Cropping for Artistic Impact

By Mark

It still is strange to me that our camera sensors don’t align well with any of the “standard” photo print size dimensions such as 8x10 or 11x 14.  Full frame sensors do mimic the old 35mm slide format of 24x36.

Lots of sky at the D-Day memorial

Lots of sky at the D-Day memorial

When you are shooting, especially when you are shooting for the purpose of printing, you need to keep this in mind.   I still make this mistake occasionally and have found myself with “too much” subject and not enough boundary space to effectively crop the image into my desired end state.  Although that can be fixed in Photoshop, (another discussion) it is better to have the canvas available when and where you need it.

There are a few basic steps when cropping.  Luckily Lightroom makes all of them easy.  The first thing to look at is your horizon lines.  Human eyes are very sensitive to pictures that lean.  

Sliding to the right?

Sliding to the right?

Everything else can be perfect, but a crooked horizon just activates something in our brains and it will bother your viewer, without them knowing why.  In the crop window, you can choose to eyeball it by rotating the handles outside of the crop frame, but that can’t always get it just right. 

A far easier tool is to just click on the little ruler, find an area in your image which should be horizontal, and then drag the cursor along that line.  

Roof lines are usually horizontal

Roof lines are usually horizontal

When you hit Enter, the picture will rotate and be straight.

That's better

That's better

The second step is then to actually crop your image to meet your vision.  The default setting for the crop tool keeps the original format ratio.  

Crop tool

Crop tool

If you click on the little arrows on the right side you can choose the common ratios for printing.  As with almost everything in LR, you can create and save your own custom sizes as well.   Again, as a default, LR keeps the height and width ratios locked.  If, you wanted to create a very long and narrow image, click on the lock to unlock it. 

Then you can drag the crop handles independently or enter values of your own choosing.  

The crop tool overlay lets provides you other choices beyond the “rule of thirds for composing your image.  

Just select your choice from the tools menu and you can see other standards such as the Golden spiral.  

Look at composing using square images, or to whatever suits your fancy.  

They are recommendations, not laws.  Reminder though, you will have to go back in and reset the crop overlay when you are done. 

Family Photos Can Be Fun

By Roger (15 March 2015)

It's been a while since we discussed family snapshots, and, since that's what I shot this weekend, let's do that. You're going to get asked to take these as the family begins to rely on you for photos when everyone gets together. For me, this is fun stuff since I love to photograph children, and I've included these photos throughout my blogging over the years.

This weekend, much of my immediate family gathered in Maryland. (It gets harder and harder to get them all in the same place at the same time.) Four of the grandkids were there, and we always like to get photos of the cousins together. You've seen these shots throughout your life. They're always a pain when you're one of the subjects, but you sit for a few minutes for the relatives. These photos look like this:

Typical shot of the cousins

Typical shot of the cousins

There is nothing wrong (or exciting) about these photos, but they document the passage of time. Everyone takes them; you probably have some old prints of yourself in similar version of this photo. They always bring a smile as you remember those get-togethers.

We had the youngest grandkid, Jack, there, so the older grandkids were mostly happy to cooperate. Jack is only four months old, so they still think he's fun. And, since he lives away from us, he became the prime target for additional photos. (He's, also, too young to tell us he doesn't want to pose.)

You may find yourself taking the standard baby shots: baby on the floor and baby being held. Again, there is nothing wrong with these shots. They are the most requested and show everyone smiling. They're great for desk frames.

"Baby on a floor" You can do better than this.

"Baby on a floor" You can do better than this.

Mom and son. Again, documenting the passage of time.

Mom and son. Again, documenting the passage of time.

With a little imagination and just a little more effort, you can get photos with a little more character. Happily, my daughter was up for it and brought a couple of props (hats) that made it fun.

So, let me set the scene here. The sky is overcast, so time of day didn't matter. I didn't bring a flash (wish I had). We shot these in two sessions of less than 10 minutes each. Keep the sessions short to keep the baby smiling. We never left my oldest daughter's yard. All of these photos were taken within 20 feet of her front door.

In other words, you don't have to travel far, or at all, if you don't want to. The key is to get in close, so the environment is kept at a minimum. Jack, at four months, can't sit unsupported, so he was held. By going in close, and keeping the holding hands inside the baby's outfit, you can keep those distractions out of the photo.

The first hat was a red plaid, with ear flaps. Jack and family live in Canada, so this stereotype photo seems obvious, eh? His mother's arm is behind the piece of firewood on the right. The small part of her arm you could see was easily taken care of in Photoshop.

What time does the hockey game start?

What time does the hockey game start?

We switched to a floppy hat and moved six feet to be near the porch post, to give Jack something to lean on. It is also hiding his mother's arm, so no Photoshop was required. He's wearing the same clothes, but this is a completely different look.

A completely different look.

A completely different look.

For the last shot, we had to move a whole 10 feet to a parked Camero and a different hat. He has dual citizenship, so we needed to bring some American influence into the photo, right? Here, again, there is no Photoshop.

Rebel without a pacifier.

Rebel without a pacifier.

We had lots of fun with this, and it didn't stress out the baby or the mother. This kind of technique is easy and costs you nothing. It helps give you more interesting photos of the youngsters in your family, and you know the family is going to expect you to take photos at family gatherings. And, if the family is happy, they might even let you be in one of the photos. ;-)

Look, he's got my squinty eyes!

Look, he's got my squinty eyes!

