Redline Challenge: Preparing your images for submission

Redline Challenge judge and mentor Lorenz Holder shares his advice on how to select your strongest images and take them from good to prize-winning with these simple tips.
A mound of stone is illuminated by a halo of red light above it, which is also reflected in the water at its base.

Canon Ambassador Lorenz Holder is best known for his distinctive images of landscapes with action sports taking place within them, but just as often the setting itself is the focus. Here he shares some of the process he uses to enhance his pictures and create striking images such as this long-exposure shot of a light trail. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 15mm, 13 sec, f/2.8 and ISO1600. © Lorenz Holder

"What I really like is when you've edited an image and you think you're done," says action and adventure photographer Lorenz Holder. "So you take a break to get some fresh air, then come back and look at your computer screen and it's like, 'Oh, that's a bit colourful!' You can immediately tell that it's just too much."

Lorenz is one of the panel of judges for the Redline Challenge, which invites photographers worldwide to push their creative and technical boundaries by exploring the relationship between light and darkness. He will also be mentoring the winner on a personal photography assignment.

With the deadline for entries rapidly approaching, we caught up with Lorenz to get his advice on how best to select your images for the Redline Challenge and get them ready for submission.

A backlit image of a woman standing in a field with long grass in the snow in front of an old wooden building.

Some images require more extensive editing than others. A backlit image such as this one is likely to need more work to balance the shadows and highlights, for example.

The same backlit image of a woman standing  in a field in front of a wooden building, edited to reveal more detail in the shadows.

Notice how much detail can be pulled out of the dark building in this shot, taken using an EOS R System camera notable for its dynamic range and low-light performance. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 172mm, 1/200 sec, f/8 and ISO100. © Lorenz Holder

Shortlisting your images

So, you've built a large, diverse collection of images that meet the Redline Challenge's 'Light in the Dark' brief. How should you begin to narrow your selection down to no more than 20, the maximum number of entries per person?

Picking the best can be a challenge, but Lorenz says three is the magic number to aim for. "Whether you come back with 20, 50 or 100 shots from one location or session, I would cut them down to three of your favourite images – the real standouts – and no more."

Lorenz says his first step when it comes to shortlisting images is to go through and delete the ones he doesn't like. "I then start rating the images in Adobe® Photoshop® Lightroom®. So initially, I'll add one star to the shots that have potential. I'll then do a second pass, where I rate the best images with two stars, and that's how I continue, all the way up to five stars. By the time I reach that five star stage, I should be left with maybe one, two or three images."

And how do you know which of your images is the absolute best? For Lorenz, it requires a reaction that's difficult to describe, but you'll know it when it's there. "I need to look at the image and just go, 'Wow, that's amazing. I want to hang it on my wall.'

"It's the overall impression that matters the most," he continues. "Of course, if the composition is not good, the overall impression will be lower. If the technical aspects are not good, the overall impression will be lower. So it's all the factors together that go into your selection. As a judge, I want to look at an image and be blown away. And for that, I think you need to have shown creativity, composition and a technical understanding of the camera."

The Canon Redline Challenge logo.

Take on the Redline Challenge

Have you got what it takes to push past your limits? Enter the Redline Challenge and master 'light in the dark' for your chance to win the latest Canon kit and mentoring from pro photographer Lorenz Holder.
A silhouetted figure in a hat leaning against a wall beside a row of columns with light shining through them.

Lorenz says he doesn't rely on presets to create a look. "The only time I use them is when I have no clue how to edit a shoot. Then you might get an idea of what could work. But normally I just start editing."

The same image of a silhouetted figure in a hat leaning against a wall beside a row of columns, edited to create more vibrant colours.

Sometimes a single white balance adjustment, turning a shot from cool to warm, can completely alter the mood and atmosphere of an image, giving you an idea of which direction to take it. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 153mm, 1/25 sec, f/2.8 and ISO12,800. © Lorenz Holder

Image editing and retouching

Images entered into the Redline Challenge must be in line with the competition rules and must not be manipulated to fit the Light in the Dark brief if they didn't already. But that shouldn't deter you from bringing out the best in your images using editing software such as Canon's Digital Photo Professional (DPP) or Adobe Lightroom.

When it comes to editing, Lorenz suggests that a little goes a long way. "I often see images where it's obvious that the photographer has pushed the Clarity slider too far, for example. It's a bit like ten years ago, when everyone was using HDR and kept pushing it to the point where everything started to look unnatural. Clarity is a really cool tool, as long as you don't overdo it."

Exposure is another area where it often pays to be more subtle with your adjustments. It may be tempting to try to open up the shadows to expose more detail in a photo taken at night, for example, but this can reveal more noise as well.

"Applying a little noise reduction will help," says Lorenz. "It has become so good over the last couple of years that you can develop a really clean image even when a high ISO has been used to take the shot."

