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Everybody is a photographer — Part 4


Martino Pietropoli
May 7, 2018 · 7 min read

The camera is a tool and it’s worse than your eyes

Have you ever been disappointed by the result of some pictures you took? You remember a beautiful and glorious sunset and the photo you’re seeing is just a big splash of oversaturated red on the top and a black region on the bottom. No details, not even the idea of all those trees you saw in that place. What happened? A camera — every camera, good or bad — suffers from the so called “exposure latitude”, or in other world the extension of light that it can capture. That’s why when the scene is too contrasted it tries to find a balance between the overexposed and the underexposed areas, ending up with an exposure that “burns” the so- called high lights (overexposed regions) and underexposes too much the dark ones. Virtue is not always in the middle, like in this case. Why do you remember a different image of that scene? Because you actually saw it different and differently: the human eye has in fact a much broader exposure latitude and it’s able to grab more details even in high-contrasted scenes. And this is just to talk about the physical image. Because there’s another, more important one: the mental image. The first is the image of a scene as recorded by your eyes and then stored into your brain; the second comes with the feelings and emotions you’re having while taking it.

The greatness of photography — also within its technical and optical limits — is that it can deliver both the physical and the mental image of a scene.

Of course, with a little effort: the post-production.

With a little help

I hope that you’ve never thought that all the beautiful photos you happened to see are good because the photographers that took them are better than you at their job. I mean: probably they are but those photos didn’t come straight out their cameras as you see them. They were heavily post-produced. That means that their tones have been pushed and modified, like their lights and contrasts and so on, just to mention few parameters you can work on editing a photo.

Post-producing a photo means bringing out the picture the photographer has in his mind while taking it; alteration means adding something which wasn’t there in the first place. The first one is still photography, the latter is cheating.

Adding people to a crowd — people who weren’t there — is cheating, it’s not making the image stronger. On the other side, working on levels, adding vignettes and so on it’s perfectly acceptable.

The don’ts

Having said that, let’s move on to the don’ts.

Post-production is, in other words, the meaning you want to give to your work. The message you want to deliver.

Nonetheless, there are some behaviours that’s better to avoid, like:

Don’t exaggerate

Do not use effects like HDR (High Dynamic Range) too heavily or do not oversaturate your photos, for instance. HDR is good when it adds details otherwise lost (particularly in dark areas) but it’s really bad when it’s pushed so far to give an unnatural touch to the image (there’s a whole Reddit thread on bad HDR)

Avoid fashion presets

As it happens in photography in general (cliches and trends for examples), the same happens in post-production: some presets are just fashion. They’re good for the season because some famous photographer uses them (like the aforementioned orange and teal effect) but that doesn’t mean they are always fine. It depends. Sometimes they are, sometimes they don’t.

You have the power to give each photo its own voice. The same effect/post-production technique cannot apply to different photos because each one wants to speak its own words.

Create a hierarchy

I do believe that the most important thing in post-production — apart from delivering a message using the right “words” — is to create a hierarchy. A photo is a composition: that means that it’s made of different parts in a relationship the ones with the others. This relationship is based on a hierarchy which is very simple in the end: what’s important on the top, the rest beneath it. Post-production is another way to bring attention on certain details and to use the rest as a frame. This relationship can be evident and strong or subtle. A photo with a pale palette could suggest that there’s no hierarchy but let’s see from another point of view: when everything is on the same level it means that every detail has the same importance. On the other end, a very contrasted image with strong and dark shadows suggests that the bright details are on the top and that dark regions are there just to frame them.

The whole composition and post-processing above (or post-production, they means the same thing that is “image editing”) are based on a strong geometric hierarchy that brings the focus on the lady’s silhouette and put the rest — up and bottom — to respectively two huge light and dark regions.

In the end you, as a photographer, should suggest a way to read your photo. Composition and post-production are your basic tools.

Speaking of tools…

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An image enhanced with Lenslight to add some warm tones and light to the sunset sun (a bit too grainy and too much post-processed)
Another one just slightly edited with Lenslight

Taking a photo is like writing a draft.

Post-processing is like editing it and making it clearer, better and stronger.

Coming up on Everybody’s a photographer:

  • Composition and post-production: examples on how to use these tools to make great images.
  • Photo-editing: how to tell a story or say something by images