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If anything speaks creative, it is this photo. It is called Alien Pods and has an alien look to it. No, I do not have access to Mars, but I do know my way around software. These are actually septic tanks.:)

What makes a photo creative? There are many ways to look at this question and many ways to answer it. However, there is only one way that is simple and to the point. What makes a photo creative is when the photo travels outside the bounds of reality. When the photo no longer looks similar to the reality that was present, then you have entered into the creative side.

There are many ways this can be accomplished. Sure, different angles and camera techniques can get you into that realm, however, by far the quickest way is through the use of software. I won’t lie to you and say that it is easy. No technique used to create creative photos is going to be easy. Creative photography takes patience and knowledge.

Often photographers learn the hardware but fail to take the time required to learn the software. When this happens you will see, the more you actually look at photos, that their lack of knowledge of the software side of photography shows up in the picture itself. They make mistakes, simple mistakes that if they took the time to learn, would have been easily solved. Their photos have a tendency to look much like everyone else’s. This could have been easily avoided by taking the time to learn.

With these thoughts in mind, let’s now examine the software I use and the why of each application.

This photo was developed completely in Lightroom. I wanted to push the program and just see how far outside of normal I could get and still have something that was interesting to look at.

Lightroom–This is an absolute requirement for creative photography. With this simple program,(when I say simple, I mean simple for me) you can do nearly everything normal that you would like to do with a photo. You can process the RAW file and yes, I always shoot in RAW. The RAW file preserves much more information than a jpeg. This is especially important to creative developing of photos. With Lightroom you can do far more than you can imagine and that is just the program I start with.

In this photo I used photoshop to create a duplicate and flipped the duplicate to create 2 of the model. I then changed the hues to something a bit more pleasant.

Photoshop–Yes, I use the elements version of this software, however, I rarely use it in the way that you would expect. I don’t like to use effects in a photo. I certainly know how. I have been doing graphics for 17 yrs. and used to build websites from scratch with this program used extensively throughout the process. However, much of what Photoshop can do for photos I find Lightroom can do better. Plus Lightroom catalogues all my photos, making it invaluable. I often use this to replace backgrounds or for combining multiple photos. Sometimes, I do actually use the filters, but that is on rare occasions when I am working on creating a pattern.

In this photo I used Affinity Photo to remove an entire barbed wire fence. Look all you like, but you won’t find a hint of that fence.:)

Affinity Photo–This program is cheaper to buy than Photoshop and has nearly all the same features as the full size Photoshop. It opens faster, is more intuitive and all of the tutorials you will ever need to learn how to use it can be found in one place. The tuts are all in video format, they load quickly and are not long and confusing. I use this program for in-painting (removing distracting things from photos), for replacing backgrounds quickly, HDR, and for tonal mapping occasionally. I like the fact that it is cheaper and in general faster than Photoshop.

In this photo I use Nik Collection to change the entire tone of the photo. It was something dismal…an abandoned old business. I used a filter found in this software to change the sky hue and give a more nostalgic look to it overall.

Nik Collection–The is free software now that comes with 6 different applications. I use this mostly for Define 2 (remove noise from photos), Color Effects Pro 4 (mostly for adding detail), Silver Effect Pro (for creating good contrasty black and white photos), and for Output Sharpener Pro 3 (so that my prints will always look their best). There are certain things each one of these applications can do that just can’t be done with Lightroom or Affinity photo. Besides, after spending all my money on equipment and other software, I really love the price of FREE.

On rare occasions, when I cannot get a photo to make me happy, I will toss it in a program called FX Studio. This is a rare thing, but it should be mentioned. This program consists of slightly adjustable filters and nothing else. It only cost me $5 from the Mac store.

Speaking of Mac, I use a Mac to do all of my photo work on. I would only recommend a Mac if you already have other Apple products. They are good products but there are not significant advantages in developing photos on a Mac or PC. None of the photo programs I have mentioned are exclusive to either PC or Mac, so use whatever you have that has the processing power to get the job done.

Now that you are aware of the programs I use, go get some software!!! I would be remiss if I did not say that you must really learn whichever program you use. Like people, programs have their own strengths and weaknesses and this must be learned. There are so many good tutorials on using each of these programs on youtube and other sites. Do your research, find a set of tutorials, and don’t just learn the basics. Milk each tut that you can find. I spent months just watching tuts before I developed a single photo.

The reason for doing that is simple. I know and you should as well, that there are many gifted photographers out there, and every photo you post is competing with them for attention. Of course, you may not be wanting to learn this to sell your photos or to get attention. You might be reading this just because you want to improve the quality of your photos. Whatever your reason for reading, one thing is for certain…knowledge of the software you are using will vastly improve your photos.

Now let’s discuss briefly photo developing on a mobile device. There are so many apps out there for mobile devices, that it is hard to tell which to choose. I won’t say you have to get this one or that one for these apps. They are cheap enough you should get them all! LOL! Seriously though, there are a few programs I do recommend, due mainly to their ease of use and reliability.

I mostly use for my flower macros Photo Toaster. It has enough depth to get a great end photo and is easy to use. I did not have to read anything other than the mini-tutorial the app shows at the beginning of opening it. I use Enlight because it has more options for all kinds of photos. I also use Pixelmator and Afterlight. I have even used on occasion Polarr, PS Express, Photolab, Lightroom Mobile, Brushstroke, Bokeh Photo, Prisma, Tangent, Pixlr and Snapseed. My recommendation is to try a few and find one you like.

Mobile photography can be fun and developing on a phone or tablet does not require quite as much learning. The apps are smaller and have less features, but I have had iPhone 7+ photos get more attention than some of my DSLR photos. If this is the route you are taking toward being a creative photographer just learn the limitations of your device and try to emphasize the strengths with each photo you create.

A photo taken with an Instax camera,scanned at 1200 dpi and then given a slight amount of editing in Lightroom to improve color.

Lastly, those who have chosen to use film for their creative medium, all is not lost for you. Yes, you cannot change the original photo, it’s fate is sealed the minute you press the shutter button. However, any photo can be scanned, even the negatives can be scanned. I have scanned a tiny Instax photo and made it into a full-sized photo of over 2500 x 2500 using a 1200 dpi setting on my scanner. Once a photo is scanned, it can then be opened in one of the above programs mentioned and enhanced. While you don’t have the ability to do exactly the same level of editing, you can fix mistakes and improve the overall photo. So, even for you learning the software will give you more flexibility.

In the next chapter we will discuss the mindset of a creative photographer. It is vitally important that you approach creative photography in a way that is conductive to finding and creating these types of photos. I will explain to you exactly what I think, feel, and do, before I even walk out the door to go photograph.

Get your camera, get your software, learn both! Then come back for chapter 3. It is a not to be missed chapter. I hope you are enjoying reading so far and you have an awesome day!

Chapter 1

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7