Surprise: The Story Behind the Photo

By Laura Richards

Surprise, a photo of an egret and a ... by Laura Richards

Surprise by Laura Richards (f/11, 1/500, auto ISO 400, 300mm)

Several years ago, my husband and I took a trip to several countries in southern Africa, including Botswana where we visited Chobe National Park. Driving through the park, we saw a wide range of animals and birds. On this particular photo, I was focusing on the egret. It was quite a distance away, so I wasn’t sure what kind of image I would get.

When I got home, I uploaded all my photos onto the computer. As I looked at this one, I wasn’t impressed with the egret, but then I realized there was a crocodile right next to the bird. The shape of the crocodile mimicked the curve of the grass so I never saw it while I was taking the photo. Ironically, the crocodile was in better focus than the egret, and I never knew he was there. The other thing that surprised me was the proximity of the two. I would think the egret would be a good snack for the crocodile, but there doesn’t seem to be any friction between them.

A lot of times I delete photos that I don’t think are great before I upload them, but I am finding out that there are hidden things in photos that actually make an interesting story, and you don’t see them until you enlarge the photo. I normally would crop this image, so the viewer would see the crocodile right away, but I wanted to show how easily you can miss things if you aren’t careful.

How Much Editing Is Too Much?

As you put Matt Kloskowski’s tips into action after this month’s presentation, will you be wondering if you’ve gone too far?

By Jim Hamel

So, how much editing is too much? Unfortunately, there is no answer to this question. Different people have different ideas on this topic. Some people want everything to appear natural, and the tipping point for them is when their photos do not. Others couldn’t care less about that, in fact, don’t want their pictures to appear natural.

Once you decide on your general philosophy, that sets a range for you; but even then how you approach each picture is still ultimately up to you. I will offer two additional  thoughts on this topic: one cautionary and the other encouraging.

On the cautionary side, I will say that beginners are much more likely to overdo the processing than people who have been doing it for a while. They will end up with garish colors or too much contrast, or they’ve pushed everything too far and generated a lot of noise, banding, or other effects. Although the HDR craze has largely faded (due largely to the ability of post-processing software to pull detail from highlights and shadows without resorting to HDR), it used to be quite common to see beginners proudly displaying totally overdone HDR shots. So be careful when you are just starting out.

On the other hand, don’t let comparisons of your edited photo to the original hold you back. I am frequently guilty of this one.

I gleefully edit away and then I go back and compare my edited photo to my original.
When I do, I see how far I have come and inevitably decide I have overdone it. It doesn’t
look like the original, and that bothers me for some reason. But you have to keep in mind
that nobody is going to see your original. All they see is the final edited picture. It will likely look just fine to them. Don’t let that hold you back.

All you can do is decide for yourself. To help that process along, look at others’ work and pay attention to whether you think it looks over processed or not. Go through a bunch of pictures on Flickr or 500px, and I think you’ll pretty quickly be able to decide where you fall on the scale.

Jim Hamel

Jim Hamel

Jim Hamel is not just a great photographer, writer, and teacher, he’s also one of our very own TAPC members. Check out his free photography guides and tutorials at Outdoor Photo Academy. You can also see this original unedited article (with three more tips) and even more images.