Dear friend,

This will be your personal guide on how you can master photography– for yourself, regardless of your skill level. Regardless if you’re a total beginner/newbie, or a more intermediate/advanced photographer– this course will give you the skills and tools to take your photography to the next level, and become your own master photographer.


I. Why make photos?

As with every journey or quest– you must ask yourself why photography appeals to you.

1. Why do you want to make photos?

Cindy with hand on chin, and lamp. Berlin, 2017 #cindyproject
Cindy with hand on chin, and lamp. Berlin, 2017 #cindyproject

Why do you want to make photos? For whom do you shoot? What are your personal goals in photography?

Are you a passionate amateur who just wants to make better pictures to share with friends and family? Or are you an intermediate/advanced photographer who is looking to advance their skills to perhaps monetize, become a photography entrepreneur, and make either a part-side side hustle from photography, or make a full-time living?

For me, I make pictures in life to make more meaning out of my life. For me, photography is the elixir of life. Photography keeps me nimble, curious, and more adventurous in my real life.

Why do you make photos?

Do you make photos to document your personal life experiences? Do you make photos as an artistic outlet?

Do you make photos as ‘proof’ that you traveled somewhere? Do you make photos to impress others, or yourself?

Start off by asking yourself these questions.

2. Start off with what is personal to you

Cindy hand touching mirror in wedding dress, 2016
Cindy hand touching mirror in wedding dress, 2016

For me, the ultimate project I want to be remembered for is the ‘Cindy Project‘ — because I have discovered that photography is ultimately personal. You must photograph what is personal to you — your personal loved ones, your personal perspective of the world, and what you find beautiful and meaningful in the world.

So write down a list of what is personal to you.

Who are your loved ones that you want to document? Don’t forget– you are the most personal person to yourself, so ‘honor thy selfie‘ (and do self-portraits of yourself as well).

Photograph your own home. Photograph your own neighborhood. Photograph your own city. Don’t become ‘suckered by the exotic’ (as my teacher Constantine Manos taught me) and think that you can only make interesting pictures by traveling to faraway and exotic places.

The best pictures you can make are close to home. Your loved ones (friends, family, kids, partner), your own local community, or your everyday activities.

So rather than thinking to yourself:

How can I make better pictures?

Think to yourself:

How can I live a more personally meaningful life, and how can I photograph what I already find meaningful and purposeful in my life?

For example, let’s say you’re really active in your local religious circle or group. Be the photographer, and document that.

Kyoto street photograph of woman at temple, 2017
Kyoto street photograph of woman at temple, 2017

Or let’s say you really like people-watching and analyzing strangers — become a street photographer.

Silhouette suit man. Street photograph in Tokyo, 2011
Silhouette suit man. Street photograph in Tokyo, 2011

3. What is a photographer?

Selfie in the mirror with RICOH GR II. Saigon, 2017
Selfie in the mirror with RICOH GR II. Saigon, 2017

Another thing we must touch upon — what exactly is a ‘photographer’?

A photographer is an individual who makes photographs.

Therefore, anyone who takes pictures is a photographer. Your mom/dad with their iPhone is a photographer. You don’t need a fancy high-end digital camera to be a photographer. You don’t need to make a full-time living or have photography be your profession.

What is most important as a photographer: enthusiasm, courage, and curiosity to explore the visual world.

So start off by knowing in your heart and soul:

I am a photographer.

Never let anyone talk down on you. Even if you ‘only’ have an iPhone — yes, you are a photographer.


II. How to make better photographs

Man in silhouette. Street photograph at Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi, 2017 / ERIC KIM
Man in silhouette. Street photograph at Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi, 2017 / ERIC KIM

What is a photograph vs picture vs image? How can I learn to make more interesting, dynamic, and compelling photographs?”

1. Photograph vs picture vs image

Leading lines. Three Men
A picture of a photograph.

A photograph is made by a camera.

A picture can be made with a camera, a paintbrush, a crayon, pen, or any other illustrative tool (digital or analogue).

