Some photographs deserve a second chance

Updated: Jun 10, 2018

Recently I've been going back through the archives in the name of putting together a digital portfolio. It's something I've needed to do for a while, but seeing that I have eight years of DSLR photography to trawl through, I've been putting it off.

I wasn't wrong. It's been a task that I massively underestimated and it's taken me many more days than I had planned, but it's also been one of the more rewarding things I've done. Not only has it been a lovely trip down memory lane - it's nice to take a moment to appreciate all the beautiful places and memories captured on camera - but also a chance to see how my photography has grown and changed over the years. I'm talking about not only my technical skill, eye, and patience (because every photographer knows that half the art is waiting for just the right moment to release that shutter), but also one really important element of photography - the post processing.

To end up with a great photograph, you first need to start with a solid image right out of the camera in terms of lighting, composition and subject matter. That's a given. But what happens after that is just as important.

Post processing is an art in itself, and one that I get a massive kick out of. It takes a good amount of skill and experience to master the art of the edit. Apps like Snapseed for mobile photography have given their users a really great primer on what can be achieved when you edit a photo, but when it comes to editing on something like Photoshop, many don't know what's possible, let alone how to achieve it. I get it, I was in that boat not so long ago!

One photo I was keen to pull out of the archives was my version of Yosemite's famous Tunnel View, first immortalised by Ansel Adams, who happens to be a photographer whose work I've studied a lot. I remember at the time being disappointed with how the photograph turned out, and frustrated that I couldn't recreate the sense of awesome scale, the magnitude of the rocks, the depth of the colour in the Californian November sunshine. I let that photo sit, untouched, until just two days ago, when I decided to crack that RAW file open again and see what 2018 Jessie would do with the image.

Today I want to workshop that image with you and not only tell you what I would have done differently when I took the image, but also how I worked with the image I have and teased the beauty out of it.

This is what I was working with:

I can tell you right away that if I were in Yosemite right now (and believe me, I wish I was!) there are so many things I would do differently, and filtration is definitely one of them! I would throw a polariser on and knock some of the brightness out of the sky, and use a graduated ND filter to take a little heat off El Capitan on the left hand side of the image. I would have taken a baby step over to my right and a decent step forwards to position those foreground trees a little more thoughtfully and get the composition a little better. Still, there's a charm to this photograph's technical imperfections, and when I look at it I feel warmth and take comfort in it's familiarity and history.

Now, I'm a little embarrassed to share my 2013 edit of this image, but in the name of showing you where I've come from...

Pretty awful, right?! The trees are muddy, the shadows are out of whack, the sky throws the balance of the photo way off, and don't even ask why Half Dome is some funky shade of periwinkle.

I remember an intense frustration that none of the tools I knew how to use were getting the photo to where I wanted it to be. I can see what I was going for, but I definitely missed the mark. It's 100% an example of having the eye, but not yet possessing the skill. I also have a sneaking suspicion that I was working off the JPEG, rather than the RAW file. Luckily I had that dusty old RAW file still knocking around, so two days ago I dusted it off and opened up Photoshop. This is what I came up with:

HUGE difference! The Sierra Nevada sky finally balances with the deep shadow in the valley, the ragged mountains rising up on either side feel solid and three dimensional now that we can appreciate the light raking across them, and the colours are deep and comforting. Those mountains are still the same size, but the new edit restores their presence. I find it incredible to see just how much can be achieved with a few simple edits.

Editing is a beautiful thing - it allows you to communicate with the person looking at the photograph, to guide them and tell them where to look, impart the feeling that the thing you were photographing gave you. That's what photography is all about.

If you have the eye and the desire to grow in your craft, the only thing that stands in your way is time and experience. Don't be afraid to return to old work and breathe new life into it as your skills develop, it's a great way to learn, and also teaches you more about how to improve your photography by experimenting with things like filtration and composition.

Challenge yourself: look back through your own archives and find one dusty old image you think could be kicked up a gear with a fresh edit and see where you can push it!

What to read next: If you're not already doing it, read about why you should be taking your photos in a RAW format.

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