For the longest time, i.e. till today, I have selected images from whatever I’ve photographed, based on the following criteria :
01. The image must be “nice”
It should look nice – in terms of colors / shapes / contrast, should be framed at least half-decently, should be a nice image even if I’m not using it within the context of the “story” or “narrative” I’m attempting to convey.
02. The image must work in the context of the “story” or “narrative” I’m trying to convey / build
Even if it isn’t a great image on it’s own, it might work really well if I’m stringing together a set of images for a visual story. It must add context to the story. It must further the narrative. It must be relevant. It must not be too similar to another image in the same series
03. Technically sound
Straight lines, focus, etc. I do use blurred images off and one, depending on how well I think they work in the context of a story or if they add to the “mood”. But, overall, I prefer working with images that are not out of focus and it is not very difficult to tell what the subject of the image is.
Generally, these three above are the criteria I have used loosely over the years. I shoot a ton of RAW files, bring them into Adobe Lightroom and then I have to look through all of them to decide which ones I can / should / must use.
This is what the process usually looks like :
a. Ist Pass : technically sound / looks ok : scroll scroll scroll. The ones I don’t immediately hate, I add a One Star rating.
b. 2nd Pass : I add a Two Star rating to those images that I like slightly better. It’s more a process of elimination. Repetitive images stay on One Star – I’ll pick one image that I like the most and give it Two Stars. Some especially great images will straight away get a Three Star rating etc.
If I don’t have a lot of images ( meaning about less then 300 ), then I’m usually done by Three Stars. Then I’ll go into the Three Star selection, look through all of them again and if there are some I still don’t really like, I’ll reduce a star and they’ll disappear from view.
c. I process all 3-Star images in Lightroom : I’ll find what tweaks look nice and work for the overall feel of the lighting conditions that I shot under. And what kind of feel might work for the narrative. I’ll generally tweak Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Vibrance, Saturation, Tone Curve, Sharpening, Noise, Dehaze, HSL and sometimes Split Toning. I’ll work on 2-3 images first and once I figure out what’s working, I’ll Synchronize all images with the same settings.
d. Then I’ll go through each image individually to crop / tweak each one depending on slight variations in White Balance / Exposure and the variations in what the subject of the image is. If it’s a person / portrait, it will require a different processing than if it was a landscape / architecture image.
e. Everything gets exported to a folder as JPGs and 99% of the times, this is it.
Sometimes, if there are some 5-Star images, I might open them up in Adobe Photoshop and edit. Mostly it will be for portraits : dodging / burning, removing blemishes, some more color adjustments, straightening of lines manually ( if I wasn’t able to manage the crop vs. perspective correction in Lightroom ). This is rare though.
Lately, I’ve been itching to do some different kind of work. I remember the days of putting together composite images in Photoshop and I used to spend hours working on one image and make it into something else altogether.
For the past many years though, I have been operating on the “shutter-clicker” model. It has served me well, don’t get me wrong. But I’m feeling the need to slow down a bit. Think more. Find meaning a bit more. And the “shutter-clicker” photographer lifestyle isn’t suiting me anymore. I’ll still do it for client assignments because I shoot a lot of event-like setups, where it’s better to have more images than less. But I also want to try going back to the older, slower, more composite-style images.
I realize I was never really looking to depict “accurate” images. I wanted to do “art”. But somewhere along the way, in the race to stay relevant in the market, and trying to balance between blogging and photography, I lost the “art” part. And I didn’t even feel the loss for the longest time. Now, it has come back to bite me in the ass and how.
I’ve looked at photographs of some of the photographers I follow on Instagram. Some of them are brilliant. I aspire to be as brilliant. I realize that most of my viewers will not “get” the images and I stand to lose a large portion of those who follow me for my “influencing”. But it is like a tide that I am unable to do anything about except float on it and let it carry me.
So, here I am. Trawling through my photographs from 2010. The Nikon D90 seems perversely shitty now in 2018. And in those days, I couldn’t fathom why anyone would shoot RAW images – you see I couldn’t possibly afford all the expensive storage those days. I still dislike spending so much money on storage but I cannot shoot anything but RAW now. So, I look at those images from 2010 and cringe. But there are some nuggets in there. I start the starring process and then catch myself. I’m starring them like I always have. And that’s no good if I want to approach my work as “art” now.
But my brain doesn’t know how else to proceed! What if I do figure out how to proceed in a different way – will I then lose / forget the old way? That might not be nice for my career reputation as a story-teller using multiple photographs. I still need that skill to edit client assignments. But making that switch to a new way of “seeing” seems impossible at this point, so I’m worrying about something that might not even happen.
It also seems like I need to develop a workflow where I either stop priding myself of my short-memory ( short-memory = happiness because I don’t recall any of the negative shit but I also don’t recall anything else, which was a bargain I was willing to make ) or I figure out a way to be able to look at multiple images in one go – in hand or on a desk. So I can then try and fit them with each other – like a puzzle. Maybe I should consider a printer – not the InkJet though because those are inefficient as fuck and the ink costs a bomb. But maybe something else – see, I don’t even know what’s out there in the market these days. I’ve been so focused on this one way of doing things that I’ve allowed myself to coast.
Acknowledging my limitations has never been a problem. It’s the inaction after that will be the death of me.
I am excited. As always, let’s see how it goes!
( The image that I’ve used as a featured image for this post, is a composite I worked on. It was photographed in Sikkim in 2010 when we were on a family vacation : Sikkim to Bhutan to Assam. I was trawling through those images and came upon these two. One of the mountain and one of the reflection of the mountain in the windows / doors. The images are not perfect. They don’t like up together. That would have happened had I been been shooting with the goal of fitting them together like a puzzle – but I was not. I flipped them around a bit, straightened them a bit, cropped them, post-processing was done and this was the final result that I was ok with. For now. There will be more and I hope I will get to practice more and get better. This is definitely fun and it forces me to slow down and think and find meaning. )
Thank you for following along!
( All my writing – about photography and otherwise – can be found under Articles & Writing on this blog. )