I’m sitting here, still completely stunned that there was even a thread about my work and post-processing out there on Photo.net. I was contacted yesterday by a client of mine who thought I might be interested in the online discussion, and then again by Bill Morgan today, asking if I could respond to this thread. It’s funny, really–If anybody actually knew the way that I worked, both as I shoot and how I post-process my images, they’d be totally uninspired and quite frankly, disappointed. I am a purist with my work and no technical genius by any means, my whites are sometimes blown out and it’s true—my tux’s tend to have a bluish cast to them. My work is often out of focus and sometimes my compositions are completely unorthodox. And the truth is, I don’t even use photoshop, except to re-size my images and to sharpen them for the web (Magic Sharp–which is the only Kubota action I even know how to use). That being said, I do owe you, Paul and Otto an apology for never responding to some of your questions. Quite frankly, I didn’t even know how to answer some of them. Honestly, I don’t consider myself strong enough, technically to be dishing out advice.
So, without further ado I will share some of my secrets—you may be surprised, and please–if you have something bad to say about me in response please don’t say it here. I’m still reeling from some of the comments on the forum.
1.)I shoot jpeg. I know, I know—the biggest sin of a “professional photographer”. This statement right here will probably start an entire new thread. However, I shoot jpeg for 2 reasons–one technical and one practical. I find jpeg color to be truer to reality and easier to manage. I will sometimes shoot RAW if I know that I will be working with impossible lighting situations, but jpeg usually gets the job done for me and I attribute my “color quality” to the jpeg. That being said, when shooting jpeg, one needs to make sure that her exposure is pretty dead on. It is true that RAW has much more “information” and it is certainly more forgiving. But ahhhhh—the color right out of a jpeg is just yummy. And practically speaking, RAW is just too large. I save all of my original files and already have 2 1TB drives totally full of jpegs–think about how full my shelves would be with over 250 weddings shot in RAW. Shooting jpeg is simply more economical.
2.)Depth of Field. I touched on this a bit in a post last fall. I almost always shoot all the way open. Even when I’m doing family portraits I will rarely shut down to anything larger than 3.2. This may explain the very soft background and sharp focal points in my work (and also some of the botched up family portraits). My very favorite lens is the 50mm 1.4. It’s what I was using when I photographed Hannah’s headshot/bridal portrait. You can shoot a portrait with this lens and only the eyes will be sharp. I have never used a tool to blur some things and sharpen others. This is all done with lenses and depth of field. I’m too lazy and have far too many images to edit to use photoshop tricks that can be achieved in camera. For those who are reading this and are not familiar with aperture, the smaller the number on the aperture ring, the more selective the focal point. It is this that creates the creamy depths of field. If somebody wants everything in the frame to be sharp, one would shut down the aperture to a higher number on the ring. The other lenses that I use at weddings are the 70-200mm 2.8 and the 24mm 1.4. Other great lenses are the 80mm 1.4 and the 24-70mm. Prime lenses tend to be my favorite. I shoot with a Nikon D3 and use a D300 as my back up.
3.)Backlight. I backlight a lot of my compositions. It’s how I get an even exposure on my subjects’ skin. I rarely—and I mean, rarely use a fill light and did not use one in any of the images posted on Hannah and Eric’s wedding post. I absolutely hate artificial light unless one is using it for a more stylized shoot. It looks pretty hokey to me and I prefer my work to look journalistic. Place your subject between yourself and the sun. Be careful though– the key to beautiful back light is an amazing lens hood, or standing in a shady spot. Otherwise, one can easily blow the entire background out—a mistake I make probably every time I shoot. I also overexpose a bit when doing this to ensure that my subjects face isn’t too dark.
4.)I do all of my editing in lightroom. Like I said earlier, I never use photoshop or Kubota actions. I find them over-used and often cheesy. And again, I’m too lazy to spend that much time on a computer. I like to shoot–not edit. The one thing that I do in lightroom (and have overdone in the past) is black clipping. On that little histogram, I generally drag the blacks up which tend to pop the colors without making the image over the top contrasty. However, you will lose details in your blacks when you do this–to me an easy sacrifice for beautiful skin tones and colors. I never saturate my colors. To put it frankly, when I sit down to edit my work, I aim to make the images look like film. I like contrast, black blacks, white whites and as many midtones as I can have. I often use the “fill light” tool in lightroom to bring back some detail after I have clipped the blacks. I love this tool! I shot film for years and I studied Fine Art at CU in Boulder and learned how to print–never in the 5 years that I attended class, were we sat in front of a computer and taught how to “post process”. I was a pre-digital art student. Making the switch from film to digital was hell for me–hell. It took me years to hone my style, and I honestly think I found it by mimicking the look of film. It’s still surreal to me, that people are asking me how I edit my digital. It’s pretty ironic, actually.
5.)This isn’t a secret to my work, but the fundamental way that I try to live: Everything I do, I do because I like it for me. I never took workshops, never stalk forums, and try to keep myself from obsessing over other photographers work. There are days that I’ve spent hours looking at other photographer’s work and then wanted to throw myself under a bus. Seriously. I can’t compare myself to others. My work is my own. I am an artist and have found a style that works for me and that my clients like. There are a lot of people who don’t like my work—hell there have been some days when I check my stats and see that “julie Harris Photography Sucks’ is an actual search string. I don’t claim to know more than anybody, and I’m certainly not technically driven, but I will say that I absolutely love the art of photography and am inspired by all sorts of photographers—not just the perfect, “by the book” ones… Nan Goldin in actually one of my favorite photographers and if her work were ever posted on a forum and people didn’t know that she was famous and respected, I believe that her work would be shredded. My advice to anybody trying to learn some tricks is to keep it simple—do what works for you and keep your work pure. One of the posters on yesterday’s thread, said: “one’s eye is the finger print to her work.” And that pretty much sums it up. The camera is an extension of your soul–it’s how you see and interpret the world. Focus on this, and the technical aspects will follow.