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


Some years ago I had a good time developing a personal style, which even made a stir over the internet. At the time I used to use a tiny little camera, I shoot only jpeg and got a lot of fun. Digital elaboration was bold and part of the creative process. Those days are gone, nowadays I am lost with complex cameras and complex raw converters with which I have never been in tune. What does all this mean? I don’t know, maybe cameras and raw converters are a drag for me every time I switch myself to creative mode. I am just a simple person. :blush:


(Isaac Ullah) #22

I used “voice” mainly because my other creative world is music, and that’s the term they use a lot: “finding your voice”. It’s the difference between a great session player who can play any type of music any time, and a recording artist. The one person is a technically consistent player, and there’s a lot of work available for that person, but they are a chameleon in some ways: they don’t have a personal style - they can play on any record and blend in. The second person is an artistically consistent person. They have a singular style that is recognisable. The employment opportunity for the second person is more precarious, but if they find an audience who likes their unique “voice”, they can make it.

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(nosle) #23

Another point. Generally speaking much of what makes a photograph including both the look and the “voice” (useful term @Isaac) is created if not fixed at capture. Personally I’d say that the better the photographer, the more of what is important about the photograph is fixed at capture. Processing and printing is the finishing layer that polishes the diamond. If it’s not good sooc it’s never going to be great.

Situation, composition, light, perspective and subject can’t really change much after capture. The idea that look is about postprocessing is false the above are more important. Perhaps postprocessing can be a megaphone when your artistic voice is weak but if you have nothing to say it won’t really matter if it’s loud. (stretching that metaphor :slight_smile: )

So we define the look of our photos at all levels except the most superficial.

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(Mica) #24

I’ve found with digital that I’m making fewer artistic decisions with exposure at the scene. Instead I’m trying to capture the full dynamic range of the scene. Sometimes that involves bracketing.

My of my artistry at the scene is composition, and maybe determining the aperture.


(nosle) #25

I think you are discounting the main artistic question which is what you choose to photograph. That’s really the main thing. After that there are lots and lots of variables. Your camera settings and your post processing are articulations of that main decision of what to photograph.


(Glenn Butcher) #26

I do agree with that thinking, but I’ve also found that sometimes there’s a compelling composition in an otherwise ill-framed capture, teased-out with judicious cropping. I try to not shoot with that crutch in mind, but sometimes I do realize I can’t get the framing I want in the places I can stand, and that some cropping will be needed to achieve the vision I considered “in-scene”…


(nosle) #27

:slight_smile: I deleted a sentence saying that cropping can change perspective and composition. I don’t want to come across as a purist of any kind. There are so many ways of working and so many can be good.

I just want to emphasize that the look of a photograph is dependent on what the photographer sees. What scenes are in front of them and what is seen in that scene.

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(Glenn Butcher) #28

No really, you just said something I’d considered writing about earlier in the thread but decided to leave for another day - the photographic medium as an artistic device is uniquely constrained by “What scenes are in front of them and what is seen in that scene.” Well-put…

Artists in other media build their depictions from mental visualizations, maybe aided by things such as photographs. No, we picture-takers start with measurements straight from the scene, and go from that…


(Isaac Ullah) #29

I’d agree with that, and I would add that is also how you choose to view that subject.

Interesting. I am just the opposite. I find that with modern mirrorless cameras, because I can see the exposure as I frame, I am more apt to try to get creative with the exposure. A dirty little secret of mine is that though I always shoot in raw + jpeg, I almost never develop from raw any more. I’ve really tweaked my in camera picture profiles (Olympus is very customizable that way), so I’d say about 90% of the time I get it 90% to where I want it in camera. I almost never need to push exposures in post anymore because I’ve typically gotten the exposure I wanted dialed in the camera


(Gord) #30

This reminds me of an article I saw in a doctor’s office waiting room in a magazine I wasn’t previously aware of…

Excellence in, Excellence Out.

I use the term “excellence” frequently in articles and presentations because I believe they are words to live by and certainly goals to photograph by. If you shoot with the mindset that you will just take a picture and “fix” it in Lightroom or PhotoShop later, then you are greatly limiting your image potential. For that reason, I spend a few seconds more to dial-in every photo-graph with all the great capabilities my camera has to offer. I love my landscapes to have a lot of punch so I set my Nikon D810 saturation to full and sharpness to 7 out of 10 in my camera picture control settings. Sometimes I will add a bit of the new clarity setting as well, to give some extra impact. These settings will immediately allow my images to pop with colour right out of the camera. This means I have much less to do, if anything, in post processing, and I also get so see how amazing the image is going to look right on the back of the camera. A quick glance at the LCD in image review can encourage me to continue to tweak settings and adjust the image on the fly until I feel it is perfect.

Kristian Bogner in


(Stefan Schmitz) #31

Gee - I like the diversity of opinions we have here …

I was stunned reading this. My approach is quite different: I struggled for “getting things right” when I was shooting film. You can’t save a under- or overexposed negative and you can’t correct an error during development later on. Get it right the first time - there are no second place winners in darkrooms.

In photography darkrooms - it can be a sensible matter, so let’s all be very precise here …

Digital imagery gives me so much more options to fuck-up and recover that I never hesitated to take a risk or do things “wrong”.


