I’ve been an enthusiast photographer since December 1986 when I inherited my brother’s Cosina CS-1 SLR with Sigma 70-210 lens, literally in a camera shop in Singapore where he was buying his first Nikon. In true “grandfather’s axe” fashion, I still have the same camera today, though I have replaced the body five times and the lens, errr, a few more times than that.
In the film era (1986-2006 for me) I was happy if any photo “turned out” and very occasionally excited by a particularly good shot. When the digital era dawned for me in 2004 (with a Fuji S3000 all-in-one) not much changed except I started taking more photos. There was still very little that happened between taking the shot and “the result”.
When I first explored RAW photography, things got more interesting as there was a lot more leeway to make photos look “good”, though looking back I seem still to have done very little to the photos apart from fixing exposure and maybe cropping (only ever to the same 3:2 ratio — 4:3 for the Fuji — for many, many years).
I gradually learned more and more. I went through a series of software changes: Nothing → Lightroom → Aperture → Lightroom → Luminar 3/2018. But still all I was doing was basic “fixes” to my photos. Occasionally I would spend more time. Luminar was great for “pushing the envelope” to get some punchy results that weren’t strictly “accurate”. But it was Luminar’s failing — constant course changes in the product roadmap while breaking promises — that led me to look at PhotoLab 3. And that’s when photography began changing for me. It started to become something I love.
PhotoLab’s ‘modules’ contain corrections for specific camera body and lens combinations (which is why you should check compatibility with your equipment before trying) that are built by measuring the equipment in DxO’s own labs. These mean you get the absolute best quality from your RAW images. Combined with first PRIME (PhotoLab 3) and then DeepPRIME (PhotoLab 4) AI-powered noise reduction, PhotoLab was showing me photos I did not realise my camera could produce. I had long wondered how expensive a camera I would need to get photos as sharp as those I would see in places like JetPhotos. Getting an Apple Mac with a Retina (high dpi) screen helped a lot. But it turned out I already owned such a camera. New photos were now often delighting me. Then I wound the clock back. I had bought PhotoLab 3 during the launch promo in October 2019, six months after I had been on a long-wished for trip to Singapore. I wondered what would the previously-Luminar-processed photos look like if I put them through PhotoLab. The answer, again, was delightful.
Next I started hanging out in the DxO forums, learning more and more about PhotoLab’s tools. As I learned more, I started caring more about finsessing many of my photos. Then something special began to happen — it started with those Singapore photos. I began to fall in love with some of them. PhotoLab 4 had me revisiting some again to apply DeepPRIME where it was warranted. Photos that might previously have been written off as noisy or indistinct had become real candidates for being great.
After PhotoLab 4, I really got the bug for going back to old photos. I’ve re-done over 1,500 photos going as far back as 2008. Even photos taken with a 2006 model camera were coming out looking fantastic — if the work I had put in at the time was good enough. I haven’t taken that many photos recently — 2021’s total count was 134 published out of 772 taken — but I’m enjoying going back through my old photos and seeing what I can unearth. In addition to the 1,500+ I have re-done, quite a few previously unpublished photos are now seeing the light of day, and the occasional one of these really hits the spot for me, too.
Perhaps the most telling change is that I no longer use other people’s images for my desktop wallpaper. At home I have two screens and use 3 or 4 virtual desktops across each (‘Spaces’ in Mac parlance) and every one of them has one of my photos. I get to see these photos every day and I do not tire of them at all, because they delight me every time. Or, to put it more strongly, I love these photos. These photos made possible, yes, by my camera gear and some knowledge of how to use it, but made loveable by PhotoLab.
Hence the title of this post. PhotoLab really has made me love my photography. Before that I never actually loved a photograph I had taken. I’ve been pleased, proud even, of some. But I’d never loved them.
While spending some time in the last couple of days creating Lightroom Classic Collections to take over from my PhotoLab Projects (PhotoLab is not a great asset manager, unfortunately) I spotted another Singapore photo that I could not believe I had not processed and published at all. Maybe in mid-2019 I just didn’t see what was lurking in that noisy image…