Friday, December 17, 2010

Everyone Else is Doing it...

I don't know if you know this about me or not...but I can be a little bit stubborn. I've been thinking a lot lately that stubbornness can lean one in two directions...that of being brave to pursue one's dreams OR that of just being stupidly stubborn. I think this is a story about the later, that I'm hoping to shift towards the earlier.

I've been doing a lot of learning and researching online for the past several weeks on the photography front. One of the areas which I feel I need to greatly improve as I prepare to put my photography services out into the world for hire is how I process my images once I pull them off my camera's memory card. I personally feel that the most important skill set I can develop are the skills that help me to capture images that need only minimal processing to go from good to WOW. If the composition, use of lighting, or focus are bad there's no point in wasting time trying to make a bad picture look just OK. Those are all skills that I will forever be honing. Yet in today's photography world if you want your work to stand out in the crowd, you have to make use of all the tools available to the modern photographer. I'm fortunate to have an older version of Photoshop to utilize for this purpose. Up to this point I've used what little information I have learned from playing around with various adjustments on my own, as well as the information that has been shared by my photographer friend Jenny. I've been hesitant to give in to using some of the downloadable processing short cuts, known as action sets, that are available online. I was bound and determined to find my own best work flow, my own processing style.

The thing way of working has not been the most efficient in terms of time and has yet to come anywhere close to being as affective as what you commonly see on photography forums and photo share sites. So today I decided to give a few free Photoshop action sets available from The Pioneer Woman and MCP Actions a try. It's easiest to make comparisons when various adjustments are made on the same photo, so I choose to work with one of the photos of Beckett that I took during our photo shoot in the park.

First, here's the picture as it appears straight out of the camera (SOOC) adjustments.

Next I adjusted the photo as I normally would without using any action sets. Generally those adjustments include increasing the contrast, balancing levels and curves, and in the case of this photo adding a little lens vignette.

Then I decided to see just what the action sets could do. With each of the action set examples below I began with the original SOOC shot and adjusted only the basic levels before applying the chosen action set(s). I did not apply any lens vignetting to these images.

This first image I simply applied the High Definition Sharpening action set from HCP Actions.

While there's not much difference in color and brightness over the image I adjusted myself, there is a difference in the sharpness.

Next I decided to get serious. In this next photo I performed a skin fix using the patch tool which I learned through one of the free video tutorials offered at HCP Actions. I then applied the Boost and eye highlighting action sets from The Pioneer Woman.

This photo is visibly more crisp and vibrant. I think the Boost Action Set could be very handy, but I also think it can lead to an "over processed" look if over used. And while some people like the look of heavily processes photos, I'm more drawn to photos that look slightly enhanced rather than heavily altered. I REALLY like the skin fix technique using the patch tool. It proved to provide a more natural looking fix than my previous method of using the heal tool. In this case I lightened the red splotch on his forehead and his busy boy black eye.

One of the sets I think I will use a lot is MCP's Crystal Web set. This action with only one click of the mouse sharpens and resizes the image for upload to the web. YEAH!

I also treated myself to a new lens this week...the very affordable, but much praised, 50mm/1.8. Which means a lens that is a fixed focal length (no zoomability) that has a large maximum shutter opening size to allow one to take photos in low light without a flash. (I'm really looking forward to utilizing the features of this lens Christmas morning!)This lens is well known among photographers for its usefulness in portrait photography. It probably should have been the first additional lens I purchased beyond my kit lens. But it wasn't. The lovely thing about the large aperture opening is that it creates a short field of vision...aka nice blurry backgrounds.

Here's a shot of Tilde SOOC I took this morning near a window in our dining room. (It's actually become my favorite spot in our house to snap shots in the natural light of the morning sun.)

And here she is after I applied the sharpen & define and eye enhancing actions from PW.

So...maybe I was wrong about taking a few short cuts here and there. Luckily I'm not stubborn enough that I can't admit when I am wrong. Most of the time...


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