Every so often I go through a spell of not being able to do any photography – something in me just dries up and doesn’t want to know. It’s happened often enough now that I don’t worry (much) any more, as it usually leads (eventually) to a leap forward of some kind. I’m in the midst of one of these dry spells at the moment, and finding it hard to know what to write about because of that.
Sometimes I find I’m quite happy processing or re-processing old images even if I don’t feel like taking new ones, but this time I’ve found I don’t even want to do that. I think it’s because that’s what’s actually the problem – no matter what I do, I’m not liking my processed images. I’d be hard pushed to say exactly what it is that’s wrong, but I do know I’m not achieving the look that I want. And worse, I don’t know what to do to make things better. All I know is that when I see the finished work of other photographers that I admire, it looks so much better than mine. And I don’t mean by this the composition or anything like that, just certain qualities that the image itself possesses. It’s possible that this is due to the camera or lens that they’re using, but I think most of it is down to the processing. Their images just look so much more polished and they have a look about them that mine don’t have..
For most images, I know I want a certain softness married to a degree of clarity, and some photos I’ve seen have a kind of glow about them that I’d like to emulate.. Sometimes I get close to this, but then I look and wonder if they’re actually a bit over-processed. The problem is that the more I look at them, the less objective and discriminating I’m able to be, and then I begin to disappear up my own tutu (as a previous mother-in-law used to say). It’s hellishly frustrating, so I end up not even wanting to try.
I thought perhaps I needed to expand my Photoshop skills so I subscribed to Scott Kelby’s training website. It’s very good, and I did learn quite a few little bits and pieces that I didn’t know, but it still wasn’t giving me what I want. Kelby himself has a certain processing style that’s totally at odds with my own desired result, so although it was very useful to see how he does what he does, and the techniques can obviously be applied in different ways, it didn’t really help me do what I want to do. I’m thinking now that I need to start talking to some photographers whose work has the look that I want and ask them how they go about things.
It always strikes me as odd that the person in the street doesn’t realise how vitally important post-processing is, and how much you can change the outcome by using it. I think until you’ve seen before and after shots of the same image, you don’t realise what a difference it can make. And photography must be one of the only arts where a lot of people expect you to get it spot on without doing anything beyond the first pass. A composer will go on tweaking or even drastically changing his original composition until it sounds right; a writer will do revision after revision until she gets what she wants; an actor wouldn’t expect to be ready for a finished performance after the first rehearsal. The initial RAW file is really a first draft rather than a finished product.
Having said all this, in the midst of a grey winter I’m finding a set of photos I took in late autumn last year quite appealing, simply because they’re so colourful. Some had already been processed and I’ve done some work on the rest. These were taken at Winkworth Arboretum in late autumn last year, and the colours were incredible. You’d think I’d bumped up the saturation, but in some cases I actually had to tone it down because it looked so unreal. It’s energising and refreshing to see a bit of colour at a time of year when things are grey and bleak.
For a look at what a bit of processing can do – with lots of before and after shots – plus an argument for why professional photographers shouldn’t let people have their unedited photos, this article by Caleb Kerr is interesting and enlightening.