Do we define the look of our photos - or does the software?

(Stefan Schmitz) #1

Howdy - a philosophic question:

Do your photos look like yours because you came down with a look of your own (you saw something, copied or reproduced it - or even created THAT look yourself) or do they look the way they do because “that’s as far as I can do”?

There are probably few who can master all the tools and functions in a complex software package like darktable, Gimp or any alternative program. You get more knowledgeable with time, but you never know half of it’s possibilities. So where do you stop?

Have you ever come to the point of saying “I wish I could make my pictures look like that” and not found out how to get there? Have you ever “stopped” post-prod saying “well, that’s as good as I can make it”? Are you able to make your pictures look exactly like you want them to? Or have you somehow stumbled into your own look and found that “I could do more, but this is it”?

Don’t tell me that you are just happy when the light is about right and the colors can be recognized. We all have our preferences. If in doubt, I will always cut the lights and come up with a darker result. Maybe you prefer to weaken the contrasts rather than go for a graphic effect … we all have our little ticks and spleens.

Was the software you use a factor in your way towards your propper style? Did it enhance or limit your choices?


Gulp. Many questions that are really difficult to answer…

There are probably few who can master all the tools

I am working at it.

Are you able to make your pictures look exactly like you want them to?

No. But then I rarely plan a shot. I can point the lens into a wet piece of moss,
go back to the computer and scrutinize the shots to see it I could make something
interesting from them…

Was the software you use a factor…

Yes, absolutely. Take the images that I shot and developed 6 years ago:
I am able to develop them much better today. Why? Probably because
I have learnt more and that the software is much better nowadays. Or
perhaps because I have changed views on what is “good”…

Have fun!
Claes in Lund, Sweden

(nosle) #3

I’m [quote=“beachbum, post:1, topic:11751”]
just happy when the light is about right and the colors can be recognized.
[/quote] :slight_smile:

I used to go for a very pale desaturated look, sort of Düsseldorf school vibe. Preferring to shoot in overcast light etc. Kodak Portrayed NC was my favourite film before digital and it was magnificent in those overcast conditions. I used to try for a paler portra look but not in a very controlled way.

Today I’ve come to dislike near blown out tones and hence tend to expose primarily to avoid blown highlights. The struggle to maintain a natural look while compressing dynamic range has made me accept very dark images. This goes for both portraiture and spavea/buildings my main types of photography. Colours I honestly just want to match my sooc jpgs.


As with most answers, it is a both-and situation. Your creativity is bound by the medium to a certain extent but constraints also heighten creativity. That is why trying new media and different apps is vital to overcoming your blind spots and evolving your art and skill.

A good comparison would be with music, if you have had any extended time with learning or playing music. What makes the musician? The instrument and collaboration, or the musicality and musicianship? Technical mastery certainly removes many barriers but it is only half or even a third of the picture.

(David Vincent-Jones) #5

My RAW camera image is to me simply a ‘field sketch’ that contains one or more elements that appealed to my senses at that specific time. … Later, I take that sketch into darktable and look at the various possibilities that it offers both from my memory and the data.

(Stefan Schmitz) #6

That’s something I can relay to because I was playing for 20 years on and off in bands and we released three albums. As a musician you are influenced by the musicians around you. If you play in a Blues-band and you play on festivals and so on, you get in touch with other musicians of the same kind and … your playing turns in circles.

If you expose yourself to music that is different from what you “normally” play, you will get better and play “out of the box”.

The God of my personal guitar-religion - Warren Haynes - is a great fan of saxophone music and you can hear that in some of his earlier works. If you play blues, I highly recommend to listen to Larry LaLonde - the least bluesy shredder there is. This will make you a way better guitarist, than listening for the umphteeth time to SRV’s “Live Alive”

The instrument is only a question of taste - it doesn’t make you a better player, but it can help your expression.

