November 9, 2015

3 Examples of Why You Should Edit Your Images (And Shoot in RAW)

Prominent celebrities and models have recently joined activists in a "War on Photoshop", arguing that  the photography industry goes too far with image manipulation software, using it to create deceptively perfect and unrealistic images used to sell clothing and cosmetics.  Photography purists from the film era have also decried the use of digital manipulation as "cheating" to create images that technology of old produced under only the most skilled hands.  Novices and amateurs are often intimidated by the complexity and learning curve of Photoshop and then hear about the celebrities and purists eschewing it and still getting great images.  I want to dispel some myths about photo editing here, and show photographers how much their images can improve just by taking control of the editing process.

And by "taking control of the editing process", this means I'm not just talking to novices and amateurs who are shooting straight to JPEG or using software like Picasa for basic adjustments—I'm also speaking to experienced photographers who may have been using software like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop for years, but have not ventured much past presets and actions they rely on to do the heavy lifting.  Many photography enthusiasts and even professionals spend the bulk of their improvement efforts on their skills behind the camera—skills like learning how to stage, pose, and compose a subject, how to find or create the best lighting, and learning the technical nuances of exposure and their camera.  While it's critical to master the art of capturing a great image, the capture must be followed up by equal art in postprocessing to get the most out of your images.

Here are three sample images to illustrate my point.  These are images I just completed from my 18-day road trip around the American West back in July, taken at the Ingalls Homestead in De Smet, South Dakota.  When I shot these images, I knew some serious technical issues would arise because of extremely uneven, hard light, and because of the subtle golden and green tones intertwining against an unobstructed bright partly-cloudy blue sky.  If I wanted strong midday images with rich color, I knew the camera alone would not provide them, and that editing them would be a huge challenge.  On the left are the original raw images, with default white balance and sharpness adjustments from Adobe Lightroom and basic exposure and contrast adjustments so that the images aren't too dark.  On the right are the very same raw images processed 100% in Adobe Lightroom by me without any third-party presets.

Three Images Before & After Edits

For any of you who don't know how I work, I try to do all of my editing in the simplest way possible exclusively within Adobe Lightroom, only dropping into Photoshop maybe about 5% of the time when I feel motivated and need to do more sophisticated edits.  I like to capture the image right the first time in camera, because saving a few seconds shooting and getting it wrong usually translates into minutes or hours of fixing things in Photoshop—but even when the capture is right, I still have to edit my images before they're truly finished.  In order to do that, I've never been a fan of downloading presets for Lightroom or actions for Photoshop because I wanted to learn how to work with the images on my own—mainly because I want my work to look original, rather than looking like a knock-off of images created by other people using the same presets and actions.  I tend to prefer strong contrast with dramatic shadows and rich but realistic color.  To put it more simply, I usually like my images to pop, but there are times when I go a completely different direction in order to tell a story or convey a mood or to create a mix of feelings.  I often return to images I may have shot and edited years ago because I'm curious about what I might be able to create using new skills or tools I've acquired since, or because I think I might be able to create another dramatic take on it.

The point of me telling you all of this is that you understand that after I shoot my images, I edit them to draw out everything I need to tell the story I want to tell in my own style and voice.  As for these three images, you'll notice that I didn't narrow any bellies, brighten any eyes, or lengthen any legs, and furthermore I promise you that I never replaced any skies or painted anything in with a Bob Ross brush (because you need Photoshop for that).  The original image in RAW format contained everything you see on the right, but you don't see those things on the left because I did only the most basic edits.  The images on the left are nice sharp snapshots, while the images on the right could qualify as fine art.  And all I did for each of these images was create a custom color profile (which helps, but isn't always necessary) and experiment for a few minutes with the sliders in Lightroom based on everything I've learned from using it for the last five years.

I hope that right now you're thinking about images you've shot in your own photo library—and you're wondering if you could get these kinds of improvements right now from those images, just by playing with the sliders in Lightroom.  And the short answer to your wondering is yes, you can!  Chances are, a lot of you have already shot images where you captured details and tones that that you wanted to use to tell your stories in your own ways, but for some reason you haven't realized it or haven't realized how simple it is to learn to edit.  Keep in mind that I've been working with Lightroom (and without presets) for years—don't expect to wrap your brain around every aspect of it overnight—but know that right out of the gate you absolutely can get more out of your images because the basics are actually really easy to learn and apply, especially if you shoot RAW.  Let's talk about that for a moment...

