неделя, 29 октомври 2017 г.

Recreating old shots and why weather matters in travel photography

In travel photography, what matters is the moment - but not just any moment as it is in sports. You need that WOW moment to make people want to visit the place. You need an amazing image that would make the others crave to see the place, to be there or.. to be you.

As it is most of my stories, it all starts with an image - in my case - this one: 

Rethimno port in 2009 - I really love the clouds and colours. This image, despite the technical deficiencies - being taken with a compact camera in JPEG - remains one of my favourites.  
At that time, I had no idea what I was doing. Really. I was 17 and I've just gotten my first digital camera. To me Crete, because the image above is from there, was a land of wonders full of strange and amazing things. So there I was, wandering around and frantically taking pictures of anything I laid my eyes on. The port, the fortress and the streets - anything that I found extraordinary. I didn't bother about composition or fuss with settings - the only thing I knew how to use at the time was the scene selection option (later on, I discovered the manual mode of the camera but back in 2009, that was terra incognita).

Here are some of the other images I took in 2009: 
The port of Rethimno with the famous lighthouse. Picture was taken in 2009.

The entrance of the Venetian fort at Rethimno - image from that time in 2009
These images were taken, loved and cherished as an amazing memory from a great adventure. But that was when the story ended. Soon after the return to Bulgaria, these images were totally forgotten. Two years later, when I had to apply for university, photography was nowhere near my choice of profession. It didn't even cross my mind that I could be a photographer. Instead, I chose to be a linguist and to study English - to have a 'decent profession'. Then, all of a sudden, in 2011, I had an idea of starting to share my work online. I found a website and started uploading my work. 

I keep saying this but if the users of the website hadn't told me that I was no good, that I lacked the skills and the equipment to be decent photographer, I wouldn't have become one. It was by sheer stubbornness that I started saving money to buy a camera, and taught myself composition and post-processing. It was all by trial and error. 

Somewhere during that process though, I decided that maybe what matters is skills and equipment. The more I progressed, the better images I took so I thought it was all skills. After the initial bullying I discarded anything taken before 2012 and concentrated on new content.

But as I progressed and learned new post-processing skills, I started re-editing old images, digging in the archives to see if I can 'save' an old image with a new and better edit. That's how one cloudy October day last year, I came across the images from 2009. I was doing a travelogue for a Bulgarian website and wanted to show some images (travelogues always go well with images and since I am a photographer, I am famous in this site for submitting articles with a lot of images). This time, however, instead of just exporting the file out of Lightroom, I created a PSD file and went to Photoshop. The result was stunning - to me at least. Colleagues though told me it was too colourful, too HDR-like and so on.

It was NOT and HDR so I can't say I was pleased with the feedback but I decided that the next time I go to Crete, I will revisit Rethimno and try to retake the image. Now that I'm good and skillful photographer, have all the equipment and so on it's just bound to be a stunning one. 

The irony is, that since 2009 I have been to Crete two more times BUT I didn't go to Rethimno then. There were so many other places I wanted to visit that I couldn't. This time I was dead-set on going again.

As I decided to work on the Culture Crossroads project I was sure that I want to add Crete in it. You can visit the project's page and blog for more information. 

When skills clash with weather...

Crete welcomed me with cold weather for the end of September - I didn't expect to be with a jacket on the beach - but otherwise amazing weather for images - dramatic clouds all over the sky, dynamic weather shifting in an hour from bright sun to torrential rain. I was delighted to finally nail some of the images I've been imagining ever since 2014 (the previous time I managed to visit Crete). 

Rethimno, of course was at the top of my list but given the distances on the island - and the so many locations I wanted to visit - it was left for the very last day - because at that time we would have a whole day before boarding the night ferry to Athens. So I waited (I'll skip though several other locations since they deserve a post of their own) for that day to come. 

Weather decided to play a trick on me though and show me that skills and equipment are worth nothing if you are unlucky enough to get dull weather conditions. Rethimno welcomed me with 30 degrees Celsius, heat, sun just shining in my lens and not a single cloud in the sky. The very moment I saw the light was harsh and in the wrong direction and the sky was dull I was absolutely disappointed.


The before and after of one of the images from that day. As you can see, the original is not much to talk about.
After all, I counted so much on this location - Rethimno is famous for its Venetian style small houses that reflect in the crystal-clear waters of the port. But what reflections when the sun is shining directly in my lens (despite the hood) and all I see is a big black nothing where the houses should be. This time, I thought, even RAW files and Photoshop cannot save the day. Still, since "I ain't not quitter" as the song line goes, I started wandering around the port to find the exact same location of the image from 2009. 

I have good photographic memory so I found it - guess what - that boat from the picture was still there! Parked at the same place. I was delighted to find it but disappointed that the sky isn't more interesting. Still, I thought, that would serve for a good blog post illustration of how skills alone cannot help much.

The recreated shot - as you can see, it is nowhere near the splendour of the original of 2009.
I didn't stop there and decided that since I am here for the first time in 8 years, I should try to do my best and create something usable. After all, professional photographers say that there's no such thing as bad lighting.

