Friday, August 31, 2012

Storytelling With Instagrams: Editing And Filtering

Let's see far, in this series about telling stories through Instagram photos, I've shared my ideas about:

Next up, let's talk about editing and filtering a final image. As usual, let me work with an example.

Today, as I walked through the parking lot at Target, I noticed that my afternoon shadow has grown long, and I decided to grasp another opportunity to tell a story of seasonal change. Oh yes, I did stop in mid-step, quickly planning and then holding a little photo shoot right there in the middle of the busy parking lot.

I had very few options for styling the scene. I chose a section of pavement free of oil stains, paint lines and shadows of other things. I turned my back to the sun, so that my body would cast a full shadow. I did my best to rearrange my bag so that it did not look quite so much like a giant tumor on my hip, though I'm not sure how successful my efforts might have been. 

My composition options were also somewhat limited by the nature of my subject. I needed a high overhead angle to get my whole shadow in the shot, and while it might have been fun to try some really artsy, partial-body shots with weird poses or surprising angles, I was working right in the middle of the busy lane full of cars, carts and curious onlookers. Plus, the low afternoon sun streaming over my shoulder created a mighty glare on my screen so I didn't have the luxury of seeing my shots as I took them. Really, my only option was to let rip a few images and see what happened.

Under these certainly less-than-ideal conditions, I managed to get five shots that have at least some sign of potential:

This shot captures me from head to toe, which makes cropping this image down to a square quite a challenge. I would have to chop off my head or cut off my feet.  However, I think the shadow of my arms looks awkward, so I wouldn't necessarily mind doing away with the top part of this pic. 

In the second shot, I like how more of the real me is showing at the bottom of the frame. As I was styling this scene and composing with my camera, my intent was to capture only my shadow, but showing a bit of my real skin makes the image more interesting and real. Also, it reminds me of the bit in Peter Pan where Wendy must sew Peter's shadow back on to his feet. Hmm. That interests me.

My shirt is billowing out in this one, which puts me off. But I could crop my real self out to focus the Instagram on just my shadow image, and I kinda like how my shadow torso and legs are slightly to the right side of the frame. 

This fourth image also puts me off. My hand appears in the lower right corner of the shot- a car was coming up on me so the last few images were quite rushed and in trying not to drop my camera, I got a little sloppy. This accident is not necessarily a deal-breaker, since I could easily crop out the bottom bit of the photo. But my shadowed self is angled across the top part of the frame, and it looks to me like I'm tipping over. Not impressed.

The fifth frame shows the most of the real me, including both of my feet. I like the way the angle of my real body meets the angle of my shadow, and like the third image, my shadow self is positioned to the right of the frame. Sadly, my finger has made another appearance in the corner of this image but the effect is subtle enough that I can probably fix it with a filter.

* * * * *

My criteria for choosing the best photo is always the same: which image best tells the my story?

In this case, after the first pass-through, Image Number 5 is my front-runner. All of the photos show a long skinny shadow in the low sun of a late summer afternoon, but this version helps the viewer see that this is actually my shadow. By showing a little skin, I help the viewer establish a human connection in a scene that is otherwise monotone and almost abstracted. And by revealing my real body attached to the lower half of my shadow body, the viewer can more easily decipher the image. 

However, when it comes to selecting my final image, I always reserve all right to change my mind.

Drum roll, please. The moment of truth has arrived. Let's load this baby up on Instagram and see how she edits.

{By the way, I always shoot through my regular camera and then load the photo into Instagram from my camera roll, rather than take the photo directly in Instagram or any other photo app. I read somewhere that the images are of better quality that way.}

Here is my strategy for cropping: 
  • Crop as little as possible, to maximize the pixels in the cropped image
  • Look for a few key reference points that will help the viewer's eye make sense of the cropped image.
  • Don't sweat the details. 

At the top edge of the crop, I wanted to capture at least a tiny bit of the shadowy edge of my shorts on the left side of my legs, to balance out the bump of my bag on the right side of my legs. And at the bottom edge, I hoped to catch the light on the back of my real right leg, and a bit of my olive green shorts,  By expanding the square cropping window completely to the edges of my image - but not any farther, because I am not a fan of those tiny black lines on the sides of my pictures - I was able to get both top and bottom reference points into the Instagram.

Hallelujah! We have a winner.

Ready to play with some filters? 

Goodness, this where our options explode. Besides the options available on the Instagram app, there are  iPhone editing and filtering options galore, with new ones popping up every day. Or so it seems.

Right now, I have Snapseed, 100 Cameras in One, Frametastic, VSCO Cam, and Phonto. I use all of them to one degree or another, they are all great fun, and they all have their purposes. 

But honestly, in the grand scheme of things, I keep a very light touch when filtering my images, and here is why. It's very easy to get carried away, adding layer upon layer of filters, sprinkling on the bokehs, and creating collages of multiple miniaturized photos.

Since my focus is always on the story, the question for me is this: does this effect help me tell my story, or simply create a pretty picture?

You know me. I'm all about that story. So once I have cropped down to a nice square image, my editing technique looks like this:
  • Make any necessary structural repairs - straighten the horizon, run it through autocorrect, correct the brightness, fix the red eye.
  • Apply a filter that highlights the subject of the photo and helps the viewer understand the story.
For this pic, I wanted to keep the spontaneous and less-than-perfect vibe of the original scene. Let's not pretend that taking photos in the middle of a moving lane of traffic is a perfect science. At the same time, the big expanse of plain pavement and stack black shadow are just begging for a bold filter. So I messed around with a bunch of different filters on several apps, and came up with a few ideas::

a glowing ember lurking about on 100 Cameras in 1
a glacier breaking the water gasps on 100 Cameras in 1
Hefe on Instagram
Walden on Instagram
Kelvin on Instagram

Hmm, I'm leaning toward a favorite, but I'm going to wait till tomorrow to decide. I'll revisit the topic of storytelling with Instagrams one last time, to talk about adding text, whether directly to the photos, in the Instagram caption or via hashtags. See you then!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please comment...I'd love to hear from you!