The Overdub

I’ve received a little feedback over the past few weeks concerning the rationalizations for replacing skies in some photos. Mostly the typical arguments and sentiments regarding maintaining originality or integrity of the photographed scene. Some photographers get it, others don’t. I don’t begrudge anyone their opinion, but I have my own and I’m sticking to it.

From my perspective, the only time you shouldn’t edit a sky in your photo if you feel it is needed is if you are required to not edit the sky. It’s that simple.

I have quite a music collection, mostly old guy stuff from the rock-n-roll era, but some classical and jazz. A lot of my music catalog is live recordings. If you’re a true music aficionado, you’ll know that many of the most popular live music recordings have been modified from their original. How so? The record producer and sound engineers and artists are often brought back into the studio to overdub studio instruments into the live tracks. Usually to augment the live recording or to clean or improve the sound in weak spots during the live performance, or to even add extended portions to the songs on the live recording. It’s an old practice and when done properly, you never hear the difference, because you never heard the original and its weaknesses. You buy the overdubbed music and bask in the glow of a live recording. It’s commercial art and it helps the sales of the material.

Photography as commercial art is the same basic idea. For most purchasers, it’s the final image that matters, not how it was derived. I’ve found that from a stock photography perspective, a typical landscape photograph will sell 2-3 times better than a typical wildlife photo. There are exceptions of course, but landscape photography is by far the more commercially profitable of the two subjects.

One thing about landscape photography though. You plan your trip and when you get there, sometimes the elements don’t cooperate with what you want to achieve. Most recently and relevant from my perspective is the blue sky syndrome. The last two autumn photography trips I’ve made in Colorado consisted of days with clear blue (bald) skies. Most photographers I know don’t like bald skies. They are uninteresting for the most part. I like clouds or dramatic skies at least. Skies make or break your photographs. They can also make or break your sales of images.

I’ve been working through my landscape photos for images that have bald blue skies. Most of them were never offered for sale or even edited, as I simply didn’t want to try selling what I considered to be generally boring images.

I’ve found a couple dozen images so far that were great candidates for sky replacement. Having a good tool to change a boring image to something a little more interesting will increase my bottom line. I know because some of my recent edits are already selling on the stock agencies.

From my view of the road, what is most important about editing the skies in your photos is to make it look realistic. One must pay attention to the scene and the technical aspects of the photo such as color temperatures and natural light hitting the subject of the photo, selecting a sky replacement that keeps the perspective, color and mood correct for that image.

I will also admit to you that I fibbed to you earlier. One of these images has the original sky in it. Tell me which one it is and you win an all expenses paid trip to your back porch while you hunker down during the Pandemic.

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Have you figured out which photo has the original sky in it?

The Right Tool For The Job

Cackling Geese swimming in a leaf covered lake. Nikon D850/ 200-500mm VR @ 500mm.

I took the new Nikon D850 out for a test drive on Friday at a local lake.  The camera works great; however, when editing the photos I ran into the same issue that I experience with the Nikon D810. File sizes.

At 45.x megapixels, the images from this camera are huge. Lightroom takes a little longer to generate the full resolution previews and processing a batch of about 150 photos took a bit longer than what I was used too, but I’m not at all surprised.

I got to thinking about a how this new camera will fit into my stock photography workflow and like the D810’s 36 Megapixel files, the D850 files require me to scale the images down in size if I intend to use them for stock photos. Why is this?

Most of the microstock sites have a maximum file size limit, which may vary from site to site, but typically hovers in the 25 megabyte range. I’ve found that with the D810, I’m reducing the image sizes down to a 24 megapixel image, but sometimes I have to go a little smaller when the dynamic color range of the image is higher.

The way I deal with the reduction in file size is to create an export setting that renames the file with an added “R-” at the beginning of the file name and produces a 24 megapixel stock jpg photo. The “R-” lets me know that the original file was “Resized” for the creation of the stock jpg photo.

So, what is the best camera for stock photos? In a general sense, I’ve found that cameras with a 20-24 megapixel resolution generate the best image size for the stock agencies. The processing time required is less, which speeds things up a bit when editing large batches of photographs, but the conversion process is about the same. I can confirm this in my portfolio by analyzing the different cameras I’ve used and by a fairly large degree, more of my stock photos from the past three years have been from my 24 megapixel Nikon D750. The reason, if I know I’m going to be shooting for stock, I take the 24 megapixel D750 with me.

So why have a camera that creates 45 megapixel image?  If you’re shooting for stock photographs, you don’t need this much resolution. A 24 megapixel camera is going to give you near perfect file size and resolution results as far as stock photography is concerned. I like the higher resolution cameras though, as they do give me a little more wiggle room on cropping and a lot more wiggle room for making larger prints.

I suggest you keep in mind what your intended use will be for your photographs when selecting your next camera. You can get excellent prints up to 20 x 30 inches using a 24 megapixel camera, which is about all you need in the real world. Those extra pixels don’t always solve a problem, and can sometimes cause you problems.

It’s really about having and using the right tool for the job. Right now, the 24 megapixel camera is the sweet spot for stock photography.