I remember when I was learning photography, I always wondered why my photos didn’t look like the inspiring photographic art I see everywhere. I thought I had an eye for imagery, I had a DSLR, and I started building my collection of lenses, but nothing I did could replicate the imagery I was seeing. If you find yourself in a similar situation, please continue reading. You don’t have to feel inadequate because your photos don’t look like masterpieces right from the camera. In fact, learning a bit more about the process of post-production, which I will touch upon below, may help boost your self-confidence.
After reading and studying photography further, I learned that works of photographic art depend on more than what the camera produces. In fact, let’s examine what makes up great photography:
- A camera: In fact, it doesn’t have to be a great camera. Many great photographers use cameras of all classes. Just know the limits of your equipment and learn how to maximize those limitations
- A lens: While most photographers will advise ditching the kit lens that comes with most DSLR cameras, it is still capable of producing great photos. Once again, learn your limits.
- An eye for composition: Some will say you either have it or you don’t. Others will say this can be learned. I’m not sure where I stand, but there are many “rules” of composition that help make art interesting. If you feel this is a weakness, then study and practice.
- Proper exposure: I feel exposure doesn’t have to be exactly accurate, but it does need to be within reason. Overexposed images lose detail in highlights while underexposed images lose it in shadows. Sometimes the loss of detail helps the composition, but this isn’t something you should take by chance. If you don’t know the exposure triangle (aperture, ISO, and shutter speed), study and practice.
- Post-processing/Editing: This can be almost as important as composition and exposure, depending on the look you’re after. Post-processing entails editing your photo in software and can be analogous to developing film. Here is where the photographer has control over exposure a bit further (to an extent), color, and even effects. A rule of thumbs in post-processing many follow is that if you can’t tell it has been edited, then it’s just right. If the editing is obvious, you’ve overdone it.
While editing your photos in post-processing is very important, it should be encouraging that this might be the only thing missing in your pursuit of photographic art. It’s also important to note, and hopefully still encouraging, that post-processing does not mean learning Adobe Photoshop. While it can be useful in photography, Photoshop is more of a graphic designer’s tool than a photographer’s tool. It is good at editing one photo at a time, but in great depth. Other tools are better designed at editing large numbers of photos quickly and with great results.
If you’re interested in exploring post-processing, there are many tools out there designed for this. Below are the most common programs for photo editing:
- Adobe Lightroom: This is the industry standard in photo editing. It is designed to edit RAW photos, but it can handle other formats as well. Most controls are sliders and affect the entire photo, making it easy to learn. It also supports plugins to add new features.
- Adobe Photoshop: This has a large learning curve and doesn’t handle multiple images very well. This is good to use if you want to do some serious editing of a few photos.
- Phase One Capture One: I use this software and have read many forum posts and blog posts about photographers switching from Lightroom to this software and loving every bit of it. Many state that Capture One handles color and details far better than Lightroom. Since I have limited experience with Lightroom, I can’t say whether this is true or not. However, it does seem to have a little bit of a learning curve to it over Lightroom and is relatively expensive.
- DxO Optics: I have only dabbled in DxO Optics Pro, but I can say from my experience, it is by far the easiest to use over Lightroom and Capture One. DxO Optics also has one of the best noise reduction tools if this is of interest. The only reason I dislike DxO Optics is that the editing tools feel like they’re designed exclusively for realism and is severely limiting if you want ti push the realism into something less real.
- Camera Manufacturer’s software: Most cameras will include software for editing photos. Most are optimized for their cameras for better results, but often are limiting in the flexibility and creativity you can have. The good news is that these are free, so you can get started with these programs and grow into something more advanced.
- G.I.M.P.: This software is similar to Photoshop, but its free and open-source. If you want to have the type of editing tools Photoshop offers but are on a budget, give G.I.M.P. a try.
- Pixlr: Autodesk offers this photo editing tool as a desktop application, a smartphone app, and a web app. I haven’t spent much time with it, but it appears to be more of a consumer product than a professional one. This might be a good starting point as well over buying into a professional software.
- Many mobile apps
Below are some before and after photos of my own. You can see how I cropped some, straightened others, and brought out the colors in most of them. You can see how much the editing process can change a photo, yet it’s subtle enough to know assume it was edited.