Don’t Show Me Your Tricks, Show Me Your Photography Skills

Don’t Show Me Your Tricks, Show Me Your Photography Skills


Did you know that the automated features and tricks built into cameras and computer software can actually stunt your photographic growth and photography skills? It’s true. Unless you are seeking to learn how to achieve specific results from the canned effects used by others, you might be shortchanging yourself.

Think back to what made you take up photography in the first place. Remember seeing the amazing shots in magazines, online, or taken by a friend and then dreaming that you too might produce amazing pictures?

Well, you can and you should. Learn the camera’s basic controls and how to shape your pictures with software tools, and don’t just rely on packaged effects.

Tricks Bode Orig - Don’t Show Me Your Tricks, Show Me Your Photography Skills

Photography skills override tricks

If you enjoy fishing but purchase fresh fish from the market on your way home, are you really fishing? You might bring home a tasty meal but can you really take credit for the catch? You dove into photography to capture great shots and produce gorgeous pictures. don’t shortchange yourself with tricks and shortcuts.

Tricks Bode Blue - Photography Skills

An occasional foray into visual effects can be interesting, but a steady diet gets boring and appears cliché.

Are you relying on auto settings, presets, and effects to make your shots look special? Do you run your photos through software that pushes your shots through prefab cookie-cutter interpretations?

Perhaps it’s time to put your time into understanding the basics of the photographic process. There’s an artist inside you yearning to learn. Put that artist to work in reality. Let your pride be in your work, not someone else’s.

Stop being predictable.

Those pre-digested interpretations offered by many post-processing software packages are way too easy to spot. The effects should be used sparingly and only when the scene really lends itself to the effect. Presets look good once in a while (I use them myself occasionally). But I want people to see my photography skills, not someone else’s tricks.

Be the individual, not the trend.

Stop doing what everybody else does and start expressing yourself. I grew up in the hippie era and to some degree, I bought into the trend. I wanted to be taken seriously as an individual; a non-conformist who didn’t just follow the masses and do what everybody else did.

But eventually, I realized that all my non-conformists friends dressed alike, talked alike, acted alike, and (frankly) smelled alike. All while proclaiming their individuality.

They conformed to the accepted non-conformity trends. That herd-mentality behavior didn’t make sense back then and it doesn’t make sense now. If you want to express yourself, do just that – express yourself. Just take the time to learn the basics of shaping images. It’s a whole lot easier than you think and it’s amazingly rewarding.

Tricks Bridge Orig - Photography Skills

Tricks Bridge Neon - Photography Skills

Nobody I know actually lives in a fantasyland with color as over-amped as this. Indiscriminately using a colorful effect on the wrong image can reduce the image to a clown show.

You are a logical person with a good head on your shoulders. You know you can do serious work if you take the time to learn the process. There is more to photography than learning the camera controls. You must understand the why issues of photography, not just the how of the camera buttons.

Your images deserve special attention… yours!

Use your imagination.

Determine today to see life through your own lens and interpret what you see with your eyes and your imagination. Shape your images with a clear understanding of how to command the medium of photography. Don’t see life through the lens of popular automation and trick treatments, learn to control the light and color that your camera captures.

Classy Nassau - Photography Skills

This is a pricey waterfront condo in Nassau. When you take the time to match the scene with an appropriate treatment, the results make sense to the viewer.

Capture images and shape them into what your mind sees. Don’t try to force your shots into someone else’s prefab, over-used interpretations. If this really is an age of personal expression, take control of your creative life by learning how to control the light in your photographs, both during the capture process and in post-production.

Eventually, you will come to a point where you want to test the waters of photo-creativity, learn the basics of image shaping, and let your images show your talent and photography skills instead of displaying someone else’s. It all starts with taking the time to learn the basics and believing in yourself.

Just the right amount.

One of the most beneficial parts of understanding how to shape your own pictures is knowing how much adjustment is enough and how much is too much. Like a four-year-old little girl playing with her mother’s makeup, your first attempts won’t be works of art, but that’s the way EVERY great photographer starts; over-producing their pictures.

The single most important ingredient in success is practice. Practice makes better, none of us ever get to perfect.

FoldedSail SBS - Photography Skills

Here’s the first rule of editing. When alterations start looking surrealistic, you’ve probably taken the processing too far. We enjoy special effects in the movies but we live in the real world. Small adjustments to colors and tones sometimes produce big differences. Make your initial moves and then back away from the picture for a few minutes and then take another look at the project again.

Imaging Basics

Nudging the mid-tones lighter and increasing the overall contrast can improve the appearance of almost every photo. It’s a good place to start.

Because of the linear manner in which digital cameras capture images, the simple process of capturing a scene with pixels produces images that are darker in the three-quarter tones than they need to be. These images usually benefit from shifting the mid-tones lighter simply by making some minor adjustments in the Basic panel in Camera Raw or Lightroom.

Learn to fine-tune your images to bring out the true colors and detail. The process is simple but the results can be profound. Target specific regions of light to reveal to the viewer what your mind saw when your camera captured the image. Our brains compensate for unbalanced lighting in a scene while the camera simply records existing light levels.

Basic Adjustments - Photography Skills

Small adjustments can make a major difference in the appearance of digital image captures.

