Weekly Photo Challenge: The World Through Your Eyes – Editing Your World

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Good Evening:

First, a huge emphatic THANK YOU! to photographer Ming Thein for a great introduction to some (just a few!) of the elements of taking good photographs. Sorry for the shouting. One curious aspect of this great article: it made me think of some of the issues not covered in very much detail. Specifically, two: the eternal debate between color vs. black & white; second, the question of editing the picture after taking it.

I believe that one of the most important ways a photographer can show the world through his/her eyes consists of the editing done in post. Two reasons why: first, I’ve seen the output of professional photographers who have massaged their RAW files in Lightroom and Photoshop, and when I see the results in 16×20, sometimes I literally gasp; second, I’m very weak at editing so I assume it must be important.

In recent weeks, I’ve tried to capture my world using the tactics of Garry Winogrand, the most amazing photographer I’ve discovered since Sebastiao Salgado. Interesting paradox there–trying to see the world through my eyes using someone else’s techniques and style. Here is an unedited color photograph I took today from the observation tower of San Francisco’s De Young Museum:

DSCN6207Not a bad shot, capturing a couple looking to the west of San Francisco during the Magic Hour at 7:17 p.m. Note the two sets of reflections, one in the window, one on the floor. I stood on the other side of the tower, facing east, with my Nikon Coolpix S9100 (Landscape Mode) dangling at my side pointed backwards. Classic clandestine street photography. The shadows on her clothes and hair are a little dark, and the sky a little bright. However, since I wanted to experiment with Winogrand’s style of photography, that meant I had to convert to black & white. Presenting the first attempt:

DSCN6207_2I used iPhoto on a copy of the original (and I always try to use a copy–sometimes I even succeed!). First, I reduced Saturation to 0% to get black & white. Second, I reduced shadow by 20% to get a little more detail from their clothes and her hair. Third I reduced brightness by 35% because I thought the background sky was too distracting. Now something else distracted me: the diagonal shadow at the bottom and the two supports and their reflections at the extreme right and left of the picture. So I cropped.

De Young Observatory Tower, Ninth Floor, San Francisco, CA, 21 June 2013, 7:17 p.m.

De Young Observatory Tower, Ninth Floor, San Francisco, CA, 21 June 2013, 7:17 p.m.

This works for me. At least for now. Once I really learn editing I can go back to the original file. Here, all the attention rests on the couple and their reflections, the shot captures the mood, and you can instantly recognize the nature of their relationship (look at where they’re touching). I won’t pretend it’s great, but it is one of my better recent works.

And therein lies the paradox. To show the world through my eyes, I had to make the world completely artificial–because the world is not all black and white.

Vonn Scott Bair

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10 responses »

  1. I think the low angle is good. And the intimacy of the couple against the vastness of the world outside is good. And the solidity of the floor against the precariousness of the window is good.

    I think the problem is the vertical line of the join in the window sections that appear above the head of the person on the left.

    I am not bothered by taking out things when it will make the image better (in my opinion of course) and so I would clone out that heavy vertical line.

    • David Bennett: Thank you very much for taking the time for such a constructive critique! I just might make another copy of the original file and try out your suggestion; picturing the result in my head, I think it will look better. I normally prefer to leave things as is and make them look as good as possible (you know, that photojournalism-capturing-reality mantra), but technically, a conversion to B&W already made the shot less real, so why not? Of course, first I will teach myself what cloning is. Your remarks confirm what I believe about my editing skills and the importance of using software in this day and age. Vonn Scott Bair

      • David Bennett: I’ll give it a shot. In the past I’ve experimented with a shareware program called Inpaint, which has given good results, so another bit of “mad scientist” work might prove interesting with that software as well. This must rank as the most amazing blessing of the digital era for amateur photographers like me–we can make as many duplicates of the original file as we please and go crazy with the edits. Vonn Scott Bair

    • Heyjude: I’ve always appreciated descriptions of how photographers take their shots, and thought I’d give back. Of course, they speak of f-stops, shutter speeds, and ASA, and I speak of a point-and-shoot in Landscape Mode, but I did the best I could do. Vonn Scott Bair

      • I understand point-and-shoot – I have attempted to veer away from the auto shoot, but quite honestly I cannot get the hang of the aperture and shutter speed lingo, the auto does it far better than I do!!

      • Heyjude: I have only owned Nikon digital cameras, and estimate that 98% of every digital photo I’ve taken has used the Landscape setting on each one of them. With my D40 DSLR, I will experiment with different speeds but have not explored all of the beast’s potential by any means. Vonn Scott Bair

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