the evolution of a great image


Step one: take the picture. I saw Debbie standing at this window and knew the scene would be a great image. So, I adjusted the camera and took the shot. I wanted to have some sense of what was outside of the window and also wanted to use chiaroscuro in the image. It’s helpful to have an idea of what results you want before you press the shutter button. I find it’s much easier to make the heavy adjustments in the camera than in post processing.



Step two: post process the image. My typical process with an image of this kind is to convert to black and white, so that I can get a handle on the tones. I can see them better without the distractions of the colors. I then switch back to color to make my initial adjustments. I could tell that I would have to lighten up the image quite a bit. I made my initial adjustments in Aperture. On the Mac.



Step three: step back and re-evaluate the image. In the case of this photo, I thought the brightness and contrast still needed adjustment. I also sought the advice of some fellow photographers. I was unsure of how far I should brighten up the image. Advice in hand, I had another go at the image. This required me to switch to PhotoShop. I would need the power of adjustment layers and layer masks.



Here, you can see the final image adjustments. I’ve significantly brightened the image overall, especially on her back. However, I was sure to keep the dark shadows under the window. This was done to force your eye upwards and away from the floor. I did leave the highlight on the floor to give some balance, I just didn’t want your eye to stay there. Notice that I used the contrast between the shadows on the wall beyond her body and the highlights on the front of her to make her stand out from the background.

I think the result is an effective image. We can’t see what she is looking at, leaving the subject of her gaze to our imaginations. We get to interpret the image, making up our own story.



I applied the same process to a second image from the same shoot. Getting two nice images from the same moment is as successful as you can hope to be. As much as I like the resulting images, I enjoyed the collaboration with other photographers even more.

You should take part in your own photo community. Chances are that there is a photography group in your area. Chances are even better that you can join a vibrant community online. Give it a try.

Also, don’t be afraid to re-visit an image. I slept on this one before making the final adjustments. Sometimes having a fresh look at the picture is what you need to take your work to where it needs to be. Most importantly, have fun all along the way.