Winning ways: Gerd Günther

You now have just over a week to upload an image for this year’s Hilda Canter-Lund photography competition.   You are running out of time if you still need to take a photograph but, if you have a photograph which you are already considering submitting, take a few moments to consider whether any editing is required in order to show your image at its very best.  Each year, I find myself wondering why on earth a photographer did not spend just two or three minutes cropping an image that would have been worthy of the shortlist were it not for a wonky composition.  This is allowed within the rules (so long as the basic integrity of your image is not compromised) and so very easy to do, even on a smartphone.

Following Sophie Steinhagen’s tips from a couple of weeks back, I thought I would ask her co-winner from 2021, Gerd Günther, what advice he would like to pass on to this year’s winners.  Sophie’s photographs featured marine macroalgae whereas Gerd focusses on microalgae so, together, there should be something for everyone in this pair of posts.   As well as his hints, Gerd has also kindly provided some of his other images to demonstrate his techniques.  

Rhodobacteria and filamentous cyanobacteia together with a Spirogyra filament in a sample from the botanic garden in Düsseldorf, Germany.  The picture at the top of the post is Gerd’s winning entry from the 2021 competition: Pyrocistis fusiformis

1. “Decisive moment” or carefully-crafted composition?

It depends on which samples I am examining.  I usually fall between these two approaches. When I process cultured material, I almost always try to create a considered composition of several, representative cells. When documenting raw samples, I am often guided by chance. The longer and more intensive the observation of a sample, the more “random” compositions can be found. However, the most important goal always remains the serious and realistic documentation of what I see.

2. what photo editing software do you use?

I use Adobe Lightroom in combination with Photoshop. In Lightroom I do all keywording and image organizing together with the basic RAW development. For most of the images, there is no need to process them in Photoshop too. When I photograph plant stem sections, I stitch them together with Photoshop. 

Biddulphia alternans, a marine diatom found in the North Sea at the German Bight

3. What routine editing steps do you apply to your image (e.g. cropping, adjusting levels/curves/brightness etc, stitching, stacking)?

Routinely I use especially the white balance and a careful correction of the highlights, shadows and overall brightness. Cropping the image remains the exception. When documenting microalgae, I do not use stacking or stitching. Routine steps for me also include the removal of dust particles that create unwanted bull’s eyes on the image file. However, the best way to avoid this is to clean the camera sensor regularly.

4. Do you ever “retouch” images to remove blemishes and improve their appearance?

Occasionally I retouch the background, removing unwanted detritus particles or bacteria, for example.

Lepocinclis (formerly Euglenaacus, together with some Phacus species found in Gerd’s garden puddle.

5. Are there any photographers who particularly inspire you? 

A source of regular inspiration for me is and remains the book by Hilda Canter Lund. I really appreciate her compositions and her feeling for colours and shapes. In addition, images by Wim van Egmond inspire me again and again.  

A colony of the diatom Meridion circulare from in the Eifel, a mountainous region of western Germany. All photographs in this post by Gerd Günther.

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