(Glenn Butcher) #32

Not to put words into @paperdigit’s thinking, but maybe it’ s “…having to make…” instead of “…making…”.

That’s what I’ve found also. The metering in digital cameras is so much more sophisticated than what I had in my F2 that I can set the ISO and shutter speed constraints at the beginning of a walk through the railroad yard and compose with abandon, not worrying about exposure, well not too much. In the morning as the sun comes up I have to periodically adjust to the growing availability and angle of light, but I don’t do this on a per-shot basis.

For me, being able to concentrate on the composition has probably been the largest benefit from adopting digital.


(Mica) #33

Either phrasing is acceptable. What I mean is that when I was shooting black and while film, as @beachbum said, I was using the zone system. Meter shadows, highlights, pick a midtone, note the push/pull for the development, then make the exposure. That is determining a whole lot of the way the photo would look at the scene. I’d develop the film (and if I didn’t scew up development), I’d stick that negative in the enlarger, do a tiny bit of dodging and burning, and that was it.

Now with digital, I just try to capture the full dynamic range of the scene. If I shooting at sunset/sunrise, I can generally capture that DR in one frame, so I ETTR. Where the highlights land and how much contrast I add is done in post, thus deferring artistic decisions to post instead of making them at the scene. I like this work flow more than film. It allows me to concentrate more on composition and is also faster.

Kudos to @Isaac, as he must have more control over his tooling than me, if he’s making SOOC jpgs. :slight_smile:

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(Isaac Ullah) #34

Haha! Here’s the other half of my “dirty secret”: I really don’t have the time to painstakingly edit all my photos anymore. Being a dad has taken all that free time away, lol! In fact, when I realized that after loading in my raws and getting them to look like I wanted, most of the time they were not that far off from my SOOC JPEGs. And that’s when I realized, 9 times out of 10, I don’t actually need (nor want) the scene’s entire dynamic range. In fact, most of my most successful images (successful meaning that I like them and my wife likes them, etc.) are exposed in such a way as to have only a limited dynamic range. That means embracing shadows and silhouettes when shooting against a gorgeous sky, or enjoying flare and bright washed out effect when shooting portraits in full sun, etc. It might be a bit of a backlash from the uptake (and overuse) in HDR these days, but I like scenes with limited dynamic range. And so, since I can see my exposure in real time with my mirrorless cameras, why not just take the shot I want to take? Since it’s digital, I can take a bunch of shot, experimenting with exposure in the moment. I find that process to be really fun and engaging, and more interesting to me than being strapped to the computer back in the office. And, since I can dial in my shadows and highlights in real time too, as well as saturation and sharpening (Olympus has such great access to these to customize your picture modes), and since I can easily save a bunch of custom picture modes (including great B+W modes), I find that I can really make at least some of my JPEGS 90% of what I want. Then it’s just a matter of a few bsaic tweaks to get it right. Generally just some light burning and dodging, and a little local contrast (“clarity”) and maybe a little global tweak to the highlights and shadows and vibrancy. I’m not doing anything that really needs a raw file, so I find it easy and convenient to work on the JPEGs. And here’s the finally little admission: I rarely bring photos over to the computer anymore either (gasp!). It’s so easy to beam them to my phone with the camera’s wifi tether, and then just do those little tweaks over there. I’ve been trying to use Phimp.Me (FOSS), but I definitely still do use Snapseed (Free, but not Open). That all generally works for me. Now, 10% of the time I’m trying to do something more “serious”, so I do all that ETTR or bracketing or panorama shooting, etc. And then I definitely bring it over to the computer fire up dt, GIMP, Hugin, etc, and edit there, but mostly I don’t have time for it, and I don’t really think it’s necessary any way. So, there’s all my “dirty laundry”, lol! :laughing:


(Mica) #35

Congrats! So now you’re shooting portraits :slight_smile:



Secrets and laundry is what being a dad is about. :stuck_out_tongue: I definitely remember the simpler days of photography where I insert a roll, take a set of photos and have it processed by someone else.


(Glenn Butcher) #37

That’s exactly what got me back into photography. Wife grew weary of pointing a camera at kids and pressing the button, then by the time the camera got around to making the exposure, the kids were gone and she got a nice picture of the carpet… First DSLR, a Nikon D50, took care of that and gave me the tool to start transferring my very dated film chops to digital.

Fast-forward to now, and its the grandkids’ involvement in a chorale that are compelling a consideration to procure a silent-shutter camera, Z6!!!

Gotta love those offspring… :smile:


(Isaac Ullah) #38

Pretty much!! I’m really enjoying it, and even getting into off camera flash and stuff… Lot’s to learn!!

I am learning that every day!!! :laughing:

Yup, they move fast!!! :rofl: It’s a very good motivation to get back into it!! I definitely think you can justify that z6!

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(Gord) #39

I had to hit the Goog to see what ETTR meant, which led me to these:

I had some intuitive sense of this concept just from common sense, but could never have clearly expressed it and would not have crystallized it into a technique like your comment and these articles do. Thanks @paperdigits…one of those light bulb moments for me.

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