I am not a visual person. I got started in photography in 1966, after a couple of rough years (health-wise and spiritually). I was living at my parents’ apartment which was two blocks from the ocean in Long Beach, California. I carried my Dad’s circa-1938 Zeiss Ikon bellows folding camera on long walks, strolling for hours, praying and alert for things to photograph that would give me joy and lift my heart.
On the advice of Brother Bhaktananda, a senior disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, I took up running for fitness and health. Three years later, by the labyrinthine workings of fate, I found myself working at the fledgling Runner’s World magazine in Mountain View, on the San Francisco Peninsula, where I edited a magazine for bicyclists and filled in as staff photographer for the company’s five sports magazines.
Four years later, when I moved to Ananda Village, I found that the community’s photographer had left three weeks earlier, and I inherited the role because I owned a camera and had basic skills.
I was very conscious that this tiny intentional village of Yogananda disciples would have an important role to play in the history of religion. If you’re interested in my reasons for indulging in what must surely seem a rather grandiose train of thought, you can find a pretty good summation in Swami Kriyananda’s wonderful book The New Path — My Life With Paramhansa Yogananda. (You can see three galleries of early Ananda Village photos here.)
I’m still taking pictures of Ananda, though I’m back in Mountain View now, this time as a resident of the Ananda Community here. And I’m still not a visual guy — Photoshop still gives me goose bumps — but I’m loving photography more than ever.
To compensate for my lack of artistic skill — I can’t draw to save my life — I resort to spiritual trickery. First and foremost, I try to remember to pray before I go out and take pictures. Fifty-three years behind the camera have taught me that God really is in charge. I’ve subjected this theory to comprehensive scientific testing, and I’ve been able to prove to my satisfaction that it is true — my photos are always better when I pray beforehand.
A lesser trick that I have adopted is to own really good equipment. I own a modest, older, low-end Canon full-frame camera, the EOS 6D. It is humble, but it is wonderful. I won’t maunder over the technical details, but it is a joy for taking people pics.
A world-class lens is more than worth its price — it will really help you reach your photographic goals. Camera bodies may come and go, but great lenses are forever.
Finally, I use sneaky software that lets me avoid having to dive too deeply into Photoshop and Lightroom. For example, I use Canon’s own Digital Photo Professional raw conversion program because I find it gives me wonderful results straight out of the box. I will further tweak all of the photos, but DPP gives me an excellent starting point.
I also use EyeQ Perfectly Clear. No deep discussion here — I’ll just say that I find it indispensable for shortening my post-production workflow.
Finally, when I’ve tried everything and a photo just somehow isn’t looking all that great, I will resort to Skylum Luminar which has an uncanny way of rescuing photos that defy my poor post-processing skills.
I may go into more detail at a future date, but my workflow generally follows this pattern:
- Look at photos in FastStone Image Viewer and delete the goofs
- Run the raw photos through Canon Desktop Photo Pro and tweak exposure, white balance, color, etc.
- Save the raw photos and tweak them in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop
- As needed, still in Photoshop, apply the EyeQ Perfectly Clear filter and/or the Skylum Luminar filter
- Export the photos as jpegs and post them to my photo website on SmugMug
I generally only use Lightroom for photos that seem they would benefit from a batch export using the EyeQ Perfectly Clear filter. I’ll export them using the Intelligent AI filter, or a user-defined filter that applies no changes except “Depth” and “Skin and Depth Bias.”
I subscribe to several superb YouTube Photoshop channels:
Above and beyond being wonderful teachers, these guys always seem to have the answers I need when I get stuck in Photoshop. Simply put, they help me make my photos look better.
Occasionally, I’ll pick up a trick from Jesus, Unmesh or Aaron that empowers me to fake it as an artist.
For example, Jesus recently posted a video about a really interesting way to turn photos into line drawings with a little help from the Photoshop Oil Paint filter (Filter > Stylize > Oil Paint). It uses Photoshop features that are way over my head, but thanks to the clear step-by-step tutorial presented by Tony Harmer, Jesus’s guest expert for the day, I was able to reproduce the effect with satisfying results. Note: the Oil Paint filter requires a graphics card that supports OpenCL 1.1 or higher; otherwise it will be grayed-out in Photoshop. (See hardware requirements here.)
Examples. I realize these aren’t anything to write home about — they’re just practice files. An unexpected benefit of the technique is that once you’ve followed the steps for one photo, you can easily and quickly copy the effect to other photos (the tutorial tells you how) — and you can adjust the parameters of each filter as may be appropriate for each photo.
Here’s an original file (jpeg after applying my usual workflow). It was taken with the Canon 6D body and the 135mm F/2 lens.:
And here’s the converted version. I knocked out the background and extended the canvas to give designers some white space for text.
Another example (taken with my old Fuji X-T20 and 55-200 lens, both since sold):
Cropped and converted, with background removed: