It Isn’t Just About Taking A Good Photo…

…Or having a good photo camera for that matter.

Many people have over the years approached me and asked me what camera/cameras and equipment I use to take my photographs. I am not one of those people, who keeps this information secretive. I do tell them what camera I used to take the photo and the lens that was used. However, there is a big misconception in the mind of the newbies, of the serious photography world.

They think that by just buying an expensive camera, they will start taking good photos. This is slightly true, in the sense that obviously if you have better equipment and more megapixels, your in general photo taking standards will increase, but in essence they won’t be actually ‘producing’ an excellent photograph, but just taking a better photo than they were before. Some think that by just buying a camera and getting some fancy lens, which they don’t even know how to use, they’ll just automatically become professional photographers. Well, that’s where they are wrong.

You don’t actually ‘take’ a good photograph, you actually ‘produce’ a good photograph. There is the pre-production, the production and then the post-production stages of achieving an amazing photograph. Even when you are aware of all of these stages, it takes lots and lots of practice to ‘churn out’ one good photograph after the other. The pre-production stage is only necessary if you are doing ‘planned’ photography. It is excluded from Street Photography style or Reporting style of photo taking. Spontaneous shooting, only requires the production and the post-production. Now I’ll write about the three stages.

Pre-Production stage requires a lot of thinking and planning. You actually think about what you want to shoot. That may or may not include human beings. For example you may think that you want to photograph a person; you want to capture their many expressions and faces. You will start planning that in your mind. Where to shoot them? What kind of poses would they be possibly doing? What kind of lighting should be employed to capture them in the photographs? What kind of props or things should be included in the background or foreground? What kind of photograph should it be, a close up or a full portrait? Such questions and many more should be going through the mind. Afterwards, you might want to think about what camera you are going to shoot them with and the lens you are going to use. This is obviously for the fancy posh people with a lot of money, who buy a lot of lenses but don’t really use them. For the people with only one DSLR, body+lens, they will obviously only use that. Many of the professional photographers, especially the photographers who do a lot of commercial work, keep a ‘photographer’s diary or journal’ in which they answer all those questions before going on a planned shoot.

Production stage is pretty simple, oh so it seems. Most of us, even the most pro-photographers out there, used to just grab a camera and start clicking away. Now, yes, that style does come under Street Photography or Reporting, but since we are focusing on photography other than these two styles, I will ignore them for now. That’s a mistake. You shouldn’t just start clicking away at whatever and start taking photographs. You should actually use your viewfinder and ‘frame’ the photograph before taking it. Think about things like foreground and background. Also think about where exactly do you want to place your subject. On the right, on the left, or in the centre. There is a general rule of thumb, that you shouldn’t place your subject in the centre. The picture should also contain some of the surroundings. Now this cardinal rule of photography is sometimes ignored, when we are doing Portraiture style of photography and just capturing people and their emotions. Especially if it is close up portraits that are being taken. Another thing that should be considered during the production stage of the photograph, but in most instances can be corrected during the post-production, is the fact that how much headroom should be left between the top and the subject. You should at least leave some headroom. Subject too close to the top doesn’t look good. Another thing is the fact that square photos in most case don’t look good. The orientation of the photo should be set to 16:4 wide angle or rectangle shaped.

Lastly, comes the post-production stage. Many people and amateur photographers, avoid this stage; but it is crucial to producing a good photograph. I will not call using ‘Instagram’ or using other freeware software to apply few image effects on to a photo, “post-production”. That is cheating and of the pathetic kind. Most of the times, people just apply whatever filters they can find and absolutely ruin the photograph. This stage mostly refers to using a professional grade photo editing software and adding value to your photograph. Most common software that is used is Adobe Paintshop, but recently, Adobe Lightroom has become really popular and many other photographers also use Corel Paintshop Pro X series of editing software. Some of the processes of the post-production stage include, rectifying the light in the photographs. Some photos that we take are over-exposed (means they have more light than they should) or under-exposed (means they have less light than they should have). Apart from light correction, there is also the Chroma correction or colour correction. After these major corrections amongst others, some basic ones are cropping the photograph, applying a border, watermarking the photograph etc. I recommend everyone to use some sort of a good grade photo editing software and actually learn ‘editing’ and ‘photo manipulation’. Having editing skills will transform your average photos to good photos and your good taken photos to excellent or magical photographs. Just like makeup can change an average face and make that face look beautiful, similarly, photo editing can make a photograph completely transform.

A common myth is that you should not edit the photograph. This will spoil it. It should remain as it is. To clear that out, editing a photograph will not spoil it, if it has been edited well and with taste. Editing doesn’t mean applying all the filters you know, like Sepia etc. When you edit a photograph, the main objective is to make it look better. It does not mean you have to use many different filters and edit tools. Basic editing like light correction and sharpening the image, can make it look better and that would be enough too. You don’t always have to apply all the different image effects. Each photograph requires different filters and effects, based on how you want the photograph to look.

How would you know if the photograph has been edited well? My mentor told me that first and foremost, the photograph should stand out and be attractive to you. If you get that gut feeling that it is nice or good, then most probably it is. If you don’t, you should try some other edit tools and effects. Secondly, don’t go overboard with the image effects. Just like in video editing, using too much jump cuts and different effects like fade ins and outs ruins the video, similarly in photo editing, over usage of effects ruins a photograph. Keep it as natural as possible, so the people that are the target viewers of your photographs can identify with them. Also lastly, how would you know if you have done a good job with the image? Compare it with the original image. If when you see the images and suddenly you think that, “wow there’s a hell of a difference, this one looks better” then most probably, you have edited it well.

Now, if you are outside and most probably will be using Street Photography style of taking photographs – in lay man’s terms, you are shooting as you go – then you will avoid the first stage and immediately start from the second stage, which is production. Also in this style of shooting, you have limited few seconds to think and react to a photo taking situation. Many Pulitzer prize winning photographs were taken in split seconds decisions taken by the photographer. You do however, look through the viewfinder and try to compose a scene to photograph, you just don’t have that much time, if you want to capture something. For instance, a person riding a motorbike, or a person jumping off of a mountain. Not only that, but if you are more in to capturing insects and animals. They move fast and will not give you the ability to think a lot about the framing and composition of your photograph.

This was written to clear the misconception that if you buy a good camera, you are automatically going to take good photographs. You practice and learn to take good photographs. After that, you learn to edit them and produce magical photographs, which will leave people gobsmacked. Photography is an expensive hobby and a career, plus it requires time and dedication. You really have to learn a lot of things and put in the effort, in order to achieve good results. In the beginning of course, due to trial and error, while practicing; you will get the odd one or two good photographs which people will compliment you on, but to get really good, you have to learn the basics and apply them. Then only can you call yourselves a ‘photographer’.

To illustrate the difference editing can make.

This is the unedited photograph. As you can see the colours are slightly dull in the photograph and the flower isn’t standing out so much, even though it is the main subject and focus of the photograph. This photo was edited.

DSC_0064

Here is the edited photograph. It has subtle yet important changes done to it. Noise reduction was used. Slight light correction was done. Added more light in to the photograph. Plus colour correction was also done. The petals and flower in general seems more vibrant and stands out. Plus the sharpen tool was applied over the flower, to give it an edge. To make it stand out and be more attractive to the eyes. The editing serves the purpose, because the objective of the editing was to make the flower be the focus.

DSC_0064Edited

Comments

  1. Well written Aisha. Simply amazing. I agree completely :)
    Clearly sets things straight :) Very informative too! Keep up the good work :)

    - Peace and harmony.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey Aisha. Lovely piece of writing you have done here. Best of luck for the next.
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    ReplyDelete

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