post-processing

Post-processing with the 13" MacBook Pro by Ian Clark

The 2017 13" MacBook Pro

The 2017 13" MacBook Pro

This year my mission was to take my photography a bit further, to take what I have learnt so far and improve the quality of the photos I have taken. One of the things I was most conscious of was my ability to process images. And yes, as you might have noticed, I bought a shiny new thing to help me.

For a while now I’ve not really been happy with my post-processing options. I felt like I was taking reasonably good photos (although I’ve still got much to learn), but the post-processing element was letting me down. Up until now, my workflow has been as follows:

  1. Import photos into Photoshop Elements 11.
  2. Run some autofixes.
  3. Upload photos to Flickr.
  4. Download favourites onto my iPad.
  5. Process using VSCO.
  6. Re-add to Flickr.
  7. Post some of the processed photos to Instagram.

Much as I like VSCO (enough to pay for VSCO X), the problem with this process was that it led to compressed files. Processing on VSCO on the iPad would turn a 12mb file into a 2-3mb file. Sure, it would look great on social media (and even in The Guardian!), but if I wanted better resolution images to blow up (or, indeed, sell at some point in the future), this process wasn’t going to cut it. I needed something that would be easy to use and produce high quality images.

My issue for a while has been that although my desktop is pretty good, I had hesitations around using it for intensive processing. For a long time, I had been thinking what I actually needed was a more powerful machine dedicated to photo processing. So, I started looking at investing in something that could help take my photography faster.

Alongside power, a key need for me was portability. I often go to Spain with my Spanish partner to visit her family, and these trips are also often opportunities for me to get out and about in Andalucia (and beyond) taking photos. As a result, rather than chucking everything on a hard-drive and process a huge number of photos when I get home, it would be much better to do be able to process photos as I go along. It seemed to me that a compact laptop I can pack on the plane would be a perfect option. So I started investigating the options and ultimately plumped for the MacBook Pro 13” model with touch bar.

 

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Initially I had a reluctance to go for the Apple option. I have an iPad and an iPhone, but my desktop is a PC and generally I am quite happy with PCs for my day-to-day stuff. However, I knew that in terms of getting something powerful that can really help with my photography, an Apple laptop would be a serious contender. I also took a serious look at the Dell X13. It too is a powerful laptop and, hardly a surprise, significantly cheaper than the MacBook Pro. But after weighing up the two, I leaned slightly more towards the MacBook Pro – mainly after watching dozens upon dozens of YouTube review clips and reading numerous articles. Why? I guess the two factors that stood out were the screen quality and, brace yourselves, the touch bar.

Wait. The touch bar?

Er, yeah.

One of the things that I liked about processing on my iPad was the use of touch and sliders to edit my photos. I much preferred this to my other option of sitting down on Photoshop Elements and using a mouse to navigate around. Touch sliders (for me anyway) make life a whole lot easier. The realisation that the touch bar was already integrated into Photoshop was a big plus for me. Sure, the touch bar is only small and it’s not the same as using an iPad, but nonetheless it is better than not having the option at all.

When looking to go for the MacBook Pro I was also very conscious of the specs. We all know what Apple are like in terms of upgrading equipment, so it was important to buy the most powerful spec I could afford. So, alongside the touch bar option, I also went for the fastest processor available on the 13” (the i7 processor) and 16gb of RAM. In terms of storage space, I went with 256gb because I’m only intending on using the laptop for processing photos before moving to external storage. I didn’t see the point in upping the capacity on the laptop as ultimately, I would still need to eventually move stuff onto an external drive or another storage option. 256gb is plenty for the amount of processing I am likely to do, as well as giving me space for some other stuff I might want to use it for.

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All that said, it took me a long time to stump up for it. I wasn’t wholly convinced the MacBook would comfortably handle Photoshop. I was concerned that I would fork out a significant amount of money, only to find myself disappointed. As well as watching video reviews of the MacBook Pro and the X13 in general, I hunted high and low for hints at how the 13” would perform handling Photoshop. Some of the reviews I read were not promising. One article I read basically argued that the 13” was not suitable for photo processing. I put this down to the fact it was using the base model, rather than the one I was looking at. Nonetheless, I was very nervous about a substantial outlay without really knowing if it was the right option.

How is it working out so far? Well, pretty good. Around the same time as I bought the MacBook, I also started a subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud photography package (which includes Lightroom and Photoshop – I’ll blog on my experiences with these at a later date). I also made the switch from RAW+JPEG to RAW only – the big leap. Now I’ll be working on photos from scratch. I would have the image in its unprocessed state and work from there.

In terms of handling the processing of the images, the MacBook has had no problems whatsoever. Processing has been quick and painless, with no lag whatsoever, even when chucking dozens of RAW images at it at a time. It’s also been easy to get great looking images thanks to the clarity of the MacBook screen.

The flipsides? Well, although the Toolbar integrates with Photoshop, it doesn’t as yet integrate with Lightroom (I hope that’s to come – particularly as most of my editing will be in Lightroom).

The other main drawback? Battery. I guess this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Photoshop is pretty intensive on the processor, so I guess it follows that it would use up a lot of juice pretty quickly. So far it has not been unusual for around 50% of the battery to disappear after about an hour of photo processing. However, that was a pretty intensive session of processing many photos in one go and I suspect in future I will take fewer photos and be more prepared to delete images I’m not totally happy with from the camera (as well as resisting the urge to take a dozen photos of exactly the same scene – my main current vice).