We may not have thought about processing negatives or digital files much in the last 30-40 years or so, because so much of that has always been so automatic.  In the film days, we dropped our film off to be developed and printed at a lab, and that lab may have had sophisticated ways of processing our film to send back prints of a reasonable quality.  (Remember the Kodak ColorWatch System?)  In the digital days, cameras have always had tiny computers in them that automatically did almost everything photo labs used to do when we'd send them unprocessed film.  The JPEG files that come out of even the most basic cell phone camera have all had adjustments for contrast, brightness, white balance, and sharpness, and most of us never realized that.  The other thing we may not have realized is that while film processing labs almost always sent back your developed negatives, granting full future flexibility, only the more advanced cameras like DSLRs offer the ability to save the RAW data file used to create the JPEG...and that having this raw data allows a photographer to get much, much more out of an image in postprocessing.

As the photography industry grew to include many new people through advancing technology and lower prices, the idea that postprocessing was an essential part of creating a photographic image was lost to a lot of people, simply because DSLRs produced nice images straight out of the camera.  Some new photographers were overwhelmed by having to learn both a camera and software, and so many never bothered to learn the nuances of editing their images because—let's face it—Photoshop until recently has been expensive and this software still has a steep learning curve!  And for a long time, easier and less expensive alternatives were not available.  Besides that, new photographers have been discouraged by activists and purists railing against any sort of photo editing or manipulation, and now either feel a twinge of guilt at editing their images or feel a sense of pride that all their images are "real" and not deceptive or contrived.

My position is that every DSLR owner who wants to create great images should be shooting RAW either instead of or alongside of JPEG, and that they need to master editing images on their own in order to fully realize their creative potential.  After all, great photographers like Ansel Adams pushed their negatives confidently and aggressively with filters and techniques that worked just like functions in Photoshop to get the absolute best images.  When you compare the before and after of my three images above, they don't look fake, deceptive, or contrived, do they?

Chances are, a lot of you have already shot images where you captured details and tones that would let you tell your stories in your own ways, but for some reason you haven't realized it or haven't realized how easy it is to start editing.  When I got my first DSLR, I almost always shot RAW instead of JPEG, even though it took up more space and even though I didn't know much about editing.  I knew that one day I might want to get deeper into editing, and I did—so using all of that extra disk space didn't cost me much, and in the end it really paid off.  Either way, whether you have RAW files in your library already or not, I highly recommend that you start shooting RAW so you can go back and work with them.

In my next article, I'll get your creative wheels of photo editing turning by covering the easiest adjustments I made to these images and why.  To whet more advanced photo editors' appetites, I'll also share some of the more advanced adjustments I made as well.  In the meantime, I'd like to recommend some videos and a couple of books that I used to get started with Adobe Lightroom a few years ago:

  • Adobe TV:  Adobe itself hosts numerous videos to help you get started learning Lightroom. Some of the videos are geared for Lightroom 5, but the basic functionality of Lightroom 6/CC is exactly the same as Lightroom 5, so the instructions will work for either version.  My favorite videos were always the ones with Julianne Kost.
  • The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC Book for Digital Photographers by Scott Kelby:  I used an older edition of this book when I started working with Lightroom 4 and it really helped fill in some details I'd missed from watching the Adobe TV videos.  Scott Kelby does an excellent job at explaining and demonstrating every feature of every module clearly so you understand how to use the software.  This book really helped me get a clear idea of how to organize my photo library and my workflow, as well as find a few more nifty techniques in the Develop module.
  • Vision & Voice: Refining Your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom by David duChemin:  Even though this book hasn't been updated since its first edition, and is based on Lightroom 4, this book is more about ideas and principles you'll want to learn about any kind of photo editing.  David duChemin does an outstanding job at explaining what thought processes will help you produce compelling images both behind the camera and in postprocessing.  You'll learn new ways of seeing and thinking about your photography and he shows how to apply these new ways by demonstrating techniques he uses in Adobe Lightroom.  This book really helped me learn to use photo editing as a way to communicate complete ideas and feelings with my photography, rather than just enhancing the look of my pictures.
While Adobe Lightroom isn't the only software you can use to edit RAW photos, it is the most common right now, so a lot of support is readily available online.  To get the most out of your photos, you'll need to shoot RAW, and have software that edits RAW files natively—sadly, this excludes many free editors such as Picasa, which work with RAW files, but convert them to JPEG (and usually very poorly) when you start editing.

August 23, 2014

Best Fair On The Planet! | Lorain County Fair | Panoramic Portrait

Not to sound too much like John Cougar Mellencamp or anything, but I grew up in a small town in Northern Ohio, about 20 miles from the shores of Lake Erie and just a bit into the corn, wheat, and bean fields lying on the fringe of the Greater Cleveland Area.  I had one such field literally in my back yard as a kid, and every year in the week before school started, this small town of Wellington temporarily closed up its storefronts and moved them one mile away to buildings, tents, and trucks at the Lorain County Fair.

