I’ve been away for a really long time. I know. Things have been crazy as work went from okay to downright bad thanks to an automotive accident. I ended up quitting my job because I couldn’t physically handle the work. Since then, I’ve been going on quite a few interviews and doing everything I could to get my hand fully functional again. Photography has helped there. So has typing. It’s time to combine those activities right here.
You’re probably wondering what’s prompted me to update this blog six months after the fact. I wish I could say it’s to show off my photos from two fairly major trips I’ve taken. I also can’t claim that setting up a satirical Instagram feed had anything to do with it. There’s also the technical aspects about maintaining this blog that don’t qualify as motivation to update this thing; in fact, they’re quite the opposite. Never mind the fact that I’ve made some progress in photo competitions. Nope. My inspiration came from a goddamn Cracked.com article. My life is indeed a very sad thing. So let’s talk about it, then.
I think there are legitimate points in this article. However, it’s very narrow in scope when it comes to those who are anti-Photoshop. Most of the article discusses how women are portrayed in terms of visual media, but there are a few broader points. They tend to be clustered in point #4, which covers lighting, perspective and other tricks used to manipulate how a subject looks. For people who actually take pictures, this information isn’t really anything new. In fact, anyone who has any knowledge of photography would be practically screaming “DUH!” at the top of their lungs and facepalming hard enough to give themselves concave noses.
And that’s my point. Why do we need Photoshop when we photographers have lots of other tools at our disposal? We have lenses, polarizing filters, sunlight, hacks for beauty dishes, and so many more things that can make the same adjustments in Photoshop without having to juggle with workflows and similar horse hockey. One time, I actually used my sunglasses as a filter for a shot. If you know enough tricks and have taken the time to learn how to judge the light you’re given, you can pull off lots of things people create in Photoshop without having to do a thing in post. Why rely on a computer to distort reality when you can learn more analog moves that are more subtle and can sometimes do a lot more for you? Plus you can reduce the likelihood of becoming chained to your computer for editing every single photo you decide to show off.
My attitude may be influenced by not photographing people all that much. I’ll cop to that. I still don’t see the need to Photoshop landscapes or animal shots into oblivion. It strikes me as lazy and not willing to put out effort into the field. When I watch Photoshop tutorials online, I wonder half the time what prevented the photographer from moving to a different spot to frame the photo or wait for a different time of day when the lighting was less challenging. Perhaps this is me being at my most romantic, holding onto the belief that the best photographers avoid the editing room because they possess the cleverness to capture the magic in the field. Maybe I don’t want to believe that the human eye is so conditioned to Photoshop that anything left untouched looks weird to them. Well, guys. Reality is a weird little thing to perceive. Perhaps it’s face to face reality on its terms instead of through excessive string pulling meant to match your desires.
A while ago I downloaded an Adobe Lightroom trial. Yeah, I know how strange this sounds coming from someone who has previously railed against the post-production obsession that has pervaded photography culture over the last decade or so. The only reason I even considered it was because I have had some issues with chromatic aberration that Paint Shop Pro doesn’t address all that well with its corrector. Ironically, I didn’t deal with that during my trial period.
Now that the trial is over, I figured I’d share my thoughts on Lightroom. Given that I didn’t use all 30 days of the trial, I acknowledge that my overall impression is tempered by my lack of experience with the program. It was okay. I had a bit of a learning curve to deal with just in terms of navigation. I was a bit let down by the brightness/contrast controls, as it wasn’t always enough (especially on very underexposed photos I wanted to lighten up to show more redeeming factors). The histogram control didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but I still managed to get decent results. My efforts with individual color control also fell flat for me, but I was probably expecting far more drastic changes than what I got. I also wasn’t especially thrilled about the various view and zoom options. Zoom is very limited, and I like to go individual pixel level. That’s what I’m most comfortable with, considering that most of my early graphics work involved fixing corrupted JPEG files. With all that said, I did figure out some of the brush tools, though, and that was a pleasant surprise. If I can’t find something like that on Paint Shop Pro, I’m willing to plunk down the money for Lightroom (once I have the money, that is). It’s the most powerful control I could find in the program, and it worked well when I used it.
With all that said, I’m not sure if I’d spend any more time in the editing room if I went balls to the wall with Lightroom. Even with new programs at my disposal I’m not huge on editing. I very rarely enjoy it and still feel like a fraud when I do it. I feel like even slight saturation changes affect this form of art and time travel. So you may see more edited photos in the future, but they will never surpass the number of photos that are camera-only.