This image, taken just two steps to the side (this is the very same boat from 2009) proved to be much better than the recreated shot. Plus, it proved one of my theories that skills do matter and make a difference. Back in 2009, I just snapped a shot of the boat and moved on. Last month, I spent half an hour photographing it from all possible angles.
The image above proves that equipment does matter too - it was originally taken in RAW so I had much more freedom and opportunities to 'save it' so I did my best (I guess a Photoshop master would do much better but currently, this is as far as I can go). Apart from post-processing skills though, this image is not much to talk about. I like how it looks now but if I was using the same camera from 2009, an image like that (look at the print screen above) would just be lost to post-processing - after all, you cannot get that many details from a JPEG.

Here is another image - from the Venetian fort at Rethimno - that shows how many nasty tricks bad weather can play on you.

I love the architectural details in this image, love the lines, the windows, door and stairs BUT something is missing in this image. To me, that is the dramatic sky. I would have turned this into black and white but for the purpose of this blog decided to leave it in its original coloured version so that you see what I mean.
Don't get me wrong, it IS a good shot BUT it could have been way better. Same goes for all other images.
A bit discouraged by the blazing sun, I decided to turn my back to on it and go for something that is illuminated. And then saw the lighthouse - the famous lighthouse of Rethimno, one of the most beautiful ones in whole Greece.

I love reflections. I'm addicted to them and these almost mirror-like reflections in the still water of the harbour made me gasp. I really like this shot but again, still think there is room for improvement. 
Conclusion

I left Rethimno with quite a few images worth editing but very few WOW images in my opinion. This had nothing to do with equipment or skill - these will have a role in post-processing - as you can see, I did my best to present something good.

Problem is that sometimes equipment and skills are not enough to create the amazing picture-postcard shot you aim at. That happens not because you're not good enough but simply because you didn't go to the place at the right time. This is one of the reasons why I will have to go to Rethimno again to get the dramatic shots I want (it would be a pleasure to be there again :) ).

The story also has a moral - no matter how bad the conditions look like, you should NEVER EVER give up on taking pictures, If I had done so when I saw that the retaken photo sucks and returned to the table by the water, I wouldn't have created anything worth seeing (or editing, for that matter).

Images are always there and even if sometimes they don't look the way we want them to, they too tell a story :) 

четвъртък, 10 август 2017 г.

Photographer ≠ a single profession

When I was at high school, I was hopeless at Physics. Nothing could make me understand the equations or memorize the formulas.

Later on, when I took up photography, I found out that contrary to all logic (and most of my preferences) it is all Physics. Light angles, reflections, lenses, mirrors. What was not logic, was technical staff (I was never a tech-bimbo but I've never been a sys-admin either). So, willy-nilly, I learned about Physics and camera parts, how they work together and so on.

Later still, I discovered that being a photographer mean much more than randomly snapping at things around you.

So, I decided to compile a list of all the things a photographer has to do (that photographer is me, by the way) for all those who think taking a picture is a piece of cake and that sums up being a photographer.

You need to know:
  • some information about the thing: ideally the historical, cultural and anthropological background of the place - that includes having MORE THAN BASIC idea of archeology, architecture, warfare, social and cultural history, ethnic groups and the list goes on and on and on.
  • some social skills - to talk to people and make them pose for you or even to get some information from them.
  • camera equipment handling - this means knowing your gear inside out and being able to work with it with your eyes closed. Plus, you are expected to work and 'be fluent' in more than one brand and its specifics - I've had to use five different brands. You need to know about lenses, tripods, filters and so on and so forth.
  • posing 
  • event shooting and how to behave at that time
  • lighting (studio lighting, I mean)
  • your rights and the laws about copyright, private property and photography of the respective country - so that you don't get into trouble.
  • some social networking skills (Facebook and Instagram at least) and SEO (search engine optimization) in order to promote your work.
  • sales and marketing skills to get yourself some clients.
  • html codes - because at some point you'll need a website
  • blogging to tell your story to the world.
  • graphic design - because of the two above and the demands of your clients
  • post-processing (on more than one type software)
  • videography and video retouching
  • sound editing (because you never know)
  • licensing and copyright - so that you know which kind of license you lent whom, why and for how long. I mention it again, but it differs in different countries
  • printing, color spaces and different materials - this is separate because it is a whole domain in post-production
  • networking - you never know who will be useful for what
  • presentation skills - for obvious reasons such as portfolio display
  • first aid and basic survival skills - everything can happen on location and you need to keep yourself and the people around you safe
  • writing - you'll need to write at least the titles of your images and that is not always easy
  • basic self-defense - which includes a lot of common sense and self preservation instinct
  • basic meteorology - to know which weather causes what and how to handle that.
This list can go for a long time and I intend to update it. Point is, that unlike most people who get a single profession, specialize for it at university for some time and then go on working in that field without having to learn new things which have nothing to do with their domain, photographers have to do that all the time.

Photography means much more than just clicking a shutter.

четвъртък, 13 юли 2017 г.

What's in a name? Who is a professional photographer?

I didn't call myself photographer when I started out. In fact, it took me years to even think of myself as one. I remember one of the first times when I was impressed by the way 'professionals' behaved: it was on that memorable trip to Crete.

