Why You Should Edit Your Photos

In photography, the word “edit” has – unfortunately – two meanings. The first is the post-production work you do on a photo: cropping, adjusting white balance, changing exposure, contrast, brightness, and so on. You may or may not do this with your photos before you show them to other people; in fact, most people don’t.

And this is a shame. It’s not that hard to learn how to do simple editing, even in an app like Apple’s Photos. You don’t need Lightroom and Photoshop, like all the “serious” photographers; simple apps, even on a smartphone, can make changes to photos.

For many people, this isn’t an issue. They’ve shot some pictures on a vacation, and want to show them to friends or family, or share them on Facebook, Instagram, or other social media services. They don’t care how they look, they just want to show where they’ve been, or who they’ve been with. Though editing photos a bit can make you look better, make your trip look more envious, or make your meal look fancier.

Here’s an example. Someone I know took a trip to Italy recently, and he has allowed me to use some of his photos for a book I’m working on about editing photos. What I want to show people is how easy it is to make an average photo look great; it only takes a minute or two. Below are two photos: the original, then my edited version.

San marino before

I would probably want the edited photo to be a bit softer; the sky looks a bit like those over-contrasted HDR skies you see these days. But the original was shot on an iPhone, and I don’t have a raw file, which would have allowed more subtle adjustments. And I only spent about one minute working on the file, just to show this person what is possible. Nevertheless, the edited photo is arguably much better than the original.

The second meaning of the word “edit” is very different: it’s about editing a body of work. Let’s say you’ve taken a trip to a tropical island, and shot 500 photos. If you want to show them to friends, it’s a good idea to cull them, because no one – and I mean no one – will want to sit through all your pictures. An easy way to do that in Apple Photos, or on an iPhone or iPad, just to just click or tap the heart button to add them to your favorites. It’s then a lot easier to scroll through 50 of your best photos to show to your friends than it is to sift through ten times that many.

The same is the case for people sharing photos on sites like Instagram. Earlier today, I linked to an article asking Is Street Photography Killing Itself?. A lot of people are into street photography because it’s cool. And they end up sharing dross, diluting the quality of any good photos they may have taken. As the author of this article says:

“street photography has become the social media of photography: an avalanche of banal, shallow and unreflective nothing that hasn’t the time to consider its own context.”

People who shoot street photography tend to spray their photos onto social media without really querying whether they say anything, whether they are clichéd, or whether they’re even very good.

Imagine if you were told that you could keep no more than one photo each day? You could shoot as many as you want, but only keep one. You’d quickly end up shooting less, taking more time composing and setting exposure, because it would be easier to choose from ten photos than from a hundred.

Maybe we should all take pictures with that in mind; that every day, you have to do your best to shoot one great photo. Ignore all the rest, if you happen to get a dozen good shots, then you’re a winner, but if you have a hundred shots that are mediocre, what’s the point?

I’ve been working on training my eye by studying photos from those photographers recognized as great. If you browse the Photo category of this site, you’ll see reviews of some of these books (and there are more to come), along with tips on editing photos (meaning #1), and using the cameras I work with. I think buying a few photo books is a good investment. You can look at photos on the web, but there’s nothing like a well-printed photo book of great pictures to take my breath away. (For example: William Eggleston’s Los Alamos Revisited.)

Rather than buy a new lens, or some other gadget, buy a few photo books. Look at great photos. Learn how to see.

Is Street Photography Killing Itself? – PetaPixel

“street photography has become the social media of photography: an avalanche of banal, shallow and unreflective nothing that hasn’t the time to consider its own context.”

I like street photography. But most of it proves Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything sucks.

Source: Is Street Photography Killing Itself?

Photo Book Review: Modern Color, by Fred Herzog

Herzog modern colorFred Herzog was a German photographer who emigrated to Canada. Professionally, he was a medical photographer, but in his spare time he documented his surroundings, notably Vancouver, Canada, but he also took photos during trips to other countries. A recently published book, Modern Color, shows the range of his photography, most of which were previously unknown. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

“Fred Herzog is known for his unusual use of colour in the fifties and sixties, a time when art photography was almost exclusively associated with black and white imagery. The Canadian photographer worked almost exclusively with Kodachrome slide film for over 50 years, and only in the past decade has technology allowed him to make archival pigment prints that match the exceptional color and intensity of the Kodachrome slide. In this respect, his photographs can be seen as a pre-figuration of the New Color photographers of the seventies.”

This is a beautiful book, in bright, saturated colors, that faithfully reproduce that Kodachrome look. At the time, art photography had to be in black and white, something that didn’t start changing until the 1970s, after William Eggleston had his groundbreaking solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.

Read more

“I am at war with the obvious.”

