My process for Photography Production

I’ve shared a lot of my photography via social networks – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Flickr. It’s generally unlike other photography that you may see around the web. I generally don’t shoot people, unless the people are part of a greater narrative or scene. Never as the object of focus in the scene. I also have embraced the surreal… more commonly known as High Dynamic Range (or HDR) photography. You either love it or you hate it. You can see some of those on Flickr.

Last night, I was showing this picture to a friend who exclaimed, “How the hell do you do this?”… and while he is no photographer, I have had that question enough to answer that question here. Take this as a tutorial.

HDR Beach Rainbow-small

I will take you through the steps of processing a photo using my workflow. Photography is an art, though, and while the steps I use achieve the aesthetics I am comfortable with, you should absolutely tinker and play. You never get any better if you don’t. And obviously, know your camera… know how to see a shot. Composition is important and I don’t think it can really be taught… it’s an innate sense that you get simply by using your camera and practicing!

Camera

Obviously, you have to start with a camera. In the photo I am processing here, I am shooting with a Canon T5i and an EF 28-135mm f/3.6L lens. I’m shooting in Aperture priority mode with autofocus turned on. What this means, in laymans terms, is that I have a wide lens (28-135mm… it’s a zoom but the lower the number, the wider the field of view), with a middle of the road aperture (aperture is how wide your lens opens up when you snap a photo… the lower the number, the more light and the less depth of field). It’s also important to shoot RAW, as RAW captures much more image data than JPEG and allows for manipulation in software like Lightrooom.

Note: Shutter Speed is how fast the shutter opens and is, as it sounds, a time thing. Aperture is how wide your shutter opens… the wider (or lower number), the more light and the shallower the depth of field is brought in. ISO is your light sensitivity. Use this in combination with Aperture to enhance the exposure of light. A lower ISO means more exposure. A higher number represents less exposure (and more noise…. fine grained splotchiness… in the image). They are all important to know and use appropriately.

This is the photo of my fur kid on Christmas Day. We will be developing this.
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Lightroom Processing

I import all my photos into Lightroom. Once I’m there, I have access to all kinds of non-destructive settings and if I shoot RAW (which I do), all the visual data, including visual information you can’t see… shadows, highlights… they are all there waiting to be drawn out.

In Lightroom, I have a few steps. I want to setup my key image (the image that we’ll do all other processing from, with the enhancements I’d like. In Lightroom, visit the Develop tab and work from the top of your toolbox to the bottom. The toolbox is on the right.
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The initial list of settings I make on this photograph (and usually the settings I tinker with) are as such:

  • Contrast: +40
  • Highlights: +20
  • Shadows: +89
  • Whites: +30
  • Blacks: No change
  • Luminence: 86 – Luminence is important for noise reduction. See this great article on noise reduction

NOTE: DO NOT CHANGE EXPOSURE DURING THIS STEP

Exposure is saved for the next step. Technically, HDR is a style of photography that superimposes several images of different exposures over each other. You can do this with a camera if you have a tripod and the scene does not change between snapping photos and adjusting camera exposures. This is not practical in an action shot or where there is any movement. It’s easier to take one exposure and copy it and apply your exposure changes.

In the next step, I right click on the image in the filmstrip (bottom of the Lightroom view) and choose “Create Virtual Copy”. I do that twice so, at the end, I have three equal images. I leave the original alone and adjust the second image exposure level to +2. For the third, I set it to -2. Now I have three exact photos with 3 different exposure levels. If you do adjust your exposure in the first image, then do the math to make exposure 2 as +2 from that number and the third as -2 from the original.

For example, if you modify the exposure in the original to +.50 and then create two virtual copies, your second copy should be +2.50 and the third should be -1.50.

Export these photos to somewhere you can find them.

Photomatix

Now, open Photomatix! Click on “Load Bracketed Photos” and find your three exposure-doctored photos.
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Make sure that your exposure brackets are set correctly.
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After clicking “Ok”, you can modify the settings as necessary, but I typically leave them alone. When finished, click “Align and merge to HDR”. If you shoot three (or more) photos from your camera, there is a chance that the three images are slightly unaligned. Photomatix tries to fix this. Because I use one exposure and enhance the exposure on copies, this is mainly unnecessary.

Photomatix will apply your images on top of each other and will smartly attempt to find the best aspects of each to show and enhance. Photomatix comes with boatloads of presets and you can find more in abundance on the internet. I use Trey’s, but often tweak his presets myself using the toolbar on the left.

Once you find the settings you like, click the “Apply” button…
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Save it and open it up in an application like Photograph to apply a very small crop to remove the white space that always exists as an orphan of this process.
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Once you’ve done this, you’re done. I do other things such as making smaller sizes for the web. I also use Lightroom’s Watermark feature on export to apply my signature. Combat stealing anywhere I can. Photography, however, is an art. Find your art and your expression. Use these tools or others. There’s no right way to do anything, outside of fundamentals. Experiment and have fun!

Here’s the final product!