Actually, it was on the Acropolis in Athens - then, I remember, it was crowded with photographers using gear of all kinds. They were all standing at one and the same spot - where the best view is. I went up there and was amazed that all those 'pros' with 'big black professional cameras' made room for me and even showed me the place where I can photograph the best view. That was the first time I noticed something like that.
One of the images I created back then. I have some amazing images from Crete BUT these are not one of the great ones. As you can see the weather was nowhere near spectacular and nothing looks interesting on the pic. Still, I was able to do this only BECAUSE the pros made some room for me and my compact camera.
When I got my DSLR, I still didn't call myself a photographer. To outsiders, seeing the big black thing, it was absolutely obvious that I WAS, in fact, a professional (why else, carry that heavy scary thing around?). When asked, I said 'yes' laughing. It took me 3 years to really start claiming with confidence that, yes, I am a photographer. A professional. And it took me another year to start demanding the respect owed to such.
These days I have to edit some images created by a colleague - I call him a colleague BUT he still calls himself a 'hobby-photographer'. Truth is that the guy does photo-shoots with models and so on BUT he is still reluctant to state (especially to me) that he is a professional photographer.  Still, since we happened to work together for some time - he has an eye for people shots.

That's me - one of the images that colleague of mine created while we worked together.
This made me think - who has, after all, the right to call himself/herself a photographer? So I decided to conduct a bit of research.

The first place I went to is the website of the association of professional photographers in Bulgaria (link to their website can be found at the end of this post), where it is said that a professional photographer is:

A) getting more than half of his/her income from photography

B) studying photography as a degree at some university or college

Still, I think that this is not enough to define the whole process of calling oneself a 'pro' - I've met countless people who have a BA in photography but are terrible at it. This doesn't make them 'professionals'. I've also met wonderful talents that take pictures in their spare time and are better than most 'pros'. There is something mystical in the whole idea of calling oneself a photographer - as if that gives you some kind of mystical, even mythical status of 'the person who creates masterpieces with one click of the camera'.

So I decided to search the net and see what the great minds of the past have to say about photography. I searched through various quotes about photography but couldn't find a single one about 'professional' photography said by the famous photographers of the past. Somehow these people didn't think that you need to earn this and this and that to call oneself a photographer. You need to see the world in a certain way, you need the 'eye for detail'.

Money comes when there is talent. If there is talent or people who are willing to pay. Or both. Being a professional in what you do comes BEFORE getting money for it, that's what I think. Somehow the photographers of the past have seen it, unlike us, who try to divide into groups: pros and amateurs, those having a degree and those who are self-taught, even to landscapers and wedding photographers.

A degree can only hone the skills you already have but it alone will not make you a professional photographer. Talent alone will help you create something no one else has done (or just very few have thought of doing) but without the knowledge it would take a lot of time (trust me, I know that).

Being a professional is a feeling, a state of mind, not a degree. It takes some time (and some bravery) to state it out loud.

References:

https://petapixel.com/2014/03/11/50-photography-quotes-inspire/ 

https://petapixel.com/2014/05/29/70-inspirational-quotes-photographers/


сряда, 5 април 2017 г.

Street photography guide for dummies :)



Hello everyone!

I know it's been quite a while since I wrote but I've been up to quite a lot these days (and months) so I have an excuse.

Welcome to the newest part of Shoot Like a Pro - Advanced, Hope you'll like it.

I guess from time to time each one of us wants to take a few street shots - because we have some spare time but lack the money to travel somewhere far away or just because we want to try out our hand at street photography.


In its essence, street shooting is the easiest and the most difficult genre. It's difficult because you need to have a keen eye and to know when to shoot and when not to do it. It's easy because you document real life events and you just need to keep you eyes and ears open.


So far so good, but what are the basics?

I'm by no means an expert but here are a few tips and tricks - I'll use my most recent street shoot from my home town - Sofia, in winter as an illustration.

Rule 1 - know your geography


You simply CANNOT go out shooting without knowing what is where around town. This includes knowing not only where to go but where you should NEVER go. You see, photo equipment is too expensive to risk it for nothing. Besides, if you are a 5-feet-tall girl like me, you'll think twice before going out to the ghetto.

So step one is to see what is available and if you'll be able to access the place in a safe time of the day. The picture above is from a place called Lavov Most (literal translation for that would be Lion's bridge). It's a really picturesque place BUT in recent years it's a gathering place for illegal immigrants (called refugees by the West). It's absolutely NOT safe to be here after dark and I know it because I did my homework to check.

In the pic you see only ordinary people because it was too cold (-15 Celsius) for anyone else to go out wait for whatever.

The location check includes knowing when to be around places and when you'll get the best lighting and/or subjects.


This a picture of the famous mosque in Sofia (built by the architect Sinan back in the 16th century and still currently in use.) - and it's NOT a Friday - so I can roam around and take as many pictures as I want.

Rule 2 - try to stay unnoticed


As you can see from the pictures above - when heading out for street shots, I include people in the frame. Key to that is to AVOID getting noticed. I understand that it's not an easy task if you carry a two-kilo black camera BUT in Eastern Europe people hate being photographed without permission. You can get into a big trouble if they notice you and you keep taking pictures without their consent, you can end up in the police station.