If your images have been captured in an urban environment, then you might have to deal with a range of light sources – from a cool-blue twilight sky to vivid neon signs and warm, tungsten-lit interiors. A colour cast can be removed with the white balance control in your preferred editing software, but mixed lighting makes this process more difficult. To get around this, Lorenz recommends setting the white point according to your main light source.

A photo of a woman wearing a straw hat in a garden.

6 ways to get more from your photos using DPP

Digital Photo Professional, Canon’s RAW processor and image editor, can do more for your photos than you think. Discover 6 reasons to use DPP.

"For example, if you photographed a model in a scene that's lit by orange street lamps, but she's being directly illuminated by the blueish light from a shop window, then you would set your white balance to neutralise the blueish main light. But then you can also have fun with the white balance, such as taking it all the way down to the colder side of the colour temperature scale to give you a cool, more industrial feeling."

A figure visible waist-down holding an umbrella, standing with legs crossed on a rain-slick road beside a car, at night. Red light from the car's rear lights and green light from out of frame is reflected in the water.

Lorenz prefers to use the HSL sliders in Adobe Lightroom to adjust the colours individually, rather than increasing the overall Vibrance or Saturation.

The same image of a figure holding an umbrella at night, standing with legs crossed on a rain-slick road beside a car, edited to brighten the colours and reveal detail in the shadows.

"This way, you just get way more control. If it's a simple image with not too many colours – let's say a night shot with maybe one red street light in it – then you can of course just use the main Saturation slider, but normally you get more control if you work on each colour separately." Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 153mm, 1/8 sec, f/2.8 and ISO320. © Lorenz Holder

"If there's a really strong difference in colour between different light sources and the image looks uneven, I sometimes convert the picture to black and white, or simply reduce the saturation a lot, and then apply a warm or cool tone to it," Lorenz adds. "It just helps to clean it up a little bit."

Images should, of course, be pin-sharp where that was your intention. To ensure that a photo looks natural, though, avoid over-sharpening it in software. "I never sharpen images when processing them in Adobe Lightroom," explains Lorenz. "I do it later, because when you're creating a print, for example, you need to sharpen the image differently depending on the size of the print. But the way you apply sharpening is personal taste, really – although I would say that, once again, less is definitely more."

The location where you edit your images and even the time of day can have an impact on the end result. If you don't have a dedicated space for editing, with consistent lighting and neutral-coloured walls, Lorenz's tip is to make multiple versions of your pictures.

"Sometimes I make ten different versions of my favourite image. I may do the first edit in the morning, one after lunch, a third one in the afternoon, a fourth one at night and so on. And then I compare them.

"Out of all these different edits and colour gradings, there's usually one which is exactly how you saw the image, and then you can maybe do some final tweaks to this one. Of course, this technique only really applies when you're working with a couple of images. It's not something that you really want to be doing when you've got 100 pictures to deal with."

A silhouette of a woman with an umbrella standing outside a restaurant with an orange neon sign, the glow reflected in the wet pavement.
The same image of a woman with an umbrella standing outside a restaurant with an orange neon sign, edited so that more detail of her clothing and features is visible.

Here's an image that illustrates Lorenz's "less is more" approach. Subtle shadow details have been brought out in the model and backgrounds, but the overall look and feel of the image is the same as the shot from the camera. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 153mm, 1/80 sec, f/2.8 and ISO1600. © Lorenz Holder

Submitting your best photos

It's a good idea to give yourself some breathing space between editing your Redline Challenge images and submitting them. Reviewing the selection with fresh eyes a day or even a week later will help to reaffirm your decisions or let you see where you need to change them.

It can also be helpful to print out your photos at this stage, rather than viewing them on a computer monitor. Holding a physical print will give you a new perspective on an image and make it easier to spot any distracting elements that you may not have noticed on-screen. Try viewing them upside-down and in a mirror as well, for a fresh perspective on their balance and composition.

"Maybe it's also at that point when you could ask a friend to review your images," Lorenz suggests. "But don't tell them the stories behind the shots!

"There was an occasion where I had been standing for six or seven hours in snowfall in Finland," he goes on to explain. "It was absolutely freezing. I came back and told everyone I had a really cool shot, but everyone I showed it to said it was only alright! So I know there is definitely a tendency to rate an image more highly when you've had to fight for it, regardless of how good the picture actually is.

"When we're judging the Redline Challenge, we won't be able to see the energy that the photographer put into taking an image. So I think having a friend who is able to review your images impartially before you submit them will really help."

Lorenz's final piece of advice is to make sure you don't enter two almost identical images. "I had this problem when I was entering a competition. I submitted two similar shots, as I thought they were both cool. But the judges simply said, why should they be making the decision on which is better? The photographer should be doing that.

"This time round, I'm one of the judges, so you should definitely be making the final selection rather than me!"

Marcus Hawkins

• Adobe, Lightroom and Photoshop are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe in the United States and/or other countries.

Related articles

Get the newsletter

Click here to get inspiring stories and exciting news from Canon Europe Pro