Your camera doesn’t know where important detail is located in an image, although your brain located the detail and mentally enhanced the scene. You must learn how to deal with the scene’s lighting and reveal that detail manually. Most of those ho-hum images just need a little TLC to come to life.

San Juan House CR - Photography Skills

Two panels in Camera Raw provided all the controls and tools I needed to target and enhance specific areas of this image.

The white surfaces of the house above needed a boost to brighten them up without losing the surface detail. The detail in the deep shadow tones of the trees and stair steps needed to be lightened without losing the defining deep shadows.

The Basic panel provided the tools and the Tone Curve panel provided the narrow target for both the highlight and shadow adjustment without affecting the mid-tones.


Be the artist who understands their medium and is in command of their art. Let others see your style and maybe they’ll try to emulate you. Stop playing follow the leader and become the leader. There are only a handful of basic skills you need to develop to break the mold and really control your pictures.

Enough of the grunge, the excessive saturation, the surrealism, and the pre-packaged garbage. Start showing the world your skills and leave the tricks to the those who need them.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Herb Paynter is the owner of Imageprep Communications, photographer, author, and print consultant suffering in sunny Ormond Beach Florida. He is an award winning Photoshop plug-in software developer who has been teaching digital imaging and production image editing for more than twenty years. Check his blog The Way Eyes See It, download his iBook Digital Color Photography from the iTunes store or view his digital color video series at Gotta Know

  • Really, trick and skill is a different thing. We have need skill in photography and not be defend only tricks for photography. Thanks, Herb, for your kind information.

  • George Johnson

    I’d say that sometimes we all need a starting point. I agree that a lot of people rely on too much of the “same old” but often they can be the starting point that leads you off in a certain direction. Sometimes it’s hard to see the immediate potential in something and a leg-up can make all the difference. So many times I’ll pull out a shot I think is DOA but something in the composition is nagging me to keep playing with it. So I run it through half a dozen different processes just to see if anything will spark my imagination. If it does then I’ll keep going but if I’ve tried and it’s DOA, I’ll put in the “come back to” pile for a few months time when I might have some new ideas. Sometimes you cannot see the wood for the trees with your images. So many times I know my unconscious mind saw the image potential and made my conscious mind take it, but my conscious mind sometimes needs some help to see that potential, those tricks and pre-packaged ideas can spark that potential and make the potential into a reality.

  • Tracy Smith

    Nice article!
    I’ve been shooting for years and have only now started “froofing” my pics, other than basic necessary adjustments.
    When I shoot for a client, I give them the best lightly adjusted photos I can, then give them copies of the same photo if I have added any techniques or made any extreme adjustments.
    Seems to be working so far!
    Thanks again for the great article!

  • Donna Barnard

    Short and sweet. We all need a reminder occasionally. Thanks.

  • Herb Paynter

    Thanks Donna.
    Sometimes I overlook the basics and search for a big fix to a little problem. Too easy to do. KISS principle at work 🙂

  • Herb Paynter

    I like “froofing.” Not sure I’ve ever heard that one before. I also like your practice of giving the client an alternative choice. Great idea. Thanks for the comment.

  • Herb Paynter

    George, you’ve presented a solid case for using these presets. Nicely put. Occasionally we do need a kick in the pants idea to spark our imagination, and this might be just the thing. Thanks for your input.

  • Herb Paynter

    Hi Martin, it seems that “tricks” are sometimes another person’s attempt to solve a problem while skills are the hard work of developing our own solutions. I appreciate your comment.

  • Tracy Smith

    Lol! Thanks! I frequently make up my own words as well!
    And I think the idea of the choices came to me because art is so very very subjective. A large percentage of my clients like “normal” photos and don’t think as much about enhancements. I try to give them the best of both worlds!

  • David Gee

    Great article – lots of common sense and practical advice.

  • Herb Paynter

    Thank you David. I’m glad you found it interesting.

  • Great article…so if you do not use Lightroom or Photoshop, Mac computers, Sony, Nikon or Canon full frame cameras, your photos and edition are worthless and ugly. For me there are just two kind of photos, the ones you like and the ones you dislike, how they were done is the problem of the artist-photographer….

  • SueWsie Wils

    Pity none of the photos are visible for me. I do agree however. Looking back at images before I learned to use sliders etc, I can see the difference.

  • Roger Andout

    Great to read that an authority extols the virtues of ‘less is more’ when it comes to PS, LS et al.

  • DrKoob

    Well that needed to be said. And you said it well.

  • Herb Paynter

    Thanks for the affirmation and I’m glad you agree.

  • Herb Paynter

    I’m afraid I’ve overdone too many photos in my career and it’s very easy to do. Restraint is an acquired skill.

  • Herb Paynter

    Sorry that you can’t see the pictures, but you obviously “get the picture” anyhow. As we learn the tone-zones that each of the sliders influence, we get to shape the images into what our eyes saw in the original scene. Thanks for the comment.

  • I agree with your opinion. Thanks!!!

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  • Jack Doy

    Froofing ??? you made it up sounds like some one else did to. LOL

  • Jack Doy

    Froofing ??? According to the link below it’s a load of Brown stuff mixed with cream LOL

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