An image is a mental picture you get in your mind.

Above: Photograph / Below: Picture
Above: Photograph / Below: Picture

You must first of all know how to differentiate between all these things.

As a photographer, you don’t only make photographs — you do more than that. You also make pictures (all photographs are pictures), and you also make images (your photographs will create your viewer to create an image in their head).

Ultimately as a photographer, you are an image-maker.

2. What makes a compelling image?

Red: A bold color for photography
Red: A bold color for photography

A compelling image strikes you in the heart. A compelling image has a dynamic compositionleading lines, curves, bold colors (study color theory).

Furthermore, your photograph needs emotion. It needs soul. Your photos need to show your personal perspective of the world.

Ask yourself the question:

Why am I the only person in the world who can make this image?

For myself– good images are opinionated. Which means, your photos must show your opinion of the world.

Do you see the world as a beautiful, uplifting, and positive place? Or do you see the world in a more gloomy, and pessimistic way?

Effects to provoke in your photographs: Joy, Beauty, Calm, Vibrancy
Effects to provoke in your photographs: Joy, Beauty, Calm, Vibrancy

Personally, I think a great photographer is a life-affirmer. A life-affirmer is someone who says:

The world is beautiful, and my camera proves it.

Use your images to inspire, motivate, and uplift the hearts and souls of your viewer.

3. Composition

Deconstructed Tokyo silhouette picture.
Minimalist composition

How to make stronger compositions in your photography.

a. Negative space

Negative space. Marseille, 2015 #cindyproject
Negative space. Marseille, 2015 #cindyproject

Create negative space for your subject– give your subject in your photograph some negative space to ‘breathe.’

Cindy walking at beach. Fort Bragg, 2015 #cindyproject
Cindy walking at beach. Fort Bragg, 2015 #cindyproject

By making your subject intentionally small and giving them negative space to move, you allow your viewer to engage their eyes. Any picture that encourages your viewer to look more is a good thing.

Man walking on track. Sapa, Vietnam 2017
Man walking on track. Sapa, Vietnam 2017

b. Figure-to-ground

Silhouette of woman behind door. Hanoi, 2017
Silhouette of woman behind door. Hanoi, 2017

A basic compositional technique is ‘figure to ground‘ — to create separation between your subject and the background. You want a dark subject against a bright background, or a bright subject against a dark background.

Gaussian blur effect. The woman in the black silhouette pops out from the background.
Gaussian blur effect. The woman in the black silhouette pops out from the background.

For example, if we apply the ‘Gaussian Blur’ filter in Photoshop, you can still see the silhouette of the woman pop out of the frame.

Composition of the silhouette of the woman outlined in red.
Composition of the silhouette of the woman outlined in red.

If we make an abstract image, this is what we see in terms of the composition:

Abstract of the 'figure to ground' relationship of the picture.
Abstract of the ‘figure to ground’ relationship of the picture.

Pro-Tip: When you’re starting off in photography — to improve your composition, only shoot high-contrast black and white JPEG. This will allow you to visualize the world in terms of relationships between shadows and light. This will force you to simplify your scenes.

c. Diagonal lines

eric kim dark skies over tokyo street photography black and white monochrome
Silhouette of man against diagonal background. Tokyo, 2011 // ERIC KIM

In the modern world, we have many diagonal lines from architecture and buildings.

Abstract image, outlining the man (yellow), the background (blue) and the leading line (red)
Abstract image, outlining the man (yellow), the background (blue) and the leading line (red)

To make stronger compositions, integrate diagonals into your pictures.

Woman with umbrella. Seoul, 2011 // ERIC KIM
Woman with umbrella. Seoul, 2011 // ERIC KIM

Pro-tip: Find an interesting background or scene with lots of leading lines and diagonals, and then wait for your subject to enter your frame (the fishing technique).

Woman in yellow, background in blue.
Woman in yellow, background in blue.
Woman in yellow, background in blue, and leading lines outlined in red.
Woman in yellow, background in blue, and leading lines outlined in red.

