Photo selection tips

I want to share some of my experiences in photo editing. Technically, editing photos has to do with choosing the best ones, not as in processing and adding effects. (A newspaper editor sifts through and selects content, rather than only fixing typos)

The first and the last photos of a sequence are usually the best

When I am taking a photo of unsual shapes such as a forest or broken buildings, my first shot is usually the best, since I usually capture the shapes I saw from that point of view which was the reason I lifted my camera to my eye. There may be some distracting or imperfect elements, but if these are not too obvious (or easy to crop out) then the photo is still a keeper. If the initial photo was good, it can be hard to walk away and come back and get the exact same striking composition and angle.

Unfortunately, my first photo of a sequence is often plagued with several issues.

  1. It may not have been in focus (autof focus was confused or you were just unlucky)
  2. blurred from handshake (urgency to take the photos), or have innappropriate aperture, or incorrectly exposed (due to sky or shadows).
  3. there may be a better angle (crouching) or spot (on a hill) which could produce a better image of the subject or scene.

Sometimes I want to refine the photo if I am not happy with it, or I want to take a few in case the focus or metering is a bit off. It helps to make gradual changes from one photo to the next to deal with issues, which means the final photos will be immensely better than the first few at the start (particularly if those first few had no clear subject or purpose).

There may be some distracting items (bit of sky at the top, white car in the background) which can be removed, I like refine the composition by stepping to the side, looking up slightly, removing distracting items or clutter.

I have a good memory and eye for detail, so I like to make a lot lot changes in one go, if the initial photo was disappointing in several respects. Such as choose a warmer white balance, change focusing to spot instead of auto, compensate EV down by 1 stop, turn VR on (it might have been off for tripod work) and maybe zoom in or stand closer.

Don’t delete photos on the back of your camera.

  • If you have the space on your memory card, you don’t have to delete photos. If you do delete something, it’s only saving you like 2 seconds when you choose to delete it on your computer rather (when you can retrieve from the recycle bin easily).
  • The standard preview is not sharp, unless you press the zoom in button (magnifying glass with a plus sign), which zooms in slightly. Also pictures look different in sharpness and maybe even composition or business, when comparing the small LCD to a computer monitor.
  • Colours are not reliable – my D90 has a magenta tint to the LCD and the D7000 has a green tint. This is noticeable when the D7000 photos seem a lot greener on the LCD than on a computer. And even when looking at the menus with the screen side by side of the two cameras, the D7000 is very green.

Over- or underexposure can be good

Don’t always disregard or delete a photo if it too dark or too brighter. Often a lot of detail can be recovered in processing a RAW file. They tend to capture more detail in the shadows than highlights, so if I want the sky and ground to be darker I will choose a photo that is underexposed by -0.3EV to or maybe -1EV, then brighten the ground will fill light or a gradient while keeping the sky a deep blue.

I like to use Lightroom3 for RAW processing by Adobe Camera RAW for Photoshop should be fine. I find that if photos of people are overexposed by 0.3EV or 0.6EV, you can decrease the Exposure value in the software and the colour will come back and the white shiny highlights on their face will disappear. Trying to correct for a whole stop (1EV) difference usually means the skin tones turn grey.

If a photo of people or a landscape is underexposed, increasing Exposiging in processing usually increases saturation (grass in the shadows becomes greener) and increased contrast. The contrast can be solved by decreasing Blacks value from 5 to say 3, or altering Contrast or Tone Curve.

Deliberately overexposing on your camera can work well for high key portraits on location or the studio. I find evening light or cloudy weather suitable for this, since the soft even lighting on the face suits balances with the naturally high contrast look of high key. The eyes and mouth have more emphasis, imperfections on the skin tend to disappear and the background goes light and dreamy.

First SLR?

I got a question from a friend about choosing a first DSLR camera. This is what I said.

Entry level cameras do lack features and more expensive cameras. But if you are looking at buying a cheaper camera and 2 or 3 lenses, or a more expensive one with only 1 lens, you’ll get more benefit out of more lenses.

For landscapes you’ll want an 18-55 (typical kit lens). About R1000.
landscapes and portraits 18-105mm R1500
portraits, sport, wildlife 55-200mm. R1800

Some of the Nikon cameras like the D90 or D7000 have a 18-105mm as a kit lens (of course you could buy a D3100 and instead of an 18-55mm, you could get camera body only and 18-105mm separately).

Also, if you want more freedom, the 18-200mm is a great range for about R3500. It’s a wide angle that zooms in over 10x, good for sport etc.

You can check prices on http://www.Orms.co.za as an indication
The latest range of cameras are as follows

Nikon
D3100 (entry level)
D5100
D7000 (semi-pro. replaces older D90)

Canon
1100d (entry level)
600d (very similar to slightly older 550d)
60d (semi-pro, replaces 50d)

Those are in the R4000 to R13000 price range approximately, body only.

A similar article of advice I did for someone else How to Choose your First DSLR