A Photographer’s Eye

Guest post by Tim Ford

A Transforming Lens CoverThere’s a point in the movie “Men in Black” when the character Kay says, “Fifteen hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.”

I’ve always liked that bit of dialogue. It makes me think of a common misconception people have when it comes to photographs. Everyone knows that stunning photographs come from outrageously expensive cameras, right? For example, when people see a photograph that looks very “professional,” they often say, “I wish I had a camera that could do that.”

I never know how to respond when people see my photos and say, “I wish I had your camera.” It’s like saying to a chef, “I wish I had your oven,” after he or she serves you a great meal.

So does better gear give a photographer an advantage? Sure, but that’s only part of the story. Having a great eye is the biggest component, but even the best photographers still need to roll up their sleeves after the shoot is over and process their images. Photographs can really come to life when they are processed using programs like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.

Most professional photographers shoot in a format called RAW. If you looked at a RAW file on a computer (before it was processed), you would probably be underwhelmed. The image would appear “unfinished,” and you’d most likely assume the photographer made a mistake. However, this is exactly how the photo needs to look in order for it to be properly processed.

The “unfinished” look of the image is essentially the starting point for how the photo will be adjusted. Those adjustments can take hours and sometimes even days. This is when terms like “dynamic range,” “blending modes,” or “layer masks” start coming into play. This is when the photo achieves that “professional” look that many assume was simply a matter of owning an expensive camera.

Knowing the right amount of processing to apply can be a challenge. You’ve probably seen images that looked a bit “overdone.” Many photographers tend to go a little crazy when they get their hands on Photoshop for the first time, and it shows in their images until they get a good grasp on things.

To better understand image processing, do an image search on the term “HDR.” You’ll see image results that range from extremely overdone to absolutely amazing. HDR (which stands for high dynamic range) is a technique that’s often misconstrued as the photographer having expensive equipment. In reality, most of those images (the really good ones anyway) were created by spending many painstaking hours tweaking software settings to get the image to look just right. Sure, a good camera helps, but at the end of the day it’s the photographer’s eye and processing skills that really seal the deal.

I’ve dealt with a lot of challenges as a photographer and Photoshop user over the years, but I was faced with a whole new challenge when I was asked if it would be possible to convert photos into sketches for an adult coloring book. I was a bit skeptical at first. Not only did I need to find photos I had taken that could potentially be fun to color in, I had to figure out how to convert them so they appeared to be sketches, and in some cases, I needed to remove and replace backgrounds.

After digging through nearly every photo I’ve taken in the past five years or so and doing some experimenting, I discovered that I could turn out something cool and unique, and I agreed to do the book. I’m glad I did. It turned out better than I imagined it would. Plus, I was able to learn some new Photoshop tricks along the way that helped me tremendously.

The finished coloring book, “A Transforming Lens: Sketches from Photographs,” is available now and is the perfect stocking stuffer (hint, hint)!

Tim Ford is a photographer and videographer who lives in Morgantown, West Virginia, with his wife and two cats.

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