This is the first of a new series of Before and After blogs I will be doing, showcasing the straight-out-of-camera (SOOC) images vs the final edited and post-processed versions. I’ve always been mesmerized by Before and After images, especially since I started paying more attention to pet photography and realized that many of the beautiful, dreamy photo illustrations I have seen of pet dogs on Instagram and social media are actually the result of a lot of work behind the computer. The reality is, a lot of the beautiful images you see have been carefully tweaked in post processing, some more so than others of course. Photography is inherently a creative process; the very act of choosing what to include and not include as you compose a scene, the settings you select on your camera, and what film to use or the defaults picked to covert your RAW images in Lightroom are all aspects that alter a photograph’s representation of reality.
I have always advocated for truth in photography, and will forever completely disclose any and all edits and manipulations and tricks used to create any photograph if asked. Not only is honesty important, but I feel that the public and other photographers can learn a lot about what goes into creating an impactful image. Typically, photographers (myself included) won’t reveal every and all details used to create an image in the caption or every time the image is shared or shown, because that simply isn’t realistic, but the goal of my Before and After blog posts is to shed a little more light on the post-capture creative work that goes into creating a final image.
To start, I am going to share this recently snapped photo of a fall foliage scene in New Hampshire. As you can see, there are some pretty trees but my camera didn’t do a good job of capturing the subtleties of the colors of this scene.
In the edited version, I brought out some of the color and texture in the sky, increased the contrast and saturation of the image slightly, and cropped the view further, to emphasize the colorful trees on the distant mountain and de-emphasize the green foliage surrounding the edges of the frame. I’ve also added a slight vignette by darkening the outer edges of the image; I do this frequently with wide landscapes and images with a clear animal or human subject as it helps prevent the eyes from wandering and pulls them into the image.
None of the edits I made were particularly drastic and I didn’t end up adding or removing anything from the original image, but the overall impact of these changes is significant. The straight out of camera version is one that doesn’t encourage a second look, while the edited version encourages eyes to linger.
One of the reasons I chose to share this image is because it is not very dramatic or exciting. Truthfully, if I had gotten out to shoot more this autumn this might not even be an image I would end up sharing. Yet, it shows the big difference even a little editing can make.
I miss fall foliage pretty consistently. The season is usually pretty short, I’m often busy, and the colder temps and shorter days don’t motivate me to try to squeeze photography into my already packed schedule. Even though I live in one of the most beautiful spots in the whole country for fall color and landscapes are one of my main subjects, I’m good at making excuses why not to go shoot – the dog has been home alone all day and needs playtime, I’m carpooling, its too windy, too rainy, there isn’t a single cloud in the sky or the sky is completely overcast, the colors aren’t at peak, the colors are past peak, blah blah blah. I stare at the beautiful trees from my car and wish there were pull-offs near wetlands next to busy highways, but that’s often the extent of it.
Well tonight on my drive home from work I noticed some wispy clouds in the sky. It was a warm, perfectly still, perfectly blue day, and I almost went straight home, but I thought it was possible the clouds would do something so I drove to the only spot I could think of with a clear view of the sky, maple trees, and no hike. I got there minutes before sunset and… got skunked! The sun went down without much excitement, the clouds never lit up with color, and the light was cold and blue. I could have went home disappointed but I decided to shoot a little anyway and got some decent, different new shots. Not every photo needs to be dramatic or have killer light or perfect foliage to work. Sometimes just getting out there and making due with what you find is good enough.
I guess my motto for today is “It’s better to try and fail than to not try at all.” Sometimes, you make out okay.
I’m slowly adding photographs to my website from recovered images I received back from my friend E.J. Peiker after I made the mistake of accidentally formatting my memory card while leading the AMC Fall Photography weekend at the beginning of the month. I’m really happy with some of the shots I got, even despite not getting the best weather that weekend.
This photograph from Artist’s Bluff was taken while scouting the day before the workshop began. I ran into my friend Jim Salge on the mountain and we got the slightest hint of color before the clouds thickened and all light from the sun disappeared. I’ll admit I got a little fanciful with the processing of this one, but I think it captures the beauty of this location more than the muted RAW file. Just imagine what a spectacular sunset would look like from this spot.
This is a location that Jim clued me in on after we shot at Artist’s Bluff, and I checked it out the next morning. It was one of the last scouting photographs I took before my participants arrived.
