Editing Part 2: Is it a keeper?

Sunrise and reflections on the beach at Jericoacoara, Brazil.

In the previous post, I discussed my process for editing images.  During the first pass over a group of images, I either flag, reject or ignore a photo.  The flagged photos are the ones that I want to come back to again.  The photos that I ignore are the ones that make me go “eh,”  as they are neither “good” nor “bad” in my opinion.  The images that get rejected are the ones I don’t want to see again, these are the accidental shots, the out of focus shots, and the terrible exposure shots.  Often those images, are the first in the sequence of working toward the shot that I really want.  For example, when shooting creative motion, I often have to experiment to get the right shutter speed for the motion of the subject.  If I “reject” the ones that just didn’t work, then I can filter them out, so that I don’t have to see them again.

So, what are the qualities that I look for when deciding which are good, or at least are worth a second look?  Listed below are a few of the key points that I consider when critiquing images during the first edit. By no means is this list totally inclusive, but it will give you an idea of the questions I consider when making the first pass of images.

Shadows of a nearby roof are cast on this old wall and yellow door in Paraty, Brazil.
  • Light: Interesting lighting can provide the opportunity to turn an ordinary subject into an interesting photograph.  On the other extreme, dull lighting can make a boring photograph of an interesting subject.

    The steps of Lapa created by artist Selaron. The steps have been a work in progress since 1990, when the artist began covering them with tiles from all over the world.
  • Interesting subject: An interesting subject doesn’t necessarily make an good photo, but it’s a good place to start.  Is the subject of the photograph obvious? Have I successfully communicated to the viewer what I want them to see? Have I found a unique perspective on the subject?
  • Composition:  Does the composition of the image help draw the viewers eye to the subject, or does it successfully move the viewers gaze around the photograph?  Is there a strong focal point?Are there distracting elements that compete with the subject, if so can the image be cropped to remove the distractions?

    Vendor at the Fortaleza fish market is showing off the shrimp for sale.
  • Focus:  Is the main part of the subject sharp?  If the image has selective focus, is the part that is sharp important? If the image is not sharp, is the blur intentional and creative?
  • Exposure: Is the image properly exposed?  Are there details in the highlights and shadows?  If I’m unsure, I’ll look at the histogram, and maybe open it up in the develop module to make sure the information is there to work with.  If the exposure is not technically “perfect” does the exposure enhance the mood or feeling of the image?

Capturing Motion

Brazil is a country in motion, both literally and metaphorically.  The photographic challenge is to capture that sense of motion. If done well, creative motion can make a still photograph more dynamic.

Shutter Priority Mode: 1/20 second. While riding in a separate dune buggy, I set the shutter speed as slow as possible for the bright day. Camera was set to high speed continuous mode and while we were traveling about the same speed as the other buggy, I fired off a series of shots. This one was the most successful. The riders in the other buggy were sharp, while the background blurred as we sped by.

Panning is my favorite technique for showing motion.  The technique involves a slow shutter speed, and following the subject by moving your camera during the exposure.  Success with this often takes multiple tries to get the right shutter speed for the motion of your subject.  A successful pan will have a streaked background with the subject relatively sharp.  Don’t expect the subject to be tack sharp, but you do want the subject to be sharp enough that you can tell what it is.  If your shutter speed is too slow, the subject will be too blurry. If the shutter speed is too fast, then the background may not be blurry enough.

One advantage of the panning technique, is that is can create a dramatic separation between the subject and its background, by eliminating distracting elements from the background.

Our hotel location is a block from the beach, so we have a front row view to the ideal exercise venue. There is a wide sidewalk along the beach that is in constant motion. Early morning and into the evening, the sidewalk is full of people walking, running, rollerblading, skateboarding and an odd assortment of other activities.  Along this path are exercise stations with pull up bars and other structures for exercise.  There are also several beach volleyball courts and a skate park.

Running along Beira Mar, Fortaleza

For these shots I set myself at a location along the beachfront walkway that had a display of paintings.  The paintings were an assortment of bright colors, and I knew that it would make for an interesting background.  Then I stood there and fired off a lot of frames.  I looked left and right to see who was coming into the frame.  I looked for joggers or skateboarders who were by themselves, to help keep the composition simple.  My camera was in high speed shooting mode, so that I was able to fire off 3-5 frames before the subject was out of range.  In the case of this shot, photographed about 5 different subjects, and had two shots that are “keepers.”  This one of the jogger made the blog because of the red bandana and the fact that I got his feet in the shot.