It’s early days yet, but I’m pretty pleased with the investment and I already notice the difference in quality by processing from RAW rather than JPEG (especially the difference when compared with those processed on my iPad). I feel already this will make a massive difference to the quality of my photos and help me to take that step further on from last year when I got to grips with manual. I’ll keep you posted!

Reflecting on 2017 by Ian Clark

As we come to the end of 2017, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on my photography and how it’s developed (hah!) over the course of the year. I feel that this year I have really pushed on and I felt it would be worth my while just contemplating what I feel I have achieved and what I feel I still need to focus on.

I guess one of the key developments for me this year has been the move away from Auto and towards full manual. For a long time I have relied on the auto function, and relied on my composition to deliver good photos. I guess therein has been the problem, good composition in auto mode has delivered good photos, but not very good (or dare I say, “great”) photos.

Taking a free online course (via Shaw Academy) at the start of the year made a big difference. I got to start thinking about apertures and shutter speeds and how playing around with these can help with the composition of the photos. Since doing the course I’ve felt more confident in using my camera and particularly experimenting with new techniques.

Some of the things that I’ve been trying out over the course of the year since completing the course:

  • Polarising filters: Using a polarising filter to deepen the colours in the sky and to diminish reflections in windows and in water.
  • Long exposures: Using a tripod to take some long exposure photos at night.
  • Sunrise and sunsets: Playing around with the white balance settings to enhance sunset/sunrise shots.
  • Neutral density filters: Learning how to use ND filters to take photos a step further, slowing down the shutter speeds, particularly during the day. First using a 6 stop filter to familiarise myself with how to use them, before going for a 10 stop to really slow down the shot.
  • Intentional Camera Movement: Either handheld or using the tripod to create more abstract, artistic images. I’ve particularly used trees as the subject matter in this area because they produce interesting shapes and patterns when you move the camera during the exposure. However, have also experiments with this technique on simpler scenes, for example seascapes.
  • Photo trips: I’ve tried to get into the habit of going out on my own with my camera so that I can focus on the scenery and the techniques I want to use without distraction. As a result, (and given I have a family to think about!) I’ve done a fair few early morning trips where I’ve got out of bed at 5:30am just so I can take some photos. I never thought I’d be doing that!
  • Taking it slow: I’ve tried to use each trip out to focus on particular elements of my photography. Rather than trying to do everything on each trip, I focus on a particular thing I want to improve and concentrate on that. I feel this has really helped my development enormously.

As well as developing my skills I’ve also had some quite positive results from sharing my photos online.

  • Photos selected on Instagram: I’ve now had two photos selected by the Kent Instagram account as their “photo of the day”. One of these photos went into the final six to be judged for that month’s entry in an upcoming Kent Instagram calendar. It didn’t win, but I was very pleased it made it that far.
  • Journal cover: I’ve had a request for one of my photos to be used on the cover of a journal. It’s not exactly one of my best images, being one of a poster outside the V&A, but nonetheless I was pleased to receive the request.
  • Website: I received a request from one major tourist attraction in Kent to use one of my photos on their website. It’s now going to be used in an article they are putting together for local tourism.
  • UN Women UKSome photos I took of the London Eye were used by the UK’s arm of UN Women to promote their #drawaline campaign against violence towards women. The photos were used on their Instagram, Twitter and Facebook Pages. I was particularly pleased to have my images associated with such an important campaign.

In terms of taking my photography forwards there are a few things I’d like to work on over the coming year:

  • Post-processing: At present I use VSCO a lot for photo editing. The drawback with that? It’s designed for editing photos to be shared on social media. As a result, there’s a fair amount of file compression. The images look great on social media (and as my desktop background), but I couldn’t have them printed in any large format. I have Photoshop Elements 11, but it’s a little outdated now and doesn’t offer the kind of things I would like to be doing. Consequently, when I am in a position to do so, I intend to upgrade my post-processing options and try to improve this side of my photography.
  • Hosting: Obviously at present I post a selection of my photos right here on WordPress (hi!), but I keep mulling over switching over to a hosted platform to share my images. WordPress dot com is great for getting started with a quick and easy website, but if I want something more flexible then I’ll need to look at paid options. I’m not quite sure yet what direction I will go in, but it’s definitely something I need to consider in 2018.
  • Establishing a “style”: I’m conscious of the fact I’m very much at a stage where I don’t have a style. I’ve focused very much over the course of this year on learning the ropes and getting a handle on all the things I outlined above. I think I take good pictures, but I also think I take pictures that any other good photographer would take. I’m not much of an artist, and generally I envy those with an artistic eye, but I think considering my approach and reflect on going beyond simply taking good pictures that are well composed might help me go to another level.

I feel like I have come a long way over the course of this year, but I still have much more to learn and to improve on. More than anything else though, the one thing that I’ve really noticed is in terms of my well being.

People I know have pointed out to me that since I started focusing (lol) on my photography I’ve seemed much calmer and happier. I certainly have felt more balanced than I had done before. I still care passionately about all the things I have always cared about, and I’m still prepared to stand up for those beliefs, but I feel like I have something else that can act as an outlet. For many years it was football that kept me on an even keel. As my commitments at home have grown, the time I have to go and play football every week has diminished. Although in terms of time photography make take up more time, I can pick and choose my times. And, on occasion, these are times when I can go out for a walk, alone, and have some time to myself. This has made such a difference, and I feel so much better for it. It’s easy to forget about your own well being when events around you take over your life, but sometimes you just need to step back and reflect on the damage being done to yourself, and to others. I certainly feel it has helped me to do so.

Let’s see where 2018 takes us…

Best wishes for the festive season, catch you in the new year.