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.

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LR3 Lesson – set the FB caption for photos, when you import them from your camera

Edit: In 2013, it seems this method no longer works for automatically captioning in Facebook.

When you upload photos to Facebook, is there an easy to set the captions of all them so your name, your link or the date is included? Yes there is and this lesson teaches you how to do just that, for existing photos in the Lightroom3 library photos. Then I show you how to set it up for future photos you import from your camera.

Below: the caption “Photo: http://www.michael.currin.co.za” is automatically replicated for all the photos when uploading to FB

screenshot from Facebook

Screenshot showing the link as caption in FB

To set caption that for all the photos in the folder (or your whole library if you want)

  • select the photos in grid view (Ctrl-A for all in folder)
  • the caption field will say <mixed> if some of the selected photos have different or missing captions
  • type a caption / choose a caption preset
  • you get this dialog.

(You could use Sync Metadata function instead.)

Now, when you export those photos as a JPGs from Lightroom3, the caption can be viewed in the EXIF data in a photoviewer or Windows Explorer. An especially useful part of setting the caption is that when you upload those exported photos to Facebook, the caption will be filled in already.

You could of course set the caption for a bunch of photos in Windows Explorer. But the advantage of Lightroom is you can apply your Caption Preset to photos automatically on import. When importing photos from your camera or hard drive, set the caption to your preset, as below.

Import dialog, bottom right

This will be applied to all the photos imported in this batch. It should hopefully become your default caption on each future import as well. It’s a good idea to save it as part of an Import Preset (below), which defaults to your last chosen Import Preset. This one below is for importing photos for my External hard drive (letter J). The develop setting includes a split toning I like to add to a lot of my photos.

Import dialog

Thanks for reading, let me know if the instructions are clear enough. Be sure to check out my other lessons on Lightroom and photography.

Lightroom 3 lesson – lesser known tips

Black and white filter

Below is a photo taken at a club with flash and a long exposure, close to a second. When you choose Black and White in the top right near Basic develop settings, a filter is applied based on the strength of certain colours in the photo. In this situation, a straight colour conversion to -100 saturation seems to darken or hide the blue ambient light, while the auto B&W filter brightens the blue/purple channel.

Colour, saturation zero.

Colour, saturation -100 (or Black & White with filter zeroed).

Black & White with filter on auto.

Another way to change the brightness of certain areas is to leave saturation at -100 and then change the white balance. Skin tones become dark and unnatural at cold white balance settings. For photos of a band on stage, changing the white balance in black and white can even seem to change the direction of the lighting, such as having red lights from the left brightened and blue lights from the right darkened at a warm white balance, then the opposite at a cool white balance.

Shortcuts

  • Press F twice for full screen view.
  • Control + Tab to hide or show side bars.
  • Press J to show clipping.
  • Right click on the background past the edges of a photo and change the colour from white through black. I leave it on black with pinstripes.
  • Control + Shift + Alt + E: exports the selected photo(s) with the same settings (size, folder, output sharpening etc.) as the previous export.
  • Confirm cropping by pressing Enter on the keyboard. instead of clicking Done.
  • Press X to rotate the cropping outline by 90 degrees.
  • Press O to cycle through overlay modes. The default is the a big grid. The rule of thirds is very useful and there is a variation on the rule of thirds which can centre and strengthen compositions. The Golden Spiral is also great and I find it often more suitable when cropping 4:3 rather than 3:2 ratios.
  • Press Shift O to rotate the overlay (there are many ways to display the Golden Spiral.

If you have tagged a photo, cropped it and edited it, then the picture and the bottom will look something like this, which each icon indicating the step was performed.

The bar at the bottom of the screen

If you are in Develop mode and click on the tag icon, you will be taken to Libary view and the tag section. Similarly, clicking the +/- button will take you back to Develop mode and the middle one goes to crop view.

A full list of keyboard shortcuts is viewable on the Lightroom 3 help website here.

Check out the lesson I wrote for automating lens corrections on import: here.