This year was the 169th Lorain County Fair (!!!) and has been held in Wellington since 1941.  When I was a kid growing up there, I just figured that everybody had a fair for a week every summer...furthermore I had no idea that this fair going on in my back yard was even touted as THE best in the entire state by those who have been to lots of them!  (My Youngstown friends in Mahoning County can claim that their fair in Canfield is the largest, but I have yet to hear a vendor or exhibitor say they thought it was better than Lorain's...I have yet to see for myself.)

Now that I have the wherewithal to appreciate what I formerly took for granted, I've gotten my lovely wife—a Cuyahoga County girl—coming down with me each year to enjoy the pure power of the NTPA Tractor Pull (known colloquially as "The Friday Night Spectacular"...which I admit gives me goosebumps) and the chaotic mayhem of the Combine Derby (yes...that's right...those big harvesting machines even have their own demolition derby).  We also love to see the exhibits and animals and to indulge in the plethora of fried food.

So, since the Lorain County Fair is such an awesome piece of my life as well as a quintessential slice of Americana, I thought I would use the grand sign at the main entrance as the backdrop for my very first "little planet" portrait with none other than Becky and I!  Even though I live in the 'burbs of a big town now, it's very cool to go back to my roots each year to see all the people and sights, hear all the sounds, smell all the smells, and taste all the food that make the county fair so awesome for everyone who's grown up with one.  I can't say enough about how amazing a job the fair board does each year at sprinkling in the new while leaving the fair just exactly the same as it's always been since I was a kid—in the midst of this rapidly-changing and unstable world, it's great to know that the place where you came from is still there and thriving!

June 24, 2014

Recovery Is a Process—And a Destination | Friends | Central Ohio

As I mentioned in a previous post, Becky and I have spent a lot of our weekends in Central Ohio over the past two months.  I wish I could say it was for leisure or a big job, but unfortunately, it was a far more serious situation.  Our friends Justin and Jennifer—a couple I've known for over a decade, and who over the past two years have become even more dear to Becky and I— had their life turned upside down on May 2 when Justin fell at work and suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Before I get into the story of the last two months, I want to introduce you to Justin and Jennifer before Justin's accident.  The photos at left and below are from an event Becky and I planned at Malabar Farm's Pugh Cabin (near Mansfield) with Justin and Jen back in October.  Justin and Jen share a love for science fiction with Becky and I, and they love to cosplay as much as Becky of course, we planned the party as a costume-only affair where all our friends were required to dress with a steam punk or Victorian-era look.

Since everyone would be dressed up so spectacularly, I thought it would be a great opportunity to set up a photo session for everyone.  I'm so glad to have so many great photos from that day that really capture Justin's personality...his charisma, his love of life, his love for his friends, and of course his love for Jen.  And while they may not have much materially, Justin and Jennifer will literally do anything within their power for a friend in need.

So when friends like these need your help, you move heaven and earth to be there for them!

And on the afternoon of May 2, Becky and I received text messages from Jen alerting us that their life had just changed for the foreseeable future.  Justin, a roofer, had fallen while measuring a job, knocking him unconscious with a severe head injury.  

The following week was a roller coaster that followed Justin's intracranial pressure.  Everyone did what they could to support and distract Jen and to care for their three dogs and two cats.  Eventually it became apparent that at least most of Justin's "marbles" were still in his head, and that he was going to make it out of the hospital—but there were a couple of scares where doctors successfully averted catastrophic brain damage.  I have to commend the staff at Riverside Methodist Hospital's Neurological Intensive Care Unit for doing a phenomenal job in taking care of our friend!

After ten days in ICU, Justin was transferred to OhioHealth Rehabilitation Hospital in Columbus.

Here he is with Jen, and one his other best friends, Ember, on his first weekend in rehab.  While Justin still had over two weeks in the hospital ahead of him, their friends and family not only managed moving them from their old apartment, but they also contributed items to a yard sale and set up a website to raise money to help them with expenses.

On June 7, Becky and I along with another friend spent the afternoon with Justin and Jen.  We took Justin to see the movie we had originally planned (before his accident) to see together here in Cleveland (in costume of course) when it opened two weeks earlier.  After the past month, however, we were all happy just to have Justin with us!

I snapped this photo of them just before we left their house:

While Justin is about 80% or so back to his old self, he still has a ways to go to get back to 100.  He returns to work (on ground-only duty at first) in a few weeks, but it could still be several months before all of his marbles get put back the way they were before his accident.  Becky and I are so happy to see how much progress Justin has made in such a short time, and to see how much of a rock Jen has been for him throughout this entire ordeal.

