Photoshop - A Dirty Word

“Hilda, what do you think of this amazing photo?” “It is amazing Agnes, yes, but it looks photoshopped.”

The “photoshopped” comment is something most of us have heard, or even thought or said ourselves. Professional Bird Photographer Ron Bielefeld’s images occasionally illicit the response of “that image was photoshopped” from other photographers. Ron has talent, and after 20 years of pointing a very large lens at 4 inch long birds zipping by at 35 miles per hour, his skills have honed far beyond most of us. His images reflect his capture.

To have captured an image that is so perfect it requires no photoshopping is a wonderful achievement. But, if you think about it, there are limited venues that permit such photography. To some photographers, the value or worth of the image comes from its good capture and lack of post manipulation. To others, the final image is what is most important. The question then is: Is worth measured by the process or the final image?

The answer to the question has a lot to do with what you plan to do with your images. If they are for presentation in a photo club with rules against manipulation, then you have to place more worth on the capture and you get what you get. Although this may seem artistically limiting, there can be satisfaction in manipulating the environment and capture process so as to take an image that portrays the scene that was in your imagination. Manipulation includes moving bad or distracting elements, moving yourself and camera’s perspective, and depth of field to further hone in on your subject.

If your photos are for your own artistic creation, then you must know that there are no rules. You are more free to say or express something through your photos. In many ways, this freedom is more difficult than when your creativity is placed in a small box. It requires more thought about the end result, and it requires studying the tools to achieve the result.

Ansel Adams often took several photos of the same scene with different exposures. The negatives were then manipulated and combined so as to allow a much greater dynamic range than would have otherwise been possible. In his day, chemicals and black inks were used. Today with digital capture, we use Photoshop. The result is the same – you imagine an image and you do what you must to make it real.

Photography can be no less an artful process than painting can be. A painter starts with a blank canvas and adds the elements she wants. A painter controls the way your eye moves through the image so you can ultimately experience what was in her imagination.

Photography is the opposite. We start with an image often full of distracting elements. The distractions take the viewer’s eye away from the path intended, from the feeling or message that the photographer saw and tried to capture. The post-capture manipulation of the image in Photoshop, or whatever digital darkroom tool you use, serves to refine the image to what your imagination intended. Painters and photographers may begin at opposite ends, but with skill they can arrive at the same place.

Take time to learn your available tools and expand your imagination and photographic possibilities. Photoshop doesn’t need to be a bad word, but it does need to be done well.

Boris Robinson
Vero Beach Photography


New to Photography

Perhaps you’ve recently discovered that you love to take pictures, you’ve joined a photo club, and maybe you’ve bought a small digital camera. Well, congratulations, but now what. If you’re interested in making better photographs or, at least, making photographs that come out the way you imaged, and you’re serious enough to spend $20 and read a bit, then here are a few ideas that might be of aid.

The camera is the tool of photography. And as with all tools, understanding how your tool works means you’ll know which one to use to get the result you want, i.e., using a flat-head screw driver to try to remove a philips-head screw, or using a standard toaster to try and make a grilled-cheese sandwich (this doesn’t work!).

A good beginner’s book is “The Betterphoto Guide to Digital Photography” by Jim Miotke, available at Amazon.com for about $16. It was published in 2005, but the basics still apply and the main thing that has changed since then is more pixels and higher resolution. This book will teach you how to use your camera in an easy and simple way, and also teach you the fundamentals so if you do buy a DSLR, you’ll know how it can be used.

It’s not what you shoot with, it’s how you shoot. Point & shoot cameras have some limitations as compared to ‘bigger’ DSLR cameras(digital single lens reflex), but it’s mainly depth of field and noise issues. As an example, a fair number of photos that were accepted and hung (and got awards) in the current Backus Museum photography show were taken with point & shoot cameras. Don’t feel intimidated by people with big expensive cameras and lenses.

The next step is to slow down a bit. Digital allows us to shoot hundreds of pictures and that’s what most people end up doing – like firing a machine gun and hoping to hit something. Rather, use the book (and a written out simple cheat-sheet) to get the effects you want. Pick a subject and go and shoot it on purpose with an idea of what you want to get. For example, the last time I went to shoot water lilies at McKee, I shot three areas and took 31 digital photos. It took an hour and a half and the biggest difference between the photos was the light coming through different clouds and waiting for intermittent puffs of wind to die down. I used the puffs of wind to blur the water and get a ‘painterly’ effect in the reflections, yet had to wait a few seconds so the plants weren’t moving and blurry. Read the book and you’ll know that I used a long exposure (about 3/4 second), the highest f-stop, a tripod, and for point & shoots – the self-timer so there was no camera shake.

In today’s world, we’ve gotten so use to the idea that we buy something, turn it on and we get what we want, that there’s a marked resistance to actually having to do something like read a hundred pages in order to learn. In life we get what we give, so take some time to learn and you will be rewarded with artistic creation.

Now, go and shoot and have fun making photos. You’ll never stop learning because the more you discover, the more you’ll want to try and do.

Boris Robinson
Vero Beach Photographer


Understanding Digital Photo Processing

Imagine not knowing how to fly or having a pilot’s license yet having the money to buy a $30,000 airplane and doing so. And then, trying to learn it on your own because you won’t spend $3,000 on lessons – eventually becoming a ‘statistic’.

Photography is not quite as risky as flying, but how about buying $1,000 to $3,000 worth of digital camera gear and then not taking the time to learn to process the images. This is more common than not and there is one recurring theme applicable here – Slow Down, Read, and Understand what you are doing.

