4 More Photo Tips Gleaned from the 365 Full Frame Project

We are in the final week of the 365 Full Frame Project, and it seems fitting to share four more photo tips I have picked up over the past year. You can read the first six tips here, which include framing, the rule of thirds, minimalism and sunrises/sunsets.

And with that, let’s begin.

1) If It’s Not Sharp, then Don’t Post It (Unless)

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It’s tempting to post a good capture with a subject that you like even though it’s a little fuzzy. Don’t do it. You need the subject to be in focus. Yes, there are photos that have fuzzy continuation or depth of field and bokeh, which make for a great image. But those photos have a subject that is clearly in focus.

A fuzzy pic is not a good pic, no matter how strong the subject and composition is. The only reason to keep it is for sentimental value. If that’s the case, cool. Memories are precious.

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There is another exception, which is if you are intentionally blurring or distorting a photograph. In that case, go for it. Art is art.

2) Rich Vibrant Color Is a Technique

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People remark on the color I get in my photos, particularly in the skies. They often assume the shots are HDR. Probably one in every 25 photos I post uses HDR processing. In reality, a good part of rich coloring is the way the photo is shot and edited.

One critical aspect of color is exposing for it. When you shoot manually, you can choose what you expose in your photo. So when I take a sunset or sunrise pic, I expose for the sun or the most colorful part of the sky.

Remember, a camera is just a computer that interprets light. Most cameras offer several interpretations (e.g. Standard, Flat, Portrait, Vivid, Landscape) for the same shot. When you manually expose a shot, you are helping the computer by directing its function rather than letting it make a best guess.

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On the editing, HDR lets you expose for the sky and then take a second or third photo and expose other aspects in the scene and then blend. This produces rich color and detail throughout the photo. But not everyone likes HDR, nor does every photographer have the patience to blend the images.

When I expose a single shot for the sky, I open the highlights to reduce glare and pull out the rich color. I adjust whites and blacks accordingly. From there, normal edits on vibrance and contrast finish the job.

I also open the shadows in Lightroom to expose the foreground or the dark parts. But that’s not a universal approach for me. Sometimes I leave the image silhouetted like I did in this pic.

3) Use Filters Mindfully

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Whether you create presets of your workflow, buy presets or use a tool like Intensify, you are using filters. I have heard the no filter argument, and I know what classic photographers used to do. They altered their photos in the darkroom.

When you edit photos using presets others filters, it’s an attempt to make it better. Generally, people like the photos more.

The above photo of the Ngorongoro Crater was very difficult to produce. The crater had some intense light elements with diverse shadows and light. There were cloud walls on the rim and to the left, somewhat filtering the sunset. The final production involved merging three different photos (one to the left, one in the middle and one to the right, but not an HDR overlay) in Photoshop to get the right exposure across the crater, significant Lightroom time, and about three different brushed Intensify filters in parts of the photo.

The real issue that happens with filters is when people mindlessly filter images without thinking about what they are communicating. While the haphazard filtered movement produces a few diamonds, the real product is rarely photography. However, it’s what makes people happy when they Instagram or Facebook or whatever. This also gives a real photographer an opportunity to distinguish themselves with strong unique images.

I believe a photo is a person’s interpretation of something they witnessed, realistic or abstract. Each photo is a unique experience. I never use the exact same edit or a universal filter for touch-ups.

4) Black and White Works

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A good color photograph almost always makes for a good black and white photo. But so does a photo with blown out highlights, bad light (for example, your atypical middle of the day shot) or muted tones. I try not to produce photos that are shot in mid-day, but sometimes you don’t have a choice.

Often I produce these shots as black and white works. The above shot is the el train in Chicago, and it was shot in the morning blue hour before dawn. However, it came out looking dusty and blue. So I went black and white.

The editing was done as an HDR edit in Photomatix using three exposures merged on top of each other. I significantly boosted the contrast further and gave the photo a vignette to make it even more brooding. As Serge Ramelli notes, going over the top in black and white seems to work.

What tips would you add?

Black and White Romanticism

Image by Grace Russell

Strong opinions throughout the social web bear a resemeblance to  the 19th century romantic movement. Consider the sheer force of emotional passion and righteousness behind espoused ideals.

The romantic movement responded to the constraints of the early industrial era and enlightenment, a way for the mind to break free from the machine. Purity in terror or love or freedom — expressed in art and movements like nationalism — dominated the 19th century psyche.

What’s old is new again, I suppose. That shouldn’t be surprising though.

Today we face a new confining threat to our identities, the digital definition of who we are. Online identity is expressed through the social graph, and the “big data” that it yields.

We confront hard truths about ourselves, including how much or little we are liked, and why.  There’s nothing quite as humbling as realizing people like you for your cute dog instead of your brilliant political expositions.

Ads pushing products and services targeted by behavioral data tell us what we should buy. We fiddle with privacy settings yet find our lives read to us online, searchable, indexed, and found, not by people, but by corporate databases seeking to expand sales.

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