The secrets of taking good pictures: Hand crafting

The experience of making a good print has a satisfying and somewhat magical quality. Each finished photograph is an unique record of time and energy well spent.

November 24, 2013 11:39
3 minute read.
Hand crafting

Hand crafting. (photo credit: Grace Paduga)

Not too long ago we used film to capture our images. Enthusiasts didn’t have the convenience of an instant digital preview that today is taken for granted. The first time we saw thumbnails was only after developing our negative film (black-and-white or color) and printing a contact sheet.

Making a photographic print in the darkroom, using an enlarger and trays of chemical solutions, took time, expense and a fair amount of skill. Using a variety of techniques we could brighten or darken parts of the image. Color filters were used to modify the contrast over all of the picture, or just locally in certain areas.

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The experience of making a good print had a satisfying and somewhat magical quality. Each finished photograph was a hand-crafter and unique record of time and energy well spent.

Why settle for less?

Today’s digital cameras and computers are very sophisticated machines that automate the capture and display of our pictures. A digital image, however, is only a collection of pixels waiting for someone to take the time, energy and skill to turn it into a photograph. I’m astounded at how many hobbyists accept images as they came out of the camera as being good enough to show to the world.

Those who have not experienced handcrafting an image often don’t appreciate that convenience is not a substitute for creativity. Any image good enough to show to more than just friends and family deserves some individual attention and creative effort. Fortunately the same technology that now churns out billions of dull snaps allows us to do in minutes what would have taken hours in the days of film.

An example

The very least that can be done to improve a picture is to use a simple photo editor to adjust its brightness and contrast. You may also need to alter the color temperature and possibly rotate or crop the picture.

Here is an excellent shot taken by Grace Paduga, one of my photography students. Although the subject is interesting the picture isn’t - straight from the camera it looks dull and needs some life breathed into it.

Straight from the camera (Grace Paduga)

Using Picasa, a free photo editor that’s easy to download, I have increased the highlights, lowered the shadows, and adjusted the color temperature slightly. This took about 20 seconds and is the absolute minimum that any decent picture deserves.

Using Picassa (Grace Paduga)

You are very limited to what you can do with Picasa and similar photo editors, because every basic adjustment affects the whole of the picture. For more control and creative editing you will to use one of the more advanced programs such as Lightroom or Photoshop.

I opened the original image in Photoshop and used several “curves adjustment layers” to modify the areas of brightness and contrast over the image. This is just the sort of creative work that I loved to do in the wet darkroom. It took me longer, 15 minutes, because there were infinitely more possibilities to enjoy.

Using Photoshop (Grace Paduga)

Although the technology has changed dramatically it still takes time, expense and a fair amount of skill to take and to craft a good photograph. Digital cameras and computers have made this easier than ever before but creative input is the one and only way that you can develop as a photographer.

Picture Clinic 

If you would like to develop your photography skills, you are welcome to send to me one of your pictures to publish with some constructive feedback.  Upload your picture here:

Tom Langford is an Event and Commercial photographer: &

Details of his next photography and digital darkroom courses in Israel:

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