I have achieved a personal milestone — graduation from the first phase, the Foundation Sphere, of The Arcanum, an online photography apprenticeship, in which basic photography skills are developed and honed.  The Arcanum began as Trey Ratcliff‘s inspiration a couple of years ago, and since its inception has gained in popularity rising to 8th on the list of the top 51 websites for online learning.


A certificate is awarded for each level attained (10 of them in the first, Foundation Sphere). This certificate marks my completion of that Sphere and movement into Sphere 1 — where real photographic artistry is mastered.

For me, this experience is about developing better instincts (and habits) for image composition, gaining some exposure to the more artistic style of expression in photography, and learning a LOT about post-processing of images.  As with any graduation, one should illustrate what they have mastered or gained in the process.  So here goes…

My previous experience with post-processing consisted of cropping, contrasting, and sharpening the photos I took, some of which were beyond this kind of help anyway. I had my camera set to compress the photos and store them as jpegs on the camera card, and to keep things quick and simple, I used Photoshop Elements or perhaps Picasa for photo editing.  Using this process, photos might have taken as long as 5 minutes to “fix”, but most were just a minute or two.

snow leopard-PS elements edit

The Snow Leopard edited in Photoshop Elements is great looking — the wire mesh fence, not so much.  The head and eyes seem to be the real focus of this shot, but I have unfortunately minimized their importance by including most of the body of the leopard.  The background, especially the wire mesh, is quite intrusive on the beautiful animal that I’m trying to showcase here.

Now it’s not just a snap decision how to crop the image because there are rules of composition to consider, and it is a much longer and more refined process of “developing” (rather than “fixing”) the image in Adobe Lightroom 5, whose many features I have now fully explored with the help of a 2-day hands-on workshop, a lot of online tutorials watched during jury duty, and a very thick book on the subject. The end result of this much more lengthy process of photo editing is an image in which the subject “pops” from the screen, hopefully in a much more impressive manner than previously.

Snow Leopard-Como Zoo-Lightroom5 edit

In Lightroom 5 I was able to separate the leopard from its background, selectively sharpen the head and especially the eyes (which also received a “glow” treatment) while blurring the background and then adding a black vignette around the edges to further emphasize that beautiful head.  Oh, and did I mention that shooting in RAW instead of jpeg format allowed me to make these adjustments with more impact?

I’ll leave it up to the audience.  Which treatment do you prefer?  And I will not be at all offended if you chose the first one, because I like it too.  In fact, I’m not really sure I prefer the Lightroom edited leopard, but I sure enjoyed learning how to do this.

8 thoughts on “Graduation

  1. Congratulations! You have really worked hard at this and best of all many of us benefit from your skill. Maryann

    Sent from my iPad


  2. While I like them both, I feel the closeup, while it’s crisp and beautifully clean, makes the leopard appear too “glamorized” for my tastes. I prefer my wild critters to look, well…..wild. However, reducing the amount of body, rather than eliminating it in the first pix, may have allowed more focus on the face. I don’t know. Either way you have learned so much and both pictures are beautiful!

  3. Addendum to my earlier post: I do see what you mean about the fence in the background. I can’t get over that you got his pose mid-lip lick!

  4. Congratulations Sue. I would think which shot is “best” would depend on the audience that you’re trying to reach. The cropped shot has more of a national Geographic feel to me. The first one seems more natural in a “I went here and this is what I saw” kind of way, but I like them both.

  5. Congratulations Sue. And thanks for sharing your experience and fantastic photos. My daughter and I love reading your posts and living vicariously through your photos.

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