The picture above shows a woman staring at the flag in front of the monument of the unknown (nameless) warrior (the brick building is an ancient basilica). I caught this woman by pure accident, don't even know if she was specifically looking at the flag but the image looks really dramatic. So if I had asked her to pose for me, she may have send me to hell (as some people would) or posed those artificial 'duck-face' poses I totally hate. So instead, I took a picture that doesn't show her face (which means that I can use it without her written consent, at least for non-commercial purposes).

When people don't notice you are there, you can capture a lot more candid moments than if you go around and try them to pose for you. There are photographers that can approach anyone and get the perfect posed shot - well, I'm not exactly one of them. I prefer to play the paparazzi game.

Rule 3 - Watch out for traffic



It may seem something obvious but believe me, when you start shooting, you easily forget that there other people (or cars) around you.

This building used to be the palace of the Tsar but in 1944 it was taken over by the Communists. It was built by an Austrian architect and used to have an ornate fence and gate - just like those of Belvedere palace in Vienna. The fence used to be cutting in two the street you see in the foreground but it was demolished in 1945. They had plans to destroy the building too but firstly they ran out of money and secondly some brainy people thought that it won't be a good idea. Now the building is an art gallery but nothing shows from the royal period - the place was completely robbed - the only evidence are the stone fireplaces (which are still there because they couldn't remove them).

It has a really interesting story and is one of the most photogenic places in Sofia. Only problem is that it;s located on one of the busiest boulevards in the city.

So when it comes to traffic - or anything else while you're out shooting YOUR SAFETY IS ALWAYS FIRST! No image is worth getting yourself in danger! First ensure that all other vehicles can SEE where you are and LOOK AROUND BEFORE you try to make a hasty move.

For this shot I stood on the outside line of the boulevard and had to wait for the right moment when cars were on red light :) If you have to stand somewhere on the road - STICK TO THE SIDES OR STAY IN THE MIDDLE.

DON'T MOVE BACK AND FORTH, YOU CAN GET HIT!

Rule 4 - learn a bit about the place you are shooting

Street photography is often about telling a story so take some time to learn a bit about it. Each city has enthusiasts that write about its history, you'll just have to check things out.

For example, this place (on the pic above) has a really dramatic story - my grandfather was a witness to most of it:

The place is called the triangle of power in Sofia - the building of the Presidency (to the left) and the Council of Ministers (center and left). This place has a long standing controversial history. When Communism came in 1944, the new authorities were dead set on establishing a new order. So they demolished a whole district - the so-called Targovska street (where all trade and artistry in old Sofia happened) and the other lanes around it.

In the 1950s, when they started digging the foundations for these buildings, they reached the Roman stratum of Serdica - namely the palace of Konstantine the Great. And they poured concrete on it. Because no one can be greater than the Soviet Union. Now these stand as a reminder of a totalitarian regime and of stupidity.

If you don't know what was destroyed to get these created, you might even marvel at them. So if you want to show the idiocy of the people who created the ensemble you'll need to know the story behind the place.

Rule 5 - marvel at the architecture


Street photography is often about the architecture around is. We just can't escape that - we are surrounded by it so why not trying to capture it the best way possible.

The building you see is the National Theatre Ivan Vasov which dates back to the end of the 19th century and is one of the most beautiful buildings in Sofia.

So don't try to shoot people only - keep your eyes open for the things around you.

Rule 6 - dress according to the season!!!



I should have said this in the beginning but I thought it's too obvious. Anyway, I must add this.

ALWAYS DRESS ACCORDING TO SEASON - during this photo shoot I had to wade through knee-deep snow, endured a blizzard (but I was already out so I decided to keep moving) and my hands almost froze on the camera (because, I repeat, it was -15 degrees Celsius). So I was lucky i had sturdy boots and warm coat and gloves, and a hat.

You never know what might happen so it's better to take an extra item (like spare gloves or an umbrella) instead of getting back home soaking wet or ice cube frozen :) Big cities have a few disadvantages - it takes a long time to travel in them and the weather may vary, so you can't know for sure what the weather would be at the other end.


Rule 7 - be quick with the camera

The picture above - of the guy with the red coat - is a great example for something other than warm clothes in winter. I saw him for a few moments right as he was walking towards me. It was freezing cold and to top it all - the wind was blowing snow in my face. So I was kinda reluctant to shoot but then when he came closer I decided that I just CANNOT MISS THAT SHOT. It turned out to be one of the best from the series. so I'm glad I took it. I was also lucky that it was so cold so I didn't get noticed.

So keep your eyes open and shoot everything you can - better to come home with more images than you need than to miss a one-timer.

Rule 8 - general photography rules apply here as well


If you are into street photography, you are probably familiar with all the general photography rules - like the Rule of Thirds and the like. BUT when we are out shooting and all we see is people, we tend to forget that the same basic rules can be applied here.

As you can see above, the lead-in lines help create a sense of depth and scale.

So don't underestimate the rules :) They are old but gold :)

Conclusion

I think I said it all - so all I can say here is "Good luck" and happy snapping.

If you think I missed something - write to me and I'll include it in a second post :)

четвъртък, 22 декември 2016 г.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Christmas is coming! New Year follows!

