Don’t be a Photo Editing Junkie!

I got this question from a member of my photography meetup group, “The Chicagoland Digital Photography Meetup Group.” Are you a <insert name of photo editing program here> junkie? Do you spend hours and hours fixing your photos? Here is a member with the same addiction and my suggestions to help escape the post-procesing blues.

Question: “Hi – I’m fairly new to this group. I’m an amateur photographer, but I do some architectural photography as part of my profession. Anyway, I’ve been wondering about something. I edit pretty much all of my photographs, both personal and professional, to make them look their best. Because I do this, I am of course behind when it comes to editing my personal pics.

Am I being neurotic, caring so much about cropping, lighting, etc., or am I possibly using my editing software to compensate for a lack of knowledge for taking great p&s pics? I haven’t really had much training in photography.”

My Response:
Ah, another post-processing junkie. Yes, many of us have been there (or are still there). The fix is simple: the best way to decrease your post-processing time is to take better photos. I have found over the years, in teaching hundreds of photographers, that the “lure of photo perfection” is often a cover-up for lack of skill behind the viewfinder. Now, I honestly do not intend for that to sound mean or insulting. In fact, it’s advice that I had to take years ago when I moved from film to digital.

When I shot film, I had to be very selective and deliberate about taking photos. Every shot cost me money so I had to try my best to make every one count. There was no Photoshop to fix photos back then.

With digital photography, I was in heaven. No more film! It was easy to shoot and shoot and shoot then deal with the consequences later. That also meant sorting though hundreds of frames and then spending hours of editing time on photos. I spent more time in front of a monitor than behind a lens. I think every photographer who shoots digital and then slaves on their photos afterwards is guilty of this.

My best advice for anyone who wants to “make” better photos, Is to”take” better photos. Make every shot count (or nearly every shot). This means honing your in–camera skills rather than relying on fixing all those photos afterwards. The better the photos are when taken in-camera, the less likely they will need a lot of editing later. Simple logic, eh? Not so simple to achieve, I know. Try this…

First, break the habit of taking dozens (if not hundreds) of photos of the same scene. Instead, whittle it down to taking only a few deliberate photos (say, no more than 5). SLOW DOWN! Be mindful when setting-up your photos in the viewfinder before you click the shutter. Use the visual skills you learned in post-processing, but within your camera: cropping, framing, lighting, shadows, etc. When you look in the viewfinder(or at the LCD screen), see the image as if it were the finished photo. Move around as necessary and frame it well, before you click the shutter.

Second, learn how your camera responds to light by honing your photography knowledge and skills. Learn the fundamentals of aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure, lighting, composition, etc. You also must know your camera and all its controls and functions very well. The better you know your camera, the better you can control the photos it takes.

Finally, as you go through all your photos after a shoot, be selective about the ones you want to keep. Train your eye to see the imperfections in any one photo. Those imperfections take time to fix. Instead, find those images that are closer to a finished product and may need little or no tweaking.

Getting to the point where 80-90% (or more) of your photos are “keepers” takes time, of course, and you won’t get to that stage overnight. However, it will never happen if you do not make the commitment NOW to start taking better photographs in your camera.

This means experimenting with your camera and, ironically, taking lots of bad photos, but this time, using the”mistakes” as learning tools. Instead of trying to fix them in post, try to fix them in-camera by changing your perspective and/or the camera settings. Then, the next time you go out and shoot, use what your last photo session taught you. Over time, you will become a much better photographer. You will find yourself taking fewer and fewer photos, and still have great shots to work with later.

The way I started doing this was to take my camera and just start shooting photos around the house and yard. I would play with the camera settings and see what they did to the photograph. I adjusted aperture & shutter speed, tried the different priority modes, tried all the special functions of the camera, etc., all so I could learn how to control the outcome of my photos. Take notes if you can’t commit all that to memory. Reproducibility is the hallmark of a great photographer.

Of course, there are times when taking dozens of photos is necessary so you don’t miss a shot, such as sporting events and once-in-a-lifetime special occasions. You don’t want to miss a moment of your kid shooting the winning goal at a hockey game, your one-year-old blowing out his first candle, or your daughter being given her high school diploma.

I’m referring to those special shots when the artistry behind the image IS the image. Whether it be landscapes, still life, or portraits, those are the shots where you can take your time to frame the shot and set the best exposure before capture.

If you would like to speed-up this process, take some classes in photography to help you learn the fundamentals through guided instruction instead of trial-and-error. We will be offering introductory classes this summer so keep an eye on our calendar.

Portraits – Treasured Mementos

Once upon a time, before photography existed, portraits were a luxury. You needed to hire a decent painter and sit for hours while he painted your portrait on canvas. But after that, you had a work-of-art that you could hang in splendor for future generations to remember you by.

Then came photography and the photographic print. Now portraits could be taken quickly and easily with a camera, printed on photographic paper, then mounted and framed for all to admire. How many of us still have those cherished portraits of mom & dad, grandparents, and maybe even great grandparents hanging on walls of our homes? In many cases, those images are the only link our kids and their kids will have to their ancestry.

