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09-28-2014, 04:16 PM   #1
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How can I improve my dull/drab/boring pictures?

Hello all,

I am a beginner though I have been taking pictures for almost 10 years - but not regularly. Lately, I am getting more interested after having couple of summer vacations and disappointed with my capabilities/results.

I have a Pentax K-30D with 18-135mm WR. Most of my pictures are dull and drab looking. They are missing oomph like I see in pictures on various sites online. I shoot RAW+JPEG but I haven't tried too hard to process RAW. I felt that the JPEG should be quite good and the RAW would add the last 10-20%. What could be going wrong technically?

I can understand that my composition and artistic skills are lacking but I do know the basics of exposure and lighting after having started with MX way back when and progressing through PZ-1, ZX-5 and then K-10D and now K-30D. Where all can I be screwing up?

I have attached a few sample images that aren't eye popping! Obviously, this is vague but I will take any tips or pointers. Questions welcome, of course. Thanks in advance!!

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09-28-2014, 04:26 PM   #2
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On the first three I would use a CPL and boost the clarity, contrast, and slightly bump the hue and saturation. Also, at the one of the lake where the sky is blown drop your aperture back some and go with a faster shutter speed. One more thing, are you using the lens hood?
09-28-2014, 04:39 PM   #3
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PP will go a long way as far as shadow/highlight/contrast/color adjustments go. Most of these can and should be carried out in raw. Another thing I'd recommend is a prime lens, such as the 50mm F1.8. It'll add a little bit of pop to your images while allowing you to do more with bokeh for closer subjects.

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09-28-2014, 04:42 PM   #4
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The first one looks good to me but the horizon is annoyingly tilted. It also would have benefited from having the lens stopped down to atleast F8 to get better sharpness at the edges. The right side looks weirdly unsharp compared to the left, your lens might have a decentering defect but it's hard to tell for sure.

The second one looks good to me too, it got that stormy feel to it. The problem is that the composition is a bit too tame, the subject is really small and centered with not much interesting around. A very slight boost in contrast and a slight warmer white balance would give it more "pop" if that is what you are after but it would lose some storm feel.

Third one is very brightly exposed and you lost the sky and got a misty glow due to it. It would have been better to expose it darker and bring back the shadows in post. Lower the exposure, add some contrast, add a bit clarity, play with saturation and do some sharpening and it will jump out better.

Fourth one mainly need a big highlight boos and it will pop better, add some clarity too.

Fifth one is just too bland in too many ways, it's a throw away shot due to composition and lighting.

09-28-2014, 04:42 PM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by agaurav Quote
I have a Pentax K-30D with 18-135mm WR. Most of my pictures are dull and drab looking. They are missing oomph like I see in pictures on various sites online. I shoot RAW+JPEG but I haven't tried too hard to process RAW. I felt that the JPEG should be quite good and the RAW would add the last 10-20%. What could be going wrong technically?
K-30D ??

RAW doesn't add anything, nothing at all - in fact it is sans the processing that you see in the JPEG version. RAW is just that. it's the raw materials ready for you to cook in Lightroom (or whatever you have) to create the result you are after.
Don't rely on ICP to give you pleasing results, unless you're happy with ICP of course.

Technically nothing is going wrong that a bit of post processing won't fix (as mentioned by the previous posters) - including straightening the horizon in the photo of the boats and better cropping of the others. This takes time and practice. Capturing the light is only the first stage of getting a finished photographic picture..