Wishing you a prosperous, happy new year, full of adventures, amazing moments with your loved ones and... because we are all interested in photography - a lot of great images!

сряда, 14 декември 2016 г.

Editing suite - Review of Through the Woods Lightroom Presets by Sleeklens

Let's talk editing! 

There is a point in each photographer's life that editing becomes a must.



That is usually a tricky topic because you either absolutely LOVE it and you use the editing tools to help you show your viewpoint to the world OR you totally detest it and you claim that any post-processed image is distorted and therefore not real photography... It's a long debate and it's a love-hate relationship for most photographers.

I've been on both sides of the barricade - when I started, I thought that ANY tweaking of the image actually distorts it. Later on, I saw that virtually EVERYONE post-processed their images and, in turn, they looked way better than mine (for obvious reasons). So I decided that if everyone could do it, so could I - and the first REAL editing software I tried put was Adobe Lightroom - because I read on the net that it's a must for every serious photographer. 

Long story short - now I'm at the other end of the barricade - no image goes live without getting though the editing suite. 

So, the people from Sleeklens asked me to write an honest review of their newest Lightroom presets and here it is. 

Before we start with it, let's make it clear what is a preset and what do we use it for?

Presets can be found in the Develop panel, on the left - see on the image. 
Here is where you find presets.
Presets are a way of making your life easier because they help you edit a lot of images very quickly. What presets are? Generally a quick fix - a bundle of settings that can cover anything - from basic things such as exposure or vibrance to more sophisticated tweaks such as sharpness and noise levels. 

A preset can help you turn the picture on the left into the one on the right with just a few clicks. Cool, right?
Since I'm doing mostly landscapes these days, I'll be reviewing the landscape presets bundle - called Through The Woods

The price


When we talk about photography, we normally talk about a lot of money - after all, photography is one of the most expensive hobbies there is - you need cash to buy cameras, lenses, tripods and other nice gadgets and what not. And, at some point you decide to buy some editing software. Given the fact that you wouldn't want it to cost an arm and a leg (and honestly, I've seen a lot of companies charge even more than that) - you'll probably go for something that is a bit more affordable. Why? Because if you are a budding photographer you don't make a few grand a month to afford something more pricey. 

So, back to the point - Through the Woods presets cost only 39 $ and you get quite a lot for your money - 50 presets that can be combined in any way you like (I absolutely LOVED the layering of presets - you'll see what I mean later on) plus 30 different adjustment brushes that can, again, be combined in any way you like. The bundle works on all versions of Lightroom and on both RAW and JPEG files (which is great because you don't have to convert files before you use them - just start creating things). 

So to me, the price seems totally affordable (even if you are not an American resident and you don't get your cash in dollars) and the best thing of all: Sleeklens are OK with you paying by PayPal (apart from the 5 types of cards they accept) - especially for me because I hate when I like something online and then I see that I have to enter a credit or debit card (I live in Bulgaria where online trade is not that well developed and I'm suspicious of any site that wants card number). With PayPal, you just copy your mail address and in a second, the presets are yours :)
One point for being customer-friendly. 

Installation

I can't exactly say I'm a computer programmer - well, OK, I install everything that is on my computer (apart from the operating system and the Microsoft office bundle) - but Through the Woods presets are really easy to install. In the zip file you get apart from the presets, you'll get 4 PDF files - one explaining how to install presets (they even have a YouTube tutorial on that) and another, really detailed and easy to follow, for the Brushes. Generally, if you follow the instructions step by step, it takes less than 5 minutes to get the installation done. Besides, each preset or brush is named accordingly, so that you know what you're using when. If you still have trouble and don't know what to do - Sleeklens have created a Facebook support group where you can ask anything anytime. 

Usage


Here we come to the main part of the review - how and why to use the presets? The first thing that I liked is that most presets are labeled very well - when you scroll down to find what you need - either base editing or exposure or finishing touches. The all-in names are a bit more creative so you'll need some time to figure out what they stand for, but overall, the presets are very well labeled and easy to find. I totally loved the adjustment brushes - really easy to find and very versatile. More about that, later in the review.
One point for user-friendly names and support. 

Editing in Lightroom using the Through the Woods presets by Sleeklens


Here we come to the most interesting part of the review - we already know how much the presets are worth and that they are easy to install but what are they actually worth for if you go and use them on real images. When I opened the Sleeklens website, I was like 'WOOOW' when I saw the before-after demo of the presets - check it out here (really impressive) - and I thought 'OK, these are great'. But it's one thing to just look at someone else doing it and doing it yourself. 

So I started fumbling with the presets - my way of getting to know which is good for what is to get a crappy image as a guinea pig and apply virtually ALL presets on it (you don't want to see the result, trust me). After an hour or so, I noticed another PDF file that came in with the bundle - the RECIPE FILE, where Sleeklens show you each and every image of the demo and the way they achieved the effect plus the exact way in which each preset and brush is used. One point for the recipes! 

So, to test the recipes, I decided to find some of my most crappy and unsuable images I can come up with (don't frown, we all have tons of those, admit it! They are the skeletons in every photographer's closet :)). Why crappy images, you would ask. Because if the image is great, the presets will only make it look greater but the real power of the editing bundle shows when you try to make something out of an image that should have been deleted long ago and then create a masterpiece out of it (don't laugh - if don't have such cases you A - haven't been a photographer for a long enough period of time and B - haven't edited enough images). 


