• Luis Preto

The Importance of EDITING

Second BLOG POST!!!

Yes... I have been putting this one off! 'Why so? ' - I hear you ask... Let's dive into it!

Part of the very beginning of getting a new camera is: a new era of photography (and cinematography but more on that much later), a new era of gear, a new era of adventures, a new era of editing...

New era of editing? Better editing. The secret? Read on!

The idea for this post actually came whilst I edited the photos for the 'The Legacy Project'. Though I was not shooting in 'RAW' during my time in Australia and Africa, I did start shooting RAW when I returned to Portugal, so that gallery is actually all new edits from scratch.

One of my closest friends was actually quite against the idea as he thought that this was cheating the original images, no matter how bad the editing was at the time. I respectfully disagreed - I do respect the 'original edits' but this isn't about them, this is about the photos that I took during that time and what they mean to me which is so much more than what the editing ever did for them.

I fully and honestly admit: I have always been horrible at having the patience for post-processing editing and planning. Not at all because I find it boring, I actually quite enjoy and respect the entire process. Its more to do with the excitement that I feel with banger photos and the ideas that start arriving whilst I edit. However, I let this get out how of hand... In a very extreme way...

When editing gets way out of hand

Going back to a time before '4K' TVs were the norm and affordable and HDR hadn't gone mainstream yet, not a lot of people knew what this meant or what it did.

I first came across this editing technique whilst searching through photography editing tutorial books and found 'A World in HDR' by Trey Ratcliff and immediately thought I found the golden goose of photography... I would spend the following years regretting this...

Disclaimer: This is in no way, shape or form an attack on 'A World in HDR' or any work belonging to Trey Ratcliff. He is an amazing photographer and teacher. The content of this post is in relation to my personal failures as a photographer and editor.

To briefly explain what HDR is, this stands for High Dynamic Range. The basic idea: as cameras could not adjust to a scene with very harsh highlights (imagine a very sunny day) with buildings casting very harsh shadows, you'd have to sacrifice either one or the other (the highlights or the shadows). However, if you combined a set of images taken with variable exposures, this eliminates that sacrifice and the result is an image with a full range of evenly exposed light.

To demonstrate, a standard exposed image (let's call it '0') taken either manually or using the auto settings of your camera will always focus on the mid-tones of the image. This is due to the awareness that you already know that you have to sacrifice either the highlights or the shadows so you are programmed to focus on the mid-tones above anything else.

A Standard Exposed image right out of camera - No Editing

With a little bit of editing and global adjustments, the image could be saved. Regardless, however, the end result will always be limiting due to the lack of range that cameras were able to capture... I became extremely fixated with this...

Now, if you were to take a set of images of the same scene with different exposures, the result would be very different. In older mid-end cameras and in today's entry level cameras, this could be automatically be set to (and limited to) take a burst of 3 photos with 2 stops of light difference between them. So a set of images consisting of a -2 light stop exposure, 0 standard exposure and a +2 light stop exposure. The visual result:

Separately, the images do not do much more than '0'. The real magic begins once all are merged through a process called 'tonemapping' and combined to create a unique and full ranged image:

Notice the 'slight' difference? This is why I became obsessed with converting all of my work to include the HDR & tonemapping process. As mentioned, I would pay for this mistake for the next couple of years.

You can achieve a full ranged image by surpassing the limitations of your camera by taking the same image at different exposures. This entails that you must always have a tripod with you... wherever you go. If you do it for long enough, a standard tripod won't do as any movement between the photos causes 'ghosting' (the term used for anything moving between photos - which could be easily fixed in post but in most cases it can be a complete nightmare).

As a naive young man, I thought: 'I will carry the weight of a great tripod without letting it physically affect me and my passion'. But it did.

For one thing, the weight of everything that you must take with you adds on your back but for the most important: because you must always set a tripod to take a photo, you limit the amount of time to search for a more interesting composition or worse, after taking a few shots and packing everything, you then notice a more interesting composition but cannot be bothered to unload everything again.

Why do I talk about all this if the title of the post is 'The Importance of EDITING'? Simple, because in photography, everything is very much connected.

My way to describe horrible editing

The true meaning and importance of editing that I have come to understand from my own photography is that there are no clever ways, bells or whistles to replace the true king photography: Composition.

No amount of editing will come close to replacing it. I have paid for several tutorials of the worlds best photographers in order to improve and it has helped immensely. There are multiple ways of correcting an issue and there are multiple ways of editing, with enough time, one finds their own style.

The comparison of my edits between the years

My regret is that I let one very complicated way of editing comprise the most important thing in photography and stopped me completely later on as I grew highly frustrated with having to always carry a very heavy setup.

Fast forward to 2019. Surpassing a lot of the limitations set on myself by myself and the gear that I had. All this has helped me understand editing better and the importance of both respecting the image taken and the creative vision as well.

I have dialled down a lot on the HDR imagery and focused (and still am greatly focusing) on composition and storytelling which were limited by the process of editing (to the actual point that I believed as long as an image is HDR, composition doesn't actually matter that much).

I also have now have retired my 'Manfrotto 190X' (net weight as per the Manfrotto website: 2kgs) with the 'Manfrotto 804RC2 3-Way Pan Head' (net weight as per the Manfrotto website: 0.75kgs) to be used almost exclusively as a studio tripod (I figure that I will still have to use if I adventure purposefully into bad weather situations in which case, you are better off with it).

To replace it, I will now use a ' Manfrotto - Befree Advanced Aluminum Travel Tripod Twist with ball head', in which the combined net weight is only: 1.49kgs (WHAT?! YES PLEASE!!).

The secret of editing? Balance. Because as much as I followed a very wrong path before, everything in photography must be perfectly balanced. Composition, light, editing... Even after all my 'horribly gone very wrong' experiments, HDR imagery still has a place on anyone's portfolio and when done right...

'A Second Evening at St Paul's' - A HDR image

'London Purple Dawn' - A HDR image

Southfields, London

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