I was recently interviewed via email for a Russian travel magazine called "Voyage". Well, maybe interview isn't the right word… I received a list of questions, and responded by email, and they then edited this down to fit their format :) The original contains a LOT more info than the published article, so I'm sharing both here.
The published article is in Russian, so I actually have no idea what it says. For any Russian readers out there though, enjoy! And, if you live or are traveling somewhere where you see this on the shelves, check out a copy. The fully digital version is available online at VoyageMagazine.ru, and it looks really well done. Some great photos, and most are very large, which is always a pleasure to see.
Original interview, in English
Please tell your personal story briefly (where you were born/raised, how you got into photography, experience in photography & editing, etc.).
I was born in Santa Barbara, California, but my family moved to Madrid, Spain when I was only five years old. We were there until I was 12, at which time we returned to California, to the Los Angles area. My father was always very much into photography, and we had a darkroom in the house throughout my childhood. I was constantly around cameras, and had my own SLR when I was just seven years old. In high school I shot for the newspaper, yearbook and was class historian, and then went to University at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo California to study photography. I graduated in 1996 and sidestepped photography for a while, beginning a career in digital imaging technologies, returning to photography – then digital – in the early 2000’s, while working at Apple. I worked with the development team on Apple’s Aperture, and was also shooting for many marketing projects. I left Apple in 2009 to pursue my own photography career, and now shoot professionally as well as operate the world’s #1 website for Aperture users, ApertureExpert.com.
As you are an expert in photo editing please share some knowledge on your postproduction & photo editing experience with our readers - how much emphasis do you put on photo editing? How much time do you spend on it, which tools & tricks do you use? If I understand correctly you are an iPhoto & Aperture expert. Do you also use iPhoto on your iPhone? Is Aperture your main editing program on the Mac?
Many people don’t realize that photo editing is essentially required in a digital workflow. This really isn’t any different to when we shot film though; when we shot film, the film was processed into a negative, and then someone printed it. Many decisions were made in that printing process, even if it was automated. The difference is that now with digital, those decisions are put in the hands of the consumers. If you shoot RAW, then you have the ability to make virtually infinite decisions about how your final image appears on screen. If you’re shooting JPEG, then many of those decisions will be made by the camera, and what you can do afterwards is much more limiting. Not to say there’s anything wrong with this though; personally if I will often shoot JPEG, especially when shooting casually with smaller cameras like my Fuji X100 or Olympus OM-D, because I want to make some decisions in advance on the overall “look” of the final image, and then not have to worry about editing later. This may limit my options, but it also frees me to shoot and not have to spend time editing. On the other hand if I’m shooting professionally, I will always shoot RAW to ensure that I have as many options as possible for the final image.
How much time I spend on it depends entirely on what the final product is. I may do no more editing than a simple auto-adjust to maximize levels and ensure the colors look the way I want, or I may spend dozens of hours on a single image. For example, I recently hung a gallery show www.photojoseph.com/sculpture where each image is printed at 40ʺ or even 60ʺ wide, which is huge! This was a fine art show and I spent countless hours on each image, refining and perfecting them. On the other extreme, I’ve done jobs where I was able to make all the decisions on lighting and placement in advance, resulting in an image that required virtually zero editing before being delivered to the client. Ultimately all that matters is the final image, and I’ll spend as much time as is required to deliver what the project or client demands.
I handle all of my photo management in Aperture, and will do most of my editing there too—however I will use whatever tool is needed to get the job done. My favorite plug-ins are from Nik Software, especially the black and white tool, Silver Efex Pro II. I will use Adobe Photoshop CS6 for major retouching or compositing, onOne Software Perfect Resize for scaling, PixelGenius PhotoKit Sharpener 2.0 for output sharpening, and many more smaller tools as needed.
When it comes to the iPhone or iPad, I do use iPhoto for some editing, and also use Snapseed extensively, as well as a large collection of other apps. In fact I’ve done several projects where I shot on a small camera, transferred to the iPad directly, edited in Snapseed or iPhoto, and uploaded directly from there. No computer required!
Has your photo editing process changed lately under the influence of the new technologies? There's an opinion that the picture quality depends only about 30% on the camera and your eye for an interesting image/situation, while 70% of it is postproduction & editing. What do you think about it?
I don’t know where that opinion is coming from, but we have a saying about statistics — 99% of statistics are 100% made-up! While it’s true that a boring image can be made somewhat interesting by simply applying filters and “looks” to it, there’s no replacement for a compelling, well composed, well lit photograph to begin with. Give a great photographer a cheap camera and no editing tools, and give a bad photographer the greatest camera and tools in the world, and the great photographer is always going to produce a better image. There’s no replacement for a true understanding of light, composition and pure emotional artistry in a photograph. That said, it is true that a mediocre image can be made more interesting through editing, so that often means a great image can be made even better as well. However there have been many times where I’ll be playing with an image, adding effects and looks, only to return to something very close to what came out of the camera, because it simply looks better that way. The treatment can detract from an already great image.
What do you think about the new "Photo McDonald's" trend—Instagram & other apps that now allow to quickly edit pictures and make them look decent on the go?
I love it! Sure we still see a lot of bad photos, and now many of these are simply bad photos with a 1970’s filter applied to it, but I believe that most people with access to these tools are making more of an effort to create interesting images. When we are exposed to an onslaught of interesting, compelling images, we become inspired to create better images ourselves. Many people who never would have considered themselves photographers have found their own vision and voice because of the tools available to them today, and how easy they are to use. Personally, I’m a huge fan of Instagram, and it’s become my social sharing tool of choice. I’d say about ⅔ of the photos I post are treated in Instagram itself, and the other ⅓ are treated in other apps (such as Snapseed, iPhoto and Hipstamatic). Most of the photos I post are iPhone pictures, but I also will shoot with my X100 or OM-D and instantly move the photos to the iPhone via the EyeFi card, then treat and post those.