Through the Woods recipes put to the test 


I delved into my really vast archive and selected a few images - the criteria were 'as crappy as possible and as close to the demo picture as I can find'. Let's start with something easy first and then go off to the more difficult things. 

The first images that came to my mind are some from Belogradchik Rocks - breathtaking place with very nasty lighting conditions in 90% of the time. These, were taken in 2013 in broad daylight and generally, very infavourable conditions. At the point I only THOUGHT I know what I was doing but it turned out I didn't. You can imagine how disappointed I was - and I vowed to come to the place again. Still, the images stayed - to remind me NOT to go and shoot there in broad daylight.

So I started with the first recipe, following the instructions exactly as they are - no adjustments made. Here is the result: 
Not bad at all - given the fact that I didn't adjust anything and counted on the  pre-set settings.

Presets used - 5 in a row
Brushes used -  5 
Still, since the first recipe did it really well - I decided to find yet another even crappier image: a view of Musala peak (2925 m, the highest in Bulgaria and on the Balkans), taken at midday in JPEG with a compact camera, back in 2011 (when I didn't even think that I'd be a photographer one day). I love the image and through the years I've tried a lot of different editing techniques to get it right with very little success. Let's see what Through the Woods Lightroom presets can do for it. Mind you, this image REALLY qualifies as crappy in every possible respect - it's done with an open aperture (around f/3.5 whereas landscapes are normally done at f/8 and above), the focus went to the flowers in the foreground, the sky burned out because of the sun AND the JPEG file I shot in...

Here we go - the same recipe used and the recipe is used again with absolutely NO tweaking from my side - the brushes and presets are used as they are, no addition or deletion of properties.
So - this is a WOW result to me - the image really looks way better than it did before I started. This recipe definitely gets one point :)

The next recipe looked really well, so I selected another not-so-crappy image - an image full of fog and mist and rain and one of my personal failures, well, maybe not exactly mine because I can't really control the weather - anyway - the Transfagarasan highway, 2015 - a total crap of mist and rain. And when you think of how amazing this place is (when the weather is good), it really makes me cry... As I said - the real power of editing suite shows up when you use it on something crappy.

Here I needed to make a few adjustments because of the image - after applying some of the presets, it turned out that the image is too dark so I edited with +0.95 exposure (did I mention that the image is crappy) so that I can continue with the edits. Then I skipped some of the darkening brushes (when you lighten the image, it's obvious that you don't need more darkness) but that's all due to the image itself, not the brushes.

The end result looks quite good to me - given the fact that I didn't do much on it. Still, I wasn't pleased with the result so I decided to test the recipe on another image - in my work, I'm looking for WoW! images - if the image doesn't make you jaw drop - then it's not good enough.

As I said - the image isn't much to work with in the first place.
Presets used - 6 in a row
Brushes used - 2 (because the other 3 in the recipe were all darkening ones and as you can see - no more darkness needed here)
Correction - +0.95 exposure
So I settled for a more recent trip to Rila (the highest mountain in Bulgaria) - the weather was really dramatic and the images (if edited right) really have some potential. These are the first images shot in RAW I'll be editing. The reason is simple - JPEGs are normally crappier and more difficult to edit than RAWs - you can mess way more things in a RAW file and still get something decent than in a JPEG. So I'll be using mostly JPEGs. These images, however, are something different - they are unreleased - I mean haven't published anything anywhere yet AND I haven't edited a single one of them. So - let's try out the Through The Woods Presets on these. 



Here is the final result - no tweaking from my side and I think the recipe did it pretty well. Really loved the shine into the sunset preset - it creates a golden glow that I love adding to my images. About my favourite and least favourite tweaks - later in the post.
Presets used - 6
Brushes used - 5
I can say that this looks really good for something edited in Lightroom only

In the recipe list, there was another one that was good for mountains - or so the demo said - so I decided to find another image from the same day and place - Rila mountain - and edit it.

The image itself is nothing sort of amazing - it has several problems - shot from a moving car through the window (which darkened it a bit) 



I left out one of the brushes because it didn't exactly need more contrast and clarity - as you can see - the image has more than enough of that. Given the fact that I'm doing exactly what the recipe says, the result is amazingly good (I'm used to doing things my own way, not relying on recipes so this was a bit of a challenge. I'll get creative with the presets later on). This definitely turned out as a WOW image from something relatively crappy - first of all, it's shot around midday without a hint of sunlight and now we have this beautiful sunset haze and sun rays that popped out in the editing. That definitely won me for the recipe. I must admit that it looks way more artsy than I usually do my images. 
Presets used - a lot (let me count up) - 9
Brushes used - 11
I must say this is impressive.

One point for this recipe!


Since this recipe passed the test with just one image, I hurried to the others. I noticed several recipes show how to get out the sun and the details in shots against the sun. Luckily I have exactly what I need - wait for it, It's really hardcore crap.

