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.
I hope you’ll swing by and check it out.
– Matt K
Matt, your comments are spot on. You explain exactly how I felt after watching No Light No Problem. It’s a topic on which I need all the help I can get.
Thanks for doing this, Matt, especially with ON1. Your style is always refreshing and ideas inspiring to spur my own creative ventures. What to do with a photo is always a stumbling block for me, even with compositing.
THANK YOU MATT! I have watched so many tutorials and asked “why” did the instructor do that instead of this? I’ve even submitted such questions and have never received straight forward answers. Is it because professionals are concerned about releasing their “secrets” or because they don’t really know the answer themselves. Please continue on your mission!
Thanks Sharon. From most instructors I know, it’s not because they don’t want to share secrets. I think it’s honestly because sometimes we just don’t know. Creative things (like photography) are sometimes mood based. And I can tell you this for sure… A big part of it is developing an “eye” for it, and for what you like. And sometimes, no matter how much we try to explain why, it just can’t be explained. Sometimes we like something just because we like it 🙂
Your teaching, especially in recent years “always” has a high degree of authenticity and transparency. You next move will expand what I have always liked and I will exclusively continue to follow. However, I do not like CANNED PRESETS except, rarely, to review what I cannot see AFTER SEVERAL creative blocks. Canned presets make images flat and “Pretty”, a copy without heart. I am told at festivals and by others that my images are engaging, demensional, translucent. Over time, they do not fade into a wall. Because you worked the monkey image from your inside to the outside of your self, your final monkey image is not for the purpose of being pretty, but it is engaging.
I found this current article on FStoppers that agrees with me. (Laugh, please!)
Stop Wasting Your Money on Lightroom Presets
Andy Day’s picture by Andy Day
August 29, 2018
Not sending website…Next week it is being abandon to be made customer friendly…not just a another set of “trophy” images.
Agree with all of the superlatives above. Have followed you since your Kelby days. You are a gifted born teacher. Have used LR since 2.0, jumped on ON1 wagon early, and use PS sparingly. Always purchase your courses within minutes of notification (LR, ON1 and PS). Love your format with the 2 to 3 minute videos on a particular topic/point/tool. In effect, these courses serve as an encyclopedia (supplanting the shelves of instructional photo books) for quick reference when needing short refresher on fixing/enhancing a particular photo. Thanks for continuing to widen our perspective on photo editing. Keep up the great work.
Thank you for sending this valuable information.
While I am a believer of try to take the best photo you can, I am also a fan and user of Lightroom for a couple of years. To me the bottom line is your finished shot on photo paper. If Ansel Adam was a “maker of the photograph not the taker of the photograph” that works for me. Thanks for the info………….
OK, this piece was excellent! You got me with the rim light tutorial – I am now going to buy the course!!!
Matt, viewed your new course and looks interesting to me but I’m a ON1 user and will wait for the revised course. I’m a current purchaser of another one of your courses and like your teaching style. Hope you send out an email when the ON1 version of this course is completed.
Thanks for this. Very helpful (especially the “light rim” — genius!).
I do question the cropping, which does not seem conventional (usually the face or other important feature would be centered). What was your reasoning here?
Hi John. I think it looks great. The head is in the upper right third which is a perfect place compositionally. I guess it could be different and I’ve played with different crops with it. But I keep going back to this one because my eye just follows through it nicely. Thanks!
Yes! Thank-you! I know how to use my camera, LR, and PS but sometimes just stare at my landscape work thinking “how do I make this so people will see what I actually saw?” I have a hard time knowing where to begin, and, even worse, when to be done. This course is exactly what I have been needing. Thanks for being such an authentic, intuitive, and KIND teacher. You always explain things in a way that makes sense to me. I so appreciate you!
Thanks Nicki! 🙂 Glad to help!
Wow. I’ve been ‘thinking’ about getting your latest course, Matt. And having just speed-read most of the comments to date, I guess I better get on with the purchase. I share the views of many: your delivery style is refreshingly simple and direct, and as a wildlife (mainly birds) specialist living in the tropical north of Australia, I’m constantly battling light issues. ‘No light. No Problem!’ sounds like a must-have.
Matt, I am so excited to see this course come out! From your first advance teaser tutorial I knew I had to have it. The direction you are taking these courses by building on the creative aspects with technical expertise is so exciting to the little artist that lives in my heart!
