Thursday, February 22, 2024

We are not just photographers, we are historians

I am writing this blog at 4am, since I am not able to sleep. Yesterday I spent the first half of the day at a funeral. Not for someone who was elderly and had lived a good long life, but for an 18 year old who's life ended way too soon. I have photographed for this family for more than 10 years and it has really hit me hard. This is now the third kid that I have photographed who has past away, and all three of those happened in the most tragic ways. 

I am not writing this to depress all of you, I am writing this because, as I processed images for the funeral it reaffirmed how important these photos are. For the last 15 years I have told people that I don't just think of myself as a photographer, I see myself as a historian. This was just reinforced this week. 

When I heard about the passing of this brilliant young man, I waited a couple of days and then reached out to the family to see if I could help in any way. I know that these photos are important to the family and that it is my way to help. Being a photographer who has every image I have ever captured (on multiple QNAP NAS drives), I offered to go back and find the best photos from past events. Over the last 11 years I have photographed four bar/bat mitzvah, family portraits, a baby naming and more for them. 

Since I have the Canon Pro-4100 large format printer, I offered to print poster sized images for the service. I heard back from the family that they would love to have these. Then came the hard part. I poured through thousands of photos taken as far back as 2013, and it was really sad. I saw this smiling boy, full of energy, who is now no longer with us. 

I tell people that I have the best job in the world because 99% of the time I am capturing happy occasions, athletes competing at the Olympics, and taking people to exotic places around the world. But over the last couple of days I saw my job as a photographer in a less glamorous light.

This time I saw the fragility of life, but also saw the immense power of the photos. As sad as it is, it is also a way for us to remember this young man. Yes, I was hired by the family, but is still my gift to them. When I photograph events (no matter what they are), I pour my heart and soul into that. It is not just a job, it is a chance to create memories, to be creative, and to record history.

People often ask me why I always shoot my images to two memory cards at a time. The first time I was asked this, I responded by saying that in the most important moments, I want to make sure I have those photos. I was thinking of the Olympics when I said that. But then I thought "but just about everything I photograph is important to someone." When I capture a personal event, those images are very important to that family. Arguably more important to them than any Olympics I have ever taken. Even when I am messing around and taking photos of my granddaughter playing in the back yard, those are incredibly important to me.

I am not going to post images of the any of these kids, since I want to honor the privacy of those families, but I do want to share this photo with you.

This is a photo of my mother. It was taken 14 years ago, and it was the one of the last photos I captured of her before she unexpectedly passed away. It was way back then that I realized the importance of a photo, and the responsibility of a photographer. And it is for that reason that I take every photo job so seriously (but in a fun way). What we do is important! As photographers, we need to remember this every time we pick up our cameras.

At the service yesterday they said that the young man loved math and physics and he loved to talk about rainbows and why they occur. They ended the service by saying, whenever you see a rainbow, think of him.

Not more than an hour after the service, I was out for a walk and saw this. It is a simple iPhone shot, but the meaning is far greater than the overall quality of the photo. I definitely thought of him.


• Subscribe to the Jeff Cable Photography Blog by clicking HERE!

• You can now purchase Jeff Cable Photography images from my new fine art site at:

• If you are interested in purchasing ANY equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. It does not change the cost to you in any way, but it helps me keep this blog up and running.

• Check out my upcoming photo tours to amazing places around the world. I have photo tours to Africa Costa Rica and more. And Canon will loan you any gear you want for FREE for any of my tours.


Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Retouching photos - Taking them from good to great!

I recently had a client ask my why I needed to retouch their images. She said "why didn't you shoot them correctly in the first place?" I have to admit, I was a bit taken aback by this question. But as much as I felt defensive, I also was very prepared to answer this question. My answer to her was quite simple, and went something like this:

* The goal of the photographer is to get a really nice photo that is 90% complete. But almost every photo needs some sort of retouching. Whether it is removing fly-away hairs, exit signs, those rogue microphones in the corner of the frame, or some other distraction. 

* As good as the cameras are, the exposure is still not perfect. I typically find that slight adjustments to the shadows and highlights make the images much stronger.

* I usually shoot in Auto White Balance, which is usually quite good. is not perfect and I like to make adjustments to the white balance for accuracy and consistency across all the images.

* When people look at photos, most of the time their eye is drawn to the area with the sharpest focus and also to the brightest areas. With this in mind I will try to remove bright spots in the background of an image to make sure that the viewer is not distracted by that area. 