Image taken at sunset in 2011 with a compact, against the sun. One of my personal favourites in terms of compo and place but awful to edit. I've tried several times on my own. The place is called Yailata and it's a natural reserve - generally looks great on pictures (if you know what to do). Let's test the presets on it...



Here I did a few corrections - set the contrast to 0, straightened the horizon and punched up clarity. I have a soft spot for this image -I mean, I love it - and I've edited it at least 10 times. I think that Through The Woods did a great job - finally the shadows don't looked bleached out and I love the warm glow. Maybe I overdid things but, it's just a test :)

Presets used - 5
Brushes used - 4
looks kinda cool, doesn't it?
Still, I decided to try out something else. Image is taken the same day as the one above, at noon in Balchik - this is the palace of the Romanian queen Maria. Very photogenic place. JPEG with a compact - quite difficult for any creative edits. Will see what happens.
Presets used - 5
Brushes used - 3
Adjustments made - contrast and saturation to 0, exposure +0.83
Here I set the contrast and saturation to 0 - somehow too vibrant images don't agree with me - and got +0.83 exposure (image started getting too dark) - and I missed one of the warming up brushes - because the image is warm already. 

The next two of the recipes look really impressive so I'll try to find something equally impressive. I'm not a fan of sunrises (because I hate getting up) but I have some up my sleeve. Something shot in Peloponnese - the place is called Pilos and this is the harbor - taken at sunset in 2015.


Here again corrected the contrast - to -17 and skipped the cloudy sky brush (because there are no clouds in the sky). The image definitely shows improvement - especially the reflections in the water. Must add that this one is in RAW, originally. 
Presets used - 6
Brushes used - 6
Since there are a few more recipes about sun and sunsets - I give one point to this one and move on to the next.

This image is again sunset at Pilos, taken the next evening. The image is nothing remarkable and that's the main reason I'm using it to test the recipe. It's good to have something at your fingertips that can turn a mediocre image (such as this one) into something WOW-like :) Let's see if this will happen with this image. 
Presets used - 3
Brushes used - 6
The image looks way better with very little effort. One point for being quick to edit. I love the water and the reflections in it (again!). I repeat - these results appear with very little interference from my side. This so far is the quickest recipe to use.

The next guinea pig will be from Teteven waterfalls - taken in JPEG in 2013. Main problem of the image series is that they lack the vivid colours of autumn. Let's see what Through The Woods preset bundle can do...

This image is on top of my "crappy images" list - harsh shadows, almost burnt-out sky, Nothing interesting to speak of. I'm using it just for the sake of trial and error - otherwise I should have deleted it long ago. 
Presets used - 7
Brushes used - 4
As you can see, the result is quite impressive - given the source 
image - I missed out one brush (because there are no clouds in the shot) but I'm OK with the end result - given the fact that I'm using crappy image and Lightroom only. 

I edited the edit - reducing the exposure to +0.36 and the contrast to -14. Actually this edit makes me reconsider my opinion on this image - it may be good for something, after all. 

I loved the result so much that I decided to find some more crappy images from the same place. Here is something else - not that freakishly crappy but still not good enough without edits.
Presets used - 5
Brushes used - 4
The composition is relatively OK but the main problem of the image lies in the upper right corner and the burnt-out patch where the sun used to shine. I'm usually using another closer image of the same place. 

Here I needed a tweak or two - got saturation and contrast to 0 because that way the image looks more natural. Otherwise I got a lovely autumn image. One point for each of the two recipes :)

For the next recipe I chose something more recent - a shot from Rila again. The shot is a good one but it's too dark - no other way because I wanted to capture the moody sky. 
Presets used - 3
Brushes used - 3
Here I don't give a point - the recipe is OK but didn't work well at all on this image - this is the shortest recipe but I didn't like how it worked originally. It needed a lot of tweaks to make it look right. Still, I'll give it another chance.

This is taken at Rozhen observatory a month ago. The person in the image is a colleague doing a 360 degree panorama. 
Presets used - 3
Brushes used - 2
Here again it needed tweaks - highlights, blacks and saturation to 0 and no cloudy brush. To me this recipe is not well thought over, in fact, even at the demo looks overdone to me. 


The last recipe was quite impressive as a demo - getting a virtually grayish pic into a jaw-dropper, so I selected a gray pic from Teteven waterfalls - not that bad in itself but really dark, dull and gray. 

What Through the Woods presets did to the image literally made my jaw drop (and compensated in full for the previous recipe) :)
Presets used - 5
Brushes used - 4
As you can see, the result is truly stunning - I love the vivid colours and the general effect. Even though I reduced the overall contrast to 0 and the saturation to +26, I really love this recipe. I'd give it two points :)

Getting creative with Through The Woods presets


So far I showed you how do the recipes work. BUT I'm more keen on using the presets as I like so after I tested all the presets I decided to use some other images and rediscover the real power of the editing bundle. And I decided it's high time to discard the crappy images and go for something more interesting:

The first guinea pig is an image of Corvin castle - for those who have no idea where that is - it's in Romania, Transylvania to be exact, and was the seat of Huniadi family. Very impressive and Medieval-looking place. Shot in 2015 in RAW.

