I thought I’d get in one last blog before I leave for Cambodia next week. I thought about blogging about the trip itself, because it’s obviously very much on my mind at the moment, what with prepping, packing, and organizing for it. But all I came up with was a title for the post; “HOLY CRAP I LEAVE FOR CAMBODIA IN LIKE, A WEEK.” And then it would just basically be a lengthy list of all the stuff I still have to do before I go. Aaaand you don’t want to read that. So I’ll just tell you about the trip upon my return:)
So, I thought I’d tackle another subject which is a constant source of heated discussions between photographers. Editing. Processing. Photoshopping. Taking it into the digital darkroom. Whatever you want to call it – it’s basically the process of manipulating or altering an image to achieve the desired effect – whatever that effect may be.
I’ll admit that when I first started shooting on a this-is-becoming-a- pretty-damned-expensive-hobby kind of basis, I was adamantly against any sort of post processing being done to the image. What you captured in camera was what you captured in camera, and that was that. If you needed to edit a photo to “save” it, you were doing it wrong. I still agree with at least part of that, to some degree. I don’t think photoshop should be used as a tool to save what, essentially, is a sub-standard shot, and should have been 86’d the first time around. But my view on post-processing aside from that has changed radically.
When I first started shooting seriously, I viewed edited photos with scorn and distaste. I thought “sure, anyone can be a great photographer if they know how to do a little photoshoppery.” (Absolutely not true, I have since discovered). I’m willing to admit now that my viewpoint then was coming from a place of envy. Or let’s call it what it was: petty jealousy. I saw these beautiful images, had no idea how to create them myself, and just wrote them off as “photoshopped.” I see the word tossed around in photography forums all the time, like it’s some sort of dirty word. “Photoshopped!” people comment on images that are just too perfect to be real. It’s not a dirty word, and it’s not a bad thing. It’s an art form on it’s own, and it takes a lot of doing to learn how to properly, and subtly edit a photo.
Post-processing is nothing new. Film photographers have been doing it since, well, the beginning of film. Dodging, burning, adjusting tones, contrast, exposure, masking, airbrushing – all of these are simply the analog version of what photographers are busy doing in Photoshop, or Lightroom, or whatever particular tool you happen to be using. I have the utmost respect for film photographers that use these techniques (and I wish I had a bigger apartment so I could give them a bit of a go myself). But I have no less respect for photographers who have mastered the same techniques in an editing program. Speaking from experience; it ain’t easy. I believe I’ve mentioned before my frustration with learning post-processing techniques in Photoshop. (WHY is it SO non-intuitive??). So when I see a shot that is flawlessly edited, I give a little bit of mental applause to that photographer, because I know the technique didn’t come easy, and they probably spent ages learning it.
I find that there seem to be very opposite camps equally divided on the “to edit or not to edit” debate, and discussions about it can get downright nasty. But why? How about we look at photography as the art form that it is, and allow for photographers to get as creative as we’d allow an artist in any other field to get. You wouldn’t accuse an author of “cheating” because they chose their laptop as their particular tool for creation, as opposed to writing longhand or clacking it out on their Underwood typewriter. This is all we are doing here in the digital age – using the current tools we have at hand to create beautiful images that we hope you love as much as we do. And editing programs are needed to do the very same things that film photographers have been doing for years untold. (That’s a whole other can of worms – the digital vs analog debate, but I’m not going to get into that now.)
With what most digital cameras are able to capture and adjust in camera these days, the point almost becomes moot anyhow. Where do you draw the line on what is “straight out of camera” or what is highly edited, especially with a lot of cameras having in-camera filters, effects, etc that you can play around with (no different than attaching a filter onto the lens of your film camera, just that it’s all done in camera now.)
To demonstrate the point, the image I’m including with this post, “Caribbean Dreams” probably appears, to most, highly edited. But this one is very nearly straight out of camera. It was shot with a tripod, using a graduated neutral density filter, at a two second exposure. Saturation and contrast were adjusted in-camera. The only thing done in Photoshop afterwards was to clean up a few dust specks from my sensor (man, I hate that!). But it doesn’t, quite, look….real, does it? Nope, straight out of camera. And I have other images I’ve spent AGES retouching but you wouldn’t think a thing has been done to them. All part of the art form, I say.
So, while my position on the editing debate has drastically changed, I can still agree with the diehard “No edits” camp on one thing; you must capture the absolute best image you can in camera before you even think of taking it into Photoshop. Or whatever. Editing programs shouldn’t be used as a crutch to save photographic fails. (Although I have several rather hilarious attempts of photos I’ve attempted to do just that with, but I won’t share them with you, because you will never be able to unsee them.) I also don’t agree with presenting a Photoshopped image as something other than what it is. I don’t add objects to my photos that weren’t in the frame to begin with and then try and convince you otherwise. That’s just, well, cheating. However, get as creative as you want with these programs! They’re powerful tools and I’ve seen some incredible work from photographers who use them to create seemingly alternate realities from their images. It’s an art form, you can take it where you want to.
Alright, off to get a few more things ready for the trip! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. For? Or against?