Keeping it RAW
Photography is a big topic to cover.
Then again taking pictures and video is a day to day activity for most of us. We do it because it's fun. It's a way for us to freeze moments in time so we can look back later at important events or use them as a nostalgic time machine; a way to jog our memories and travel back to simpler happy times and happy family gatherings.
But for some of us it's a way to share ideas and communicate with each other. It's a way to archive achievements and to promote new products and business ventures.
Social media has accelerated the use of enhancing the quality of images, photos and video with the use of post production techniques.
There are photos that you'll see online and ask yourself "How did the photographer do that?"
Is it his super duper expensive camera or his command of the tricky functions in the camera manual that is enabling him to make these shots so compelling. Why can't I achieve that?
Well some of that magic has to do with the controls depending on the camera you are using. Having control of focus, aperture shutter speed and ISO is important. Those may not be familiar to you but someone once told me long ago, "You can't polish a turd, you can try to make it as shiny and bright as you can, but you won't change the fact that it's a turd."
This article is not about how to use your camera controls to take the shot, it's about what happens after the shot is taken.
So let's assume your shot is not blurry and over or under exposed (too dark or too brightly washed out) and you have a decent composition to start with. There are a number of photo editing programs to take your existing photo to another level.
Adobe Photoshop is a "raster graphics" editor developed by Adobe Inc. and it works on Windows and MacOS. Photoshop has been the de facto app for image manipulation, but there are off-shoots also by Adobe like Photoshop Elements which is less daunting, and Lightroom which targets photographers with a lot of photos to organize, store and upload.
There are lots of programs out there but instead of going through all of these I'm going to focus on one of them because it's what I use. I'll be featuring the magic of Photoshop today.
In the past I used to use a 35mm point and shoot film camera. The ones that came with a roll of film you would load and just snap away. It was always a surprise getting the pictures back because you'd only see them after they were developed in a photo lab. Anticipation was everything.
With cameras today you get to see the photo right on the spot on your camera or phone monitor screen.
My photographic success was dramatically elevated when I learned that the pros were using what's called RAW. You shoot with RAW when you know you will be colour-correcting or creating changes to exposure, sharpness, contrast and a myriad of other effects that you can use in the RAW format after you've taken your photo. Using RAW is not as scary as you think.
A RAW image is made from a wider dynamic range and color field compared to a JPEG image. JPEG is already compressed inside the camera when you take the shot. With a RAW image you can get back tones when an image or parts of an image are underexposed or overexposed. Shooting RAW images gives you a chance to recover from bad exposure, bad white balance, and overall bad everything. This is incredible when you're in a hurry and you haven't set your camera setting completely dead on in the lighting situation you've found yourself in.
So as an example, the photo for short story about the black notebook I had submitted was an idea that occurred to me while writing by my night table. I took the shot using mostly natural light and had arranged the items on the table to reflect exactly was contained in the story but I wanted it to have a nostalgic feeling; something softer and film-like.
I shot a number of angles until I finally got the one I wanted. I opened my RAW file in Photoshop and then the magical controls appeared. Using the control sliders from top to bottom (see photo above) starting with temperature. Choose whether you want a warmer shot or a cooler shot. One direction is more blue (cooler) and the other is more golden (warmer). For the image above I chose to go warmer and then I turned up the vibrance as well.
Leave the tint alone. Exposure is only used if your overall image is too dark or too light. Leave contrast alone as well for now.
Highlights can be brought down to remove those ugly flares on peoples noses and cheeks. Shadows can bring up or down the darker or shadowy parts of your photo. You can can magically bring back detail with this by opening up the shadowy areas. Below I used a cooler temperature setting, then the highlights and shadows to bring up the details that were lost on the subjects face and hair and body and it gave an overall dreamy soft gentle look.
Controls for the Whites and Blacks do the same thing as shadows and highlights except they do it to the overall image. So if your shot was too bright and much of the photo seemed lost to the sunshine or strong lighting, turning the whites right down will seem as though you've somehow brought back all the detail that was wiped out.
I know you don't believe me but this is why every great wedding photographer knows to shoot in RAW or else the nervous bride will devour them RAW seeing all of her special moments ruined by over exposed camera settings and unflattering shiny glary faces of her brides maids and family.
OK so the next five controls are the holy grail of RAW camera photo effects. Even though there are more effects below these that sharpen the image and control colours and create vignettes. These five controls include Texture, Clarity, Dehaze Vibrance and Saturation. they are responsible for those finishing touches that you've seen time and time again in the fashion world and professional commercial photography.
Texture controls what I term as softening focus. This will remove age lines and blemishes and give your photo either a soft feel or a harder look. In the photo above, I brightened the eyes my friend Liz's eyes by using the Dodge tool in Photoshop. Her eyes were a beautiful brown chestnut colour and I was able to bring them out just by lightly dabbing with 50% strength on the Dodge tool.
Clarity produces exactly what the word means. You can sharpen an image or blur the image.
The photo above was created again from a RAW photo and I raised the Vibrance , Clarity and Texture. There are so many things that you can learn just by being fearless and seeing what other have done and taking that first step to try it for you own photography.
Like I said at the beginning, the content is the most important part. The more photos you take, the easier it is to learn about composition and how your camera works. The beauty of taking photos today is you don't have to wait a week or two to see what you've done wrong and all you need do is erase all the bad pictures it took before you got that awesome photo.
You have nothing to loose when you're having fun.