At the blink of an eye, our lives are on pause.
For many freelance photographers, our work has ground to a halt with the effects of a worldwide pandemic. Instead of focusing on all of the negatives that are currently consuming our daily lives, I'm trying to shift my attention into maximizing this time. Even if I don't see it now, this is an opportunity for some professional and personal growth.
Work on Your Editing Style
Great photographers have a style we can quickly recognize. Whether you pursue mastering the artistic movement of black and white photography like Ansel Adams, or you’ve adventured around the world like those we know today on Instagram — we all shoot with the fundamental principle that photos are meant to endure the test of time. Every photographer is searching for his or her style, and how they separate themselves from the pack. So, my advice is to use this time to continue mastering your work.
When I have free time, I love jumping on platforms like Olympus Workspace and getting lost in the places I’ve traveled throughout the last few years. Not only does this provide a walk down memory lane, but it’s an opportunity to apply new skills to old photos. I've been taking time to try re-editing some of my photos from previous trips.
Japan was the first country I captured with my Olympus camera — an E-M1 Mark II — and I was amazed by the vibrant colors I was able to capture. When you’re able to introduce foliage unique to an environment, like Cherry Blossoms in Japan — take advantage. I like to shoot a bit underexposed so your RAW file retains every layer of the landscape.
While re-editing this on Workspace, I really wanted to focus on adding to that vibrancy and making sure each layer — foliage, castle and the sky — all remained balanced. So, I focused mostly on manipulating my Tone Curve and using Dehaze.
Pro Tip: Mess with the tone curve and don’t be afraid to start over. Results vary greatly when first playing with it.
Shooting during "primetime," or sunset and sunrise, is an absolute priority of mine. You’re witnessing a moment that cannot be replicated no matter how many days pass or how many cloud formations roll through. I spent 3 hours editing and re-editing this, starting from scratch multiple times just to get it right.
Instead of talking about every editing step, I want to focus on Graduation and the Keystone Compensation found under the Lens profile. Graduation is a tool that affects brightness and contrast. I often use this when underexposing during sunset, as I feel it really compliments the high dynamic range that Olympus is able to capture. When using a 7-14mm PRO to capture a wide landscape, mountains can appear smaller which is where the Keystone Compensation comes into motion. Think of this as a way to enhance perspective, by shifting the horizontal and vertical aspect ratios. So, by negatively shifting the horizontal ratio, the mountains find their scale. Keystone Compensation is a tool that took my years to finally play with, but it changed my life when I did.
Sometimes you work so hard to capture a specific image, like an intense hike on Oahu. For those times, I think it’s better to keep post-editing to a minimum.
For this shot, I added some contrast, creating more separation between the darkest and brightest parts of the foreground. Then, I used Dehaze to manipulate the atmospheric haze, bringing the clouds and mountain range more into view. Lastly, I made slight changes to the White Balance to bring the true greens and yellows back.
When editing more detailed or macro shots on Workspace, I want the subject to jump out at the audience. So, I start with the texture of the leaves and creating separation in the details while leveraging the blacks: Contrast, Clarity, Dehaze. This essentially creates shadows and “dead space” which really allow the leaves to pop. Lastly, I adjusted my colors using Saturation, Luminance and Hue.
I love my yellows and greens. As I have developed my style, I have always gravitated towards these colors and I find them complimentary to the places I spend most my time. So I’ll start with Hue, adjusting to the green or yellow I prefer; then slightly mess with Saturation to bring it back, and occasionally mess with Luminance if the colors appear too bright. Some people keep things natural in color, which is 100% okay!
The Faroe Islands offer some of the most dramatic landscapes. Similar to my Oahu photos, I kept my post-editing to a minimum, focusing on Contrast, Dehaze, and White Balance like above. What I felt made this image truly unique was being able to crop in.
Focusing on composition while in the field is one of the most important factors, which is why having an Olympus camera that’s able to capture 20.4 megapixels is so beneficial. This allows any photographer to shoot wide, and effectively crop and pull subjects closer. Cropping here emphasized the size of the cliffs and pulled our tiny subject for scale back into relevancy.
The more you play with your editing platforms features, the further your editing style and skills develop. Use this time to find growth!
Plan for the Future
As a travel photographer, I want to be prepared to hit the ground running once it is safe and permissible to pursue opportunities again.
For travel based job opportunities, there are more things to think about besides the flights, hotels, and rentals. But what about the waterfalls, valleys, and special locations to visit? The restaurants and local businesses that will need tourism once things pick up? While we have down time, here are 5 tips to both indulge your wanderlust and keep you thinking about future opportunities:
- Go on Google Maps and pick a place, whether it's a country or a more specific location.
- Screenshot and save, either by printing or creating a Google Doc or Word Doc.
- Research. Read blogs, visit Pinterest – whatever resource the internet offers. Locate the things you want to see.
- Go back to your map. Start a list – I like to write numbers 1-100 – of the things you would do and photograph if you get the change to travel there. Add relevant information like potential hike details, where to park, helpful tips from previous visitors offfer, and if there are locations that are better for sunrise or sunset.
This is how I prepare for every trip, especially when there are beautiful places to photograph. I would never know how to do some of the secret hikes I’ve found on my travels without a lot of preparation beforehand.
After years of traveling the world, chasing down light to fill my camera sensor, I started to realize the importance of balance. Creativity demands a lot from us. For me, this covers everything from planning a trip, taking the trip, managing project after project on location, traveling in general and then all the photo and video editing that follows. Life adds up fast, and I honestly believe this applies to everyone in their respective careers. To maintain a high level of focus and work flow – even while we DO spend some time learning new skills and planning for the future – it is absolutely essential to rest, reset, and recharge.
So take this time to recharge your creative batteries. Focus on the people and things you love. Read. Write. Reflect. Mediate. Exercise, as this is the time to stay active and healthy. Whatever it is, this is our chance to slow down and soak in the quietness that exists behind all the fear. Love the busy times and respect the down time.
And lastly, remember to respect the social distancing and unify with our community.
Chris Poplawsk is a Southern California native who loves experiencing new landscapes and engaging with wildlife in their natural element. While his life's work is mainly dedicated to travel and brand photography, he also spends my time building relationships with couples and people around the world to capture their love stories.
Exploring the Faroe Islands with E-M5 Mark III
Learn about capturing the Faroe Islands with an E-M5 Mark III.
Oahu: A Guide to Adventure Photography
Chris walks us through the photography trip of a lifetime to the Hawaiian island of Oahu, and shares his tips for photographing the island.
Quarantined With My Olympus
Travel photographer Sarah shares her quarantine experience while on assignment.