4. Color theory

Color wheel theory: Dynamic tension between opposing colors.
Color wheel theory: Dynamic tension between opposing colors. Image from CREATIVE EVERY DAY

To make stronger photographs, integrate color-theory into your photos.

Opponent based color theory. Opposing colors become more intense when placed next to one another.
Opponent based color theory. Opposing colors become more intense when placed next to one another.

The best way to study color is to study abstract painters, like Piet Mondrian.

PIET MONDRIAN x ERIC KIM
Piet Mondrian x Eric Kim
PIET MONDRIAN x ERIC KIM
Eric Kim photography Bauhaus Piet Mondrian
Walking lady Bauhaus by ANNETTE KIM
PIET MONDRIAN x ERIC KIM
PIET MONDRIAN x ERIC KIM
PIET MONDRIAN x ERIC KIM
PIET MONDRIAN x ERIC KIM
A red “cloud” against a mostly “cool” colored background. Piet Mondrian.
Piet Mondrian red lighthouse by ERIC KIM

The benefit of studying color painting– painters have more control over their pictures (when compared to us photographers).

As a practical tip, when you’re shooting photos in color — LOOK FOR VIBRANT COLORS.

Blue. Man at beach. Marseille, 2014
Forks with red napkin, on red table. Berlin, 2017
Forks with red napkin, on red table. Berlin, 2017
Green wall with white stripe. Berlin, 2017
Green wall with white stripe. Berlin, 2017
GOODYEAR logo in blue against Yellow Background. Berlin, 2017
GOODYEAR logo in blue against Yellow Background. Berlin, 2017
Purple colors with silhouette of Cindy. Berlin, 2017
Purple colors with silhouette of Cindy. Berlin, 2017

The mistake we make as photographers is that we go out and take a bunch of pictures, and don’t even think about color.

The more you think about color while you’re out shooting pictures, you will build your ‘visual acuity’ and start to SEE colors more vividly.

Cindy with hat against pink background.
Cindy with hat against pink background.

Also as a tip — use Photoshop, or the iPad + ProCreate app to analyze your pictures after you shoot them, to see the colors better:

Cindy in pink, abstracted. Made with iPad and Procreate app.
Cindy in pink, abstracted. Made with iPad and Procreate app.

Some examples of color photographs of mine that I abstracted, to better understand the colors I was shooting:

Cindy in blue Yukata. Uji, Kyoto 2017
Cindy in blue Yukata. Uji, Kyoto 2017. Low Perspective.
Sketch of Cindy in Yukata.
Sketch of Cindy in Yukata.

Cindy in blue jumper

CUBIST CINDY BY ERIC KIM

High Perspective picture. Tokyo, 2017
High Perspective picture. Tokyo, 2017

Urban landscape. Bangkok, 2017
Urban landscape. Bangkok, 2017

Abstract color picture. Bangkok Eric Kim.

Tokyo suit heart background
Low angle suit. Kyoto, 2017

Tokyo suit abstract Eric Kim

Umbrella and diagonal lines. Tokyo.

Eric kim umbrella abstract.

5. How do I know what my best pictures are?

LAUGHING LADY by Eric Kim Contact Sheets from MASTERS
LAUGHING LADY by Eric Kim Contact Sheets from book: LEARN FROM THE MASTERS OF PHOTOGRAPHY

The art of choosing your best pictures (image-selection) is the most difficult thing in photography.

Laughing lady eric kim. NYC, 2015
Laughing lady. NYC, 2015

Practical suggestions to know how to choose your best picture:

  1. Wait at least a week before choosing your pictures: This will help you forget the memory of shooting the picture– therefore it will allow you to be more ‘objective’ when judging your pictures.
  2. Look at your photos as small thumbnails: By judging your pictures as small thumbnails, you can better determine whether your pictures ‘pop out’ at you– and you can also judge your compositions better as small thumbnails. Therefore, don’t look at all your pictures full-resolution or full-screen. By judging your pictures as small thumbnails, you will save time, and better see what your best pictures are. As a tip, If your pictures work as small thumbnails, they are good pictures.
  3. Follow your gut: Do your pictures punch you in the gut, or do they give you a luke-warm “meh” response? Only choose your pictures that really excite you, and pictures you are really enthusiastic about.

