For a while I have been looking around the Internet for inspiration and to see where I felt my own photography fitted into the grand scheme of what's already out there. I got a big face full of un inspiration and near depression. Everything was so beautiful and stunning compared to mine, the more I looked at Flickr and 500px, the more I was sure that my pictures were trash and I shouldn't bother any longer. After all, I'm nothing if not mature and level headed. :) So from having my strop and self pity party, I mentally slapped my own face and began to think more constructively about what had made me feel quite so bad other than childishness and pig headedness. Dissecting it, I got to the realisation that it wasn't that others were posting such great work, rather that I had a lot of learning still to do. It was dawning on me that although I thought I knew photography, I quite clearly had a lot of extra learning ahead of me. Time to go in search of photography knowledge, skills and inspiration to help haul myself up the learning ladder. Flickr has a great feature that you can search for photos by camera model from within the EXIF metadata. I felt that looking at what others were getting from their version of my camera (Nikon D3000), would bolster my confidence, for if the camera WAS capable of lovely images, then I'm darn sure in my hands it MUST be too. Instead of letting it defeat me, I needed to use it as a challenge, a target to aspire to. A real what have they got that I haven't moment - so I set out to find it and fill my ability banks with it.
It came down to rich colours, contrast, more attention to composition, more skill in setting the camera up properly for each scene and a better stocked armoury and knowing what to draw on and when.
For the colours and tones element of the desired improvements, it was then abundantly clear that I would need some form of post processing software as I was only tinkering with the basics in iPhoto up to that point. Whilst great for tweaking, cropping and sharing to social media, I wanted to go further. An Apple loyalists next obvious choice from iPhoto was its bigger, more mature, more specific stable mate, Aperture. A WHOLE different ball game to iPhoto or the free apps I'd looked at like GIMP or Picasa. The amount of editing I could now do was vastly increased. Even from just playing in my spare time, twiddling buttons and sliding sliders, the finished product of my photography had (by my reckoning at least) got a lot more professional looking.
The second string to the bow was knowledge of the gear, getting the very best from my camera must surely mean understanding the gadget, it's capabilities and limitations. Switching to manual was the first step, 30th August 2013, a family trip to Camden Market, canal and lock. Nothing would be shot unless in manual mode, no matter how many shots I binned. That was also the first day of shooting RAW from my camera instead of JPEG. In for a penny, in for a pound, nothing ventured, nothing gained, pick a cliche it was the day I was gonna start improving by hook or by crook.
It was at the same time that I began researching, reading, talking to other photographers and joining online groups, listening to podcasts, basically seeking additional photography knowledge, skills and inspiration. One very loud and clear message from all of those available mediums was Lightroom by Adobe is THE BEST post processing software bar none (unless you pair it with Adobe Photoshop of course). Aaaargh I'd backed the Apple option out of sheer brand loyalty and maybe I was wrong to have done so?! Still it never does to dwell on your decisions, so I turned the situation around and again decided to get the best of the tool, learn what all the sliders do, how do they impact the image. Leaps and bounds to my art.
Fortuitously, my dilemma of whether to drop Aperture for Lightroom happened to coincide with a special Black Friday announcement from Adobe that LightRoom 5 and Photoshop were now being offered as part of the Creative Cloud for Photographers subscription service. Previously stupidly overpriced for an amateur looking to improve the output of his hobby, but now less than a tenner per month WOOHOO!!
As a bonus, the time I had taken learning Aperture was time well invested, the basic types and degrees of tools in Aperture are on the whole the same in Lightroom. The method of use of each may vary, brushes and sliders different but on the whole, I found the workflow was the same.
This is the same picture as above but re-edited and I hope you agree with me that the skill levels have increased. Still LOTS to learn though.
My next challenge is to take the NEXT step and learn Adobe Photoshop as there is a whole other level to Post Processing that I can add by becoming proficient in all the tools available to me. It is clear that I learn and improve by doing and setting myself goals along the way. Photoshop here I come.