There is No Holy Grail for Better Photography, Only Hard Work

Photography, perhaps more than any other endeavour is replete with the equivalent of ‘get rich quick’ schemes. There are any number of software companies and individual photographers hawking ‘one click fix’ solutions. From snapshot to amazing shot-type books and tutorials. Action sets that will set your heart a flutter at the ease with which a couple mouse clicks will make your photo a masterpiece.

Adobe has touted many such silver bullets over the life of Photoshop and Lightroom. The latest is Content Aware Crop. Magically, with the click of one checkbox, you can regain lost pixels from having to do something like rotate an image to fix a slightly off horizon.

Does Content Aware Crop work? Yes. And no. Do any of these other solutions work? Yes. And no. More no than yes, in many cases.

Here are a few examples of the Content Aware Crop in action. In the first, there’s a good bit of uniform sky that the content aware algorithms should be able to grab onto. There’s a bit of other, more complex, content that it might not do so well on. How did it work? Take a look.

CA1

I’ve copied the image onto a new, red, background, so the areas where the image was rotate could easily be seen. The Content Aware Crop did nothing. What about a different one?

CA2

I did the same thing here by putting the cropped image onto a red background. No red showing. It worked here.

Another?

CA3

This one worked too. But it didn’t at first. Nor did the one above at first. Why? And even though it worked, it’s not perfect. If you look down in the bottom right corner, you can see a flaw in the brick work on the ground. There’s also a bit of an odd repeating pattern in the brick on the wall in the upper left corner.

The first one, of the condo tower above the Gooderham & Worts sign was opened as a Smart Object. As was the second of the ships in the harbour, initially. It was only when I rasterized the Smart Object that the Content Aware Crop worked. On this third one, it initially had a Curves adjustment layer. When I deleted the Curves layer (not just turned off visibility, but actually deleted the layer) the Content Aware Crop worked. With the Curves layer in place, it did not. Adobe’s information on the new feature mentions nothing about Adjustment Layers or Smart Objects foiling the new functionality.

I’ve tried the feature on several different images that were either Smart Objects, or had adjustment layers in place. It didn’t work on any of the Smart Objects. It worked on some of the images with Adjustment Layers, but not others.

The other thing Adobe says you can do with Content Aware Crop is to change the aspect ratio, drag the crop box outside the limits of the original image and presto magico, you’ve got a new image with all the necessary content filled in.

CA4

Ummmm….. oooops.

Now, Adobe will tell you (and me) that ‘well, of course it’s not going to work perfectly on every image and the content has to be the right type to work properly and has to be consistent enough for the background math to calculate the fill area properly for a high quality crop effect.’ Or something like that. You know what that’s called? Cover Your Ass. Nothing like that mentioned in the link to the Adobe site above. Nothing about any limitations. It’s a magic bullet, one-check fix-all.

The point of all of this is that there is no Holy Grail. No silver bullet. No panacea to cure all ills. There is no software shortcut, or plugin, or filter, or algorithm that is going to make your editing workflow more efficient 100% of the time, that will magically turn that snapshot into an amazing shot. There is no shortcut that will make you a better photographer.

Editing isn’t going to make you a better photographer. Despite the marketing hype that the software companies throw at you and that these alleged photographers with their magical actions and shortcuts try to sell you. You can put all the lipstick on a pig you want. It’s still a pig. And there ain’t no silk purse coming out of that sow’s ear.

The only way to become a better photographer is to work at it. To study. To learn. To practice, practice and practice some more. And you know what you’ll find if you do that? If you don’t rely on shortcuts or quick fixes? If you put in the time to learn the craft? You will become a better photographer, you won’t have to spend as much time at the computer editing and you won’t have to waste money on these ‘once click fixes’ that only serve to separate you from your hard earned dollars. It’s sort of like those ‘get rich in real estate books and seminars’. You know the only people getting rich from those? The people selling the books.

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