Sunday, September 20, 2009

Q&A with Mr J. QUESTION: can photoshop help improve my pictures?

TutorialCommentary I got the following PM from one of my fellow members over in the forum and I decided to post the answer here so that anyone who has the same general question, can hopefully glean some useful information.

"hey how you Beau i have a canon xsi i would like to get better at my picture taking can photoshop help improve my pictures can you point me in the right direction please thank you."
- Photoshopless in the WG Land

Well, let me start off with an anecdote that might help.
A writer and a photographer were both at a signing in a local mall; sitting next to each other.

The writer leans over to the photg and says

"Your images are truly outstanding and beautiful. You must have an awesome camera."

The photographer smiles and says

"Thank you very much. By the way, I read your book. It was very well written and hard to put down. You must have a fantastic pen."
With that said, you have to look at your tools for what they are. Tools. Your camera is a tool just as photoshop is a tool - neither of which will produce great images on their own. What makes great photography is the artist behind the tools - or in this case, the lens.

Your Canon XSi is a 12.2mp camera which is PLENTY large for great pics - so you have that covered. What is important, when it comes to the world of DSLRs, is that you have good GLASS.

You can throw a $100 lens on a $7,000 dollar 1DS Mk III and your pics will suck. In contrast, you can put a >$450 dollar lens on a $475 XSi and take FANTASTIC images.

In general you can not equate the cost of the camera body with the quality of the images. The bodies cost is attributed to it's feature set. More better features = more $$. In reality, the body is just a box to hold the sensor ... all the 'magic' happens through the lens.

A $2 hammer will pond nails just like a $20 one.
Photoshop is a fantastic tool, in the right hands. Just like a knife is to a surgeon, photoshop is to a good editor. A scalpel in the hands of a meat packer makes him a butcher - and trust me - photoshop used the wrong way will, indeed, butcher your images.

What photoshop has the power to do is: take a good image and make it outstanding. The catch is knowing how to make that happen. What steps are needed to polish the pixels till they gleam.

I can say this about my images: if they look good to anyone, it is partially due to the fact that I have spent 1000's, if not 10's of 1000's of hours in that photoshop. The other 90% is because they were not bad to start with.

This is the focus of this post.

You asked of photoshop can 'help improve my pictures' and the answer to that question is Yes ... if you have something to improve upon. Let's think woodworking and making a desk, for a moment.

You have to start with a good piece of wood, plans/blueprints, have the proper tools to cut and assemble the wood into the a fore mentioned desk and the ability/talent to do so. Once you have the desk ready, it needs to be 'finished'. Sanded, stained, re-sanded, wiped free of dust and coated in resin, varnish, lacquer, oil or whatever strikes your fancy. Polish to a shine and you now have complete desk. Done

Photoshop is what lets you finish your works of art. The thing to know is that it needs to be ready for finishing for the process for it to do any good. There is no point in polishing a log.
So, with all the analogies out of the way, here is the direction I can point you in. Actually, it's a few directions but you can get to them all from where you are.
  1. Know your subject
    • Be aware of the properties, habitat or habits of your photographic focus.

  2. Use the right tool for the job
    • You usually don't want to shoot elephants with a macro lens.

  3. Have a plan before you start firing away
    • Think about the end result you want after all the shooting and editing is done and what you need to get there.

  4. Think about your environment in relation to your subject
    • If you shoot people outside, at noon, in the summer, on a cloudless day, they will squint. How do you avoid that?
    • If the subject is shiny, you may need to remove sources of reflection, change the light source and position or a combination of everything.
    • If the subject is heavily back-lit, you may need some fill flash to keep from having silhouettes - unless that is what you planned in step 2.

  5. Remember the 'Rule of Thirds'
    • You have to see it to know what it is. Check out what Wiki , Digital Photography School and BetterPhoto have to say.
    • Know that there are exceptions to the rule - like shooting a full watch face, front on or most product photography.

  6. Be aware of the background
    • Remember, anything in the image that doesn't not directly add to the composition or the story, is a distraction. I do mean anything. Lights, shadows, reflections, dust (when shooting macro), hair, etc.

  7. Diffuse your light source whenever possible
    • It is a RARE occasion when you want harsh shadows and blaring light. Soften it up.

  8. Have a good sturdy tripod
    • Here is a blog post I did about this very subject: The Tripod: A Force for Good or Tool of the Devil

  9. Take your flash off of the camera
    • If you have an external flash, get it up, left, right, anywhere but attached to the hot shoe. I made this for mine: Creating your own HOT shoe 2 extension cable.
Those are some of the basic things you need to be aware of to take better images. Another thing you can do was suggested by a very well known and well paid friend of mine, Mr Scott Bourne. He says that ... and I will paraphrase:
If you want to take better pictures, go look at 10,000 images. Examine them. Determine what makes them good, or bad. Look at the lighting, composition, color, contrast and subject. The use of positive and negative space. By this sheer exposure and observation you will improve your photography 100% and proper composition will start to come second nature ... all without ever snapping a shot.
In addition to that. You are shooting digital, free of the cost equated with learning like I did with film.

Shoot till your cards melt, then buy new cards and melt them. Keep the good and delete the rest. Practice, practice, practice.

I hope that this helps and in some way, will facilitate in nudging you in the proper direction towards better photography.

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