Photo Storytelling: Using Color, Contrast, and Scale | Cyn Lagos | Skillshare

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Cyn Lagos, Street Photographer

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9 Lessons (36m)
    • 1. Introduction

      1:39
    • 2. Why Use Visual Language?

      4:21
    • 3. Studying Your Photos

      7:35
    • 4. Curating Your Hero Shot

      2:53
    • 5. Editing With Color in Mind

      9:30
    • 6. Refining With Contrast

      1:47
    • 7. Working With Scale

      3:07
    • 8. Putting it All Together

      5:10
    • 9. Final Thoughts

      0:23
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About This Class

Sourcing from your archives is a great way to explore photo storytelling from the comfort of home. Please respect all rules of social distancing if capturing new stills in your city.

Revisit your photo archive and discover how to tell a story through color, contrast, and scale with street photographer Cyn Lagos!

Join Cyn in the photo studio for a class that will make you see your camera roll in a whole new light. Known for her vibrant style and a strong point of view, Cyn believes that visual language is one of our most powerful tools of connection, regardless of culture or language. In her own work, Cyn has learned to let go of concentrating on technical skills when taking and editing her images and focuses instead on color, contrast, and scale to transform her photos from a standard image into a story. 

Now, she’s sharing how you can do the same. You’ll look into Cyn’s photo archive to spot trends and techniques she uses every day to carefully craft the story of her subject and the experience for her viewer before diving into editing tips and tricks you can apply to your very next photo project.

Each lesson explores a new aspect of storytelling through photography, including how to:

  • Spot the perfect hero shot from among your images
  • Use color, scale, and contrast to expand on your message
  • Edit in Adobe Lightroom with a narrative in mind
  • Ensure your images tell a story individually and together

Whether your go-to camera is a smartphone or your trusty DSLR, we all have the ability to tell a story through a photo lens. After taking this class, you’ll be able to revisit images you’ve taken in the past, curate your best shots, and share a story from your life like never before.