Here are some of my ‘contact sheets‘, for you to better understand how I choose my favorite pictures.

You can also see the benefit of shooting many pictures– the more pictures you shoot, the more likely you are to get a good one.

As a practical tip:

When in doubt, shoot 25% more pictures than you think you should.

By pushing yourself to shoot more, you are more likely to evoke an interesting reaction in your subject, or help your subject relax. Also, in photography, we often give up too easily. Push yourself past your comfort zone, to make truly great pictures:

Contact sheet. Tokyo eye, 2016.
Contact sheet. Tokyo eye, 2016.

Contact sheet. Girl laughing with blue sunglasss. Kyoto, 2017.

Contact sheet. Cindy mask. Nyc, 2015
Contact sheet. Cindy mask. Nyc, 2015

Contact sheet of Cindy in mirror in our hotel room. Saigon, 2017.
Contact sheet of Cindy in mirror in our hotel room. Saigon, 2017.
Contact sheet Istanbul
Contact sheet. Istanbul, 2015.
Contact sheet Downtown LA. Fingers.
Contact sheet.

Girl pinnochio nose-contact copy
Contact sheet: Pinocchio nose / Downtown La, 2015

eric kim contact sheet new orleans street photography portrait orange

marseille-contact-sheet copy
Marseille contact sheet.
downtown la eye contact sheet
I kept clicking until he looked at me.

tucson-contact-jpeg red lady hair
People think this picture is a candid photo. It is not.

Conclusion: ‘Good’ pictures is a matter of taste

Whatever pictures you deem as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ will be a matter of your personal taste.

There is no objectively ‘good’ or ‘bad’ pictures out there. What matters is whether you think the picture is good or not.

Up. Melbourne, 2016
Up. Melbourne, 2016

If the picture hits you in the gut, and reverberates in your heart, and embeds itself into your mind’s eye– it is a good photograph.


III. Exposure and Technical Settings

eric kim street photography hanoi-0005586
Shot in a doorway with natural light, -1 exposure compensation in P mode

What is the best camera to shoot with? What are the best settings to use? When should I use a flash vs natural light? How to adjust exposure?

Set it and forget it

DARK SKIES OVER TOKYO, 2016. Shot on RICOH GR II and Program mode.
DARK SKIES OVER TOKYO, 2016. Shot on RICOH GR II and Program mode.

Personally, I’ve mastered shooting fully manual, and to be frank, it is overrated.

Most of my shooting now is just in P (program) mode, where your camera automatically chooses your aperture and shutter speed. All you do is manually select the ISO.

Why program mode?

Portrait of Cindy on Ricoh GR II, Program Mode,-1 exposure compensation.
Portrait of Cindy on Ricoh GR II, Program Mode,-1 exposure compensation.

It allows you to think less about the technical settings of photography, and more focus on making compositionally dynamic pictures, with good exposure, emotion, and soul.

Exposure

Photograph of Cindy’s face In the bright sun, shot with -1 exposure compensation, to accentuate the circle around her face.
Photograph of Cindy’s face In the bright sun, shot with -1 exposure compensation, to accentuate the circle around her face.

Exposure is how bright or dark your photos are.

My suggestion is to use “exposure compensation” on your camera and use the LCD screen to judge your exposure. Just make the exposure to look however you want the pictures to look like. Avoid nerdy stuff like “histograms” or other technical ways to judge exposure in your pictures.

Plus + Exposure compensation

Overexposed background shot with a flash on RICOH GR II in P (program) mode. Creates a strong figure to ground because Cindy’s face is well lit, the background is very bright. This picture is strong, because it creates a DYNAMIC CONTRAST between Cindy’s face and the backdrop.
Overexposed background shot with a flash on RICOH GR II in P (program) mode. Creates a strong figure to ground because Cindy’s face is well lit, the background is very bright. This picture is strong, because it creates a DYNAMIC CONTRAST between Cindy’s face and the backdrop.