Whether painted or photographed, formal portraits were regarded as heirlooms, marking milestones in lives, and depicting relationships gone by. Portraits of great grandma and grandpa; grandma and grandpa; and even mom and dad hang in homes of their children and children’s children, to be handed down over and over again, for decades. How else would future generations remember their family tree? My parents would make a point of taking yearly portrait photos to show how their children had grown. But it seems those days are past.

Sadly, the advent of digital photography has seemingly obviated the need for such portraits. Thanks to the simplicity digital technology has brought to photography, many folks think, “Why spend the money on a professionally taken photos, blown-up to wall sized, framed, works-of-art, when I can grab my cell phone and snap a shot of granny washing dishes?”

But wait! What if that hard drive holding the photo, dies (and it will)? Is there a back-up? Decades (if not years from now), will there even be hard drives? Will the digital formats today exist in the latter half of this century (anyone remember betamax)? How about saving them to CD or DVD? Well, the data (therefore the digital images) on those media fade over time – and not like an old photo gets faded. Faded data means lost data and irretrievable images. No, CD’s or DVD’s are not a permanent solution. Online storage? There is no guarantee any of those companies will be around a decade from now, let alone next year.

Only photographic prints survive the test of time. There is no question about that. There are photos dating back to the 1800’s. I still have boxes and boxes; album after album, of childhood memories. I don’t have to worry about digital formats changing, losing a hard drive, paying to renew my online storage yearly. They’re there forever (barring some natural disaster like fire or flood, of course). Plus, you can carry around photos without needing advanced technology to show them off.

Portraits also carry with them an elegance and sense of honor. When visitors come into a home with large family portrait hanging on the wall, they see a true expression of the love and warmth that family shares. You can’t get that from looking at a computer screen or cell phone.

So, if you’re reading this, take into consideration having a portrait done of yourself with a significant other or your entire family. Then have it enlarged to a size befitting a fine art masterpiece. I recommend a minimum 16 inch X 20 inch with 20 X 30 being ideal. It will be a treasured heirloom for you to pass onto your children, and for them to pass on to theirs. You can’t do that with a .jpg file or a cell phone photo.


Polarizing Images – Photography Podcast with a Twist

“Three Guys Discussing the Philosophy of Photography”

True, there are a ton of photography podcasts, but here is one that’s different. Why? Because I’m part of the Polarizing Image team along with Rob Domaschuk in Chicago, and Tony Moran in Australia! We focus less on photography tech and more on the art & philosophy of photography, so don’t expect any “Nikon vs. Canon” debates or “which lens is best” discussions.

To date, we have 21 shows available for your listening pleasure (I came onboard at episode 10). Go to to listen to any of the episodes and read Rob’s colorful commentary. Or, you can download the podcasts right to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod, free from iTunes. You can also stream the podcasts via Stitcher Radio (app available on iOS and Android devices).

New shows come out every other week or so. Expect easy going banter and general good fun as we discuss a variety of philosophical topics, along with a new photographer and artist of the week and even an occasional guest speaker.

So, get away from all the techno-babble and gadget talk and check-out Polarizing Images for refreshing look at photography!

So You’re Looking for a New Camera?

I often get asked the question, “I have a point & shoot now, but I want to get a better camera. What kind of camera should I buy?” I just recently answered this question for a close friend who suggested I post it, so here it goes…

I’m a Nikon guy, so I have a natural bias towards Nikon products. Not that there’s anything wrong with other brands. I just shoot with, and therefore advocate, Nikons. However, with any brand of DSLR (Nikon, Canon, Sony, etc), the camera bodies are all quite good and take excellent photos. Don’t get pulled in by megapixels (MP). More megapixels is NOT always better. That really depends on the camera. In general, 10-12 MP cameras are quite adequate (my pro body is “only” 12MP but takes amazing photos). There are lots of technical reasons for this, but I won’t get into that here. Just don’t let a salesman try to sell you on a camera based on megapixels alone.

Not knowing how advanced you may be with photography, I can’t point you towards any one particular camera. So, I’ll give you general buying pointers that I give my students.

With most DSLRs under $1,000, the main difference is not the quality of the photos they deliver; it’s in the controls on the camera. Entry level (i.e., the lowest priced) DSLRs such as the Nikon D3000 or D3100, hide the major setting controls (ISO, white balance, drive, metering, etc.) within menus because most beginners basically want a point-and-shoot with interchangeable lenses. You can still access all those camera settings, it just takes a few more steps to dig through menus. These cameras are fairly small and light, too, compared with their upper line brethren. Beginner photographers are often put-off and intimidated by big, heavy camera bodies (particularly females).

Upper end, consumer level DSLRs like the Nikon D90 or D5100 ($800- $1,000) have more controls readily available to the user. More controls means the photographer can easily and quickly change settings without digging through laborious menus.