Transcripts

1. Introduction: Oftentimes I get this question, what type of photographer are you? I tend to freeze when people ask me that question because I feel like it's too specific. I want to photograph whatever's out there, whatever reflects the cultures in the neighborhoods that I'm in. Hi, my name is Cyn Lagos. I'm a street photographer and graphic designer. Oftentimes, we focus on being technically proficient in photography or other visual crafts. But through storytelling, you're able to connect with the stories of many people, and you're able to connect also with the audience who is interpreting your images. In this class, we will learn three visual techniques: color, contrast, and scale. We will also learn how to curate your hero shots, and we will learn how to edit conceptually. I think approaching those streets through a visual technique lens is very helpful for me because it allows me to carry images in a different way. Sometimes we feel very overwhelmed when we were out there in the streets in the hustle and bustle; there's so much to photograph. It's almost like, where do I begin? But when you're able to think in terms of scale, contrast, color, you start focusing on those phases and leaving room for something special to surprise you up. This class is for aspiring photographers, aspiring visual artists, that want to improve their storytelling skills, and wants to grow their craftsmanship further. I'm really excited to join the class. Let's get started. 2. Why Use Visual Language?: Visual language is a form of storytelling. As a photographer, you're the only witness of the moments you have captured. But by thinking about the editing choices you make, you're able to help the viewer interpret the stories within your photographs. By considering the moment when you captured the photograph, and really taking it into the editing lab, this will help you make more conscious editing choices and it will help you become a more powerful storyteller. It's important to recognize visual language out in the world because it will help you carry the images when you're overwhelmed with the amount of stimuli that's out there to photograph. It will help you also understand how you're going to take your best shot into the editing room. So as a second generation American, I was always very intrigued by the diversity of cultures hence, oftentimes I wasn't always prepared to speak their particular language. I was lucky to maybe encounter someone who spoke Spanish, but I had a very special connection which was visual. When I put someone in front of a wall that I thought I find intriguing, all I have to do is really show them the back of my camera, and right away they feel like my friend and not a foe and they are willing to follow me along and they themselves are intrigued by this equipment that I have in front of me, but more specially because I am as enthusiastic about who they are, as they are about who I'm trying to be. I think as you're studying photography, it can be very daunting to be in a space where you have to put yourself in the limelight, especially when it comes to photographing strangers or even something as small as just photographing a location. So as I continue to explore different neighborhoods, I found myself continuously keeping a shortlist of mind. These shortlist involved visual techniques. This allowed me to find specific spaces that were reflecting maybe scale, contrast, color, but not being too specific where I didn't leave room for a special surprises along the way. For example, scale. Oftentimes I'm in a space where I feel so overwhelmed because the buildings are very tall, or I'm in a space that feels just like grandeur. So I have to stop myself and think, "What is that emotion and how can I translate that over within a 2D space like a photograph?" That sometimes means I have to go across the street and try to capture the largest magnitude of that space. So keeping in mind that visual technique or others like color and contrast and patterns, I'm able to just understand what I need to do in that moment to be able to capture that and translate it in my images. We've all experienced this feeling of, "I'm not really sure how to get started." We want to just plan everything perfectly before we step out of the house with camera in hand, with the best care in hand, but it's not so much about saying, "I'm going to photograph a person of this caliber today, or I'm going to try to find the specific light." What will really help you is keeping in mind techniques as shortlist and it will allow you to just say, "That's a technique right there. I've just found a spotlight and it reflects a degree of contrast. Now, I know what to do because this might not be the most intriguing subject matter, like, say, a very shiny piece of product or a beautiful model." But because you're focusing on the overall techniques, you are already translating something that's a bit more peculiar and it helps the viewer than travel through your images in a more graceful way. Next, we will be selecting five images which we will study to see the progress we have already made and see the visual techniques we're already utilizing. 