Insta Inspiration [#44]

The recent update to Lightroom (and descent into League) means that photography has taken a bit of a backseat once again, but I have actually managed to turn posting to social media into a bit of a trend. I’m enjoying it so far, which is good, but have discovered that my reasons for enjoyment are very different across the two platforms I’m utilising.

On 500px, the kick I get from uploading a new image is very much a stereotypical social-media hook. I enjoy seeing people’s enjoyment; getting likes, follows and comments. Sure, each upload comes with a slight worry about how it will rank compared to those that came before, but each image that reaches Upcoming or Popular status feels like an achievement, which makes me want to upload again. It’s a simple feedback loop that keeps me engaged with their website, even if some photos do unexpectedly well or bizarrely poorly (seriously, as far as I’m concerned my shot of the Old Man is the best photograph I’ve edited to date).

However, my engagement with Instagram has come from a very different source, which has surprised me. Possibly because I’ve been using the service as a log book for several years, I really don’t care how much traction my images get. In fact, unlike 500px, I basically view likes on Instagram as irritations, creating notifications on my phone to be swiped into oblivion. That does change if I know the person that has liked the image, especially if they’re someone who enjoys photography or creative outlets themselves, but otherwise I’m completely nonplussed by direct engagement metrics on the platform. So why bother uploading there in the first place?

It sounds completely strange, but I actually find Instagram much more valuable as a tool than as a service. Uploading an image is less about the sharing as having a very quick and intuitive way of tweaking settings and playing with filters to see if I can improve it a little more. Once that’s been done, I’ll often fire up Lightroom again and actively compare the two images, slowly tweaking Lightroom’s settings to make it more Instagram-like before re-exporting a ‘final’ version for 500px. I strongly believe that the style of images presented on both platforms should be different, and never try and copy Instagrams filters wholesale, but they do tend to point me in a new direction or just help with refinement.

That’s the process that I used on my Old Man shot and is largely why I love the outcome as much as I do. I thought it was a great photo before I ran it through the Instagram tweaking process, but the version that came out the other end blew me away. Taking those changes and reproducing them myself ultimately led to a final image that I think is better than either of the previous two outcomes. Other times I’ve decided to just upload to 500px, partially because I couldn’t see how Instagram could make the image better and partially because the process of getting a file onto Instagram is incredibly frustrating. In pretty much every instance that I’ve chosen this route I’ve regretted it, often re-uploading to 500px at a later time having flip-flopped on my decision.

Just to show what I mean, here’s my latest upload, a shot of a snow leopard checking out his recently snow-bedecked surroundings at the wonderful Hellabrun Zoo in Munich, Germany (taken on a trip almost two years ago):

Snow Leopard, Winter, Munich Zoo by Murray Adcock on 500px.com

I uploaded the image to 500px first because I didn’t think it could be tweaked any more. I also wanted to retain a very natural feel, which isn’t exactly Instagram’s forte. That said, here’s the same image uploaded a few minutes later and tweaked subtly in Instagram:

Now, I wouldn’t ever consider copying that style wholesale to 500px. It definitely isn’t as natural looking, with a weird purple haze, and it’s lost some of the ruggedness of the environment as a result. However, something about that combination of settings on Instagram really makes the leopard pop, creating a much nicer sense of depth and focus. I was extremely tempted to try and replicate the look, except for the colour, and re-upload to 500px. Unfortunately, I can’t picture in my head what settings to push around in Lightroom to achieve the outcome I want, so right now the original remains.

How I’ve come to use Instagram is not at all what I expected, but speaks volumes about how clever their rendering algorithms are (or how much I still have to learn about Lightroom, of course). For now, it feels strangely inspiring knowing I can quickly iterate a number of ‘looks’ for my image and then replicate the bits I like. That’s a creative process which seems to be providing quite a hook.

Apple vs PC: Lightroom Benchtests

Just stumbled onto a recent analysis of the current generation, top end iMac (2016) and an equivalent cost (~$4,000) custom built PC, pitched head-to-head in a selection of Lightroom tasks such as photo merges, importing files and on-the-fly thumbnail creation. You can read the full break down here, but the general gist probably shouldn’t come as any surprise: the PC won, categorically, across all tests.

To be clear, this was a relatively unscientific, simplistic set of tests that purely focused on the minimum time required to complete a task, but given that time wasted is arguably the greatest commonly felt issue with post processing, I also think it represents a valid and fair test. I would have liked to see basic system usage stats also recorded alongside, however, as it’s one thing to argue that the PC is faster, but if it’s also unusable whilst performing the task, personally, that would be more irritating. It also doesn’t look at multi-threading (another big time saver) or any similar multi-tasking, which I would be intrigued to analyse. I’d still predict that the PC would outperform the iMac on both counts, but I imagine the difference would be less drastic.

I’d also like to see a similar comparison run on more budget friendly models (although I imagine this would fare even worse for the Mac) and on similar laptops, the one category I would assume the Mac(book) to take the prize in. All that said, I’ll still argue that Mac’s are often a more useable tool for a photographer, simply due to the wealth of software available and build quality, however personally this article just highlights that they remain entirely too expensive an investment for the return.

Lightroom Resource List

Humurous graph outlining relative skill level of photographer compared to self worth
I’m definitely still in the first quartile…

My new PC is up and running and starting to be “just right” (we’ll get to further details later, I promise), so one of the big “new” things I’ve got for the new year is a subscription to Adobe CC – specifically the “Photographer” plan. I have previously mentioned worries regarding this plan; the insecurities of relying so much on software that you never truly own, but only “rent” for a given period. Ultimately though, I caved. Adobe still produces the best image editing software in the world, as far as I’m concerned, and although it’s been many years since I last truly used Lightroom I remain impressed by its suite of features.

That said, referring to myself as “rusty” is probably so overly-polite it’s borderline fictional when it comes to using both Lightroom and Photoshop. Not only have I taken a several-year absence, I haven’t had an “up-to-date” version of either program since CS3, so there are a lot of new features and “enhanced” (read: totally different) navigation options. As a result, I’m regarding myself as a total beginner and slowly compiling an Adobe 101. I’m also continuing my war against the easily forgotten, losable “bookmark”, so I figured I would just keep a rolling list going on here. With that said, here’s some links to tips/advice I’ve found useful so far:

7 Steps to Getting Organised in Lightroom ~ Layers Magazine
Understanding the Histogram (Basics) ~ Lynda.com
JPEG Export Comparisons ~ Jeffrey Friedl
Virtual Copies ~ Laura Shoe
Focus Stacking ~ Phlearn
Noise Reduction ~ Daniel Laan (seriously awesome and includes other, non-LR tools for comparison)
Custom Metadata for Importing Photos ~ Digital Photography School
Local Adjustment Brush Settings ~ MCPactions
Colour Balancing Tips ~ Adobe Tutorials
Lightroom -> Photoshop -> Lightroom ~ Adobe Tutorials
10 Ways to Speed Up Lightroom ~ Lightroom Zen

And of course Adobe’s own tutorials page, which is really very impressive in both scope and detail: Official Lightroom Details (especially combined with their Coffee Break Tips series)


I’ve decided to add a couple of links for straight up photography as well:

Depth of Field Quick Guide ~ Aperture Tours
Composition Study ~ compositionstudy.com
UK Image Copyright Laws ~ gov.uk
Photo metadata/IPTC explained ~ IPTC
Astrophotography Tutorials & Tips ~ sympathink