Matt… I have purchased several of your courses. I really appreciate your direct but keep it simple style. Personally I wrestle with the issue of how a scene really looks versus what one’s personal vision registers. This is analogous to “no two witnesses see the same event the same”. (no, I am not a lawyer, but am married to one!) I want to bring out the beauty that I see but I don’t want to go too far down the slippery slope of modifying reality. There is a long time professional photographer out here in the SF Bay Area by the name of Stephen Johnson; he is known for his desire to represent colors and light exactly as they appear..http://www.sjphoto.com
Your thoughts on this?
Excellent article Matta, as always. I’ll definitely be buying the course.
Kinda unrelated question – how do you do the thing with the pictures that lets you sweep left/right to see the before/after?
Hi Richard. It’s a plug-in for WordPress called Divi Before and After. Thanks!
An oh so refreshing approach Matt! I too have struggled to get that WOW (artistic) factor to my post processing attempts. I routinely follow the steps of various tutorials to do something, but was not sure WHY I was using the different tools. You are am amazing instructor and I learn something new AND applicable for future use in everything you present. Thanks and keep up the great work!
Glad to help CJ! 🙂
Excellent read Matt! Couldn’t agree more.
Another course well done, well written and well presented. This one really spoke to me. I now “understand” why you made the changes. I feel confident about “how” to make these changes. Keep up the good work.
I’ve watched all the videos in the new course except for the last one and have been thoroughly enjoying it. On the course page you say the course is for advanced beginners. I consider myself fairly expert in Lightroom, but I’ve been getting so much out of the course. I don’t think it matters how skilled you are with the tool. It’s more about a new way to analyze your photos to figure out the best way to edit them. I’ve already tried the techniques on some photos I took yesterday and I’m really pleased with the results. Thanks for creating this course!
Thanks Nicole. That’s great to hear. I feel like no matter what level you are, you’re a candidate to learn this stuff. Glad it helps!
Many thanks Matt!
Always with pleasure I read your articles and listen to advice.
When I’ve gone on photo tours and watch online course about photography and post-possessing, I was told make the photo look like what you see or saw. To me it always seemed I wanted the photo to look better than what I saw, more pleasing, more colorful, deeper, more dynamic. Certainly light is one way to do that. I think this is what you are saying.
I would like to see a very good print module course for Lightroom. I’ve seen several courses and no one explains it well. Also, Mac operates differently than a PC in the print module. How about us PC users, why is everything taught on a Mac?
Good suggestion Jay. I had the challenge of photographing an artists work and then matching the colours through post processing. The object being that when a print was hung alongside the original in the gallery they were indistinguishable!
I have colour matched screens, use soft proofing and have ICC profiles for all my paper combinations and currently use an an A2 Epson SureColor P800. I use Permajet papers.
You hit the nail on the head! I don’t want to learn how to drive the car. I want to know how to win the race!
Great analogy Bruce!
As an On1 Raw user (switched from LR to On1 Raw over an year ago) I chatted with Matt and found that this course is really focused on LR. He indicated an On1 Raw course would be later. So I hope he does that. I’ll be his first buyer.
Stay tuned James. I’m hoping to have it done next week.
I have followed you for years Matt. I have not yet bought the latest course but applaud your thinking behind it.
I am now concentrating on On1 so will the On1 version come as a separate additional course or a version of the current offer? If the On1 version is separate I will wait and buy that one. Please let me know when it is available. I have an account with you.
Hi Anthony – the ON1 course will be a separate course so you’ll probably want to wait for that.
Ive found ON1 Photo Raw to be an excellent plugin to LR CC Classic ,PC version, but have difficulty migrating to the cataloguing portion. Do you find it as versatile as LR wrt keywording and finding fotos with key words and using metadata to find images, and collections. I really want to get away from subscription ownership so I can spend that money in ON1 courses. The masking tools are also wayyyy easier to use than PS.
Thanks Matt. I’ve been a fan since I saw you first time at Kelby 5-6 years ago. I think it was LR4.
Bought all your courses when you started on your own as I think you are a very good teacher. Easy to understand and you don’t complicate things which many teachers do.
Keep up the good job.