3. Studying Your Photos: In this lesson, we will explore the technical versus meaningful, the industry standards versus your individual artistic expression. When you're capturing a photograph, oftentimes we think about what is correct, what is the proper way to approach a photograph? So those are usually the industry standards that we tend to employ. What I want to do within this exploration is I want to encourage you to consider what is your individual artistic expression? So I'll show you this example. So in this case, this photograph was taken in Miami, which if you know we tend to not have any hills. But the reason why I wanted to make this shift and actually not have this specific industry standard of saying I have to align the landscape. In this case, I wanted to distort that landscape. I wanted to create the space where it felt like at least when I approached this photograph, I felt like this guy here was struggling that morning. I felt like he was down and out. So I wanted to think about that during my editing process. I decided to break industry standard rule. I shifted the landscape to make you feel like it was a struggle for him to go upwards. I did the same when it came to the editing process. So I want you to think about what is meaningful versus what is just a technical distinction. Think about the way you want to approach that idea and how you want to translate some of the important feelings that you want to include into your photographs. In this photo, well, I really wanted to focus on the scale aspect of it all. When I stepped into this scene, it was all about looking up. It just felt almost overwhelming. A lot of the folks that were there tended to just focus on photographing this particular guy here, which is the vessel. It's a new architecture piece in New York City. I wanted to actually create the degree of contrast that I felt between this brand new building and the older traditional buildings behind it. But also, how can I showcase the scale, was my biggest question. I felt that by bringing this guy that actually, if you've been there, you know that it's really, really, large. By bringing this guy to the very bottom thirds, I felt that it showcased how large this space really was. That's one way to explore that. The other thing is you get to see this little tiny people here, and that gives you a sense of scale because we all know the scale of maybe a pencil or a human being. So by including those particular subjects in there, you're able to showcase a scale. So this is one of those photos where I tended to walk by this little pathway over and over, and the light conditions weren't quite there. I was very intrigued to see the space all the time because it was always this beautiful, bright blue sky and this stark red contrast. So when it comes to the way I was already approaching this particular scene, you can see it's just a wall. So the subject matter isn't particularly what I was after. I was very intrigued by the color contrast that was always there though the cold of the blue and the warmth of the red. That's one way to create intrigue and create that degree of contrast. One day I was pleasantly surprised because somebody had left the ladder there, and I showed up. I just wanted a clock to get this very striking angle of the shadow, which added to my value of contrast that I was really after. So I was able to include many elements that were going to create intrigue for the viewer to see later. I am very, very fond of this photo, and I think this one is a very fair example how just by approaching visual techniques, you are able to create a very interesting photograph. No matter if the subject matter is the most interesting or something as simple as a wall. This photograph has a little bit more of those interesting elements that usually we're after. We're looking for people, we're looking for things that are intriguing. But I still approach this with a few elements, a few visual techniques. So I'll tell you some of the ones that are here. On one end, I was framing this image. I wanted this person to be the main focus. So I used these spaces, the umbrellas here to frame my subject matter. The eye is first looking here in the center, and thankfully she was in the center in this case. We also have a sense of scale because as you see the foreground, we have these umbrellas. In the mid-ground, we have these other umbrellas here. In the background, we have this little guy parasailing. So now, you feel like this otherwise, 2D image has a degree of depth and we have a sense of foreground, mid-ground, and background. That will always create more of a interesting and more pleasant way of reviewing the elements that are within an image. Adding to that, I think the color palettes here were very pleasant for me because everything here is already cold, and then you have the warmth again, which I think has always been a very helpful way to approach contrast when it comes to colors. When I was approaching this photograph, I felt very underwhelming at first because I didn't know what I was after. I know I was trying to document my travels as we often do. But in this case, I've felt that I wanted to understand better how I can showcase how I felt about arriving to New York for the first time in this particular instance. So when I was in the editing room, I felt very compelled by this one because I saw visual techniques all over, I saw a framing, I saw color contrast. We are allowing the viewer to directly look through this window so as if they were the first person viewer. Moreover, I get little hints of where am I? So I have the plane wing here and I have this beautiful skyline that can only be found in the New York skyline, which is absolutely beautiful. So this was started as a struggle, but once I looked at it from a point of view of a visual language techniques, I was able to understand that this was a valuable photo and I should move further and try to edit it and approach it from my point of view. I think it's very important to review our progress no matter where we are. It's good to study our own interpretation of why a photo works or it doesn't work. I like to do this frequently no matter what stage of my photography career I'm in, because it's good to understand how the viewer would stand there and interpret your photos as well. I want you to look at your images and really study whether you're already using some of these techniques. There's always different parts of the process of being a photographer that tend to be very challenging. One of them is taking the photograph, but then, sometimes it's also curating your images. In our next lesson, we'll be curating our hero shots. 