Week 10 – Feedback and Editing

Just under two weeks left, folks! This week you will be brushing up on photo editing basics, and with those basics in mind, giving your classmates’ feedback on the portraits they just posted.

I am having difficulty finding a good “photo editing how to” for you guys. There are a lot of crappy tutorials out there, hosted on even crappier websites bursting with ads and pop-up windows. I want to save us all the torture of clicking through that hot mess.

Another difficulty is deciding on how technical to go with this. I assume you will all be using different photo editing software, some of it expensive and high tech, and others free and more basic. (Free is always nice, right? If you don’t already have a program you’re comfortable with and like using, I suggest either downloading the Photoshop free trial, or using one of these programs). And I assume there is a considerable range of proficiency.

So this is how I want to handle it. I want YOU to select which software program you want to use, and then google the photo editing tutorial that is right for you.

Regardless of your skill level or software choice, here are a few Dos and Don’ts that I want you all to keep in mind:

1. DO consider the desired feel, tone, intention, truth and/or message of the photograph. To some extent we can bring our own desire to a piece, and say, “I want to communicate Y, or I want to communicate X”, but sometimes we go into a shoot with a certain idea and the photograph that we end up with captures something else. It is important to be sensitive to what the photograph is actually saying, and not just what we want it to say. Be open to a revelation, or a shift in objective. Or move on, and find a shot that better fits the story you want to tell. Because you are matching your final portraits with interview excerpts, you are not driving blind here. The truth that you managed to capture in the interview should help illuminate the portrait and vice versa. Once you know what that essential truth is, hold it in your mind as you set about the editing process, and use it as your yardstick. Ask yourself, “Does changing the image in this way, help facilitate the truth, or detract and distract from it?”

2. DON’T edit your image in a way that makes it look obviously edited. It should still look like a photograph. One of the reasons I love Humans of New York, is because the subjects are the things you notice about the photos, not the “great photography” or “great photoshopping”. In fact, many of the photos have a very candid, every-day, almost snap-shot quality to them. And that’s not because they’re technically unsound. You’ll notice that Brandon Stanton DOES employ traditional techniques, like the rule of thirds, and short focal length, and color correction for natural skin tone, but not to the extent that it warps or compromises the integrity of the whole.

3. DO review the photography basics we went over a few weeks ago, and use those same principles to guide your editing: CROP your photo to improve the composition. ADJUST LIGHTING AND COLOR to bring balance and attention to the subject. In extreme situations – and if you’re proficient with your editor – REMOVE unwanted content. Such as an angry red blemish, or a telephone pole sticking out of someone’s head. Often times there are more subtle things you will want to find a way to downplay, such as a bright glare coming off of a nose or forehead, or a blurred line that needs SHARPENED. Here is a short and sweet Photoshop tutorial that explains how to do these basics. Like I mention above, each editing program is a little different, so I expect you to search out the tutorials that work for you.

4. DON’T get too stressed out or discouraged during this process. Editing software can be technical, and require a bit of time to figure out and make do what you want to do. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by your program, I suggest you switch to something more basic and user friendly. I’m honestly not looking for a huge make over. Just subtle adjustments when appropriate and effective. Pull attention to your subject and their story. That’s the main thing.


With those photo editing tips in mind, I want you to do two things this week:

  1. Review each others’ portrait posts from last week, and give feedback to at least THREE other students. Consider the interview excerpt included in each post, and think about what that means for the photograph. What do YOU think is working and not working? Which of three photographs/captions do you consider the best of each subject? What suggestions do you have for editing? Are there any subtle changes that might improve the image, and help facilitate its essential truth? Are there any changes that might improve the interiew excerpt? Perhaps there needs to be more or less of the quote? Or maybe is it not holding its own and you think it should be scrapped for something a bit stronger or more fitting? Be sure to mention what you like about it, and how it touches or transports you. It is important that you voice how the work is landing so that the creator can glimpse the impact of their work. It’s a wonderful thing to make meaningful work, and wonderful thing to have it recieved.
  2. Select a photo editor, and brush up on how to use it. Seek out tutorials that fit your skill and interest level. And then begin experimenting with your photographs! Your final submissions are due Friday of next week. I will be posting submission instructions this weekend.

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