Try to experiment taking pictures at +1 to +3 exposure compensation, and analyze how that affects your pictures. I generally recommend using plus exposure compensation when photographing bright lights behind your subject, or when photographing your subject in the shade.

Minus – exposure compensation

Street portrait with -1 2/3 exposure compensation. To make his face more dramatic and pop from the background. By using minus exposure compensation, the background turns totally black.
Street portrait with -1 2/3 exposure compensation. To make his face more dramatic and pop from the background. By using minus exposure compensation, the background turns totally black.

Try to experiment photographing your subjects in bright sunlight, but by using -1 to -3 exposure compensation.

This will cause the dark parts of the frame, or the shadows to turn black. This will create a more dramatic contrast on the face of your subject, without “blowing them out” (not ruining the skin tones of your subject).

contact sheet side tattoo eric kim
Note how I worked the scene, to get the man to have the dramatic light on his face.

Also experiment using minus exposure compensation when shooting sunsets, for more dramatic colors:

Amsterdam sunset, 2017
Amsterdam sunset, 2017
Pink sunset. Bangkok, 2017.
Pink sunset in Bangkok, 2017
Sunset. Fort Lee, New Jersey 2017
Sunset. Fort Lee, New Jersey 2017

Exposure settings

I recommend you to use “evaluative” metering mode.


Exposure triangle: Aperture, shutter speed, ISO

Exposure triangle: a relationship between Aperture, ISO, shutter speed

Exposure is dictated by a balance between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

Aperture

Imagine aperture as an eye: the more you open your aperture or eye, the more light comes in. The more you close your eye or aperture, the less light enters the camera.
Imagine aperture as an eye: the more you open your aperture or eye, the more light comes in. The more you close your eye or aperture, the less light enters the camera.

The confusing thing about aperture is that two terms are used to refer to aperture:

  • Aperture
  • F-stop

They are the same thing.

  • Aperture: how much light enters the lens. By “opening up” the aperture, you let in more light. By “stopping down” the aperture, you let in less light.
  • F-stop: refers to how open or closed the aperture is. For example, the smaller the f-stop number (like f1.8) means a larger aperture (more light entering). However, the larger the f-stop number (like f16), the smaller the aperture (less light entering the lens).

If you want your pictures to be brighter (assuming you’re shooting fully manual) you must decrease your f-stop number (go from f16->f1.8). You can also “increase/open up” your aperture. It makes sense — if you’re stumbling around in the dark at night, you must open up your eyes larger, to let more light enter your pupils.

If you want your pictures to be darker, you must increase your f-stop number (f1.8->f16) or decrease/stop down your aperture. Imagine if you’re staring straight into the sun and don’t want the light to blind you, you must close and squint your eyes.

Shutter speed

Shot with a slower shutter speed. Blurry Cindy. Saigon, 2017. Often slower shutter speeds make for more emotional and abstract images.
Shot with a slower shutter speed. Blurry Cindy. Saigon, 2017. Often slower shutter speeds make for more emotional and abstract images.

Imagine shutter speed as blinking your eye.

  • If you blink your eye very fast, you will let in very little light.
  • If you blink your eyes slowly, you will let more light hit your pupils.

For exposure:

  • If you want a brighter photo, use a slower shutter speed (1/30th of a second)
  • If you want a darker photo, use a faster shutter speed (1/1000th of a second)
Shot with a slower shutter speed. You can feel the movement in this picture with the motion blur. Cindy, 2016
Shot with a slower shutter speed. You can feel the movement in this picture with the motion blur. Cindy, 2016

For sharpness or blueness:

  • If you want a sharper photo, use a faster shutter speed.
  • If you want a blurrier photo, use a slower shutter speed.