Many people are using Picassa or other such basic software to “Digital Darkroom” their images. For the average point-&-shoot snapshot shooter, this is fine as most pictures will be only viewed as low resolution on a computer or the web, or printed at Walgreens as 4x6’s. But if you are more serious about photography, then it is time to learn and use more advanced Digital Darkroom tools.

At around $100, Adobe Elements 8 is an incredible program. With it, you can upload images to your computer, rename them, and organize your files. Elements has a Guided Edit section that will take you through a “workflow” sequence of potential adjustments that produce excellent results and also teach you to the names of these adjustments. You can quick edit, then do more advanced edits as you learn.

Once you get it, though, you’ll have to take the time to learn. Buy a book, such as the Philip Andrews one listed below, watch some tutorial videos at Adobe TV, or take a class down at the Palm Beach Photographic Center. It may take a few months to learn, but you’ll be rewarded with years of producing images the way you imagine.

Resources to learn more include:
Philip Andrews, Adobe Photoshop Elements 8 for Photographers.

http://www.photoshopessentials.com/  for advanced use of tools

Boris Robinson
Vero Beach Photographer


Time and Photo Files

Although the world seems to be whirling around much faster than in years past, things really haven’t changed. In order to do something properly, you have to take the time to do it properly.

One of the most common problems that new-to-digital and amateur photographers face is organizing and finding files. And the most common reason we have problems is that we don’t take the time to figure things out. So, in an effort to jump start the learning, I have a few tips to help ease your workflow.

First, when you plug in your camera or card, slow down a bit and read what the little boxes popping up have to say. These automatic features of programs like Kodak Easyshare (not at all easy!), Picasa, and Elements/Photoshop will give you clues as to where your files are being placed. If not evident, when the program opens, look for a menu item (usually under an item at the top of the page in a tool bar) like ‘Preferences’, ‘Options’, or ‘Folder Manager’, which will list where your photo files are being saved. Nowadays, almost everything is saved to a My Pictures folder in My Documents (XP) or under Favorites and the computer name (Vista).

So, now you want to take a few pictures and copy them to a memory stick, or maybe attach a picture using gmail or yahoo. How do you find the My Pictures folders.

The most powerful organizational tool invented by Billy Bob Gates and used in Windows is called Windows Explorer. It uses several very easy features to move and copy files including Apple’s Drag and Drop features. This means you can click on a file and drag (left click and hold) it to another folder and drop it (release mouse button).

I always have Windows Explorer in several places including my desktop. To get it there, if you don’t have it (it looks like a folder), minimize your windows and programs, click on Start, then All Programs, then Accessories, then right-click (and hold) on Windows Explorer and drag it over to your desk top. Release the mouse button and a menu pops up. Choose Copy Here, and voila, you have a Windows Explorer Icon on your desktop. If you don’t, bloody well slow down, read, and do it again!

Afterwards, double click on the Explorer icon and it’ll open. On the left side you’ll have My Documents (XP) or Favorites and a list of folders on your computer. By clicking on a folder in the left pane (double-click if it’s in the right pane) it’ll open the folder. Now you have to think of your physical desktop, I mean your real desktop with the mound of papers and unpaid bills on it. How do you move a paper (file) from one place to folder to another. you pick it up and move it. The same applies in Windows Explorer.

You left click and hold on a file or photo file and drag it to another folder, and it moves the file. For more options, you can click once on a file in the right pane of Windows Explorer to highlight it. In XP, click on Edit in the top toolbar and you’ll see you can copy it, rename it, etc. In Vista, click on Organize and you see the same options.

Now, when you plug in your memory stick notice that an automatic list of menu choices opens up. Slow Down! Read your choices and if Open Windows Explorer folder is one of them, click it. By reading the options listed and trying to navigate around, you’ll see that you can drag and drop files onto the memory stick (usually listed as a drive, such as ‘Drive E’ under ‘My Computer’). Or, you can use the top toolbar item such as Edit/Copy. you can also right-click on a file or folder and similar options such as Copy or Move will be available.

Take some time and explore this and you’ll see that you can make and rename folders and really get organized.

Boris Robinson
Vero Beach Photographer


Raw vs. JPG Camera Files

If you’re shooting images in JPG, you are actually creating digitally enhanced or manipulated images, well at least the camera is.

RAW is essentially the data from the digital camera sensor. To get the largest tonal range, that is the range from shadows to highlights, camera sensors are optimized to create a flat, low contrast image. Unprocessed RAW images look flat and the colors are often muted. In order to make it look ‘right’ you have to use software to process your image (or “digital darkroom” the image as my friend Boris calls it).  

For the JPG image format, the camera software takes the RAW data and enhances the contrast, the color saturation and vibrancy, and removes some of the sensor noise. You can usually choose different enhancements or manipulations such as Vivid (pops colors) or Low, for lowering the contrast. JPG files are compressed and are smaller so you can get more images on a card as compared to RAW files, which tend to be very large and use up memory cards faster.

So which one? Many people say that it’s about quality, but when you look at most images and what you’re going to use them for, it’s hard to tell the difference.

But, it’s actually more than just quality verses files size. RAW images are like a film negative. They haven’t been manipulated or processed. If you’re taking snapshots, it probably won’t matter so use the easier JPG. But if you take photos with a final picture in mind, or want to do more serious digital darkrooming to create an image that specifically expresses what you want, then using the RAW format will give the greatest control and latitude in the final artistic processing.

The biggest hurdle when considering RAW digital darkrooming is that you have to learn to use more advanced software such as Adobe Photoshop or Elements. Elements is a great and powerful program for around $100 (and all most will need) but will require some reading and maybe a few classes. But the rewards are better images that you control.

SM Boris Robinson
Vero Beach Photographer