The title of today’s blog post is a title of a short story by Stephen King but it seemed to fit in well with the topic of today’s blog. As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, sometimes it is very hard to see the wood from the tress when it comes to photographing stunning scenery; there have been occasions when I have literally taken hundreds of photographs and, as any pro photographer will tell you, you have to take hundreds in the hope of getting the one photo that is right. For a long time I used to agonise about all the awful pictures that I took; images that were under or over exposed, or badly composed, or badly cropped, or had the camera strap visible in the shot, or suffered badly from camera shake because I had failed to set the aperture or shutter speed correctly; pictures where the subject was yawning or cross-eyed or blinking; pictures where what I saw when I took the photograph just doesn’t seem to be there once the image is viewed on-screen. It was very heartening to slowly realise that ALL photographers, both amateur and professional, have the same crises. You cannot get a perfect image every time, you will cock up, and the only way of learning how to cock up less in the future is to make the mistakes in the first place. I once wasted a whole days shooting by having my camera set on the lowest possible image quality setting (I had been putting stuff on ebay the night before).
The best advice I have had as an amateur is to check the camera settings before taking any picture. Is the aperture or shutter speed correct for the image you want? Is the ISO (which changes the cameras sensitivity to light) set too high or too low? Is the white balance set correctly? Do I need to bracket the exposure (i.e. correct for harsh light such as snow or bright sunlight coming through a window)? I try to answer these questions but sometimes I just get lost in the moment and hope that things are going to turn out OK. Many a time I have viewed a spectacular image on the cameras 2” viewing window only to find it blurred when looked at full size. Also, there is a temptation to delete images that you are not happy with on the fly, as you take them, which must always been resisted. An image rejected in the field in harsh sunlight or under rainy overcast skies might not sing until you have looked at it full size and had the opportunity to crop and tidy up.
Digital photography has enabled photographers to do things in minutes which used to take hours in the darkroom but it is still a laborious process sifting through hundreds of images, deleting some, ignoring others and getting all excited about a view. Thus, I regularly go back to previous shoots to see if anything has been missed or passed over. Also, as my processing and post production skills have improved there are opportunities to fix things that maybe I didn’t have the confidence or time to look at before.
As you have probably guessed, this is one such image. The pictures I took on Crosby beach in January this year are amongst the best I’ve taken. There are hundreds of them. This was one that I rejected almost immediately – the exposure was wrong, the colours were muted and I thought it a bit dull (you may still think so). Going back I thought I would have a go at fixing the exposure and the tone and boosting the colours and lo and behold the picture came alive and revealed its hidden depths. Suddenly the cranes of the Liverpool Port authority were visible on the horizon, suddenly the angry blue/purple of the clouds that I was sure had been there when I took the picture were back. And from a picture that was definitely in the ‘meh’ pile emerged an image that I now really like. Now of course I have had to use Photoshop to boost this picture but not a great amount and I believe it still holds true to what I thought I was capturing when I took the photo. In the past I have dabbled in HDR (some of you like it, some of you don’t) but that does not apply in this case. There is no manipulation other than correcting exposure and tone and lifting the colour. HDR has its place and I am a fan of its judicious use as a technique but after my initial experiments when it was all new and exciting I am now moving back towards more natural photography and I think it shows in my pictures from the Lakes.
So, the messages are:
- Make lots of mistakes, criticise yourself and learn from the experience.
- If advice is offered from another photographer take it. 99% of pros and amateurs I have met have been helpful, supportive and willing to explain/teach.
- Never delete images in the field – always take them home and review them on a large screen.
- Don’t be afraid to use software to process your photos as long as you are true to what you wanted to capture (unless you are deliberately going for an arty or otherwordly feel.
- Write a blog or keep a diary to keep track of your progress (and try and update it more than I have been doing of late).
- Let time pass and go back to old images, you’ll be surprised what you might find.
Here endeth the lesson. I hope you like the photograph and please let me know via the comments button if you think it was worth saving or not. Thanks…