I am afraid that there are more people than I can imagine who can go no further than appreciating a picture that is a rectangle with an object in the middle of it, which they can identify. They don’t care what is around the object as long as nothing interferes with the object itself, right in the center. Even after the lessons of Winogrand and Friedlander, they don’t get it. They respect their work because they are told by important institutions that they are important artists, but what they really want to see is a picture with a figure or an object in the middle of it. They want something obvious. The blindness is apparent when someone lets slip the word “snapshot.” Ignorance can always be covered by “snapshot.” The word has never had any meaning. I am at war with the obvious.

Photo by William Eggleston, from The Democratic Forest (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

How to Use the Q Button on the Fujifilm X100F and other Fuji Cameras to Easily Change Settings

I have two cameras (not counting my iPhone): the Olympus Pen-F and the Fujifilm X100F. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and each has its own feature set. One thing I really like on the X100F is the Q button.

The Q (or Quick Menu) button is on many of Fuji’s cameras. On the X100F, it’s on the right, and is easy to access with your thumb. It provides quick access to a number of settings that you may want to change quickly when shooting.

Q button

As you can see above, I’ve selected the Film Simulation setting. If you like Fuji’s film simulations, you may want to use this one often. To change any of the settings, just turn the rear dial. To move around from setting to setting, press one of the four sides of the Selector (those are the buttons around the Menu/OK button).

The settings available include Auto-Focus, Dynamic Range, Noise Reduction, Shadows, Highlights, and more. Here are the defaults:

Q menu settings

In the top left, you can see the button marked BASE C1. You can assign up to seven sets of settings that you can quickly access by selecting this and rotating the rear dial. To apply custom settings, go to the menus: IQ > Image Quality Setting > Edit/Save Custom Setting.

But it gets better. You can also change the settings available from the Quick Menu. Press and hold the Q button, then move to the settings button you want to change. Press the Menu button, then scroll through the list that displays. Find the setting you want to add, then press Menu/OK.

This is practical if you want to easily access settings like the ND Filter, Conversion Lens, Shutter Type settings, or others. You can personalize what displays when you press the Q menu by choosing your own settings, or by selecting the settings you use most for the buttons that are at the top or left, which are easier to access. So, if you want to move, say, the Film Simulation setting to the top left – so it’s selected as soon as you press the Q button – apply it instead of the Custom Settings button, but put that button where the Film Simulation setting is. I admit, it would be easier if there were a quicker way to move these buttons around, but this method works.

Take some time to get to know the Q button and the Quick Menu screen, and customize to so the settings you often change are easily accessible. You’ll save time, and you won’t have to dig through menus as much.

500px, Color Profiles, File Formats and You – 500px ISO

“Color profile support has long been a tough technical challenge — and doubly so, it would seem, in the world (wide web) of browsers. There have been several advances that have made the team at 500px re-evaluate how we handle color profiles on the site.

In the past, to be the most consistent, the most widely supported, and the most space efficient, we did two things:

1. Convert any image not using an sRGB color profile to sRGB
2. Strip the color profile from the image

Why did we do these things?

The first step is fairly obvious. Until recently, most screens were sRGB calibrated, or weren’t calibrated, but were close enough to sRGB for most purposes. This meant people with wide gamut displays wouldn’t get to see the images uploaded in wide gamut profiles (Adobe RGB, ProPhoto RGB, Display-P3, etc) in their full glory, but it also meant the most people would see something close to what the photographer intended.

The second step is a little more subtle. The default sRGB color profile is about 3KB when attached to an image (we’ve also seen non-standard profiles take 20KB). For a 5KB thumbnail, that needlessly increases the file size by more than 50%. The W3C consortium states that an image without a color profile should be assumed to be sRGB, so all should be good when an sRGB image is stripped of its profile. Stripping the color profile from the image turned out to be a pretty big deal, as it saved 25-30% in data transferred, which translated into tens of thousands of dollars in bandwidth savings per month and — most importantly — drastically sped up image downloads (especially the thumbnails). Life was good… but as we know, it’s rarely easy.”

Fascinating stuff about color profiles and how they are supported (or not) in different browsers and on different platforms. I knew this stuff was confusing, but this article does make a lot of it more understandable.

FYI, I use 500px to display my photos.

Source: 500px ISO » Beautiful Photography, Incredible Stories…500px, Color Profiles, File Formats and You – 500px ISO

Tips for Using Auto and Manual Focus on the Fujifilm X100F Camera

(This article is a follow-up to one I wrote yesterday about my other camera, the Olympus Pen-F, where I explained how to get precise focus using both auto and manual focusing.)