Another take on panning is to experiment with shutter speed settings while you are in motion.  If you are moving at the same speed as something in your frame, then that object will be sharp, while the scenery around you is blurred.  This works great for shooting from moving cars, trains, buses, roller coasters, etc…

Shutter Priority: 1/20 Second. The slow shutter speed gives the sense of the speed of the truck as we were zipping down these dirt/sand roads. The truck and the mirror are sharp, because I’m moving at the same speed that they are. Having something sharp in the image is helpful when trying to show blurred motion, as the contrast between the two heightens the sense of motion.
Shutter Priority: 1/160 Second. This fast shutter speed stopped the motion, we might as well be parked when I took this image.

New Destinations

Arriving in a new destination is always exciting.

The bright side of our redirected flights was the view out the window as we flew over the Amazon Region at sunset.

New sights, sounds and smells can all overwhelm the senses.  What’s a photographer to do? I see two ways to approach this scenario, which one is right for you will depend on a lot of factors.

Warning labels on the backs of cigarettes.

Approach #1:  Photograph everything that is new and different.  In a few days it might not seem weird that there is a hose with a spray nozzle next to your toilet, or that fruit at breakfast becomes an everyday item.

My students first assignment takes that approach.  The assignment is titled “Viva La Difference”  or celebrate the differences.  Take shots of those items that are new and unique, before that freshness wears off.  There have been too many times, that I’ve come back from travels with stories, but not the pictures, because I forgot to capture that newness.

Approach #2: Observe and learn.  This is a more studied approach, and may help you get a deeper understanding of the culture, before you get trigger happy.  There are times when it is good to just experience and absorb the culture, without feeling you have to photograph everything.  This can be difficult, but this approach is also good if you’re concerned about safety and security.  For example, today our group headed out around the block.  Since we tend to attract some attention as a large group, I didn’t want to add to that with all of us having our cameras around our necks.  So the students kept their cameras put away, and I tested the waters.  I knew I had 11 sets of eyes for security, so I kept my camera out and shot a few things along the way.  I got a sense of how people on the street would react to the camera, and see if it would draw a lot of attention.   It didn’t.

Exercise is not limited to the gyms. I’ve already noticed people exercising by the pool, on the boardwalk and as they prepare to surf. They work hard to look good in their swimsuits.

Later we headed out to a beach that was known for having security. I brought  my point and shoot camera.  This allowed us to feel more comfortable taking the cameras out and seeing how people reacted in a safe environment.   My first impression is that Brazilians are laid back, friendly and not camera shy.  Later that evening, a few of us walked around the market and along the boardwalk.  I asked a few people if I could take their pictures, or photograph their market stalls.  I smiled as I pointed to my camera and got smiles back, the students and I have felt very welcomed by the Brazilians that I have met.

Preparations for Photographers

Two weeks until departure, and I’ve got tons of tasks popping up in my head that I need to do before I leave.  That’s why I’m a big believer in “to do lists.”   I can get the idea out of my head and onto paper.  And more importantly, eventually I will get the satisfaction of crossing it off my list.  Below are a few items that can be done this week, before the week before crazies set in.  This is the to do list that deals specifically with camera equipment and camera gear.

Shop for Gear:  There are a few extra things I that I want to get.  For example, I need a new remote for my camera, and a UV filter for the new lens that I got for my birthday.  This will just be a quick trip down to Dury’s, where I’m sure I’ll find something else that I “need.”

Prep my Gear:

  • Clear extra files off my laptop, to make sure I have plenty of storage space for the thousands of photos that I will take.
  • Prep my external hard drive.  I’ll clear it off completely, and reformat it.  I’ll reformat it as a “start up disk.”  This is helpful in case the hard drive on laptop hard drive crashes, I’d be able to boot up and run programs off of the external drive.
  • Clear and reformat all of my memory cards, maybe buy a few more.
  • Check out and clean the camera and lenses.
  • Clean out my camera bag.  Since my camera bag acts like a purse when I travel, I always find odds and ends from the previous trip when I clean it out.  Maybe I’ll find some Jamaican dollars, I’ll definitely find some Jamaican sand.
  • Set aside a clear  place to lay out all the gear.  Place the appropriate cords, cables and adapters with each piece of equipment.

My Philosophy on Gear

I am not a gear head!  I know my last two postings have been about equipment choices, but you might have noticed that I have been purposefully vague about the specifics of the gear that I shoot with.  If you were to ask me what camera to buy, I’ll be equally vague.   I’ll talk about gear in the general sense.  There are plenty of resources out there that give very detailed equipment reviews.   I’m more interested in the images that you can create with the gear you have.  While I do believe that professional photographers should have professional quality gear, it is not the camera that makes the image, but the vision behind the viewfinder that creates compelling images.

