Great Photos are Made not Taken

Do you expect award winning photos to just pop out of your camera? Well, it doesn’t work that way. Cameras are just tools and don’t have as much to do with the quality of a photo as you might think. Cell phones take fantastic photos, even with those tiny little lenses, but they still need some work to look really nice. And yes, I know, Instagram has filters, that for the most part produce garish unnatural looking photos, but I’m talking about post processing that you do manually to control the results.

Let’s take this photo as an example. The before image is exactly as it came out of my camera.

I shot this at twilight because that’s what the client wanted and buildings do look especially nice at that time when there’s still some light in the sky but it’s dark enough for the lights to be on. I exposed for the sky and the lighted sign on the building which means the rest of the image is much too dark. The details are there in the highlights and the shadows, they just need to be coaxed out with some software. I use Photoshop and Lightroom, but if you just want to get better photos out of your cell phone, I highly recommend an app called Snapseed that works on both iPhones and Androids. Use that and in only a few minutes you’ll be able to make any photo considerably better.

For this photo I wanted to capture all of the detail in the sky which I couldn’t have done if I’d exposed to make the building bright enough because the sky would have blown out. When I was standing there looking at the scene it obviously looked much better than it does in the before picture since our eyes capture a much wider dynamic range than a camera lens can. The colors in the sky were vibrant and it wasn’t as bright because this was at twilight. just after the sun had set off to the left, but you don’t see that in the original out-of-camera image and the building did not appear as dark. Your eyes compensate for big differences in the light and dark areas, the camera lens cannot.

To turn this photo into what I wanted I had to do some post processing work in Lightroom and Photoshop. I corrected the verticals to get them straight, because leaning or tilting buildings look terrible in photos. Then I used the adjustment options to darken the sky and bring out the color to make it look more like it actually looked when I took the photo. I brought up the shadows and brightened the building and then did some selective retouching to finish the image.

You can accomplish similar results without spending a lot of money on an expensive camera or special software. We’ve all got cell phones capable of 10 megapixel images or higher and Snapseed is free. 🙂

To see more of my photography please visit my website.