ISO

Cindy shot with Kodak Trix film pushed to 1600. More ISO leads to more grain, which I think looks more soulful.
Cindy shot with Kodak Trix film pushed to 1600. More ISO leads to more grain, which I think looks more soulful.

The ISO is the sensitivity of the sensor. The higher the ISO, the faster the shutter speed, and the brighter the photo. The lower the ISO, the slower the shutter speed, and thus the darker the photo.

The way to imagine ISO: imagine the sensitivity of your eyes to ambient light. If you’re stuck in a pitch black/dark room for 10 hours and suddenly see a smartphone screen, you will be blinded (high ISO light sensitivity of your eyes). But if you’re outdoors all day in the bright light, a smartphone screen won’t blind you (your eyes have less sensitivity to the sun).

With digital, the higher the ISO, the more noise or grain the picture has. But personally, I think grit and grain is beautiful.

In practical terms: when you’re shooting pictures, if your photos are too blurry, increase the ISO of your camera.


Part 4. CREATIVE CONFIDENCE

Part 4: How to gain creative confidence in yourself as a photographer.

The difference between good and great photographers: having confidence in yourself.

1. Don’t care what others think of your photos

Cindy elevator, Dutch angle. Saigon, 2017
Abstract. Cindy elevator, Dutch angle. Saigon, 2017

The first thing to ask yourself to gain creative confidence:

Do I like my own photos?

2. Don’t take photography too seriously

Photograph of my leg, while lying in bed. Hotel Room. Saigon, 2017
Photograph of my leg, while lying in bed. Hotel Room. Saigon, 2017

The more I play around, and don’t take my photography seriously, the more fun I have, and the more creative I am.

3. Photography is experimentation

Danny Kid with teeth. Saigon, 2017
Danny with teeth. Saigon, 2017

You never know when you’re going to get a good shot, so always experiment with your camera and tools, and treat yourself like a mad scientist with a camera.

Try strange angles. Shoot from very low, tilt your camera, try the Dutch angle.

A lot of photographers put too much pressure on themselves to always make good photos. In reality, you must treat every time you click the shutter as a mini experiment.

You might have 1,000 failed photos and attempts. If you just get one good experiment and result, you’ve done your job as a good scientist.

Remember: your First Million photos are your worst.

4. Shoot yourself

Self portrait. Saigon, 2017
Self portrait. Saigon, 2017

The more I shoot myself, the more confidence I build to shoot others.

Shoot Yourself in the mirror, the bathroom, shoot your own shadow, and experiment with the exposure compensation.

Selfie in the mirror. Saigon, 2017
Selfie in the mirror. Saigon, 2017

Shoot pictures with -1 exposure compensation:

Selfie with RICOH GR II. Saigon, 2017
Minus 1 exposure compensation. Selfie with RICOH GR II. Saigon, 2017

Shoot pictures with +1 exposure compensation:

White ERIC KIM FACE. Selfie, Saigon 2017
+1 exposure compensation. White ERIC KIM FACE. Selfie, Saigon 2017

Always have your camera around your neck, or ready to shoot:

Saigon silhouette, hotel room selfie. 2017
My shadow. Saigon silhouette, hotel room selfie. 2017

Even as a fun thing, give your camera to someone else, or even a kid to shoot you.

Scary ERIC KIM. Shot by a 3 year old kid named Danny. Saigon, 2017
Scary ERIC KIM. Shot by a 3 year old kid named Danny. Saigon, 2017

Or just play fun jokes on yourself, like kisses in the mirror:

Selfie kiss. Saigon, 2017
Selfie kiss. Saigon, 2017

And remember, you will have to make a lot of photos, to get even one decent shot:

Contact sheet of Cindy in mirror in our hotel room. Saigon, 2017.
Contact sheet of Cindy in mirror in our hotel room. Saigon, 2017.
Misfit Cindy Nguyen Kiss red
My life partner, companion, and fellow misfit. Cindy in Saigon hotel mirror.