4. Curating Your Hero Shot: So now we're going to jump into Lightroom and we're going to select our hero image. So hero shot is the image that has the most potential to really be read by the viewer or be interpreted by the viewer. That means that it includes more visual techniques within it. It doesn't have to always be a lot of them, but it helps the viewer interpret what you're trying to say with your photograph. So here, I've picked three different images of one particular instance. I was in the subway of Spain, and I thought this was very intriguing because I found three different subjects in this scenario. So in the three images that you have selected, I want you to consider some of the particular techniques you really want to enhance. In this case, we want to focus on color contrast or scale, but think about how scale would be interpreted by your viewer. Scale sometimes can mean proportions and hierarchy. We have color that could mean a sense of vibrancy, happiness, or sometimes mysterious and solemn. So I want you to think about the emotions that you want your viewers to walk away with, and then focus on that technique and try to enhance it in your photographs. Within these three images, I found myself really intrigued by all of the leading lines and really the color contrast. When I was here, I was very intrigued that there was so much color and a place that would otherwise, at least from my experience, has always been very full of people and dark and scary, a subway. But the subway in Spain was very colorful and some of the people in it were too, and I remember that feeling vividly, so I wanted to translate that here as well. Thinking about the way you felt in that moment will allow you to consider which of these images is stronger. Sometimes one image could have a very interesting subject matter that is going to be your final select, but at times it could be simple things like leading lines or very stark contrast. In this case, although I really love the alternative two images, I find that the middle image with the guy in the blue hat adds to that warmth and cold color contrasts that we've been talking about. So let's focus on this image in this case. I want you to consider which hero image you have selected and think about the reasons why? I welcome you to share your selected hero image in the project gallery and comments on other people's hero shot. Let them know what is it that you enjoy about it already, something that they probably can enhance in the editing room. 5. Editing With Color in Mind: All right. So let's discuss color. When it comes to color, the way it's interpreted is very important, and this will vary between cultures. I want you to think about that as well. But some of the brightest colors tend to resonate with energy and vividness and happiness. The darker colors are a mystery, solemn, and a sense of intrigue. So think about those feelings and consider which ones you want to adapt into your image. In this case, we're going to play with both. We're going to try to see what happens when you create an image that has on one end the more vivid colors, and on the other end the more solemn colors. We're going to try to see what type of emotions so as to evoke side by side. So right away, we're going to jump into basics. I encourage you to push the slider to both ends and try to see what happens and how you feel when it's completely contrasted. So in this case, when we push the toggle to something very cold, you can start to see already that the emotion is a lot different. It's very mysterious. It can almost lend itself for a very scary beginning of a movie when something bad is about to happen. At least that's my perception of it. Of course, it's up to you that this is your artistic expression, but I want you to consider of how will the viewer interpret it as well. What happens when I push the toggle over to the other side? What is that consideration? How do you feel when you see the colors a lot warmer? I like to start this way because by pushing the extremes, I get to understand where I want to take my photograph. If one side feels too overwhelming, of course, we're going to be doing subtle changes here at the end of the day, but when you look at it and you see how it differentiates from the contrasted emotions, you're able to understand what things you don't want your photo to include. You can always click temperature twice to reset everything. So in this scenario, I have two of my favorite color elements. We have this beautiful yellow. Usually, this shade of yellow tends to lend itself to a degree of caution. It's very much formally used for that. But I want to create a contrast between this yellow and that hue of blue on this guy's hat. I've decided he's going to be my main subject. I have a few other people here, but he has that very interesting placement where the leading lines are already set. So I'm going to use that to my advantage. So let's start by enhancing some of the warm colors. I'm going to push this a little bit more towards the warmer because I think it doesn't need to be anything too daunting or scary. In this case, the guy himself is lending into a personality of just, he's relaxed, probably heading to work. That looks like maybe he's holding an artwork. This is just my perception of what his life might be. But he looks like a very creative person himself. So if he was giving me that personality of somebody very mysterious, I might want to complement that atmosphere in the same way. So we're going to push some of these colors towards warmth here. When it comes to the exposure, if I have to think about the way things are exposed or try to focus more on the highlights and the shadows. We want some of this information to show, but I think by pushing some of your highlights up or down, you're able to get an idea of what information sitting behind your foundation. So again, I encourage you to always push the toggle to either end so you can see