There’s something that’s been swirling around in my head for a while, about my photo editing, and I thought I’d share it with you today. It ties in with my new course No Light? No Problem! but even if you’re not interested in the course, I think this will resonate with many of you.
Also, I’m just warning you ahead of time… my wife Diana (who’s my awesome proofreader) had to run to the store because she dropped her phone yesterday. So she didn’t proofread this. And since she’s the one who dropped her phone, if there are any spelling or grammatical errors, we’ll just blame them on her 😉
Okay, here goes. One thing that’s been different since I started my own training platform at MattK.com is that I made my contact information very available. I wasn’t really able to do that in my previous life as an educator. Too many things to do and not enough time in the day to answer questions.
But now that it’s my company, I spend about 60-90 minutes a day just answering questions. And let me tell ya’… it’s been eye opening!
Sometime last year I started to really notice a trend in the questions. Nobody ever asked what the Exposure slider did. Nobody ever asked what Shadows, Highlights, or the Temperature slider did. Or really anything in most of the top settings in most raw photo editors out there.
But I always got a TON of questions about things like sharpening, noise reduction, and lens corrections. And also things like keywords, metadata, XMP files, hard drive choices, and catalogs. All things that have 0.0001% impact on how your photo will really resonate with people when you share.
It got me thinking. See, I get to critique and look through thousands of photos each year from various places I participate in online, and at conferences / workshops. And when I had some constructive criticism to offer a photo, I started to notice something in common with most of my comments. I realized that “technically”, the photographer did everything right. It was sharp, and for the most part well exposed.
But what almost all of them were missing was the “art” behind the editing of the photo. Whether it was the crop (yes, cropping is an art), the subject being darker than all of the distractions around the subject, or a “flat” look to the image. Almost all of my comments were the same and went something like this: (by the way, this is my photo I’m critiquing)
“…some things I would improve would be to take the brush (or some local correction tool) and put some emphasis on the rim light that exists around the monkey. It’s faint but it’s there and if you accentuate it, you can really help”
(hover over the image below to see the before/after)
“Then try brightening the monkey overall with another brush so she really stands out. Finally, I would use the Radial filter to put a little light from the top left over the monkey and let the outside of that filter darken the area around her that’s not important in the photo. Then, add a little warm color over the background because the basic shadow editing made that part look flat or cold and I think it could use a little life.”
For me, when you see the before and after of the photo it’s very impactful. I didn’t change nature. I didn’t put the monkey in a new background, or remove anything from the photo. I just gave the photo more depth by directing your view to the most important part. And I also helped explain and showcase the rim light, which is a key element to separating the monkey from her background.
I believe that, for the most part, our cameras don’t capture what we see. They’re limited in range and our eyes see WAY more. And even if they did capture exactly what we see, I think we’d still be surprised at how much editing we still need to do to make our photos look like we imagined they looked when we were there.
Why? Because we were there!
We know exactly what we were looking at and experiencing. I know that the monkey in this photo was so close I was amazed. And regardless of what the light really looked like, it felt like all attention was on her. I wasn’t looking at anything else.
But when that photo hits the computer, and our intended audience online, all of that 3D personal experience goes away. And our photos sometimes tend not to live up to our expectations of what we thought.
Studio photographers don’t experience this as much because they take great care to light EXACTLY what they want to light, and flag off EXACTLY what parts of the photo they don’t want lit. But those of us not using studio equipment don’t have that ability… can you imagine me pulling out 3 flashes and trying to light the monkey 😉
My Mission… If I Choose to Accept It
So where is this all leading? Folks, I’m on a mission…
I’ve taught plenty of the what and how in photo editing. Now I’m on a mission to talk more about the why behind everything. It’s much harder that way. As you can imagine it’s easier to do a video and just tell you what I’m doing and never explain why. Heck, sometimes I don’t even know why at first. I’ve done it enough, that it just happens.
But that’s going to change. I believe the magic behind photo editing isn’t in the sliders and settings we use. It’s HOW we use them. And that the most important tools we have are the Brush and Grad/Radial filters because those are the tools that let us direct attention to various parts of the photo.
Step 1 of this mission has already happened and if you’ve watched any of my tutorials lately you should have seen it. But another key step was to create a focussed course that does this and that’s exactly what my new No Light? No Problem course does. Not only does it take a very popular problem which is, sometimes we aren’t graced with great light in all of our photos, but does that mean we shouldn’t have the photo we hoped for. But it also tackles more of the why behind my editing. I try to explain what I’m looking at, and why I think it needs to change and why I use a certain tool to change it.
– Matt K