(Andrew) #7

I generally go for a fairly natural look, but it would be nice if I could sometimes copy the style here - . Has anyone any suggestions? I guess turn up the saturation, and be skilful with lighting, but I imagine there’s more to it than that. Some Nik effect kind-of-thing maybe?

(Stefan Schmitz) #8

google “amber and teal” and there you go

(Sebastien Guyader) #9

One thing I realized is that my taste changes with time. A set of photos I developed one year ago, when I look at it today I feel like I would make it look differently if I were to reprocess them. And sometimes I do reprocess them because I really don’t like the original look anymore.

(Glenn Butcher) #10

I think the photographic medium is the first constrainer. Photography at its foundation is about the capture of a scene in a moment, and how we define this starting point is bounded by composition and exposure. From there, one can go in a wide variety of directions.

Since rebooting with digital imaging, I’ve take the direction that I want to start with as faithful a depiction as I can get. So, for me the creative aspect at capture is composition, and I do all I can to keep the thinking about exposure out of the way.

The software is just a tool to bring the capture to a rendition. For my needs it needs to preserve the measured light to initial renditions. I sometimes like to then depart from that, usually well after my initial bout with the capture, when poring over images from long past and thinking, “Hmmm, what if I did…”

(Andrew) #11

Yes I see what you mean. Though I think there are other things happening too, like a “perfect plastic” appearance.

(Isaac Ullah) #12

This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. There are some photographers that I follow on Flickr, and I can always tell that an image in my stream is one of theirs even before I see the label. They seem to have come up with an original cohesive and consistent style; a vision of subject, composition, and editing that is unique to them.

I think editing is only one component of such style, but it is an important one. And it’s the consistency that is striking to me. I have been asking myself if I have this kind of consistency, and I think the answer is “not yet”. I tend to hop between subjects and am still playing with various compositions. And in editing I generally use a few “go to” tools and mess with them until I think the image “looks better”. What I should be doing, I think, is sticking with a limited range of subjects, working on a limited range of compositions, and editing to achieve a consistant look shot to shot. The problem is deciding what, specifically, to focus on in each of these things so as to achieve my consistent vision…

(nosle) #13

Consistency is mainly a marketing thing. It makes you a reliable product. You hear it expressed as a sort of rule but its simplistic and IMHO unlikely to help with producing great stuff. Might help in making a buck though, which can be important. Having an interest and a project will likely eventually lead to photos that speak to each other without having a preconceived notion of consistency.


Consistency is only important on a project by project basis and is more on the business side. What is worse than inconsistency is being perceived as boring.

(Nick Auskeur) #15

The images on that website look like mostly lighting composites. Walking around the location with a speedlight on a monopod and taking individual shots of illumination on objects in the scene, then compositing it all together using masks afterwards. Look up Mike Kelley on fstoppers for further info on those techniques.

(nosle) #16

Adding to the consistency question. There are of course great photographers whose whole raison d’être is repetition and consistency. Most strikingly perhaps Bernd and Hilla Becher as has been discussed on this site before.


Ah, I remember that. It was from Eggleston slideshow on lensculture - "banal bcomes menacing".

(Isaac Ullah) #18

Here are a couple videos that may better explain what I mean by consistency:

The idea is not to be able to consistently produce the same kind of photo (ie the commercial concept of consistency), but to consistently carry out your vision and to gain a recognisable voice in photography. I recently saw a fantastic Irving Penn exhibition at the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts, and one thing that struck me is the consistency of voice across his career. It’s not that all his photos looked the same - they don’t. It’s that you can see one of his photos, and whatever the subject, you instantly think of him as the photographer.


I get what you are saying. I would use the word maturity. We all start from somewhere but we need to grow and mature. At the same time, voice is a tricky idea. I find it common for cultural icons and historical figures to be recognized for one thing, but they are really much more than that; or that one thing isn’t representative of who they are but it just stuck.

(Andrew) #20

Thanks, here’s a link in case anyone else is interested (11min youtube) -