what's hiding underneath there. At the end of the day, this is just your foundation and we're adding layers of color, scale, and other elements that we're going to be approaching soon. One of my favorite panels is tone curve, because it really allows you to isolate the highlights, the dark, the shadows. All of the information that's in here can be specifically selected. So I like using this particularly for contrast, because when it comes to shadow and highlight contrast, there's a really nice saying that in order to see the light, you have to have dark beside it. I think that stands true in most of my images, especially when you're playing with light. So I want to actually give more power to the dark areas and increase that darkness so that I can bring up some of the highlights here. Just be always aware of not pushing too much. At the end, it's really subtle. The part where you're testing can be pushed on either side, but at the end, you really want the edit to be very, very subtle. I like the way this looks now, so we're going to move on to color. So in this specific area, I think it's really neat to be able to say, okay, I just want this blue hat to be isolated. I want this blue here to be something that complements the yellow around it. So you can see how by pushing this blue, you're even detecting some blues in the very background. If I made it a darker blue, and this is a preference thing, I personally think bringing it closer to a warmer, more green-bluish complements the yellow on the other side. So think about the color spectrum when it comes to that, and complementary colors will always enhance the way colors are marrying together. So let's jump on the yellow to be able to isolate that color. So the yellow here, like I said, at first, it was sort of this very sharp yellow that felt like caution, but I don't want that. I want this to be a pleasant image. So I'm going to push it a little bit closer to the orange colors and bring up the luminance. What the luminance does is, it's working with lights, so if you push it down, it's almost removing that light that exists within that color specifically, and it's also bringing it up if you move it the other way around. You can always hit the, four slash bar, to see your before and after and get a sense of where you're headed. Split toning is also a very interesting way to add color as opposed to selecting the colors that are already in here. You can include some additional colors. It's almost like brushing a little bit of ambient light, as if there was yellow light beaming or blue light beaming somewhere around the image. I love creating the sense of nostalgia by adding these elements of red, or blue, or green that used to exist in film photographs so that I can give it a historic value. Even though this image was taken with a digital camera, which doesn't have those type of structures, these imperfections have been ingrained into the public. I think those are great ways of enhance your photographing, creating, and adding this degree of symbolism. So by playing around here, you can see how it just adding, it creates a whole another mood. If we shifted to green, it looks very, very different. So I like this blue a lot, it's almost complementing all the yellow that's all around here. So I'm going to leave it here for now. You can also play with this section to see how it can better be embedded within the image, and you just let the program do its thing by discovering which hue of blue really works better with the image. I like this here. So going back here, I think I'm losing some of that contrast and the shadows and the light area that's here, and I really want to create a contrast because it's going to allow these more vibrant colors to come through. So let's go back to tone curve and adjust. You don't always have to follow this in order. It doesn't start here and end here. It really is a matter of just analyzing your photo and understanding where you can add and subtract. I like the way that looks. 6. Refining With Contrast: One thing we can do to enhance some of the contrasts and so that the eye goes directly to our subject, is we can pick the brush tool here and pulling up that arrow here. You're able to focus specifically on one of these features. I like looking at maybe the shadows and this way, you're able to brush in some of those details in here and just focus on that area as opposed to the entire image. It's almost like dodging and burning in photoshop, but it's a little bit more subtle and it's really just picking up the shadow information that's already there and allowing you to just move back and forth and letting you decide if you want to keep that. When you create shadows and highlights within your subject, it almost makes them look a little bit more three-dimensional because they are now creating this almost specific spotlight on them. So disperse this a little bit more. All of those shadows are already there. This isn't painting bullock on somebody, it's just specifically selecting the shadows in the citing that you want them lighter or darker. So you can see there what happens if I push in the other opposite direction, and already he stands out a lot more than he was before. 