that this appears to be the norm with new photographers these days. Nobody wants to work towards being a good photographer capable of making money in the industry, and everyone just wants to be handed everything so they don't have to do the work. It doesn't work that way, and anyone who earns money as a photographer put in a lot of time and hard work to get to that point. Don't insult each and every one of us by trying to skip the hard part. There's no way around it and you either have the perseverance and drive to keep plugging and actually learn, or you don't and you should probably find another hobby.

The moral of this rant is: if you're picking up a DSLR, it's because you have an interest in photography, but you need to know before making the investment that it's a PROCESS that takes TIME and COMMITTMENT. There is no easy way to become a good photographer, there are no tricks, and there is no magic camera that will make you good. You're making an investment when you decide to get into photography, an investment of both money and time. You need to understand that you will very likely not be happy with your photos for quite some time until you've truly mastered basic technique and have begun learning advanced techniques like creative composition, the Dutch angle (blah) and on-camera flash. That's before you even get into off-camera flash, multiple speedlights and strobes and all kinds of other things. You're also committing to taking the time to learn to edit YOUR photos in Lightroom and/or Photoshop and develop YOUR style that sets you apart from everyone else.

Photography as a business/career isn't going to happen overnight. I've been lucky, I've only been at this a couple years and I'm making money in the industry, but that came well after I started and learned and got to where I am now. It'll come if you commit to bettering yourself as an artist and becoming a photographer. Simply owning a basic DSLR doesn't make you a photographer, it makes you a guy or girl with a camera and there are millions of those. Work for what you want, don't ask for handouts.

I'm gonna be back soon with a new series where I critique my OWN photos from when I first started in photography, and progressively show how I improved over time and explain the things I learned, what I did differently and ultimately how I got to where I am right now. That's all I've got for now. Deuces.