This is the path that leads to the pond above, and this photograph was taken on the very last day of the workshop. It had rained the entire day before and the trees were glistening with sparkly rain drops. This was a cropped handheld grab shot, as the participants were not taken very much by this spot and in a rush to get breakfast, check out of the Highland Center lodge, and move on to our next location.
On my way back from the White Mountains, I stopped in the Lakes Region to see how color was progressing. Things still looked pretty green there, but I managed to get this whimsical shot along one of the dirt roads leading to the shoreline of Squam Lake.
These are some of the images that jumped out at me most and I got around to processing first. I’ve been super busy (last week I picked up a rescue dog to foster for a bit and he’s kept me occupied), but have some others that I’m sure I’ll get around to editing, processing, and posting eventually. Stay tuned!
During workshops I keep participants busy and tend to keep myself even busier. I’m no stranger to long hours and longer days, so I’m ready for action dawn to dusk if need be. During workshops my clients are my number one responsibility and I tend to prioritize their needs as much as possible. They way I see it, there is so very much to learn and so little time to fit it all in, so I encourage clients to let me know what they want and need and to pick my brain as much as possible during our time together.
I met my group Friday morning. After some brief introductions, we headed out into the field almost immediately. Friday was sunny and calm with mild temperatures while Saturday’s forecast looked unpromising, so we wanted to maximize time in the field when we had good weather. After visiting a couple nearby locations, we returned to the Highland Center for lunch and an afternoon program, took a short break, and then headed back out into the field for sunset. Bold colors and fancy clouds never materialized, and the wind had picked up significantly in the afternoon, but we still managed to capture some great moments.
All of which I deleted promptly when I accidentally formatted the memory card in my camera while answering a question. Multi-tasking is not my forte. Oh well. (Don’t worry, I have sent the memory card to a friend who specializes in data recovery. We are both hopeful that the images can be salvaged.)
The next day was dreary. I woke up to heavily overcast skies and encouraged the photographers to sleep in a bit longer to wait for brighter conditions once the sun had risen a little higher in the sky and its light was better able to penetrate the clouds. Conditions had barely improved by mid-morning and were only predicted to get worse, so instead of venturing to a location in dismal conditions, I took the group for a walk around a trail near the Highland Center and showed them some of New England’s cool flora. I showed them hobblebush, a plant with leaves that often turn a patchwork of colors in autumn, and discussed the cool evolutionary adaptations of paper birch. We sniffed at yellow birch and tea berry inhaling their minty fragrance, and I pointed out the differences between the leaves of sugar maple and red maple. I introduced them to the many plants I recognized and they photographed details along the trail, finding images in even the least photogenic of the places we would visit. In a way, the rain helped us connect even more deeply to the land and the experience it provided. In lieu of the grand scenics of the White Mountains in their full autumn glory, we focused on the smaller components of nature that are the building blocks of this vast and beautiful landscape.
We spent the rest of the day in the classroom, reviewing programs and critiquing images. Winds picked up and rain fell, making photographing outdoors a tricky and unpleasant experience. While I strongly encourage photographers to explore a variety of conditions and embrace nature in all her forms, there are some times when the rewards and are hard to come by. I’ve never had much luck photographing in wet and windy conditions with little light.
By Sunday morning, the weather had subsided a bit. At sunrise, the clouds were still too thick on the horizon to let in any light, but by mid-morning some of the lower clouds had started to burn off and the sun began to shine through. We spent the morning capturing some great scenes and visited a handful of locations. At one spot, at the Silver and Flume Cascades along Route 302 in Crawford Notch, I ran into another photographer friend of mine, Adam Woodworth. Then, before we knew it, it was time to return to the Highland Center, pack up our stuff and check out of our rooms, eat our last meal together, and say goodbye.
Goodbyes can be tricky. Sometimes people linger. Sometimes you feel as if the time passed too quickly and the goodbyes come to soon. Sometimes, goodbyes seem to come before the end does. In this case, the workshop felt complete. Sure it would have been great to spend more time in the mountains and hang out with the kind folks in my group just a little longer, but I felt satisfied. I felt happy. I felt whole.