We’re approximately 2 weeks from departure to Brazil, so NOW is the time to purchase any gear that you want to bring on the trip.

The minimum requirements for my class are a Digital SLR with lens, tripod, laptop and external hard drive.   A few extra things I recommend are: external flash, extra battery, extra memory cards, and if at all possible, at least one fast, prime lens.  Then of course, there is the camera bag dilemma.

If you look in my office closet, you’ll see the equivalent of Imelda Marcos’ shoe closet.  I have more camera bags than the law should allow.  How I transport the gear matters on so many levels.  1st is comfort, 2nd is what can I carry, 3rd is how does it look.

For comfort, I prefer a sling bag or backpack.  I use a backpack for the big travel days when I really just need to transport the gear safely and easily, but don’t expect to be doing a lot of shooting.  I like one that will hold my laptop, but is small enough to fit under the airplane seat or in the small overhead compartments.  I’ve had to pull out my laptop and camera at the runway, when the airline forced me to gate check a large bag.

When walking around and shooting, I prefer a sling bag.  The sling bag style makes it easier to get to the gear quickly.  I prefer one with a waste strap to help distribute the weight.  The other things that are important are a place (on the outside of the bag) for a water bottle, and a pocket large enough to hold a small guidebook,  map and a small snack.  The bag I use has a hidden pocket for a emergency stash of cash, and a pocket that will hold an emergency poncho and a shower cap for unexpected rain.  No, I don’t wear the shower cap, I put it on my camera!  I also always keep a few blister band aids tucked away in the inside pocket.

How does it look?  Why does that matter? I’m no fashionista.  I dress down when shooting because I don’t want to call attention to myself, I want to fade into the background.  I also don’t want to call attention to my gear, so the less your camera bag looks like a camera bag, the better.  Don’t advertise the camera brand, thieves know which brands are the most expensive.  Switch out the strap that came with the camera that has the brand all over it.  You can also put a small piece of black tape on the camera to block out the make and model.

If you have some last minute shopping to do, here are a few places to start.

dpreview:  The go to source for learning about different camera models.  I especially like the feature that allows you to compare camera models side by side.  They keep up with the newest equipment, and are always releasing new reviews of gear.

B&H:  Source for all things photographic, things you don’t even know you want or need.  They also care equipment for video and audio.  I’ve always been happy with the service when I’ve purchased from them.

KEH: A very reputable source for buying used equipment.  They have a great rating system for letting the buyer know the condition of the equipment before purchasing.

DURY’S:  Dury’s is the local pro shop in Nashville.  I like to shop there because nothing beats being able to walk into a store, talk to knowledgeable sales people and really get a feel for the equipment.  I buy from them, because I want to support the local options to be sure they are always there!

Camera Choice: SLR

The first decision to make when planning to travel is what type of camera to bring; a big SLR with the nice lens or small and convenient Point and Shoot?   or  both?

Digital SLR: is the choice of most professionals.  SLR (Single Lens Reflex) cameras allow for control over camera settings and provides flexibility of lens choice. This allows the photographer to decide on the depth of field (range of focus) and how to capture motion (stopped or blurred for creative effect.)  Another advantage of using an SLR camera is, as your needs for photographic lens grow or change, you can always add additional lenses to your camera bag.  Lens choice and lens quality is a very important factor in the sharpness and appearance of your images, and will warrant a blog post later.

Anyone who has ever carried an SLR camera around all day will tell you that the disadvantage of the SLR camera is the size, weight and bulk.  Also, the control that an SLR camera gives you comes with a steeper learning curve than point and shoot cameras.  The good news is that once you understand the fundamentals like exposure, focus and lens choice, you can utilize that knowledge with any camera.

My photography students are required to use a Digital SLR camera, but I also encourage them to bring along a point and shoot, if they have one.  The reasons for having both will be more clear after I discuss the pros and cons of the point and shoot in the next blog post. Both of these types are available for film and digital, but at this point, I’m going to assume that most people reading this blog are interested in digital photography (although a future post on film is definitely a possibility.)

The Netherlands: Ferry ride from Rotterdam to Dordrecht. 50mm prime lens in manual focus, allowed me to chose my point of sharpness on the raindrops and allow the bridge in the background to be slightly out of focus. f/9 @1/40 sec. 

Swan Bridge, Rotterdam
The Netherlands: Tram going over the Swan Bridge in Rotterdam at night. A tripod and slow shutter speed (1/8sec) allowed me to keep the bridge sharp and capture the blur of the fast moving tram. Wide angle lens allowed me to capture the whole scene.