Last edited by Steve.Ledger; 09-28-2014 at 05:16 PM.
09-28-2014, 05:17 PM   #6
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Hey, welcome! You are on the right track, not bad at all. Here are some quick tips:
- horizon and verticals. This is important, the horizon should always be.. horizontal. This can be difficult to get right without a tripod and level, but still. Then there are verticals, which should be perpendicular to the horizon. This is important for almost all genres of photography. Of course, sometimes you want a bent angle for a special effect, but you have to know the rule to break the rule. We often forget the horizon, and often you can fix it by rotating and cropping the photo, especially if you shoot raw.
- White balance. This is important. On your camera there is a WB button. You should select the white balance fitting your current light situation. Daylight is usually good, but overcast and Tungsten might be required in some situations. From your samples, you seem to be doing this okay so far, even if it is just the AWB doing its job
- Subject. This one is difficult. I like photos without a big central subject, but most people will want an obvious subject in the photo, which takes most of the frame, is in focus, not blurry, and is placed either dead centre or (even better) on one of the 1/3 line crosses. If there is no subject, then you have to think about what you want to convey in the photo, and make sure the image shows that. Of course, there are all sorts of limiting factors here. Usually it is available light, and lenses. Sometimes you will find a great subject, but it is in poor light. In that case, you can experiment or bring your own light, but photographers often just leave. No point stressing over a photo that cannot be made.
- Jpeg mode. In the Info menu, there is a jpeg mode. Default is "Bright" I think, but feel free to try one that is better for your current situation. Some people especially like Film Reversal and use it for almost everything. You can also customize these modes. Lots of users add contrast and sharpness.
- Experience. It will improve your photos. One thing is experience with the gear, so you know when to use Av and when to use Tv mode. When to enable highlight correction and such things. And then there is the experience of content. This can be gained in two ways. First is you look at a lot of photos and analyze them, to learn the underlying principles and use them yourself. Second is to take photos and show them to a critical audience to see how they respond. T

Raw has already been mentioned and is very important, but it can be a real hassle. If it makes you stop enjoying photography, it is better to stick to jpeg.
09-28-2014, 05:33 PM   #7
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Here is a quick Example. I am not very good a PP. But an adjustment of the horizon ( I used the masts since most things seem to be at an angle) and crop with a couple of quick adjustments.
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09-28-2014, 05:34 PM   #8
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The 18-135 is a decent lens, but the primes will certainly give your pix an added "pop", as well as proper post processing.
Also, pay attention to the quality of light in which you're shooting.

09-28-2014, 05:38 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by patrick9 Quote
Here is a quick Example. I am not very good a PP. But an adjustment of the horizon ( I used the masts since most things seem to be at an angle) and crop with a couple of quick adjustments.
It now tilts the other way
09-28-2014, 05:39 PM   #10
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i can't write much now but may add more tomorrow. briefly, i would recommend checking level (especially blackpoint) in PP. for the snow pictures , + exposure compensation was needed at the site or raise 'exposure' in PP. meters just get fooled with snow and ice :^)

+ there is not a throw away picture in the world if the picture means something to you
09-28-2014, 05:52 PM   #11
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I think you need better light quality, try photographing it again at sunrise / sundown. The light on those pictures looks pretty drab to me.
09-28-2014, 05:53 PM   #12
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The light is wrong.

Try being there near sunrise and/or sunset.

Post processing will help but will never solve the problem.

Taken as soon as the sun came over the hill...
09-28-2014, 06:04 PM   #13
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Wow! Thanks a lot for such amazing feedback and tips. These are all helpful and I will read them again to make sure some of them stick around :-) Getting old... I will definitely try my 35mm prime as well as try to acquire another while making attempts to take pictures earlier/later in the day. I don't use a tripod but will try to use one going forward. I know that should help but felt that I am shooting in good daylight and with the sensor image stabilization, I should be good.

What is clarity anyways? Is there a particular software that you would suggest? Right now, I have Photoshop Elements 10 though I don't use it actively. I want to get started before I spend lot more on Lightroom or Photoshop CS.

@ElJamoquio - that's a great shot. Where did you take it?

Last edited by agaurav; 09-28-2014 at 06:12 PM.
09-28-2014, 06:04 PM   #14
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The last of the set is quite good. It has a definite subject, interesting use of color and texture, and a reasonably balanced composition. (It is underexposed, probably for the reason Tan68 points out, but this can be fixed in PP as it doesn't look as though you've lost any essential information.)

Sounds like you're at the first dip on the blue line in this:

Stages of a Photographer | clusterflock

Keep at it, enjoy the process of learning what you like and how to achieve it.
09-28-2014, 06:06 PM   #15
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If you shot a lot in "grey weather", when color aren't really interesting, why not try to put some of them in B&W ? For exampe, IMHO, the third one looks works much better in B&W tha in color:
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