I finished up my final paperwork (and placed the folder on the roof of my car just in time for a stout wind to blow its contents all over the driveway – thankfully a kind AMC employee helped me track down all of my runaway papers), said thank you to anyone I could find at the AMC that had helped throughout our visit, and started back on my merry way home. I stopped in Bartlett to look at small cabin for sale (a girl can dream, right?), swung by the White Mountain Cupcakery to pick up a dozen maple bacon cupcakes for a friends’ party (best cupcakes ever and totally worth getting stuck in North Conway Village leaf peeper traffic), and passed through the Squam Lakes region to see if I could capture fall color in a different area (it hadn’t quite arrived there yet and there was not a cloud in the sky by the time the sun set). With all my stops and detours on the way, I ended up making it home well after dark, tired and ready for bed. But of course, when I lay down, the wheels in my head wouldn’t stop spinning.
I am lucky. I truly am. Every day, I do things I love. Whether it be playing games with kids in a field, teaching teenagers to rock climb, or sharing the experience of nature with others through photography, I am usually having fun. I realize that for many others, their reality is quite different. Many work long hours just for the chance to play on weekends. For me, work is play. My work is exercising my body and mind, laughing, breathing fresh air, creating and building relationships with people, challenging myself, and capturing the beauty of everyday life, in words, in images, and in memories. My day to day experiences are so rich, I rarely think much about the money I make (not much) or the hours I put in (a lot). Most days my work is truly a pleasure, and it fills my life with a sense of purpose and a profound and genuine happiness. Most days, work is worth it.
Sometimes I need a trip to the mountains to remind me of all this because I’m not perfect. Because I care so deeply about the work I do, I put my whole self into it, and sometimes that means I don’t always make time for me and get burnt out. When I feel overwhelmed, I’m snippy, sassy, and impatient, and let unhealthy habits surface. I am not my best me, and I don’t like myself very much. But all I need is a little reminder of the me I am proud of, the me that is deeply grateful for all of the many opportunities I have been given and the fantastic people in my life. Usually all that is needed to set me right again is a dose of whatever it is I have been missing. In this case, it was simply an adventure in good company, exploring a land that speaks to my heart and soul, that is both familiar yet at the same time filled with new and excited undiscovered surprises – a reminder that I am home.
This is the third and final installment of a short series of blog posts about my experience leading the AMC Fall Photography Weekend. Read Parts 1 and 2 here. I will be updating all of these posts and my website with more images from the weekend, once I manage to get them recovered.
Unfortunately, we have had to cancel my Appalachian Mountain Club Winter Photography Workshop due to low enrollment. This winter has been a tough one for the outdoor industry in New England because it has been so bitter cold. Apparently, people would rather stay indoors when the mercury falls well below zero. However, I am happy to announce that this autumn I will be offering another workshop through the AMC in the White Mountains. Join me for a fall foliage in the Whites October 3-5th. There are a ton of photo opportunities in the area that are just bursting with color during peak foliage season – the photo below was taken just down the road from the Highland Center, where the workshop will be based. I’m already excited!
The world is always changing. Our lives are always changing. Seasons, each year, bring a change to the landscape too.
Photographs are fun because they capture a brief visual moment in our ever changing world. Whether it be a landscape frozen in time, the look on the face of a new bride as she exchanges vows with her spouse, or the flopping ears and goofy grin of your favorite pet running to greet you, those moments are one of a kind. Each moment like this, each smile of a loved one, each second of shared laughter, is unique and beautiful. While a photograph doesn’t capture all of the beauty of those moments, sometimes they are nice to look at because they help us remember.
I really admire people who photograph subjects different from nature and wildlife. When I started getting serious about photography, I mostly shot sports because I had easy access to sporting events and they were a subject I liked. It’s been a while since I’ve photographed anything but nature and outdoor subjects, but sometimes I think I ought to try to expand my horizons again. There are so many wonderful things I have experienced that just don’t have photographs of because they don’t fit with the genre I’ve placed myself in, and that’s a shame.
I don’t think photographs are everything, not at all. A lot of the time, I prefer to leave my camera at home and experience the experience of something without trying to frame it. I think focusing too much on photography can make you miss things, and I’d nearly always rather be present in the moment than removed from it because I’m trying to create an image. Sometimes though, it’s nice to have photographs to help us recall silly things we have done, relive the amazing trips we have gone on, or just to be able to look at the faces of people we miss who are no longer in our everyday lives because of circumstances beyond our control. Sometimes the most imperfect photos are the most precious ones.
In a world that is always changing, the ability of a photograph to freeze time and transport us back to a moment in the past is pretty special.