Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tennessee 2012

Today was the first day in the Smoky Mountains in about a year.  I set the alarm clock for 3:00am to drive to Clingman's Dome for sunrise and to scout it out for Astral Photography (later this week).  When I arrived I found it to be less than desirable.  In fact, it was downright bad.  I could see about 30 feet with no break in the clouds.  Based on that I started my way down and decided to try a few places I knew about.  I was fortunate that Clingman's was the only place fully engulfed in clouds.  During my decent I also came across a coyote and a black bear.  It was a treat for me.  However, you will not see any images of those critters because it was just too dark to bring back some shots.  The remainder of the trip was pleasant and as you can tell the mountains did cooperate a bit.  I am heading back out the Wednesday weather permitting.  All the editing you see here is being done on my small laptop so full edited versions will be seen after we get back to South Florida.

I should be posting more images this week!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Use the Tools

What would you say if you went to the DMV to get your drivers license and they asked you to display your horse and buggy driving techniques? Let’s say you interview for an IT job with a major company and during the interview they wanted to critique your ability with punch card computer programming. What would you say to that?

My guess is you would laugh all the way out the door.

Why then do photographers often feel that it is necessary to live with outdated technologies or old ways of doing things? Is it because we have always done it that way and we feel uncomfortable moving on to easier methods? Do we need justification for all the time and money we spent learning the old ways?

I started into photography prior to the digital revolution. I spent time in the traditional wet darkroom (hours and hours). I then moved onto slide film and sent the work off to be processed. Then along came the scanners and hours in early Photoshop removing dust. Don’t forget the tone curve and how important that was.

Do you know how much all of this helped me become a better photographer? None, zero, zip, nada. I become a better photographer by shooting more. Not with outdated Photoshop or wet darkroom techniques.

There are filter effects in Nik Software that I could recreate using Photoshop but it would take hours. The Lightroom 4 sliders can also do some amazing things in just moments. Knowing the old methods served their purpose when we did not have the new tools we do now.

Really, all I am saying is stop trying to justify old methods that are out dated. Take the time you would spend on photography forums defending your techniques and apply that to learning the newer ways and embracing the advancing technologies. Better yet, spend that time taking photos. That will make you a better photographer.

Every image that you see in this post has had some Lightroom 4, Photoshop, and Nik Software adjustments.  Total time per image?  Less than 5 min.  If you can't afford Photoshop or Nik Software then look for Lightroom 4 presets.  They are affordable and powerful tools.  One of the best out there that I use comes from Gavin Seim.  You can find his effects at http://www.seimeffects.com/

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Put Your Big Boy/Girl Pants on!

One of the first questions I get asked when people look at my photographs is “did you do something to it in Photoshop?” The answer is always going to be yes (well, at least Lightroom). Why? Well, I shoot in RAW. RAW captures the most data when taking photos but leaves the photos looking “flat”. This is because the camera has made no color or contrast decisions for you. When you shoot JPEG the camera makes all the color decisions based on certain algorithms and what it thinks you are going for. You could say that ALL images go through color changes or contrast adjustments. Some the photographer has creative control over and others the camera has the control. I prefer to control this on my own using the RAW format.

When I shot film this question never came up. However, your choice of film made a huge difference. My primary film was Fuji Velvia because I loved the rich greens that it provided to my landscape shots. The choice of lab that I used to process the film also made a difference. Someone I didn’t know made decisions about the amount of time the slide film stayed in chemicals which changes the image.

When the shutter is actuated you are no more than half way done. There are stories about how Ansel Adams, one of the greatest landscape photographers of all time, would spend hours in the dark room perfecting a photo only to come out and rip up the image because it did not fit his vision. I think most people just assume that you use Photoshop (now a buzz word for post processing) to make a bad image good. One phrase that I repeat to myself often is “garbage in, garbage out”. It is vital that the image be the best it can be at the time of capture. This limits post processing time and ensures that you have a good product to start with. Photoshop is used to make a good image the best it can be. Generally, not always, if I have to spend more than five minutes on a photograph in Photoshop I just scrap the image.

What is the difference between Photoshop and the traditional darkroom? I say it is the amount of time you spend processing. In the traditional darkroom you could spend hours dodging and burning or playing with the paper exposure times for a single image. It takes a fraction of that time in Photoshop to make the same adjustments.

So, can an image be OVER processed? Yes but it is really up to the photographer’s vision and what he/she is attempting to produce. My goal, in most cases, is to render the image as close to what I remember seeing at the time of capture as possible. I do sometimes stray from this just to see what happens. Photography is art and therefore subject to the vision of the photographer.

What you should ask yourself at the end of all your processing is this question. Do you like what you see? If the answer is yes then it really doesn’t matter how you got to this point. People who purchase your art work generally don’t care because they simply like what they see.

I do have to wonder if traditional artists go through a similar issue? Do you think some painters look down at others because they used mixed media or encaustics? Does their choice of paint brands come under scrutiny by other artists?