Ask For Critiques

By Roger (8 March 2015)

While you're learning about improving your photography, there is another good habit to practice. We blog about photography techniques, different pieces of equipment, and post-processing software, but how about a simple process that can improve your photography and doesn't cost any money? I'm talking about showing your work to people who can give you some advice on your photos.

Critiques are a good way to get some feedback on how you are progressing. It isn't easy to be objective with your own photographs since you are so involved with their creation. You'll be influenced by so many factors: the story behind the photo: new gear; an exciting place you got to visit; an important event you covered; etc. Your reviewer will not have all that baggage; their job is to judge the photo for content and technique.

One of the hardest parts of this challenge is finding a reviewer who is right for your photos. Your family is probably not the right source. They are going to be a little biased (depending on your family, it could be biased in either direction). You need some one who can give you a thorough critique, including, not only “good photo, bad photo,” but why. You want some one who can make suggestions to improve your photo. The best reviewers can do this without tearing your photo (and your feelings) to shreds.

Sometimes, this might be a group effort. We have critique sessions every three months at our photo group. Everyone gets involved, so they have a better idea how to conduct and receive a critique. You could also post to a critiquing web site and get some feedback there.

Your job is to listen to what is being said. Don't get defensive, and don't offer any background on the photo until (and if) asked. Again, your photo should stand on its own. Ask for detailed information and possible ways to improve. If they can't give you this type of information, you've chosen the wrong reviewer.

When all this is complete, assess what you have heard. Was there value in what you were told? Maybe you did catch an awkward smile on that portrait. Perhaps you should have done a more thorough job of looking for distractions in your background. Be prepared for your reviewer to claim your strongest photo is one you had lukewarm feelings about. Everyone's taste is different. I try to get several different people to comment on the same photo. The different answers I get can be unsettling, but I concentrate on repeat comments for the most reliable information on how to improve.

Often, they will see something in a photo that you missed entirely. The photo below has been on this blog before, and I got patted on the head several times for it. It is one of my favorites from Harper's Ferry. The back story is I wanted a photo with selective focus. I saw the re-enactor sitting by the window; pre-visualized the shot; grabbed my 85mm for its shallow depth of field; and, actually, made the shot I hoped for. Success, and people liked it. Sweet.

What is behind the captain's left ear?

What is behind the captain's left ear?

Until one reviewer asked me to identify the object behind his left ear. I had completely missed this distraction when I shot the photo (it's a ribbon on the banjo). Ugh! In my rush to make the photo, I didn't completely check my background. I should have moved the ribbon before I took the photo. Because I was so happy with my photo matching my pre-visualization, I completely missed it in my post-processing, too (or it would have disappeared). Four people praised this photo in a critique group, and also missed it or kept quiet about it, before the fifth reviewer pointed out the obvious error.

There will be times when you receive criticism that just doesn't seem right to you. Try to be open and objective, but, remember, you don't have to agree with your reviewer. Although I never ask someone whose opinion I don't value, reviewers come with their own set of values, and some of those may not align with yours. Unless they point to obvious technical flaws in your photo, they are stating their opinion. You are under no obligation to heed their advice, even if they are right.

Finally, make a sincere effort to learn from what you've heard and incorporate changes as you move forward. There is no point submitting photos for a critique if you're going to ignore everything you were told. You can't always reshoot a photo, but I have revisited a couple of landscape locations to try to do a better job.

Critiques can be very helpful to your development as a photographer. Don't take the criticism personally; learn from it. If you are serious about your pursuit, you don't shy away from valid critiques.

And, if you want to purchase the photo of the captain, I assure you, the ribbon is no longer there. Have fun.

Fully Integrated Workflow

By Mark

I recently was asked “how often these days do I still actually work in Photoshop?”  It took me a while to think about that, and realized that the question itself focuses on the wrong thing.  I’ve written several times that I do more than 90% of my editing in Lightroom, but I do 100% of my creative work in Photoshop, or Illustrator, or even on my iPhone and iPad.   

Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa

Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa

I really started looking at the question and thought about something said at last year’s Photoshop World, and came to the realization that Adobe really saw the future and moved to embrace it. I now believe that the question itself is really wrong.   We now want access to all of our photos and digital life; wherever we are and expect the tools we need to just be there.  Lots of people complained bitterly when Adobe shifted to their Creative Cloud subscription model.  https://www.adobe.com/creativecloud.html

People were used to paying every 18 months or so for a major release of new features for their desktop applications.  By the time you figured out what all the new features were, it was time for a new release.  Now they update the apps all of the time, and send out easy to digest tutorials on the new features.  

Two years ago they released LR mobile for the iPad and iPhone, then a flood of other mobile apps, including Photoshop express.  Most of them for free.  

Last year they introduced the cloud portfolio and it has all come together.  You take an image on your phone, tag it, and it updates to your synchronized LR portfolio, automatically.  You see some colors and patterns you like and snap them with Adobe Color and Adobe Brush and you have them available as a palette for your next project when you get home and sit down on your multi-monitor workstation.  

You can shoot tethered into your laptop and have your clients see the results almost instantly via their tablets wherever they are and they can provide you feedback.  http://scottkelby.com/2014/my-first-studio-shoot-using-lightroom-mobile/

Getting back to why the original question of how often I work in Photoshop was the wrong question.  Thanks to Adobe, I don’t really think of what program I am using, but rather what function am I trying to accomplish.  Since all of the Apps are linked through the cloud, I can just pick the tool I need, do whatever I need done, and move on.  I know when I save the changes I’ve made that my LR catalog is updated and that I can get to those images and those changes wherever and whenever I want.  It’s a very cool and very new world.  I believe we are still just on the edge of exploring what it means.