Thanks so much Thomas! 🙂
Matt, you had me at the rim light demo above! Well, not really. You had me a long time ago with your basic LR & PS courses and I jumped on “No Light?…” when I received your notification yesterday
Do wait for Diana to come home before you post the next blog though. She could have made your great blog even better. We all make typos and omissions and it is a rare person who can find any in their own written “masterpeace”. (SP?) 😉
I really need to know more about the why’s of the sliders (and the what’s).
Thanks again for the inspiration.
Thank you Matt for recognizing the need for this. I am thrilled to get started on this course.
Thank you Matt.
It is something I have been thinking about for some time. I look at other photographs and my own, asking how can I improve? I shall look at your new course.
Brilliant, as always!
Wonderful, Matt. Thank you SO much.
Excellent observation, Matt. I’ve been shooting for over 50 years. Early on I was (painfully) taught that the real picture was found in the darkroom. Consequently, I learned to dodge and burn patiently and thoroughly. When I went to digital, I sort of forgot all those lessons and was intent on getting the picture “almost right” out of the camera. I became a slave to “minimal Photoshop,” largely driven by some (misplaced) sense of integrity. Over the years the tools have improved dramatically, but I ignored the opportunity. I long ago gave up the “rule of thirds.” I don’t know why I’ve dogmatically adhered to all the other silly rules. Thanks for waking me up!
A very thought provoking article. I admire your work and enjoy your videos. Thanks!
Another thumbs up for your intuition and recognition that the “something extra” is the why behind working with an image. The art piece is getting totally drowned out by the ease of snapping a picture these days. And because people get instant gratification on facebook, instagram etc, they feel they’ve made an impactful image. That’s not what’s happening. They’re making fun images, in many cases, but not meaningful marks, and that’s what leads to enduring art. So, press on! You are definitely on the right track for helping lead us out of the pack.
Brilliant article Matt, thank you!
I use very few tools within LR, generally tone curve, saturation & filters, although Im still a little shy with the adjustment brush, don’t use PS much but trying to get back hands on with ON1; & what I see on screen doesn’t always print the same, so this is just what I’m looking for, its off over to have a gander at the No light, No problem.
Jennifer,for a print to match a screen[as much as they can]the screen must be calibrated, the paper you use must have an ICC Profile that the printer uses,a different profile for each paper used. I calibrate and profile using XRite Colormunki and my prints turn out exactly as I wish them to[I print on a Canon Pro 1].I print for clients and National and International competitions on Canson Infinity paper,all prints are of Archive quality.
As always – clean, simple, informative information. Thanks, Matt
Thanks for publishing this piece. What most people don’t understand about the photos they see, (commercial and personal), is that the impact they have on them is due to the subjective decisions made by the photographer’s “adjustments” made in post processing. Graphic designers know how to adjust photos for maximum impact on viewers. In a way, this is exploitive and manipulative of the viewers because they are not usually aware of the manipulation. The purpose is to sell, not to create art. Artists are selling too but it’s their art they are selling, not a widely available commodity.
Non- commercial photographers can and should use the many ways graphic designers and artists manipulate their images in order to create the impact they want to communicate. All photos, in one way or another, are subjective.
Good post. I’ve noticed that you and Blake R address some of the same issues but use different methods. It’s always nice to have options on PP. Thank you for all the techniques and explanations that you share. I’m constantly trying to learn new things and improve my workflow. One of the things I love about photography is that there are always things to learn and it is impossible to ever master photography. I can always improve.
The why is exactly what I have been looking for in a course. I’ve read books and blogs, watched videos attended online demonstrations but always left not understanding the WHY completely.
I’ll take a peek at your course to see if it hits me where I need it to. But a full course on composition editing is something I would be interested in. Your monkey example with the highlighting and where to place it and why you placed it is what is important for me to learn and understand. I thought I would need a course on graphics or something to know what you just explained in 2 miunutes.
First, let me say that I have been a big fan probably since at least 2005 in your time with Kelby and Photoshop Elements User. I bought your new lighting course minutes after it was available and own all your other courses, presets, and the other products you offer (with the exception of the ON1 stuff, which is of no use to me). Probably didn’t need the Lightroom course, since I’ve had Lightroom since it first came out, but enjoy and appreciate your teaching style (I’m an instructor myself) and some of the new tips or techniques I learned made it worthwhile.
I heartily support your new “mission.” So many of us are well past which sliders do what. I want insight on specific techniques that will improve my photos that are technically correct. Your new lighting course is well on track to that mission. Keep the learning coming.
