In today’s digital world we all take tons of photos. We then take those images and master them. We use software like Apple’s Aperture, Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop to make them our own. Sometimes we add color and other times we shed that color for a black and white version. There are purists who don’t want to touch their images and then there are those who spend countless hours producing a well thought out vision.
While there truly is no right or wrong to how you master your work and how you tell the world what your mission was, there are more successful versions at times. The key with a successful image for me comes in the form of design. It is how I was formally trained as an architect and the discipline transcends photography rather easily. I continually think of design while I am shooting in the field and then again when I pull those images up in Lightroom.
There are many design concepts out there to follow and within those, as many different styles. These avenues are to some extent personal. It took me five years of schooling to actually come to a realization of what design meant to me, but if you have never been trained in a design background, just think of a creating a plan with a meaning. A justification for your actions. A purpose. The key is to make this design powerful by truly focusing your reasoning.
Don’t just say this composition is “the shit” because you think it is. Tell us it is “the shit” because these lines lead my viewer out into the frame while touching upon the main subject of an elusive Sasquatch peering out from behind a moss covered boulder who’s patterning reveals the lost Pollack painting of 1962 while highlighting a rare and never before seen cloud formation at sunset as a lunar eclipse begins to darken the horizon. Ok, this might be a bit much, but you get the idea, concrete reasoning as to why you followed your path.
It is when you attach this thought process to a work of art, that you turn the mundane into the superlative piece. I was in Colorado a few weeks ago shooting mountain biking with my wife for Bike Magazine. We were riding a trail that I have to say I hate more than any other ride out there. This trail is tight, there are overhanging pinyon branches everywhere, and narrow rock outcroppings that you slither through like a greased snake. If you are a gangly, six-foot-two guy riding a bike that is equally big, it sucks even more. However, if you are small, like my wife, and a hard-core psycho who lives for pain and technical problems that saturate your brain worse than a rubix cube, again like my wife, have at it. After all, this trail does actually hold a place in my heart for another reason though, it’s ability to provide photographic subjects around every rocky, technical switchback. It is a composers dream. Lines every where. Texture every where. Nature every where.
When I composed the image included in this post, I had design in mind. l loved the lines of the trees. The textures on the boulders. The clearing, mottled sky. And then my wife riding through it. I took the image. The RAW file is ok, but doesn’t convey my vision with anything but a well composed original, so I make that happen in my processing of it. I darken my edges, controlling what my viewer sees. Punch contrast, adjust saturation, control specific highlight and shadow areas of the image. This is a drastic interpretation. The rider is almost hidden, this photo becomes about the weather, the trees, and the lines that they generate. Even though the rider is in the foreground and mountain biking is the image’s overall concept, I am highlighting why we ride – to explore our natural world, to live in the woods, at a faster pace than just walking, increasing our endorphins. I am selling the experience.
You may agree or you may hate this image wholeheartedly, but in the end you cannot dispute why I did what I did. The image highlights the specifics of what I wanted, the initial composition that I saw out there in the field has the elements in it that allowed me to produce the final product.