31 July, 2007


Recently, another photographer approached me and asked what Photoshop filters I use on my images. Now, I do use a sharpening filter, and I do have a custom, warm-tone for my black and white images, when I feel they would look better warmer, but I knew this person was not referring to these basic filters or actions, but rather the “sets” that are available all over the electronic frontier.
“I don’t use any,” I replied. The photographer looked somewhat puzzled, then smiled, said, “Okay,” and walked away.
About an hour later the same photographer approached again and asked, “What I meant was, what action sets do you apply to your pictures?”
Again, I knew what they were talking about, but I tried explaining it again. “I don’t use anything like that,” I said. “I resize, dodge, burn, slight sharpen and bingo, call it good.”
This time the photographer not only looked puzzled, he looked frustrated.
I explained to him, “Look, I know these custom actions are very popular, and they produce a wide array of looks and feels, but I don’t use any of them.” “I just do what I did in the wet darkroom, or as close to that as possible.”

I think what this relates to is fantasy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Harry Potter, but I didn’t read the book. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Lord of the Rings, but I didn’t see the movie. I’m not really into sci-fi and many of the image filters give the pictures a surreal look and feel, and that just doesn’t suit the style of photograph I’m trying to make.

When I’m making pictures I’m really trying to focus on light, timing and composition, nothing more, and trying to make my decisions and my pictures IN THE FIELD, not at the computer once I’m back at home.

Many of the portrait/wedding images I see have a look and feel that is way beyond anything I have seen in reality. Layer masks, coffee-colored skies, hyper-real colors, extensive retouching, etc.
In fact, with each passing year I see the level of manipulation going further and further. Case in the point, the car shooters are now, in some cases, being pushed out by CGI. My first response to this was, “When will this happen in other genres of photography?”
Why hire a shooter when you can CGI your pictures. Some photographer friends of mine laughed, but already I’ve seen two fashion spreads that are nearing this plateau.

One retoucher I met said that he felt we were now in the middle of the time period we would look back on and laugh at, saying, “We are in the middle of the period when we didn’t know when to stop,” in regards to retouching and manipulation.
Simply put, the idea of "perfection" is now what is expected. I prefer real or slightly flawed.

Several months ago I returned to the wet darkroom for the first time in years, and began to, once again, print silver gelatin. One of the FIRST things I realized after viewing these images, was how far I had gone with my digital prints. I realized I needed to pull back in almost every regard, sharpening, color, etc, and just how easy it is to get carried away by the technology, and the ability to get into every nook and cranny to “adjust.”

For me, the bar is reality. I don’t see with vignettes, with layer masks, with hyper-intense eyes, or with clarity beyond 20/20, so why should I see that in my pictures?

Again, this is just a matter of opinion and preference, but I was asked about this recently and thought I would write it down.

Happy Snaps.

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