Practical tips: for this section specific technical recommendations and tips are needed. What apps to chose for picture editing, what are their pros/cons. What are the must-do basic steps for a photographer (say a person who returned after the trip with many pictures and wants to create a nice collection of memories)—crop, correct the exposition, which methods to use for basic and more advanced editing?
While my main work is all done on the desktop (an iMac), I do a lot of mobile editing as well, as already mentioned. I listed some of my favorite apps earlier, but here’s a few tips on getting the most out of whatever apps you are using.
First, there’s the dreaded “oh my god I shot 1,000 photos and now I have to edit them!” problem. You come back from a lovely vacation with a huge collection of great photos, but going through them and picking the best 10 or 20 or 30 to share with friends and family can be very daunting. There’s no single or even right way to narrow these down, but I have a process that works quite well for me that I’ll share here. You can do this in any basic editing software, such as iPhoto or Aperture, Lightroom, Picasa, or any application that lets you view and rate (reject, or zero to five stars) your photos.
It’s exceptionally important to look at EVERY photo you shot, even if only for half a second. I’ll start by grouping photos into sensible collections. This could grouped by each setup for a professional shoot, or a trip to the park for a personal holiday, or even an entire day — whatever seems to make sense. I will go through every single photo, start to finish, and make one decision — is this a good photo that I might want to look at again? Then it gets three stars! Is this a photo that I don’t care about? Then I leave it at zero stars. Of course if I see something totally horrible, like a photo of the ground, I’ll just reject it or delete it so I never have to see it again. Note that I will never delete a photo just because I don’t think I want it. I will only delete photos that are clearly, completely unusable. Storage is cheap and you never know when that slightly out of focus photo of someone will come in handy later.
After I’ve looked at every single photo once, I’ll tell the software to just show me the three star photos. Since I’ve now gone through and seen every single one, while the memory of them is still fresh in my head, I’ll go through all the three-star photos again. Now when I look at a photo again, I will remember if I have one that might be better somewhere else, or I will remember that this one was probably the best one. Or the only one! Now that I’ve seen them all, I make another decision on each image. Do I not like it as much anymore? It gets downgraded one to two stars. Do I like it just as much? Then I leave it alone so it’s still three stars. Do I like it even more, or know that this is one of the betters ones of the collection? Then I upgrade it to four stars!
At this point you may have already narrowed it down to a small enough collection to share. How many four star images do you have? 10? 50? 100? If you are happy with the collection you have, then you’re done! If you still have too many, then repeat the last step. Look at only the four star images, then downgrade, leave alone, or upgrade as you like. You’ve now seen these images twice so it’ll be even easier to decide on this third pass.
This may sound like a lot of work but once you get a pattern to your movements, it can go very quickly. You can edit hundreds of even thousands of photos in very little time.
Finally once you have your selection, you’ll want to make any color corrections, retouching, etc. that you may want to do. Now you’re doing that to only a handful of images, not all of them, so again this can go quite quickly.
"Correction Work": can you describe the most common mistakes when it comes to photo editing and advise how to avoid them?
Common mistakes include incorrect exposure adjustments, over and under retouching, over-the-top color saturation, and in the case of iOS editing, adding gratuitous effects that do nothing to help the original image.
Very few people have properly calibrated monitors, and most have the brightness turned way up on their displays — and why not, they look amazing! But if you only adjust the image by what you see on screen, your adjustments may not be good for print or even on other people’s displays. Learning how to read the histogram is the easiest way to ensure that your images aren’t too dark or too light, and to understand if you’ve blown out highlights or lost too much shadow detail. And it costs nothing! On my site ApertureExpert.com I have several videos under “Live Training” that teach these types of techniques. Or simply google “how to read a histogram”. The basics are very simple to understand and can help your editing dramatically.
When retouching skin, it’s easy to get carried away. You might start by removing a blemish or a stray hair, and before you know it, your 30 year old subject looks like a plastic doll! Real people have real wrinkles, spots and blemishes on their skin. A little lightening of a deep line is fine, and the removal of temporary spots is great, but don’t take it too far. Professional editors who retouch for major fashion magazines know how to make someone look amazing but still look like a real person. Software that “makes it easy” to retouch a face usually goes way too far. Don’t make that mistake yourself. If someone can’t recognize themselves, or they say “what happened to my freckles?!”, you’ve gone too far!
Bright colors are fun, but it’s easy to go over the top. It’s great to make the sky a little more blue than it was, or those fall leaves a little more vibrant, but it’s very easy to make an impossibly colorful scene that has no relation to the real world. These images may be exciting at first, but get boring to look at very quickly.
Some of the simple looks, especially ones that make an image look like an old photo, can be very cool — but try to apply them where it makes sense. If you take a photo of a brand new car and apply a 1970’s effect to it, the combination doesn’t really make sense. But put that same effect on a photo of an old dilapidated barn, and the result can be very cool. Not every effect belongs on every photo; find one that enhances the story of the image, not one that detracts from or confuses it.
To avoid sharing bad edits, remember to compare to the original image before you’re done. When you’re making many small changes, it can be helpful to step back and look at where you started. Sometimes you’ll realize that you’ve gone too far, and suddenly your edit doesn’t look so great anymore.