Okay, so it’s confession time.
My photos don’t usually look exactly like this when they come straight out of my camera!
I use software from an American company called “MCP Actions” and it helps me transform my work from the raw material which comes out of the camera to the images you see on my site today.
I edit mainly in Adobe Lightroom and lately I’ve been using “Inspiration” MCP Action Lightroom presets to really speed up my workflow and apply all sorts of helpful and interesting effects to my raw image files – in fact, every image on this post has been edited using these “Inspiration” presets.
Some photographers are hell-bent capturing things exactly as they look to the naked eye and believe it’s wrong to tinker with what the camera recorded, but I’m not one of them.
For a start, it’s actually pretty hard for technology to replicate exactly what the naked eye sees – or thinks it sees! Professional grade cameras make a good stab at it, but the human eye compensates for too much light or shade whereas the camera doesn’t. So we help that in editing.
That’s not the only reason photographers usually edit what comes of their cameras, however.
Generally, in my editing I’m trying to do any of four things to an image:
When I edit my work, I try to complement and refine the photograph I captured in-camera.
I’m building on the work I’ve already done by setting up the shot, paying attention to location, composition, focusing, and exposure, then pressing the shutter.
MCP “Inspiration” Lightroom presets make it really quick to do things like rescue bright highlights, lighten up shadows, and tweak the exposure of the image.
Sometimes images do have problems. I’m only human and there are times I’ve screwed up what could have been the perfect shot if I’d only tilted the camera slightly different to avoid a crooked horizon, or if I’d noticed a tree branch in an awkward place, or maybe the child in the shot was moving so quickly that I didn’t quite have time to nail the exposure perfectly.
Or sometimes my subject doesn’t look quite as fantastic as I want her to look in the shot. My daughter has an insect bite on her hand here which I don’t particularly like the look of and certainly don’t want to preserve for posterity, and this shot is just a bit too dark.
Now some photographers would want to preserve the mark on her hand as it’s “real”, but I don’t. I think it’s a distraction and it just doesn’t look attractive. For me, it detracts rather than adds to this image.
My policy for these things is that if the mark is temporary I’ll remove it, but if it’s a permanent part of the person herself, I’ll leave it.
And what if you’ve got twenty group shots of a family but not one of them has everyone with their eyes open? Or a decent expression on their faces? Photographers often do “head swaps” to get round this, and done properly, nobody would ever know this has been done.
In fact, there are at least three images in my portfolio where I’ve “headswapped” – but I’ll bet you can’t tell which they are!
However, no amount of editing will ever fix a badly taken photo. You need to make sure to get exposure, focus, framing and composition broadly right. Focus in particular is very hard to salvage if you mess it up.
Sometimes things just get in the way. Bits of rubbish on the ground, a bunch of garish dandelions in what you’d prefer to be a dark patch of grass, an ugly drain-pipe on a building. Things you just don’t want there.
And that’s where the magical “content aware” tool in Photoshop comes in – it can remove bits and pieces you don’t want in the picture.
Queue up ten photographers, hand them the same camera and same lens, stand them in the same position to take a photograph of exactly the same subject, and the photos straight out of the camera will look pretty similar.
To make your images look like they’re YOURS, you can edit them in a way that’s specific to you. Maybe you’ve got a “thing” for a certain colour palette, or certain tones. Maybe you have a particular approach to contrast or sharpening, or even darkness or lightness of images.
Maybe you have a preference for high key or low key lighting. These are all things you can manipulate in post-production editing.
The shot I took of this brown-haired girl came out of the camera too dark for my liking, so I brightened and warmed it up, and added some light shimmer sparkles on it. Some people will no doubt hate it and prefer the original, but that’s art, isn’t it?
My own style these days tends to be fairly bright and colourful, and it’s something I often need to edit in, particular if the day I shot the photographs was very dark and dull.
Experimenting with all the colour options in this preset collection was great fun. (There are LOADS!) Of course, if you play around with settings in Lightroom or Photoshop you can do all these things by hand, but the great thing about using MCP’s actions or presets is that it really, really speeds everything up for you.
In this shot I thought I’d have a play with the colour presets:
And in this one, I used the black and white options:
If you’re a photographer reading this and don’t already use MCP’s actions and presets, I absolutely recommend you try them. I’ve tried various actions and presets over the years but MCP’s are the ones I keep coming back to because they’re actually useful – they don’t weigh you down with lots of stupid ones you’ll never use. And they’re fast.
If you’re not a photographer but are reading this, leave a comment below and let me know, do you like the way these images were edited? Or do you prefer the originals straight out of camera? (Tell me – I can take it!)