5. Can you dance?

Cindy. Saigon, 2017
Cindy dancing with flower in our hotel lobby. Saigon, 2017

I think the most confident artists are the ones who have the confidence to dance.

We are all born dancers. We like to wiggle to the rhythm of the music. Yet, as we get older, we lose this ability — because we fear what others think of us. We focus on “looking cool” than just having fun.

Cindy. Saigon, 2017
Cindy with arms spread. Saigon, 2017
Cindy eye shadows. Saigon, 2017
Cindy eye shadows. Saigon, 2017
Cindy bent elbow, dance. Saigon, 2017
Saigon, 2017 #cindyproject
Saigon, 2017 #cindyproject

Cindy blur. Saigon, 2017
Cindy blur. Saigon, 2017

Why dance? It is the ultimate way to just get lost in the flow of music, and making art with your body.

Treat photography as dancing with your camera. Get lost in the drunken Dionysian dance of making images, painting with light, and using your gut and intuition to lead your photo making process.

Conclusion

Curve composition and Cindy hand. Saigon, 2017
Curve composition and Cindy hand. Saigon, 2017

The more you shoot, the more confidence you will have.

Also practical tip: post less to social media, and post more to your own website or blog.

Make your own photography blog, and you will have more freedom and flexibility to experiment, while caring less of what others think of your work.

And if you’re really crazy (like me), don’t bother getting an Instagram. Or better yet, delete your Instagram— the ultimate form of creative confidence (owning your own platform).

BE BOLD,
ERIC


CHAPTER 5. HOW TO EDIT AND POST PROCESS YOUR PHOTOS

What is the best way to edit and process your photos?

Editing isn’t post processing

Laughing lady. NYC, 2015
Laughing lady. NYC, 2015
  • Editing: the art of choosing your best photos.
  • Post Processing: applying a filter, adjusting contrast and converting to black and white, cropping, anything that is done “post processing”.

The problem, most photographers say “editing” and actually mean “post processing”.

The art of editing

LAUGHING LADY by Eric Kim Contact Sheets from MASTERS
LAUGHING LADY by Eric Kim Contact Sheet

Editing: CHOOSING and SELECTING your best photos. A photo editor for a magazine isn’t sitting behind Lightroom or Photoshop all day, processing pictures. No, they choose the layout, and choose the best photos to include.

Also an editor for writing decides what text to remove, or cut away, or edit out.

Therefore as a photographer, when you are “editing” your photos, you decide which photos to keep, and which photos to ditch.


How do I know which photos to keep?

1-hanoi lake eric kim street photography contact sheet
Hanoi lake contact sheet, 2016

For me, I choose photos which punch me in the gut. If I don’t have a gut reaction to my photos, and I don’t feel any emotion, I ditch it.

Man in silhouette. Street photograph at Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi, 2017 / ERIC KIM
Man in silhouette. Street photograph at Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi, 2017 / ERIC KIM

More specifically, I generally judge my photos on:

  1. Composition: Is the composition dynamic and clean? Do I see diagonals, triangles, curves, and is there good separation and figure to ground in the picture?
  2. Emotion: Do I feel anger, sadness, joy, or frustration when looking at the photo? A photo without emotion is dead.
  3. Soul: Your photos must reveal a part of your soul, show your inner mind, and what your perspective of the world is. Photography is all about your personal perspective on the world. In short words, “Do I see myself in my own photos?” And, “Why am I the only one who can shoot these photos?”

How to post process your photos

NYC, 2016

RAW vs JPEG

  • RAW: the raw file and image. Allows more flexibility for you to post process the photos afterwards. RAW files are much bigger than JPEG images.
  • JPEG: JPEG offers less flexibility than RAW, but “straight out of camera”, the pictures look better and require minimal processing.

Why shoot RAW?

If you want ultimate control over how to adjust the colors, contrast, or any other adjustments, use RAW.

The biggest problem with RAW: too many options.

To keep it simple, if you shoot RAW, just use filters or presets. Download my free ERIC KIM LIGHTROOM PRESETS.

