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Today's e-tip:

Improve your Photography
with Critiques and Remakes

You can never stop learning with photography. This provides you with the ability to improve old and new images.
Learn and Improve
The great thing about photography is that you can always learn something new. If  you're not learning, than you're stagnating. Unfortunately, a lot of photographers stagnate – but you don’t have to.

I get to see a lot of images – many from so-called "professional" photographers. Many of these images are just OK, but could have been improved if the photographer had a better understanding of their "flaws". You can't learn what your flaws are on your own - you need help to do that. And it's not until you understand your flaws, that you become a better photographer.

Creating compelling images isn't just a matter of knowing the "rule of thirds", or other composition rules - there's more to it. When you learn what creates great images, you move to a new level with your photography.

If there's one thing that keeps amazing me, is how my photographic vision and skills have changed over time. Images I took years ago, get a fresh and (hopefully) improved look when I do a "make-over" now.

So, how do you get to understand your flaws and learn what REALLY makes up a compelling image? Read on...

So, how do you continue to learn to get better images?

The first step is easy.
You will learn from an honest critique.

Critiques aren't a simple "yes" or "no". A good critique evaluates an image and provides constructive ideas, identifying the good and bad points of the image. It explains why the image works - and why it doesn't. Critiques are NOT criticism - you need to understand the difference, and that any negative points are constructive. It's these comments that allow you to grow.

Here’s where NOT to go for a critique: social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., etc.

There are several ways to get an honest critique. You can join a local camera club. Camera clubs are a great place to learn. Enter your images in a club’s monthly competition and you’ll learn a lot – not only from the critique you receive for your own images, but from seeing other people's images.

You can join a photo forum on the Internet. There are many of these – here are a few (in no particular order - you can find a lot more by searching):

Nature Photographer’s Network
Fred Miranda
Photography Forum

Critiques will help you on your way to learning what makes a good image. If you think you know what makes a good image, then you may be fooling yourself. Why? The reason you may not know what makes a good image is because you’re looking at your images through your own eyes. It takes one or more sets of discerning eyes to see the flaws in your images. Once your flaws are pointed out to you, then you will start learning and improving your images.


One of the best things that I learned from critiques is how to improve images that I took years ago. Sometimes it just takes a better crop. Sometimes (often), editing in a program like Photoshop or Lightroom is required.

One thing I learned from constructive critiques is that post-processing is a requirement for good images. The more I learn, the more I go back to re-edit old images. I’m always amazed at how many really good images I took, but, at the time, didn’t think so. They just needed a bit of cropping and editing.

Here's an example where the image as shot in the camera (on the top) is OK, but it has a very distracting dead flower in the top-right-corner. The colors are a bit drab and the flower has very similar brightness as the green leaves. The "remake" on the bottom is more compelling - the flower is very clearly the subject, and nothing in the image distracts the viewer from looking first at the flower.


In this example, the original image on the top was cropped nicely, but the tonal values of the rocks and background were very close to those on the pelican. A little post-processing editing made all the difference. We went from a snapshot to a portrait.


What kind of editing?

Your first goal in editing is to try and simplify your images. Your goal is to make your subject visually obvious and the image more emotionally compelling.

Cropping is a great first step in this process. Most images need some kind of crop. You want to get the best image in-camera, so, in an ideal situation, you shouldn’t need to crop. But, sometimes it’s not always possible to fill-your frame with the image you want (think of that bear you want to shoot with only a 200mm lens).

So, often, you want to crop so the lines in the image are coherent, and the subject is obvious. Most of the images I see have either an ambiguous subject or one that is surrounded by distracting elements. There’s nothing worse than showing too much in your image. The "KIS" principle should often prevail: Keep It Simple.

Next is tonality - deciding what should be bright and what shouldn't.

Typically, your subject should be the brightest object in the image, unless you’re shooting a silhouette. So, you’ll want to make sure your background is darker than your subject. This isn’t always possible when taking an image – wildlife subjects aren’t always that cooperative. In these cases, it takes a bit of post-processing to darken the areas behind your subject. There are a variety of tools in most post-processing programs that allow you to do this, such as adjustment brushes, HSL controls, vignettes, burning tools, etc.)

I took this image of a robin from fairly close, but it still occupied a small portion of the frame. I probably should have shot it vertically, but didn't. It's not a bad image,  but there's a lot of negative space in the image. Sometimes you want to show the environment in a wildlife image, but sometimes, the subject is more important.

This image was cropped to make the robin "front-and-center", and I darkened and saturated the blue sky a bit. I also brightened up the robin and added a vignette so the Robin is the brightest object in the image. This helps your eye find what I want you to see. The original image is nice, but the re-worked image, at least to my eye, is significantly better.

Consider Black & White

The image on the top had some interest, but, frankly, was a bit boring. Converting it to black and white added drama and emotion. Often, it's the element of "emotion" that makes a good image. 



Simple Adjustments
The image on the top was my first attempt at cropping and editing this image. It actually came out pretty good. But, a really simple edit to darken the green leaves helps focus the viewer's attention on the snake.
Simple Adjustments

 Simple Adjustments

Sometimes, you just need to get rid of extraneous clutter in an image.

The image from Death Valley below is a panorama. My experience with panoramas is that they generally make poor images UNLESS you plan on making a really big framed print and putting it on a big wall somewhere. Sure, they're cool to shoot, but, you never know what to look at first.
Simple Adjustments
The cropped and edited image below is a portion of the panorama. It shows less, but, it has a more cohesive composition. There is a blue area that looks like a river (it isn't - it's just an area where water has eroded the stone), and that leads you into the image. The colors and detail have also been enhanced.

 Simple Adjustments

If you do it right, you never stop learning about the art of photogrpahy. Critiques area great way to expand your view of the art. As you expand your artistic horizon, you can use that to create better edits of your images, and it opens up a whole new realm where you can review and re-edit your old images.

There are many tools available for editing your images - Photoshop,  Lightroom, Topaz, Capture One, Luminar, DxO, etc., etc. These tools enable you to create compelling images - once you understand what makes a compelling image.

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