Auto-focus on modern cameras is great. It is often very precise, and makes it a lot easier to shoot photos quickly. However, it’s not always perfect, especially if you’re trying to focus on something with a lot of different elements that are at slightly different distances. If you’re using a wide aperture, with less depth of field, it’s possible that part of your shot may be out of focus. You may even see this on portraits, where part of a face may be sharp, and other parts soft.

Most good modern cameras also offer a manual focus option. You won’t find this on a point-and-shoot camera, but any camera with interchangeable lenses, and some without, give you the possibility to focus manually. One of my two cameras is the Fujifilm X100F, which offers manual focus, and has some “Focus Assist” features which are really useful.

First, you want to set the camera to use both auto and manual focus. Go to the AF MF Menu and turn AF+MF On. This means that the camera will use auto-focus when you press the shutter halfway. But if you want, you can also use the focus ring on your lens to adjust focus; just start turning it while you’re holding down the shutter. When everything is ready, press the shutter the rest of the way to shoot a picture. (Note that on this camera you also have to set the switch on the left side of the body to S to have it perform single auto-focus.)

Fuji1

What’s really useful with this camera, however, is the fact that you can press the rear dial to zoom in on your subject, making it easier to see if you’re precisely in focus. This looks like a 10x zoom, and, as you’ll see, gives you a very good close-up allowing you to make sure that your subject is sharp.

Fuji2

And if you move the wheel to either side, it switches to what looks like a 5x zoom, which, for some subjects, is a lot more helpful. (I don’t shoot portraits, but I can imagine that zooming to 5x would make it easier to ensure that an entire face is in focus.)

Fuji3

Another option in the MF Assist menu – just below the AF+MF menu – lets you use Standard assistance or Focus Peak Highlight. This second option displays white lines that highlight the areas in focus. You can adjust the color and intensity of these lines in the Focus Peake Highlight sub-menu. In that menu is also a third option, Digital Split Image, which is only available when you’re in full manual mode (the side switch set to M). This recalls old film cameras, where you had a circle in the center of the viewfinder that was darker, and you aligned the two halves of the circle to ensure that your subject was in focus. I used to like those circles, but I find the split image here – which is a pair of rectangles – is hard to use. But you can zoom in the same way as above using the rear dial, so you can get good focus with this tool as well.

So learn how to use these tools to get all your photos in perfect focus.

Tips for Using Auto and Manual Focus on the Olympus Pen-F Camera

(I’ve also written another article about auto and manual focus in my other camera, the Fujifilm X100F.)

Auto-focus on modern cameras is great. It is often very precise, and makes it a lot easier to shoot photos quickly. However, it’s not always perfect, especially if you’re trying to focus on something with a lot of different elements that are at slightly different distances. If you’re using a wide aperture, with less depth of field, it’s possible that part of your shot may be out of focus. You may even see this on portraits, where part of a face may be sharp, and other parts soft.

Most good modern cameras also offer a manual focus option. You won’t find this on a point-and-shoot camera, but any camera with interchangeable lenses, and some without, give you the possibility to focus manually. One of my two cameras is the Olympus Pen-F, which offers manual focus, and has some “Focus Assist” features which are really useful.

First, you want to set the camera to use both auto and manual focus. Go to the Custom Menu > AF/MF > AF Mode > Still Picture, and select S-AF+MF. This means that the camera will use single auto-focus when you press the shutter halfway. But if you want, you can also use the focus ring on your lens to adjust focus; just start turning it while you’re holding down the shutter. When everything is ready, press the shutter the rest of the way to shoot a picture.

What’s really useful with this camera, however, is the MF Assist settings (at Custom Menu > AF/MF). You have two options: Magnify and Peaking. If you select Magnify, the viewfinder or back LCD zooms in on your focus point, making it easier to see if you’re precisely in focus. This is a 10x zoom, and, as you’ll see, gives you a very good close-up allowing you to make sure that your subject is sharp.

The second option, Peaking, displays white lines that highlight the areas in focus. You can adjust the color and intensity of these lines in Custom Menu > Disp/PC > Peaking. You can change the intensity and color of these lines.

Here’s a shot of the Pen-F focusing on a pen holder a few feet away:

Focus1

When I start moving the focus ring in the lens, here’s how it looks at 10x zoom:

Focus

Remember, the camera zooms in on your focus point, so if it’s not centered, you won’t see the zoom at the center of the image.

I find that the Magnify setting is much more useful than Peaking. I don’t like the intrusive lines, though they may be useful for certain types of photos (such as macro photography). But with the Magnify feature turned on, I can make sure that I’m always in focus.

You can also use this in pure manual focus mode. As soon as you start moving the focus ring on your lens, the camera zooms in. I find this a bit more distracting, since it’s harder to compose images, but if you’re shooting on a tripod, this is a lot easier to use, since you’ll first compose your image in the LCD, then focus; you won’t need to worry about holding down the shutter half way then shooting.