“Photoshopped.”

My photo blog (shameless plug: lightproofbox.com) has been getting some traffic from StumbleUpon lately which brings with it little waves of attention. 99% of it is positive. But invariably there are a few people who don’t seem to have anything better to do than to say trite, mean things (anonymously, natch).

Hey, I’ve been around long enough to know there are jackasses out there who, while not doing anything risky or creative of their own, will always be willing to bash what everyone else is doing. I let it roll off my back.

But the one that makes me laugh is when they claim a photograph has been “photoshopped.” Well, duh. That’s like looking at the ocean and denouncing it by saying, “Wet.” Photoshopped? Let me think… Um, yes, please!

I modify 99% of my published photos. Of the thousand I’ve posted to Flickr there are maybe a half-dozen that I posted as-is from the camera. My earliest photos had the least “work done.” Later, as I became more experienced with digital post-processing, I edited quite heavily (probably too heavily in many cases). Lately, as my skill, confidence, and ability to pre-visualize with the camera has grown, I’ve been able to get what I want with minor adjustments or black and white conversion but I still sometimes edit heavily.

I think that most people who cry foul over a photo think that it’s a complete fake (reasoning: there’s no way I could take that photo, therefore no one could, therefore fake) and that the photographer is trying to pass it off as if it weren’t. (Keep in mind I’m talking about art not journalism.) Like I’m using Photoshop to pull a fast one and it’s the duty of these sharp-eyed photo-police to point out to everyone that the photo isn’t “real.”

News flash: no photos are “real.” At best, they’re a cropped, 2-dimensional representation of something real. Photographs are stories. Every one. Some of the stories are simple: we saw a famous landmark. Some can have a much deeper, even spiritual, impact. A single photograph can tell different stories to different people. And the last time I checked, stories don’t have to be “real” to have real meaning.

Do you hate it when people say “cheese”?

Continuing on my journey towards total photo snobbery, I’ve come to realize that my friends and family and I have different ideas about what makes a “good” photo. I’ve actually gotten exasperated requests at Christmas to “just send regular pictures.”

I prefer a documentary style approach to photographing my family and friends. I prefer more reality in my photos, capturing people doing stuff besides posing, looking natural and relaxed. But many people prefer smiling mug shots. I don’t go all prima donna and refuse to take requests. No, I just bury my pain deep inside of me where it can fester and create raging internal conflict and turmoil useful for artistic endeavors, smile, and say, “Say cheese!”

They like but I prefer

They like but I prefer

They like but I prefer

They like but I prefer

I give them both. Once in a while, they like my version better.

Photographers are visual liars

Maybe not all of them and maybe not intentionally (in some cases) but, more or less, almost every photograph is a lie of sorts. I’m not even talking about post-processing. We portray what we want the world to see. Each one is a view of the world from the photographer’s viewpoint. The only photos I can think of that might be totally honest are documentary and clinical in nature like, perhaps, crime scene photos. But I even wonder about those.

Bachelor pad

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Learning Photoshop

For more than a year, Photoshop was the bane of my photographic world. I wanted to learn it, but each time I tried, I came away feeling frazzled, inept, and not too bright. I just wanted to master the basics. Perhaps I could learn to remove small distractions from an image or brighten a dark spot. For example, I took a picture of a couple with their dog, and an upturned chair in the background made it appear as if the dog had horns.

Picture before PhotoshopPicture before Photoshop
Many of my friends could use this program, so I began with optimism. First, I took a class. The instructor cheerfully zipped though his list of topics, while I watched, listened, took notes, and tried to follow the steps on my laptop. That didn’t work, though, because while I took notes, I missed details, and while I was trying to find a tool or command, he was often moving on the next topic. I finished the class but recognized that I needed to find another way to learn the program.
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Mastering a Subject

daisy showerDo you take the same types of pictures over and over again? You know what I mean—hundreds of flower images (or cars or cats or whatever) fill your photo albums, but no portraits, buildings, action shots, or street scenes. One school of thought urges you to push yourself to shoot what does not come naturally. However, I have another suggestions: stick with what you love, but work to perfect that subject.

There is a vast difference between lacking the imagination to try new subjects and deliberately working on one subject to develop skills. The first is a type of laziness; the second is a path to mastery. I like to think that I’m following the second path, but I’m too close to tell, so I’m going to use another example, flickr photographer Steve Wall.

Now, I’ve never met Steve; I know nothing about his life; he isn’t even an online correspondent, or at least he wasn’t until I asked permission to use his photos. But I have been following his photography on flickr for a few years because I saw some pictures of his that I liked and marked him as a contact. As such, I see a thumbnail of his latest image whenever I sign on.

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