7. Working With Scale: Remember with scale, we're going to be determining the most important aspect of your image. We're also going to determine the proportion of your image. So let's start by using the cropping tool. There's a lot of different ratios. I don't like to be more too specific on the ratios. I like to play around with however I want the height to be, and be more playful with it. So we're going to jump here and try to see what does it look like if I put my subject in the center. Well, in that case, we tend to lose a little bit of that height. You can hit this button here to unlock the ratio, and we can make it, this section a little bit higher and taller. So what does it look like if I do this? It's not as pleasant to look at and him being at the center isn't as interesting because you do have all these other subjects in the foreground, which makes them more important. So let's play around with another type of composition. So what if I had him on this intersection of the far end corner? Maybe we can erase this guy in the foreground so he's not as distracting. We have to think about cropping as a way of adding or erasing elements that may result in either helping the narrative or sometimes removing those distractions. So let's play around with this and see how he looks if he's on this far end. I think I like that a lot more. So let's think about those leading line side. We're very interesting at the very beginning. Let's give them some level of importance as well. I like including the leading lines somewhere on the very edges of my cropping sections, so that it feels that they keep on going. I like that. There's a little bottom section here that is darker and it's distracting. It's not as even as the other elements in the image. So I'm going to try to crop that out. That already looks a lot more pleasant to me. It's very minimalistic and right away the eye is drawn to the lines that seem to be telling me to look towards the sky and the hat. So now we've created a sense of depth and importance and also sense of proportion because we didn't erase all of the areas at the very top of the image trying to swim in to this particular person. We let this person be in this atmosphere. This welcomes the viewer not only to see your main subject matter but also the atmospheres that they're sitting in. 8. Putting it All Together: So let's bring it all together and we're going to make a few tweaks and create our presets. As we arrived to something that we like, I think it's important to revisit some of those settings and try to revisit and create more subtleties. So I'm going to play around a little bit more with my contrast here with the highlights and shadows, and I also want that yellow to come through a little bit more. So I'm going to increase this vibrance and also visits the yellow section in color. The HSL, and bring it out a little bit more to, okay, I like that a lot more, and then our split toning, we had blue. You can see here by hitting the Y hot key, how it looked like before and after. We can also do the forward slash button to see your before and after, and you'll see how we increased a lot of the contrast, and brought out some of those colors, and have more of a focus on our subject. One of the reasons why we want to create a conceptual edit is because we can translate that same edits into the other instances of this same image. So for example, if we wanted to include it into some of these photos, it already has to see my conditions, so it will play well and include all of those decisions we made on our previous photo. Command C, copy, and then command V for paste, and you can see how that adds the same color to the other images, increases the contrast, it adds some of those color values. Once you've arrived at your final edits, you can always revisit it and do your final tweaks to adjust the lighting and the contrast to your liking. Remember, this is your individual expression. So always try to include that final finessing that's going to make it your own. So this is my final and I think this really brings together a lot of the initial ideas I had about my subject matter. I wanted him to send out, I wanted the leading lines to really come through and be the first thing the viewer interprets. But I also wanted to make the mood a lot more vibrant as what I perceived of this particular character was something very creative and exciting. He's on a path or an a journey to somewhere, and I want the viewer to sort of experienced that and have that same mood and feeling. So we can do now is save our presets of all of these edits and one way we can do that is we can go up here to presets seek this section right here, and we can press the plus button and it will bring up this dialog box, create a preset. This is always the fun part because you get to see a lot of the edits that we made and also, you get to name it your own, right? So I'm going to name this one Spain Journey, press "Create", and now, you're able to find it here or you can also press command C, copy, and we can paste this exact settings into other images that have the same light conditions. So command V for paste and you can see that those same decisions are now applied into your other images. The contrast, the color, the elements that you are hoping for, except the cropping. So you do want to treat that parts individually, copy-paste, and you can see already the contrast on that. By hitting the Y key, you're able to see the before and after. You can see the colors are way more enhance, the contrast on the shadows and highlights are very pronounced. So I encourage you to continue to edit your images. Consider the story that you're telling. Consider the mood that you really want your viewer to walk away with and approach each photograph individually. It's really important to think about the story behind your photographs. It will make or break your photos, but more importantly, it leaves that element, that is your own style, your own fingerprints that will become unique to your journey. As you edit, think about the way color will shift the mood of a photograph, how contrasts will really creates a degree of drama, and how scale determines the proportions and the importance of your subjects. 9. Final Thoughts: Congratulations, you have improved your storytelling skills. Today, we learned how to study the visual language in our photographs. We became better curators of the hero shots, and we learned three essential visual techniques: color, scale, and contrast. Thanks for hanging out with me, continuing to explore the stories of the world, and share them with us in the Project Gallery. See you on the other side.