Next up the line, “pro-sumer” bodies such as the Nikon D300S and D7000 ($1,200-2,000), have lots of buttons and dials, and more features.

Top-of-the-line pro level bodies like Nikon’s D700, D800, D3X, and D4 ($2,500-$10,000) have even more controls, plus more advanced features that pros demand (full frame, high ISO capability, fast frame rates, better software, etc.). These cameras also take better quality photos, but unless you have a job that demands such quality (or deep pockets and a “Corvette” mentality – if you know what I mean), it’s not worth it.

What is really important are DSLR lenses. In the “razor-and-blade” marketing strategy, the camera body is the ‘blade’ and the lenses, the ‘razor’ – not the other way around. Buying into a camera brand (NIkon, Canon, etc.) is a marriage of sorts. While you may upgrade the camera body later on, you most likely won’t want to buy all new lenses. Lenses follow you for life as long as you stick to the same brand (they are not interchangeable between brands). So, buy a Nikon kit now, and you will likely buy a new Nikon body when you outgrow that starter camera.

Most entry level camera bodies come teamed with one or two lenses in a convenient ‘kit’. Known as “kit lenses”, they are great for beginners. While they are cheaper lenses, they still take great quality photos. Pro-sumer, and pro bodies often come with a choice of better lenses (or just the body alone). All better lenses from the namesake manufacturer are expensive. Many aftermarket lenses are also very good (Sigma, Tamron, Tokina) and often cheaper than the namesake brands. Better lenses have their advantages, but until you learn what you need for your style of shooting, kit lenses should suffice.

Oh, and to add to the confusion, many new DSLRs also have video recording capability, too. That may or may not be a deciding factor, depending if you want to shoot video, too. Again, something that can be in your next camera body if you don’t need it now.

If you are familiar with using camera settings (aperture, shutter, ISO, white balance, etc.), then the higher line consumer body might do you well. If you are used to shooting in Auto or Program mode, an entry level camera kit would be good starter system.

Keep in mind – and I can’t emphasize this enough – every single camera out there can take great photos. That includes point-and-shoots and even many camera phones. It’s not just about the hardware. It’s mainly about the ‘software’ (i.e., YOU) looking through the viewfinder. Great photos come from great photographers, not great cameras. The most famous photographers in history did not have all the digital technology we have today, yet their photos are timeless. I’ve taken amazing photos with my iPhone and I’ve seen terrible photos come from people with $10,000 worth of camera gear, who didn’t even know how to get off program mode. You simply cannot buy the ability to take great photos. It just don’t work that way.

So, along with getting a camera, one should also take classes such as those offered through my photography meetup group, “The Chicagoland Digital Photography Meetup Group” is in our 6th year and we now have over 4,500 members. Most members are beginners and serious amateurs. We just like to go out and shoot (and that’s the only way to become a better photographer). It’s free to join. No meetings, No egos. Go to:

Photography is Our World

Chicago Digital Arts & Photography, Inc. (CDAP), is one of Chicago’s newest, contemporary photography studios. Located in trendy West Town, just minutes from the Loop, the studio and all it’s facilities were built from the ground up, in a total gut rehab of a commercial condo unit. The result is a well thought-out design where form follows function. We offer a trio of services: professional photography, studio rental, and photography instruction.

Our professional portrait services leads the way with our “Express Yourself” portraits. Your portrait session is shot at a location of your choice (home, favorite spot, where you first met, etc.), or set-up in our studio with a personalized theme (’40s hollywood, glamour, high fashion, pin-up). The results are unique portraits that tell your story and reflect you and your lifestyle. Our Express Yourself portraits are ideal for families, couples, and high school seniors. Perhaps you are celebrating a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary milestone, or an engagement? Created lasting memories of that special date with your personalized portrait session.

We also provide professional portraits (i.e., headshots) together with professional make-up and hairstyling to make you look your best. Nothing says, “I Am Professional” better than a professionally taken portrait for your business website, portfolio, or résumé. Get the edge in today’s competitive markets with a knock-out professional portrait!

For those gals who want to show-off ‘what they got’, get sexy with a personal boudoir session, or get together with your gal-pals and hold a “Boudoir Party” to celebrate a special occasion (bachelorette party, birthday, divorce party). We offer personal and group sessions through “Windy City Boudoir“. Check-out our boudoir website for complete details.

Want to try your hand at studio photography? Maybe you already have lighting gear, but don’t have a space to shoot? Or, perhaps you’re a freelance photographer looking for a temporary studio for a special project. Check-out our studio rental and book a week, a day, or even a couple of hours. Reasonable rates and a great location make our studios ideal for professionals and non-professionals alike.

If you love photography as much as we do, perhaps you’ve been trying to become a better photographer? There is better way to accomplish that than by attending our outstanding photography classes and workshops. We’ll get you started with our “Elements of Photography” series and then you can choose from our specialty and advanced classes in areas that interest you.

We cover a world of photography and we bring our services, our facilities, and our knowledge to you. Contact us today to find our how we can work together to make photography a wonderful part of your life.