* There are countless other ways to retouch images, and depending on the particular photo, I will do whatever it takes to make it as strong as possible,

The end result is this...retouching helps to take a good photo to a great photo.

I have retouched just about every photo I have ever taken. It may be something really minor, like a crop or a minor tweak to the exposure or it could be a major project. I don't usually do major work to a photo where I spend more than 15 minutes on any image. That is not my style. And it does not matter if it is a portrait, a wildlife photo, or a landscape. 

Even my Olympic images need some tweaking. For the Olympics, we are only allowed to change small things like exposure, white balance, and cropping. Not much else since the IOC does not want us changing history.

Let me show you some before and after photos to help you understand my retouching.


Cropping in on a photo is a great way to highlight the subject. In the first image you see the Toucan flying off of a tree, but the bird is small in the frame and the tree branches are more distracting than helpful to the image. For this reason, I cropped in to show a little of the tree but draw your attention to the Toucan. (I also brightened the image a bit to show more detail in the feathers of the bird.) I was shooting with the Canon R5 camera, so I had plenty of resolution for the crop. The final image still has 7MB of data and can be printed large and look great.


Here is another photo from the last photo tour to Costa Rica. I saw this Summer Tanager perched on a nearby tree branch and I loved the contrast of the red bird against the green leaves. The original image was taken at -0.7 exposure comp (just because my camera was preset that way from the day before and this was a quick grab early the next morning), so it needed to be brightened. I increased the exposure to to correct the lighting.

Shadows / Highlights

It may be hard to believe, but the image on the right is the same image (just retouched) as the one on the left. As many of you know, the camera is not able to capture images with a vast amount of light differences. Your exposure will either be overexposed in one area and/or underexposed in other areas. To correct this, I increased the exposure on the foreground (trees and Half dome) and then darkened the sky in the background. And what a difference this makes!


I can not tell you how many times I have captured a sunset and thought "the color in the image is not as vibrant as what I saw in reality." I really hate seeing images that over heavily oversaturated, but with that said, there are many times when a slight amount of saturation is needed to For this image, I reduced the brightness of the sun and then added saturation to show you what it really looked light the night in Tanzania.

Fly-away hairs and skin imperfections

When you look at these two images, you may not see a huge amount of difference. least not from this small preview. But trust me, there are some things that I wanted to clean up. Let's take a closer look.

Whenever I take portraits, I assume that there will be some imperfections to clean up in post production. In this case, there was a slight shine on the older sister's skin, and some major fly-away hairs on the younger sister. 

I cleaned those up in Adobe Photoshop. I really love using my Wacom Intuos tablet to paint out these distractions with natural brush strokes using the stylus, versus trying to do this with a mouse. When retouching people, I generally remove acne and fly-away hairs, but I do not remove moles and other natural parts of who the people are (unless otherwise requested). I also lightened their eyes, just a tiny bit to bring them out. You probably did not notice that, and that is a good thing. Good retouching should not be very noticeable. I always say that retouching is a lot like seasoning in food, a little bit can really enhance a meal, but too much can ruin it!

I took this photo in City Hall in San Francisco. If you read the blog regularly, you saw this blog post a couple of months ago. Getting a clean shot of the rotunda is almost impossible since there are so many people in the building. I waited to try and get as few people as possible, but I knew that a perfectly clean shot was not likely. I took this photo knowing that I would have to remove the people on the right and the man in the blue shirt in the doorway. 

Sometimes I am overly picky about retouching my photos. In this photo of a Howler Monkey in Costa Rica, I loved the pose and the catch light in the eyes, but found that some of the branches were distracting. I cropped in to hide the one branch at the top of the frame that was more in focus than the others, and also removed the one lower branch at the bottom. These are minor tweaks, but I think that it helps the overall photo.

Some people say that a good photo should not need any retouching, but I truly believe that retouching helps to take a good photo to a great photo (or at very least a better one). I would love to hear your thoughts on all this.


• Subscribe to the Jeff Cable Photography Blog by clicking HERE!

• You can now purchase Jeff Cable Photography images from my new fine art site at:

• If you are interested in purchasing ANY equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. It does not change the cost to you in any way, but it helps me keep this blog up and running.

• Check out my upcoming photo tours to amazing places around the world. I have photo tours to Africa Costa Rica and more. And Canon will loan you any gear you want for FREE for any of my tours.