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#4154

First off, you take criticism well, which is another important trait of a good photographer. In addition, it raises my level of respect for you greatly.

Here is one of the problems as I see it, you claim you totally 100% know how to use your camera. But you also say that you are still learning tons.  It can’t be both. And quite frankly, I’ve been shooting professionally for over 20 years, and I spend 12 years apprenticing and practicing before that, I can confidently say that I have forgotten more about photography than you know, and I would assess my knowledge of “how to use my camera” maybe at 10%. Not because my knowledge is lacking, but just because I’ve been around long enough to know just how much there is to know. I realize that you are overstating your position for emphasis, but it is symptomatic of a person who has yet to discover just how much they truly don’t know.

First off, I didn’t say you photos were over-edited. Your eye for editing is quite good and you do maintain a subtlety I rarely see in someone so new. What I said was, you NEED it. I challenged you to ask yourself if you thought you could sell your images without it? Your defensive reaction (i.e. overstating your knowledge) just serves to drive home the point. Like I said, there is nothing particularly wrong with using Photoshop, but you are walking a dangerous tightrope because to the untrained eye, Photoshop is easier and faster than learning the correct techniques.

Now, to my assessment of your editing, I fully understand that if it scaled down and that makes some of the things I’m going to discuss a little difficult to see for certain, but per your request I am going to point out exactly what I see. I have selected a recent photo at random for assessment.

http://sphotos-a.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-prn1/23870_469094219801854_1256599850_n.jpg

Let us begin, and I apologize that this will sound a little harsh, but you’ve got me in grading mode and, as I explain to my students, don’t take anything I say personally.

First, your shot was almost definitely underexposed. Judging by the apparent grain enhancement caused by push processing your files, I’m going to estimate 2/3 of a stop underexposed.
Second, you boosted the brightness about 15 points and increased the contrast about 30 points.
Third, you adjusted the tone curve to strong contrast.
I looks like you adjusted the color in Lightroom, but I’m not positive this isn’t a side effect of the lighting being slightly different temperatures, so I’ll give a pass on that one.
Then you opened it up in Photoshop you sharpened the image using USM (which isn’t a very good technique for sharpening) and I’ll bet you a quid to quai that you didn’t use a layer mask, you backed up the history and dragged out the history brush to paint it in because the edges of the USM areas aren’t smooth enough to be layer masks. While you were doing this, you missed both sides of the baby’s cheeks at the jawline and a couple of spots on his arm.
Next you decided you weren’t happy with the depth of field, this would have been corrected if that initial 2/3 stop had been corrected in camera at this distance, but there you go. So you Gaussian blurred the entire image, backed up and whipped out the history brush again (same problem as before with the edges) and painted in the areas you felt should have more blur, ignoring the fact that the focal plane wouldn’t allow things like, for example, the area where the baby’s hand meets his hair to be out of focus, as areas of the image both in front of and behind that plane are within the depth of field.
There are a couple of places where it looks like you might have heal scars, but I’m gonna attribute those to compression artifact and give you the benefit of the doubt on those.

Had all of those things been corrected in camera, the shot would have been salable with no editing whatsoever. But had you edited it, these would have been my recommendations. Fill light of +15, black value of +20, and a Vibrance of +28. This will compensate for the slightly flat nature of digital far better than brightness, contrast or tone curve and provide a fairly accurate representation of Kodak Portra VC, which is the preferred film for working with this type of work.
Then I would have recommended increasing the yellows in the magenta range slightly to compensate for the apparent light reflection aberrations, and dodged the area on his right cheek just a bit, then burned his shoulder and forearm slightly to eliminate those hotspots and packaged it up for sale. (Because it’s digital, you always need to do a slight sharpening to compensate for the interpolation of Beyer type sensors, but this should be done at size, never on the image before it has been sized to it’s final output.) This would have taken all of about 2 minutes to complete.

And this image is by no means unique in this regard.

Does this better explain my position?

This is why I so heavily discourage going pro too soon, when you shoot only for yourself, you learn photography, when you have to please a client, you learn damage control. This is also why trying to teach and mentor is so dangerous for you. Like it or not, you don’t actually know that much yet, and you have a lot of really bad habits that stem, not from ineptitude, but from simple lack of experience. To take on the task of teaching others means that you will transfer those bad habits to them and because you style yourself a pro when you are at the level of proficient amateur, they will not question it. You are doing them a disservice simply by letting them believe you are something you are not (yet).

Oh, one more thing, please don’t use the black and white adjustment anymore. It is a very bad tool (desaturates and modulates the result) and I’ve had words with a couple of people I know at Adobe about removing it as the default recommendation when you change to grayscale mode. Learn to use the channel mixer instead, it produces a result that has neither desaturation or frequency modulation, and doesn’t fall victim to the pitfalls of not being able to modify low-saturation areas of the image.