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 :) 

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