Making a Picture

Some of you who know me or have read my blog have noticed that I have referred more and more to my photography as “making pictures” rather than “taking pictures”.  In addition, some have remarked how great my pictures are and wonder how they can also take such pictures.  Well, the purpose of this article is to discuss “making” versus “taking” pictures.   All pictures are made, or developed; but, there is a difference between allowing the camera’s computer to interpret the data or doing it on your computer which is more capable, and with better software gives you more latitude in the development.  Those more experienced photographers who might be reading this can probably skip this article since I am going to address it to those close to the novice end of the spectrum.

Before I get into explaining what I do, I want to make a few things clear.  These are my opinions and are not the only things to consider and it isn’t the cameras that I use.  Yes, there is a basic level of camera that is necessary, but once you move up to cameras around $500 – $600, and up, almost any of the current cameras will do.  Primarily, it takes a camera that allows you to take your pictures in a raw rather than jpeg format.  Basic point & shoot cameras all save their pictures as jpeg files.  This is a compressed format in which the computer in the camera processes the digital data from the sensor and interprets how they should look and then throws out a lot of the data as it compresses them down to smaller files so that you don’t get alarmed about how few pictures you can store on your memory card.  Some top-end point & shoot cameras also allow you to save all the data as raw files and let you process, or develop, the files on your computer to make a picture.  All of the more advanced cameras give you the option as to whether to shoot jpegs or raw files.  I always shoot and process my own raw files.  Another basic requirement is having enough pixels to be able to crop if necessary.

I crop to refine the composition and/or to crop-zoom.  You will see below an example of that feature.  My current cameras have 12 or 16 MP but usually 12 MP is sufficient to allow for reasonable crop-zooming but it depends on the end use of the picture; i.e. whether or not, and how large, you print your pictures.  If you only present them on digital devices, which I do, you have a lot more latitude for zoom-cropping.

Other basics that I am not covering in this article are your vision, composition, camera ergonomics, etc., etc.  Those may be subjects for another day.

Getting back to the purpose for this article, look at the following picture.  I took it in Hawaii on the island of Kauai while visiting Waimea Canyon.  As we went up in altitude and could see further, the air became more noticeably hazy.  The following picture is as I first saw it after downloading it to my computer, and this was after my software (Lightroom 4) had done some basic processing so that I could recognise what I saw when I took the picture.  If I had taken the picture as a jpeg, it would look like this or slightly better depending on the camera’s settings and processing capability.

The above picture is rather flat and isn’t all that good, but is close to what you might have seen after you had a  drugstore print your jpeg pictures.  In order to improve it, I used a software program called Adobe Lightroom 4 (LR4).  The first thing I did was crop the picture.  The concept of taking a vertical picture didn’t work as well as I hoped so I cropped off the bottom of the picture.  I then changed the exposure and made other changes to increase the contrast, clarity, etc. of the picture.  I’m not going to go into all of those details in this article.  Today I just want to show you what is capable of being accomplished if you shoot raw files and use LR4 to process them.

I liked the above picture better, but it still didn’t satisfy me.  It still didn’t look as I remember it looking.  I then made some more changes to the cropping of the scene as well as some more adjustments.  You can primarily see the differences in the sky and the enriched character of the rocks and that I cropped out more of the foreground.

One of the major advantages with doing the development of the picture yourself is that you can keep going back and make other changes.  There is never an end.  LR4 is a nondestructive program.  You never destroy the basic picture and you can always go back and do it over, or you can develop multiple versions of the picture; i.e. you can “make” the picture to fit your vision, or the mood of the scene, or to fit the requirements of a particular blog article. 🙂