HDR Fender

Depression:What it Means

As everyone has most likely heard now, Robin Williams has died. Police have now come out and said he hung himself.

Not too long ago, Phillip Seymour Hoffman overdosed on a cocktail of heroin, cocaine and amphetamine, used to treat ADHD. That overdose resulted in his untimely death.

These incidents, naturally, shake our culture to it’s core. Both deaths came as a surprise to most, but they shouldn’t have. Both had a history of substance abuse in conjunction with severe depression.

Depression is not a feeling. It is a chemical and medical condition. It is, in fact, an illness. It also carries a stigma.

In a separate set of circumstances in relation to alcoholism, a person pointed out to me that when you go to the hospital with chest pains, and it is determined that you have a coronary, no one is lining up at the door to tell that person that the person has done something wrong or that they have to clean up their act. Yet with alcoholism (and depression), everyone seems to be an expert.

It’s no wonder that these cases go untreated and that the person suffering feels the need to contain their symptoms.

I know. I deal with constant depression.

Let me explain that more, because some reading this will automatically think that makes me suicidal. I want to be clear what depression is and what it is not. Robin Williams passing has, as Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s overdose did, created an atmosphere, if only briefly, where our society looks within itself to try to understand. This, unfortunately, will pass within a week or so. That’s why this article, and others like it right now, are critical. They help us understand. Hopefully, it compels us to action. Hopefully, it captures our imagination and makes us a better society.

Depression can be crippling. There have been days where I have sat frozen, unable to move… unable to decide… unable to take any action. It’s terrifying. This is not most days, but it is some.

It is often bi-polar… the term, itself carrying a stigma that is unfair. In one moment, you live in a euphoric moment (without substances!). Nothing can stop you. You’re on top of the world. You are the victor. In the next moment, you are a scared child, huddling in your home, unable to move or talk to other people. You are grouchy and removed. When your significant other asks what you’re thinking for dinner, you can’t answer or even think.

On your best day, you are truly at your best. You’re the class clown or the creative genius. Your mind doesn’t stop. You are constantly evaluating your life, your friends, your life and what you want to achieve. At your worst, you feel unsafe, insecure, scared, paralyzed.

Traditional approaches, when your friend is suffering, is to tell them to suck it up. As if that’s a mechanical task that can somehow be done without mental interaction. As if it’s a light switch to simply be flipped. You see, when you are not paralyzed with this illness, you are not confined to the chains that bind us. In other words, it’s easier said than done.

That’s not your fault. You just don’t understand.

Some of the greatest minds in history, not to mention many of the not-so-great minds, have suffered with depression. Some mild. Many severe. In most cases, depression is not something that is dealt with every waking hour of every day. Often, someone who is depressed can go days, weeks or even months without any manifestation. Others can’t get out of bed.

Ludwig Boltzmann is a name you may not have heard of, but in the middle and later part of the 1800s, this man was peddling controversial scientific ideas that we know to be true today. For instance, he was the guy who pushed the idea that molecules, the smallest building block of the universe known to scientists of the day, were actually made of smaller building blocks – atoms. His work in the area of mass and atomic mechanics paved the way for some of the greatest inventions and advances in human history.

Some of his ideas, of course, are not proven and remain controversial. One of these was the idea that, like a deck of cards sufficiently shuffled enough times, the probability of the deck returning to it’s ordered state exists. This flies in the face of the accepted 2nd Law of Thermodynamics which states, in summary, that entropy is the process of every matter dissolving over time into disorder.

He hung himself on September 5, 1906 after a lifetime of combat with fellow physicists and mathematicians. He suffered from bipolar disorder.

The point of this? Throughout our society, people who are top of their game, who live in the spotlight, who invent things, make things… or don’t… they are great family people, they volunteer at their local church, they spend weekends coaching little league… these are the unseen victims in our midst that no one knows about because… we as a society have told them they can’t be vulnerable, they can’t ask for help, and they cannot be weak.

This is especially true for men, in regards to the last part. We, as men, are taught from a very early age that there is no room for weakness. There is no room for vulnerability. There is no reason why we, as men, should ever rely or ask for help from anyone else.

I am a testament to this.

Please don’t let me, or people like me, go. Don’t ignore us. Don’t assume we’re okay. Text us. Call us. Drag us by our collars and make us sit down at a ballgame, at a restaurant (avoid the bars!) or in another way. Give us the human connection we need but we won’t ask for. Help us. Don’t let us be a victim.

I’m okay talking about this because I’ve reached a point in my life where being vulnerable is something that is difficult, but I can do. I have people around me that I know care about me. When I suffer my depressive episodes, I am exactly as I described earlier. I feel lonely and am withdrawn. I hide (which is hard to do when you live with someone!). I get off the interwebz. I can’t focus. When I’m not, I’m engaged. My wit is sharp. My social acumen is excellent.

Learn the patterns of the people around you and, to quote the TSA, if you see something, say something. Don’t be rude. Don’t be aggressive. Help your friend, your wife, your husband, you friend find their way.

And of course, there are resources for those in need, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the United States is 1-800-273-8255.