The cornerstone question of modern photography: Is it ok to use Photoshop for photography or just how much is it ok to use? The actual question though is whether photography supposed to document reality or it is an art and just any art it is free to express whatever artist wants to express?
That is quite broad question. If we accept that photography is documenting reality then we need to define what reality is.
From my childhood I remember a popular science program with one of episodes fully dedicated to human vision. One of the interesting aspects of human vision is chromatic adaptation, where human brain tries to “color balance” what it sees. Except it does not color balance based on average color, it color balances based on familiar objects. If it sees an object of the known color it will “color balance” scene to show that color correctly. If there is no familiar objects, all bets are off. In a room lit with red, a human can say that an object of white color (under sunlight) is red or white depending on whether there are familiar objects in the room or not. Now if two people visit such room and one sees the object as white and the other sees it as red, who is right? What is reality?
Human vision consists of many layers of processing. There are many illusions to trick various layers. (You can read about it here for example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_vision.) My point though is that different people see differently and not necessarily the same way the camera does. When we get into memory of something, things get even trickier. Our memory tends to keep images scenes, events, people differently from the way we see it first time. Which brings us back to the question: What is real?
Let’s try to approach this differently. Let’s say that camera is an ultimate tool to capture reality. Let me ask what camera settings the reality is at? Should saturation be at +2, 0 or –2? Which value the contrast should be at? How come one camera at saturation level –2 produces more saturated images than another camera at +2? Does that mean that camera manufacture have an opportunity to decide what reality is? Or do they just pick the closest image to people’s perception within a given market segment? I recently learnt that modern cameras have a database of scenes and they adjust settings based on whether scene looks like sunset or a portrait, with backlight or front line, full body shot or a face only. In some sense cameras try to get closer to human perception.
Let’s not fool ourselves thinking that the problem is introduced with digital photography. I still cannot get with digital such deeply saturated blue and green as Velvia film was producing. And what about black and white photography? For most people black and white is not the way we see the world around us. The amount of post-processing that film photographers do, can easily rival that with digital photography.
There is one question that keeps bugging me as I think about this. With all the sophisticated tools we have why are we so desperate to capture the world around us the way those tools see rather than the way we see it? I don’t what camera to decide for me how I see the world around. For me camera is a tool which can create a basis – all settings on neutral. Later during post-processing I try to make a photograph look the way I saw it. Cameras are not just that smart to replace a human yet.
Do you prepare for a shot or do you shoot? – Interesting question.
My mantra lately has been “shoot now think later”. Over the years I’ve missed so many moments because I took the time to prepare. But what the preparation is worth if the moment is gone?
So now when I get see something particularly interesting I first shoot – without tripod, with whatever settings happen to be on the camera. Many things I might be able to correct in post-processing. One things that I cannot create in post-processing (at least not yet) is the moment.
After I get those shots in the rapid fire I start setting up tripod and camera, change lenses, put filter, accurately compose and adjust settings on the camera. If the moment is still there I’ll take a picture again and I’ll use it as long as it is better than the one I took a few minutes earlier.
Here is a photo that I shot without tripod with the settings that happened to be on the camera:
The lenses happened to be wide open and I had to spend lots of time in post-processing to bring back corners but I got the shot and that’s what’s important for me. In a few seconds the light was gone, dunes got flat and the sky became boring.
Who can be called a photographer – this has been discussed many times. Is it a person with a camera? Is it a person who composes a shot? Is it a person that produces a final print?
This question has got a whole new meaning for me recently. My son has grown up a bit – he is three and a half now. When we go to a park and I take photos there he wants to be a part of it. I setup a tripod, compose a shot and then let him release shutter by pressing a button on a camera or on remote release. He is really happy to do that. Later he proudly tells mom that he has taken a photo on dad’s camera.
So, does this mean that he is a photographer now and I infringe his copyright by publishing those photos on my website under my name? (I hope you don’t take this question too serious in this context.)
Composed by me, shot by my son:
I think photography is the most democratic accessible art. If we think of other art eye-motion coordination is very important, being it playing a musical instrument, painting or dancing. Photography is the only art that I can think off where this is not important.
Anyone who observed a photographer may rightfully note that this is not completely true. The way a photographer approaches the subject, walks around it, moves around trying to setup a tripod, find the best angle is like watching a dancer move. If you’ve been in photography for a while you’ve may noticed that your body got trained to move fluidly and efficiently.
Being the most accessible art it is often confused with being the easiest one. I think that’s what all the companies, many photo magazines, etc are trying to convince you in. You just need to spend a bunch of money on gear, classes and workshops and (voilà!) you have a dream career – traveling around the world and photographing the most interesting places.
Everyone around photography tries to sell you more gear. Let’s look at “Outdoor Photographer”, for example. Enjoying outdoor photography myself I thought that this would be an interesting magazine. What I found though is that it was not about photography – it was about equipment. At some point I decided to get rid of extra pages with advertising, equipment reviews and pages on how to use particular brand of equipment or software. What was left in the end were 2-4 pages per magazine. Even those pages were half covered in advertisement. The conclusion that I’ve arrived to that even with its cheap subscription, the magazine was not worth it. It was not worth my time. (If you know of any magazine about color landscape photography, I’m open for suggestions.)
In the end looks like more and more companies jumping on this “more photography [equipment] for everyone” advertising train. In the end everyone makes money off photography excepts photographers themselves.
My suggestion to those who want to try photography is to start with some cheap camera and a cheap lenses (or maybe camera with built-in lenses). It will serve you good to learn if photography is for you, what you like in photography and what you’ll need. I know quite a few photographers that find out that that first camera is all that they need and do great shots with it.
I’m having a show on May 1 – May 29, 2010 at East Shore Gallery, Bellevue, WA (directions). It is in their office/bookstore building. The theme of the show is going to be “Rolling Hills of Palouse” and will include select images from the Rolling Hills folios at my website. All images will be giclee prints. Here is one of the photos that will be featured at the exhibition – “Palouse at Sunset”:
Finally, created my own blog related to fine art photography which I’m very much into.
Let’s try the first post: Hello, World!
Check out my website at http://www.vitphoto.com/