After tweaking with the presets - I especially liked the "expand DR" and the cloudy sky brush and then correcting the contrast (again! - I'm just not fan of punchy contrast because I achieve the same effect in a different way) - here is the result - not at all bad, if you ask me, and given that I was not following any recipes: 
Presets used - 5 ( extend DR and HDR one + clarity, sharpen and contrast)
Brushes used - 1 (cloudy sky)
Adjustments made - blue tint - 17; red tint -11; contrast - 0
Speaking of the cloudy sky brush - while I worked with the presets, this became my favourite one. Let me show you why:
The only thing I did here was to use the "cloudy sky" brush - see the differenc?
This is a picture of Sighisoara - a Medieval town in Transylvania (Romania), that is said to be Vlad Dracula's birthplace. When I was there, it was really moody and cloudy. I love cloudy sky because it adds in some drama to the shot. That's why this brush is very useful to me - I usually create the same effect in Nik color effex but this makes my life way easier. Let's see what would happen to the image if I keep on editing it...


As you can see, the result is quite pleasing, at least I like it - and that is just by layering presets one on top of the other WITHOUT any tweaking of the sliders. I think I will save this one as a recipe of my own :)
Presets used - 7
Brushes used - 1
I really love the option of layering the presets. The only small problem with the all-in-one presets (which include a whole pre-set bundle of tweaks) is that I'm hard to figure out what all the names mean. 

I'll keep on using some images from Sighisoara again from 2015 and shot in RAW - the town is really colourful so it's a good idea. 

I think I just invented another recipe :) 


So far I worked in color only but I'm curious if the Through the Woods presets can do in Black and White. For this, I'll be using some more recent shots - from Thassos - very harsh sunlight but I shot in RAW so that won't be a problem...
Presets used - 9
Brushes used - 1
The image I'm starting with is OK but in colour doesn't really look WOW to me. So let's tweak a bit and get rid of the colours to get the real texture pop... That's Alyki, by the way - the oldest marble quarry in this part of Europe.
Here we go - another recipe invented! I would like to have more Black and White presets in the bundle but this time I did great. Not that I'm a great fan of B&W photography, but some images look better without all the distracting colours. 
Presets used - 8
Brushes used - 2

Now I'm curious what would happen if I get creative on a purely nature shot - after all, the bundle is about landscapes and so far I've used it mostly on travel images. Another image from Alyki would be the guinea pig now:
It's shot against the sun in the shadow and it's not exactly a great pic. The end result definitely looks better and I think I created another recipe :)
Presets used - 7
Brushes used - 3
I started to like the water brush - I have a lot of seascapes that would like that punch-up :)

A final try-out with my most recent landscapes - the place is called "Chudnite Mostove" (Wonderful/Amazing Bridges) and it proved to be quite difficult to capture...
Presets used - 8
Brushes used - 4

So, as you can see, the result is truly amazing. This particular edit proved that the presets and brushes are very intuitive - I'm not the kind of person who would read all the options and then choose one.

The verdict

Pros As I said somewhere above - this should be a REVIEW - so I'll need to state an opinion of the presets. 

1. They are affordable, very user-friendly to install and more or less easy to use. I'm saying "more or less" because it's a bit difficult to find out what the name stands for in the all-in-one presets (most of them very useful as a base for edits, by the way) - I guess the developer got too creative with those. The recipes - as the test  above proved - are a great tool for batch editing - for example, I have 1400 images from one day at Sighisoara alone and these presets can help me edit them ALL in just a few minutes.

2. The quality of the presets is good - I mean, I tried them out on the crappiest images I could dig out in the archives - a nightmare to edit. I especially liked some of the effect brushes - as I mentioned above, the cloudy sky brush achieves detail and drama in the clouds that I usually get from Photoshop (detail extractor filter and then history brush tool) so that saves me a hell lot of time. These presets really have a potential of turning mediocre images into something worth printing (I'm not saying 'sharing' because we tend to share crap from time to time) - so I'm impressed.

3. Actually what I liked most about the presets is that there are unlimited combinations of all of them - you can layer and layer until you achieve what you need. The ability to get creative and set up some recipes on your own is great.

4. The people from Sleeklens overall did a great job in designing the presets - out of all the recipes, there are only 2 that needed gross tweaking (skipping a step or grossly correcting the general settings of the image) and there is only one that I'm definitely not OK with. Some of the recipes - namely the longer ones - blew my mind with what they can do with a crappy image. 

Cons
The are very few things I didn't like:

1. The excess of contrast and darkening of shadows in some recipes - you have to watch out for the result in some recipes so that the thing comes out as you want it to. To some extent that is subjective - I'm a fan of realistic contrast and I tend to tone it down in my images. The other criterion is a calibrated screen (I'll tell you a secret - mine is not but somehow I get in print EXACTLY what I see on it, every time - still figuring out how that happens) which can shift colour and brightness levels all over the place. So that is something you should try out yourself.

2. Some recipes work only on a particular type of image with a particular setting and cannot work on others - which is again subjective but I had to add it. So you should rely on your intuition - and a bit of trial and error - to see which recipe works well for you and which doesn't.



To end the review, I want to add that presets and brushes and recipes are only the starter tool - the limit is your own imagination and creativity - it's up to you how and if you use this tool to achieve the idea that's in your head.