If I may, I’d like to take a quick break to muse on the love/hate relationship I have with editing photos. Simply put, I try to take the photo at the location and make it ready to print at that time. A lot of retouching happens on the professional side of things, but I found a quote on this site that comes from a pro who stands by the old school style of things. Have a look.
Being a photographer carries with the responsibility of never altering a photograph. (You can lighten, darken, sharpen, or crop the image and be safe. To alter is to “Make or become different in some particular way, without permanently losing one’s or its former characteristics or essence – either through darkroom techniques or digital “enhancement” – you are compromising the purity and integrity of the art.) Photography has an inherent quality of honest [sic] and you must have the courage to stand by the image.
The thing is, Western society is so used to alterations in photos that we don’t always notice when they’re being done. Since Photoshop is so ubiquitous in our lives, a lot of people tend to forget what an untouched photo really looks like. With the exception of my previous editing room entry, all of my photos are unenhanced. They are only resized to ease loading times. Otherwise, what you see is what you get. There is no digital alteration involved. For that matter, I don’t even use filters (and will only use a couple when I get a DSLR). My approach is minimal, yes. However, it allows for me to be more adaptable and be able to switch gears almost autonomically. I can be somewhat nomadic when I’m on a photography jaunt, as seen with the Light Rail project. I think nothing of walking three miles and covering multiple subjects along the way, all the while adjusting to countless shifts in light. These jaunts are definitely practice, but I’m doing more than trying out different composition when I’m out there. I’m making myself think on my feet and test the limits of my camera. Very, very few of my photos go to the editing room, and most of those are not selected for this blog. I may have a handle on editing, but I prefer to skip it because it doesn’t fit with my photography philosophy of getting the shot when on location. Perhaps in spite of all the new school equipment I have and will acquire as I get older and grow further into the craft I have an old school perspective on how photography should be approached. I think I’m more than okay with that.
I’ve mentioned my ambivalence about photo editing before. I do try to compose my shots in the camera so no editing is needed afterwards. The photos in the previous entry were all unedited. The black and white photos were taken in black and white with the only tweak being going for a simulated red filter. (FYI, I prefer orange but felt the image of roses in a dumpster called for something more dramatic.) After finally getting Paint Shop Pro for making my wedding invitations, I decided to try out the photo editing tools. This time, instead of going all out with filters, layers and dramatic techniques that warp photos into something that could be best described as hipster attention grabbing, I decided to be a little more subtle. I used light effects sparingly, played with contrast and amped up the hue just enough to brighten the photo a touch. Here are the results.
I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with photo editing tools. In the digital age it’s just too easy to take a junk photo and manipulate into a wannabe masterpiece. I’m not that way. Maybe it’s because I started shooting on film just before the digital explosion began. I’ve always wondered how photo retouching worked before the incorporation of the computer into the photography world. I also have operated under the belief that photo editing is a poor substitute for rock solid raw photography. When I add photos to my Facebook page, they are all unedited. What you see is what you get. On the other hand, I can understand the appeal and have used such editing tools to create photo based artwork, but it’s mostly for my own amusement. I play with them because I know whatever I create will not be considered my primary work. I try to avert common distortions when I initially compose a shot, and I’m slowly learning how to work with light so I don’t have to correct contrast after the fact. Simply put, I try to do all my corrective work with the basic functions of the camera and my physical photography skills. Yes, it sometimes involves contorting myself in odd positions, but if it gets the job done, I don’t really care.
That said, I’ve played with a few different types of software. I have yet to work with Photoshop and will not track down a pirated copy in order to have it. However, from what I’ve read around, Paint Shop Pro is pretty similar. I’ve worked extensively with Paint Shop Pro in the past. I actually didn’t like it at first, but I ended up buying it after going into photo withdrawal during the summer of 2007. It recently got uninstalled from my computer, and the disks went MIA in the midst of my two moves in two years. So I’m going to have to buy a new copy. I need it for making wedding invitations, anyway. It took some getting used to, and it might not be the best for the beginner. Even without a stylus I managed to do some interesting things with the program. Since I’ve been doing without for some time, I’ve been poking around Photobucket’s tools, which are designed for amateurs (at least in theory). I mostly just played with the effects, because I figured if I’m going to muck up a picture with digital manipulation, I’m going all the way. So have a few photos of the non-manipulated and manipulated variety.