Impressive changes to your monkey! I purchased the light course late last night. I’m anxious to get started. Thanks, Matt!
Matt: this is exactly what you and talked about a couple of years ago at Photoshop World in DC. I love the emphasis on the “why”
And on the ability to find ways to bring out the best of those photos taken in a once in a lifetime place when you were only there in the middle of the day. Or it was the right time but the sky was overcast.
I’ve picked up a copy of the course as I feel like you wrote it just for me.
Keep up the mission. And let us know how we can help!
I bought your videos about Light (No light). I was triggered and extremely curious by watching the small clips you are showing on the selling page. Here was for the first time a sign of how I approach PP myself + more.
Having seen the videos now I can only encourage you to offer more according to this more intuitive and creative way processing images in LR. It was a breath of fresh air to watch you videos and highly inspiring. Thanks a lot Matt for bringing this approach to the ‘menu card’ within the ways of processing images 🙂
I have a similar criticism of many of the photos I see. Many conceptual photographers have no sense of graphic design. They don’t understand composition. They don’t understand that it is the role of a good photograph to direct your eye, within the photograph, in very specific ways. If anything detracts from that, it should be eliminated. Post-processing should be used to enhance what the photographer wants to convey. The photographer needs to know what they want to convey.
I’m basically an underwater photographer and many of the problems we encounter are different from land photographers.
As some people may realize we loose color at depth. Red is the first color to be lost, then orange and yellow, and green.
Red is gone by 15 ft, orange by 25 ft, yellow by 35 ft, and green by 70 ft.
A very annoying problem is the fine particulate suspended in the water that reflects strobe light, backscatter.
It would be wonderful if someone could devote some time to underwater post production. Lots of scuba divers out there.
@Chuck There are some LUTs, actions, LR/ACR profiles for Underwater photos and footages, that restores Reds, add light, emulate polarizers, create single shot Underwater HDR etc. Check it
Can I just say how refreshing it is to have someone talk so clearly and directly about the use and effect of light in photography.
Although I like to think of myself as an accomplished amateur and someone who has a good familiarity with Lightroom and ON1 I have been left bemused by all the tutorials, courses, and books out there that concentrate only on the technicalities of digital photography. They are all well and good but I have always been concerned by the impact of an image on a viewer, the emotion that it can trigger and few ever talk about that. Perhaps I don’t move in the right circles but it just seems like no one wants to talk about art, light, image, emotion — and I miss that discussion.
I got my start as a child with black and white photography and darkroom work. It became my mindset, and the mindset of every photographer I met over those many years, to concern myself primarily with light. Where is it? How strong? What is my exposure? What does it do to the subject? and etc. And then to know that every image you have taken will have to, without question, be run through the darkroom to support what one had seen in the bright and open world. Dodging and Burning, with some Vignetting, these were major tools and all were invoked to reveal the essence of the original scene.
I very much applaud your move in this same direction. I have a feeling that the new course will be of great use to those people who have driven into the brick wall of Lightroom/Photoshop technicalities and techniques and perhaps have lost some of the joy in a sterling image. I think your course will add some art to what in my opinion has become a rather intimidating technical process.
I love the results, with one exception. My eye goes to the tip of his tail. Can that be darkened a bit so it blends in with the rest of the monkey?
I fully agree on this point, that was my immediate reaction to the image on first viewing also. I agree it is somewhat distracting especially since it is an intense highlight.
IMO, the points where well made and the editing showed those points. I agree with Mary and Wouter’s comments and if I had an opacity slider, I would have toned it down. 🙂 But I think Matt’s new direction is great and if it helps me look at things differently, I am all for it!
Good comments. I’m like you. First camera I learned on was a Graflix Speed 4 x 5. My brother was an RIT student so I also learned B&W and all the darkroom techniques. Matt is right on track. I’m really glad that he has been covering not only LR but On1 Raw which I switched to over a year ago. I still shoot film in my collections of old cameras which I do only for fun! Fun to remember what it was like. No DR stuff however anymore. Thats for On1!!
Thanks Rick! I love your idea of the art and emotion in a photo and how you miss some of the discussion. Me too! Hopefully we’ll get it back 🙂
Ditto Rick …….if a photograph ,video, or design dosent move me …..the technical perfection is wasted …..I see this all of the time in forums and courses….perfect lighting and no experimentation ….but a formulaic approach to photography ….. little originality….