On accepting a challenge and opening doors.

I admire the Florida-based photographer called Christa Watson, she has a fantastic eye and her people pictures express a certain truth that has always seemed to elude me. Her recent blog post encourages photographers to kick out the crutch of editing by trying to capture a great scene with only the camera. It seemed right up my alley considering I have been caught in this sort of over edited haze, and I am anxious to shake it. This challenge seems like the perfect opportunity to address the problem.

I approached the challenge pragmatically, the scene I had in my head was a simple shot from my garage. North light pours in over stone steps, across a weathered green door, onto an old ladder. The scene is only 10 feet from my desk so it met the convenience/laziness requirements as well as the interesting lighting requirement. I wanted no editing whatsoever. I set the ISO to 400 to reduce the noise while still being able to shoot handheld. I opened the aperture of the 12mm Sigma to 7.1, enough to accomplish a deep DOF without reducing the shutter speed (1/40th) to a point where I couldn’t control it.

Here is the shot:

Blue door and ladder

Now, it’s not bad. Jen likes it. I wanted to capture the softness of the light with the texture of the wall, enhanced by the subtle green door. After looking at the shot for several minutes, I came to the realization that while it has a certain tone, it needs more attention. The cement wall texture was not clear enough, the details in the dark parts of the ladder were lost in the shadows, and the colors were flat. The more I tried not to think about it, the more the thought that the shot needed editing kept creeping into my mind. While grilling tonights chicken I kept thinking how a nice 4×5 crop and a little added contrast would go a long way to capturing the tone of the image, and a targeted increase in the saturation/white balance adjustment in the door would make things pop a bit more.

The fact of the matter is, for me at least, is that the editing is at least as important as the capture when it comes to expressing the feeling behind a photo.

Here is the edited version:

I like it better. But I think that it’s entirely in my head. For years I have loved photos that people have been indifferent to, and I have been embarrassed by shots that people ended up loving. I still have no idea how to purposely target an emotional response from someone, I generally let my heart do the work and people seem to respond.

I loved this challenge because it reminded me that creating a photo is sometimes more than having tech skills and being at the right place at the right time. For me, editing is part of the meditation of photography, a chance to get personal with the pixels.

7 comments to On accepting a challenge and opening doors.

  • Love the pic. I do have to say though that I like it unedited. It just adds a little something extra. Can’t wait to see what else this challenge brings from you!

  • I LOVE this write up! And the feelings you had while taking the shot. I had the EXACT SAME sentiments. I was going back and forth “only one, what should it be?” It really has you focused on details and outcome.

    I also love editing… I feel it separates the average hobbyist from the finished photographer. I loved editing and applying effects in the darkroom – which I feel is OK and helps to emote the tone you were going for. Sometimes though, we rely so much on filters and tweaks, that we forget about the photo itself.

    So, truthfully, I dig the original photo a lot! I understand the cropping and think it was a great choice, I still like the darker deep grays. All in all both are great photos and I’m just excited that we are doing these challenges :D

  • And now to be the longest commenter ever, I also know what you’re talking about “For years I have loved photos that people have been indifferent to, and I have been embarrassed by shots that people ended up loving.”

    For example this one of mine I hated just posting it, but others seemed to love it:


  • I like the shot too, something about the color of the leggings maybe. Here is the one that makes me cringe:


    It just feel so snapshot-ish and pedestrian to me. People respond to it, tho.

  • This post made me smile. Since I’ve seen you all day thinking about the shot you were going to take, then knowing how much you wanted to edit it, it made me smile to see you put all that into words in this way.

    I just have to say that I really love the first one. There’s an innocence about it. The light shining in only gives a hint of all the wonderful colors and textures inside the garage. It makes you wonder what’s to the left of the ladder?

    Rudy that photo you just linked to, I absolutely love it. Partly because I was there with you when you took it, but also partly because I love that your shadow (and of the Jetta) are in the shot. It might look fake/unreal if it weren’t obvious that you were right there looking at it. It has life. :)

    Finally… my worlds are colliding and you people are freaking me out. :P

  • I don’t know how you think that’s “pedestrian”, I’ve never just walked down the street and seen that :x

    If you mean snapshot-ish, I have to say that I doubt many people would stop while driving (if they even had their camera) and even know how to begin to capture that awesome display of nature like you did. I LOVED it!

    Here’s where I pull “on the other hand, I know how you feel”: http://www.thechrista.com/opportunities/

  • [...] but Rudy Lopez knocked it out of the park with his photos! He also did a great job explaining his anxiety around only having one shot and his feelings when setting up the photos. I still think my favorite is his specific kind of [...]

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