While waiting rooms and tears weren't what Becky and I expected to share with Justin and Jennifer back in May, I am very happy to have spent the time we did with them and the resulting closer relationship we enjoy with them and all the other friends we've made down in the Columbus area!  

It also makes me happy that I have a reference of Justin at his best in October—so we can all see the goal of his recovery process—when he's again 100%!

Visit the website,, if you would like to help Justin and Jennifer cover their expenses until they're both able to fully return to work. 

May 18, 2014

Some Roosters Are Big Chickens | Animals | Ashley, Ohio

On Sunday,  Becky and I spent the day with our dear friend, Jen, from Delaware, Ohio.  Two weeks earlier, Jen's husband, Justin, fell from a roof he was working on and landed himself in the hospital for the last two weeks with a serious head injury.  Justin is slowly but surely recovering, and Jen has spent almost all her time since the accident with him at the hospital.  Whenever Becky and I come down, it's an opportunity not only for us to visit Justin, but also to get her out of the hospital room to run some errands and get a little R&R.

As if life wasn't complicated enough, the friends who have been watching Jen & Justin's three dogs also had a beloved pet rabbit pass away earlier in the she brought Becky and I along for the "funeral" of the passed bunny, which took place at Jen's friends' house in the small nearby burg of Ashley, Ohio.

Now Jen's friends not only had rabbits, but they have a chicken coop complete with over a dozen hens and this big, beautiful rooster you see here...

A rooster walks around on the grass outside his coop.

As some roosters can be rather mean, Jen's friends told us that this rooster was one of the sweetest, most docile roosters of any they'd ever had.  Unfortunately, this also meant this rooster was a BIG CHICKEN when it came to Jen's little dog, Ember...who gave chase IMMEDIATELY when she was put on the ground...

It resulted in a spectacle seldom seen by suburb-dwellers like myself...

A rooster runs for dear life as Ember the dog gives chase.

Not to fear, though!  After running all the way around the chicken coop, all across the back and front yards, and two houses down the street, a passing motorcyclist cut off Jen's mischievous pooch and probably saved this story from having any tragic endings.  We were all relieved that Ember ran back to Jen—with a mouth full of feathers, mind you—and the rooster circled right back around to his hens.  I was glad to have gotten some great pictures by which to remember the whole fiasco!

May 17, 2014

Roslyn & Larry | Wedding | Middleburg Heights | UAW Local 1250

Portrait of bride and groom
Roslyn & Larry
You can always tell a lot about the personality of a couple when you work with them on their wedding.  In the case of couples who are beyond their 20s and 30s, their wedding can celebrate more than just a new beginning—it can also celebrate decades of friendship lasting through the very best and very worst times in life.

Roslyn and Larry had a wonderful wedding day filled with friends and family that have been with them through a lifetime.  It's among the most beautiful things anyone can witness, and it was a great pleasure for me to be a part of it with them!

Formal portrait of bride and groom with bridal party
Roslyn & Larry with their bridal party.
Bridesmaid walking up the aisle during wedding ceremonyBride and groom with Bible during wedding ceremony Friends laughing during wedding ceremony

Bride and sister three part collage
Roslyn with her sister—I asked her which one was the troublemaker!
Formal portrait of bride with sister and neice
Roslyn with her sister and niece
Formal portrait of bride and her girlfriends

Wedding cake

Bride and groom sharing wedding cake

Bride and groom sharing their first dance at their wedding reception

May 15, 2014

Geralda Comes Into the Office

So I came into the office early to use the space for a quick product shot, and my coworkers arrived before I had packed up my camera and lights...  Geralda thought she wanted to stand in between the lights, and I said, "You do!"

This was my favorite shot :-)

Casual shot of Geralda

Since she's rather self-conscious in front of cameras, I took it as complementary when she saw the four or five photos I took and said, "YOU DON'T SUCK!" Hahahaaha...!!!

May 5, 2013

Leslie & Steve | Engagement | Edgewater Park

Leslie & Steve have their wedding planned for July 2013 in Independence, Ohio.  Steve is an engineer, and Leslie is studying to become an architect.  

They would love to have wedding photos taken in Cleveland, but the schedule on their wedding day is just too tight to squeeze in a trip up to the we decided that Edgewater Park would be the ideal location for their engagement session.

And the weather was perfect for a sunset session on the shores of Lake Erie!  Leslie & Steve were positively adorable in front of the camera, and they are couple who look to have many wonderful happy years ahead!

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