Our guest blogger is Ellen Anon. Ellen will be teaching a workshop and lecturing at this year’s Expo.
We all want to create WOW images, if not all the time, at least some of the time! In reality no-one, not even your favorite pro, creates phenomenal images with each and every shot. But most of us want all of our keeper images to look the best they can and have the most impact. And we want some images that knock people’s socks off. So with that in mind there are lots of discussions over which is the best camera system (Nikon, Canon, Hasselblad, an iPhone …) and which is the best lens and whether you need to run out and buy the latest offering from the manufacturers, etc. But somehow a new camera body, a new lens, a new filter, etc may improve an aspect of your images but rarely do they take your images to the WOW level by themselves.
And after you get past the notion that it’s a lack of the latest equipment that’s standing in your way, then folks tend to think that it must be the processing … is Photoshop better or is Elements OK? Lightroom or Aperture? What about plug-ins? What about processing just on a smart phone or on a tablet like an iPad? And then they learn how to pull the various sliders to adjust the images in various programs and plug-ins. And really, that’s what post processing is – you adjust sliders that change the apparent exposure, color, detail level, etc. It’s not hard. If you’re not sure what something does, you can pull the slider to an extreme and get immediate feedback, and then set the slider more appropriately. Personally, I love post processing … but I don’t love spending hours on a single image nor do I have the time to do that on a regular basis. The fact is that there are lots of excellent books and workshops out there to help you learn to use the various programs, some of which I’ve created.
But the trouble is you may find yourself spending inordinate amounts of time adjusting those sliders and still not having images that make you pleased with the result. Because it’s one thing to know that if you pull this slider to the right, the image will get brighter and to the left will make it darker, or whatever, and an entirely other thing to know what things to adjust in an image and what to leave alone.
The best images begin with choosing the right tools in the field to create the image, i.e. the right lens, shutter speed, aperture, etc and then progress to a few key adjustments (depending on the individual image) in the digital darkroom that emphasize the message that you’re trying to convey with the image. Traditionally there are a lot of compositional rules designed to help you do this and create powerful images. But the trouble is that most rule based approaches say something along the lines of, “Follow this rule to make better photos, but feel free to break it at times when it doesn’t work.” That leaves a lot of people scratching their heads wondering how they know if they should follow the rules they memorized or break them. For example there’s the rule of thirds where it’s suggested to imagine a tic tac toe grid overlaid on your image and place the subject on the intersection of two lines. This helps people learn to get their subject out of the center, but the fact is, sometimes the center placement works … so how do you know when to follow the rules and when to break them?
My son Josh and I have come up with an approach that we call Visual Intensity that makes it far easier to know how to make an image stronger. In a nutshell every image has a certain amount of energy based on a number of factors including subject content, subject placement, colors, lines and more. If the energy level is too high, you need to take steps to decrease the overall energy in the field. For example one option would be that you could change the depth of field to blur the background. Or perhaps you should use a different focal length. Similarly if the energy is too low, you need to take steps to increase it … perhaps by including more details or more contrast. (In fact when we go into more detail about Visual Intensity we talk about lots of types of contrast, not just luminosity contrast.) Once you start to view your image in terms of its energy level, you’ll create stronger images in camera and when you open the image in the digital program of your choice, you’ll know what to adjust to make the image the best it can be. You’ll know whether you want to increase its energy or decrease the overall energy and then use the tools at hand to do so. In other words, you’ll be on your way to creating WOW images a lot faster.
I’ll be explaining some of the details of using Visual Intensity to guide your image making in both my lecture at the Nature Visions 2011 “Understanding Visual Intensity; The Key to Making Better Images in Camera and in the Digital Darkroom” and in my workshop “Nice Shot, Now What?” where we’ll apply some of the concepts in the lecture using various software plug-ins including Nik’s Color Efex Pro and Silver Efex Pro. Come and learn an approach that can truly help you make stronger images and free you to spend less time on the computer!
The above content and picture is copyright © Ellen Anon