The line that changed my photography for ever

Back in late 2011 I was watching a You Tube clip of a photography panel show (I think it was "The Grid" but I can't be sure), and one of the people on the panel said a line that made me stop and completely re-evaluate my photography.

First a bit of background:

I have been shooting photos since I was about 11-12 I think, first with an Olympus film point and shoot, and then moving on through SLR's, early digital cameras and finally to my current DSLR setup.

Most of the time from when I was 11 to 2011 (when I was a slightly older 39) my photography never really got much better, I was shooting mainly shapshots of holidays etc, and occasionally getting a shot or 2 that I really liked, but often didn't know what made the image look good compared to the other hundreds of images that didn't look good.

Even when I progressed to digital cameras (a Minolta Z5 was my first digital experience) I was still shooting jpeg snapshots and not doing any post processing.  When I bought my first DSLR (D40x) I started to shoot RAW, but only did enough processing on them to convert them to Jpeg.

I was never really happy with my photos and felt I was missing some piece of knowledge that would allow me to produce photos like the ones I saw in the magazines or on the internet. (I am too ashamed of my early photographs to expose you to them, so you just need to imagine what they were like)

That was until I heard this one line on You Tube, which made complete sense, and I suddenly realised what I had been missing in my photography.

The line was this (I am probably paraphrasing here):

The camera can only control 3 things at the time of capture to allow it to create an image, and they are shutter speed, aperture and ISO, so if you cannot replicate an image you have seen using those 3 things, then the rest of the look of the image was created in post processing.

That was it.  To get the most out of my images I needed to post process them.  A complete revelation to me, I had always believed that 'straight out of camera' was the way that photos were created, and now suddenly I realised that photos needed to be enhanced in post processing to get the best out of them.

So the next few months involved hunting out tutorials and You Tube channels, looking for any information on post processing, what it was and how I could do it.  There were lots of complicated explanations about using Photoshop that didn't really make sense to me, so I kept looking.

I quickly came across 2 websites that made me stop and go "wow" at the images I could see, and at the information that they provided on how to achieve such stunning looking images.  One was Elia Locardi's "Blame the Monkey" and the other was Trey Ratcliffs "Stuck in Customs",  and they were both talking about this technique called HDR.  I was hooked. So I downloaded Trey's tutorial series (I think I only ever watched the first 4 or 5 before I got engrossed in taking photos rather than looking at someone else's photos) and started heading out taking photos to use this new technique that I had learned.

Or to put it another way; I starting making photos and not taking them.  I started seeking out interesting locations at sunset (I had hardly shot at sunset before) and finding compositions to shoot.  I wasn't taking snapshots of things I saw, I was composing images for the camera to capture and for me to process into an image that I could be proud of.

In short I started to be a "photographer".

Here is one of the early HDR images that I produced that made me realise what was possible. I look at it now with a mixture of pride (It was me that took that stunning sunset image) and revulsion (why did I think I needed to use HDR techniques that overcooked the photo).  It was one of the first images I took where I thought I had a good idea of what I was going to get out of the image when I took it.

"On the road, again"

"On the road, again"

Thankfully my obsession with HDR only lasted until I upgraded to my current D800 in mid 2012, when I also discovered Lightroom and that I could produce pleasing images without HDR.

So that brief 6 month period was a complete turn around for my photography, and from then on it has become a hobby, passion and now a job. 

And all because of that one line on You Tube.