I’m writing to you guys as a last resort. I usually don’t solicit my blog for ideas on how to do my job, but I’m really kinda stumped on this one. The easy thing would be to say that I’m right, and point to hundreds (if not thousands) of quotes, education, and training materials before me, showing the importance of what I’m talking about. But I’ve realized that enough people have shown concern about this topic, that it has to be real. That I’m doing something wrong in the way I’m approaching it. And I honestly want to figure out a solution. That’s where you come in.

So…I’m copying an email below. In a nutshell, the email is a response to a video where I did some photo critiques. From what I recall, I often had to hit home on the need to get out there in good light. Obviously all of the names and references to what they’re talking about are removed, and from what I can see this person isn’t even a paying customer of anything I do (the video he’s referencing was free). But the reason I’m writing this it that I’m stumped because (in many nicer ways) I’ve been seeing a large amount of people revolting against getting out there in good light to take photos lately. It’s something I’ve never seen in 15 years of photography education, but it’s popping up more and more lately in some discussions that I’ve been in.

Anyway, here’s the email – pretty much unedited, with all mis-spellings and multiple uses of “whilst” intact 🙂

The other matter is addressed specifically to your presenters. I have a gripe regarding critiques. Great play is given to shooting during the early or late hours of the day. May I be so bold as to suggest that any photographer with a modicome of expertise is able to capture quality images (based on light rather than composition) during these time periods. However, what about the situation whilst travelling where is not possible to be at a location at these preferred times (say during summer whilst on vacation abroad where it is either too early or too late to be present when on tours/visits). You need to capture images when you can. Surely some emphasis should be given in your training in the use of your specific software to improving the light, luminosity, colors etc. on these images. I think that I have made reasonable adjustments to enhance images for these situations but can always be better at it. If you are a Lightroom/Photoshop subscriber you do not need ON1 for the “ideal light” shots. A “little” tweaking using luminosity masks in PS on 16bit RAW images will achieve nearly all that is necessary – the light conditions will do the rest. For those not ideal lighting conditions, that is where a plug in software like ON1 should be coming to the fore to assist. Perhaps your trainers (who do seem to bask in their own praise) do not have the expertise to advise on these scenarios.

I’m Not Really Worried About The Jab About “Basking in My Own Praise” Part

There’s one part in the email where he takes a shot at me and the other people doing the critiques. He says something about basking in our own praise. Before we get started, I’m actually not really worried about that part and I’m reading beyond that to the original point in his email. If you’re on this blog, you know me. And you know that I’m very respectful to everyone I come in contact with. If you’ve taken the time and trust to send me a photo to review, I consider it a privilege that you’ve chosen me to learn from. I think most of you reading this article know that I would never betray that trust, and that I’d be nothing but respectful to you. So I’m chalking that statement up to the fact that he’s just sour about everything. Which is fine. I’m not going to resonate with everyone out there, and (after 15 years in education) I’ve come to grips with that.

What Worries Me Is This…

Here’s the line that really worries me.

May I be so bold as to suggest that any photographer with a modicome of expertise is able to capture quality images (based on light rather than composition) during these time periods

This one stumps me too.

Surely some emphasis should be given in your training in the use of your specific software to improving the light

Why It Worries Me

I’m not really worried over this one email. He actually is being a troll (if you saw the first paragraph in his email you’d agree with me). I usually don’t feed the trolls and ignore the comments. What worries me is that I’ve been hearing this feeling (about not getting out there in good light) a lot lately (by people that I know aren’t trolls). More than I ever have actually. And it’s really taken me by surprise because I’ve always thought good light to be one of the most important parts of photography.

Just as I’d never think anyone would complain if I told them to take the lens cap off their lens before taking a photo, I never thought people would revolt over being told to get out there in good light, to make good photos. And, I guess I didn’t know people had so much faith in post-processing to think that you actually could make a photo look like sunrise or sunset with filters or plug-ins.

A Little Back Story

I’ve been doing a lot of photo critiques and reviews lately, and the topic of light is coming up quite a bit. I’ve seen a lot of photos that look great. But I find myself saying “Now take this photo in better light and you have a real winner”. But I always preface that response by letting people know that I realize they can’t always get back there to take that photo in good light. And that I realize that sometimes, while traveling, you don’t get a choice. The tour bus, or the tourist location, or your schedule doesn’t permit for you to be there during the magical light at the edges of the day.  Or, maybe you did everything right. You got to a great place at the right time of day, and the weather didn’t cooperate with you.

I totally get it. This has happened to me more times than I can count. But that doesn’t mean that good light isn’t important. And the responses I’m getting are more than just a casual complaint or frustration to not being able to be there at the right time of day. What I’m seeing is actually taking the form of a (friendly/mild) revolt against good light. One comment says something about “yeah, but light isn’t everything” and people pile on and jump in and agree.

So What Do I Do? What’s the Fix?

I have no idea! That’s why I’m asking you 🙂 As a person who truly believes that great landscape photos need 1 of (preferably both) two things: 1) Great locations, 2) Great light… I have no idea what to say. Mind you, if you’re reading this… OR… if you’re one of the ones that left one of those “light isn’t that important is it?” comments, I think you want the next level of photo. I don’t think you’re like my neighbor. They have 2 kids, bought a cheap point and shoot, and said something one time about wishing they could take better photos. They probably do wish they could, but they’re not really invested in it. They probably wish they could take better photos just like they wish they were better at flossing twice a day 😉 It’s cool. I think everyone “wishes” they could take a better photo.

But I believe the people reading this and following my training are different. You’re invested. You’ve paid thousands of dollars for camera equipment. Hundreds of dollars in software and training. And you want that next level of photo. I feel like I’m giving the info on how to get the shots, but they’re saying back “no, you’re wrong – there’s another way to get a great landscape photo that doesn’t include a great location or great light”.

In the end though, I don’t have a “fix”. I don’t have a magical setting in my camera, that I turn on in mid-day that allows me to capture great photos. Heck, I don’t even have a subject matter that I fall back on if the light is yucky to try to salvage a shoot. And I don’t have a magical filter in ON1 or Lightroom or Photoshop that I use to make my 12-noon photo look like it was taken at sunrise/sunset. Sure, I have tricks to get a little more warmth out of the light on a gray overcast day, but nothing to give the amazing look of the sky and clouds, and light that you get at sunrise/sunset. That “fixed” photo will look ok and I’ll salvage it. But it’s never going to live up to a photo that I’m truly excited about.

What do I do with those photos? They become memories. I go in to history documenting mode, and realize that I’m now capturing photos to document the fact I was here. Some of the photos make it in to a photo book of my trip. Some may even get shared online. I’m not saying throw them away, or don’t take them. But there is a difference between a good photo and a great photo. And when you send your photo in for a critique, I believe you’re asking for an honest evaluation of that photo and what can help take it from good to great.

In my critiques, I try to hone in on these concepts because I think every person looks at photography that inspires them, and sometimes wishes their photos looked as good. But you don’t know why. I want to try to help you realize that, sometimes, the issue isn’t something that you did. Sometimes you were just unlucky. And rather than have you spend hours and hours trying to edit a photo that won’t look the way you hoped it would, I’d like to help you realize that maybe is not your fault – maybe you were there at the wrong time of day. Know it… make the best photo you can at that point (which most people usually do) and hopefully spend some of your time wisely after that.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by and thanks for putting up with me asking you how to do my job. I honestly want to help. I don’t just want to be the robot saying over and over again “Great locations… great light!!!”. This has raised itself to enough people that I know I’m doing something wrong in the way I’m trying to communicate it. So now I want to figure out why, and start to help. Thanks!

Have a good one!

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