As you might have guessed from the lack of updates here, my job almost succeeded in eating me alive. Almost.
Oddly enough, it was my job that indirectly tipped off an identity crisis when it comes to photography. When I started training, I learned that two of my cohorts dabble in the craft. One of them happens to be really good at it.I’d rather not share his work here right now (as it will probably lead him here to this blog, which I’m not ready for him to find). Feel free to leave me a comment if you wish to see it. The thing about his portfolio is it made me feel like an inferior photographer. I saw through the fisheye lens and liberal post-production work to suss out solid composition and excellent timing. I am especially impressed with his shots of birds. Given how much I like birdies, I suddenly felt a bit unworthy. The praise posted did not help things. I had a bit of a meltdown over it, and only chats with a few different friends helped me determine what to do in regards to my future in taking pictures.
Long story short, I’ve started to really accept that I’m a technician and not an artist. When I raised the question of quitting photography on Facebook on Writing.com, the point was raised about artistic photography making a statement. Here’s the thing. I don’t always see photography that way, especially artistic works. When I view photos in a physical gallery or exhibit space, I look at how the photo utilizes foreground/midground/background facets of composition. I also consider how much I can immerse myself in the scene on a base level. Ultimately, that’s what I try to do with my photography. I aim to engage sense beyond sight. I want people to imagine the texture of flower petals, the scent of a goat’s enclosure, or hear the breeze jostling objects in a scene. I do this through various in-camera/in the field techniques. I feel that the vast majority of post-processing takes away from achieving this goal. Yes, this does apply to the work of the photographer I mentioned earlier.
When I’ve dabbled in competitions, I have had some success. Aside from my YBS Top 100 milestone, I have people favoriting/voting for my photos on I Shot It. I can’t say for sure if these people are experiencing what I share on a sensory level. It’s all anonymous, kind of like an actual gallery where I’m not around to directly observe their reactions. My photos seem to do things for some people, though. I guess I have that going for me.
Ultimately, camera technique interests me way more than post-processing (even if I can stomach Lightroom). I care more about finding lenses that will best fit my budget and subjects than I do about actions. Staying quiet to not disturb the wildlife I photograph is more important to me than staying on top of photo software updates. If these priorities mean I’m a technical photographer and not an artistic one, then that’s what I am. Why I keep trying my hand at artistic pursuits I’ll never know.
Being in the technical camp means I don’t have a whole lot of support out there, but I do have some. Ken Rockwell’s op-ed on RAW files echoes some of the sentiments I have when it comes to the craft of photography. I suppose it’s nice to see someone echo my thoughts when that person’s photography background is way different than mine. As I dove back into photography courtesy of working in a photo lab, I saw some lovely things come out of developing film by placing it through automatically timed chemical baths and nearly no interference in printing. Some customers I developed film for were taking photography classes and brought their film to my store. It was fun to see their work because it was really gorgeous. Because of that, I got to see stunning work created without post-processing meddling. If there was ever a moment that my anti-manipulation dogma took root, this would be it.
It all boils down to this. I’m a technique freak that’s been trying to bite off more than I can chew. I’ve gotten lucky in that regard in the past, but this time around it finally became too much. It’s in my best interest to stay focused on improving technique since my desire to make a grand statement on a topic with my photos doesn’t appeal to me. Here’s to actually staying true to my technique-oriented self. I hope I can do this.
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.
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.