I like using presets, because it is like shooting film. You get a consistent look over a long period of time, and it is less stress and hassle.

Why shoot JPEG?

Personally if I shoot color, I prefer the colors from JPEG. Why? In my experience, getting colors to look good in RAW and digital is very difficult. Camera companies spend millions of dollars on their JPEG in-camera processing algorithms and processes. Therefore, if you want good and vibrant colors straight out of camera, with less hassle, just shoot JPEG.


Editing and Processing tools for photography

Woman with eyes. NYC, 2016
Woman with eyes. NYC, 2016

Okay, there are so many options for editing and post processing. Practical ideas:

For Mobile,
– VSCO: best presets for mobile cameras (I like A6 for color)
– Adobe Lightroom CC: their new presets work very well
– Apple Photos: to select and organize your pictures

For desktop/laptop,
– Adobe Lightroom (either the new CC version, or the classic desktop version)


Mobile vs desktop?

So, how do you know whether to use mobile or desktop?

  • Mobile: for photos shot on your iPhone or Android phone, or if you shoot JPEG on your digital camera.
  • Desktop: for more heavy-duty post processing for RAW files. Or, if you have tons of photos to look through and edit.

Workflow

I generally recommend the steps:

  1. Look through all your photos, and “pick” or “flag” or “favorite” a picture when you like it.
  2. Do all your post processing or applying filters at the very end.
  3. Export your favorite photos as JPEG files and backup in Dropbox, your hard drive, Google Drive.

With workflow, KISS — keep it simple.

The mistake a lot of photographers make:

They post process while choosing their best photos.

This will slow down your workflow. Quickly select all your photos, and then at the very end — post process them.


What filters or presets should I use?

Cindy diagonal composition
Processed in RAW with ERIC KIM MONOCHROME 1600 preset. Ricoh GR II. NYC, 2016 #cindyproject

Aesthetics and post processing and filters — it is all a matter of your personal taste.

Treat post processing like salting your food. Not too much, because overly salty food tastes horrible. Just enough.

And we all have different tastes. Some of us like saltier food, some of us like salty foods, some of us love cumin and paprika, some of us prefer cinnamon and cilantro.

Do you prefer vanilla or chocolate ice cream?

NYC, 2014. Shoot with Kodak Porta 400 Color Film.
NYC, 2014. Shoot with Kodak Porta 400 Color Film.

Do you prefer color or black and white? Just shoot whatever you like.

Your friend might prefer chocolate, you might prefer vanilla. Or you might prefer pistachio ice cream.

Generally, I find black and white is good because if helps us simplify our photos. If you’re a beginner, I recommend black and white, to better understand exposure, composition, and framing. Also to keep it simple, when you’re starting off, just shoot high contrast black and white JPEG.

Color wheel theory: Dynamic tension between opposing colors.
Color wheel theory: Dynamic tension between opposing colors. Image from CREATIVE EVERY DAY

Color photography is more difficult, because with colors, there are more variables. More color is more complexity. But with color, I prefer the vibrancy, the upbeat mood, and the challenge of color photography.

Opponent based color theory. Opposing colors become more intense when placed next to one another.
Opponent based color theory. Opposing colors become more intense when placed next to one another.

Conclusion: Editing is more important than post processing

My grandma, laughing. Seoul, 2017.
My grandma, laughing. Seoul, 2017.

The art of choosing your best photos is far more difficult than post processing your photos and using filters.

0-halmunee contact sheet-1
My laughing grandma. Contact sheet.

My suggestion:

Spend 99% of your time and focus editing (choosing your best photos), and only 1% of your time post processing your photos (applying presets, filters, adjusting contrast).

And ultimately, the most important part of your photos — it isn’t whether your photo is “pretty” or whether you will get a lot of likes on Facebook or Instagram.

Cindy laughing at red shrine. Kyoto, 2017.
Kyoto, 2017. Laughing Cindy. #cindyproject

The ultimate judge of whether your photo is good or not:

Do I like my own photo?

ERIC