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Style & Philosophy page 1
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David's Photographic Style & Philosophy page 2 of 3

David's Attitude about Post-Processing

This same philosophy carries over to my image digital processing and printing. In other words my interest is in creating landscape prints that within practical limitations, represent what was experienced during a moment of time without artificially jacking up saturation and contrast, changing hues, cloning out objects, or otherwise manipulating an image just to make it more aesthetic and marketable. One won't see out of focus foreground twigs or awkward clouds cloned out from my images and I will be able to easily verify such authenticity because I expect to be challenged at some point and show the original transparencies. This again reflects my personal commitment to what I consider to be part of the essence of photography. Actually some of my images do have minor jet contrails left in skies even though I could easily clone them out. For my choice and style of work, it is about trust and honesty without stepping anywhere down a slippery indefinable slope.

And that is a plus to my choice of film during this day and age of image controversies, whereas anything digitally captured has no such record. However film has a limited luminance latitude. For instance blue sky often is captured darker than normal when the rest of a landscape is bright rock and snow. And exposed for sunlight illuminated elements, shadows render darker on film than experienced. Thus with post processing one can compensate a modest amount by lightening shadows and darkening highlights, to improve image fidelity to original scenes. So to those purist, my interest is not in not using digital controls, but rather in using whatever tools including those in post processing to end up with better image fidelity.

Another issue is either inkjet inks or silver halide photographic paper for reflective prints has a small color gamut and limited dynamic range such that one may need to use modest post processing compensation. The finest prints technology can produce today are considerably better than those produced 15 years ago. However they still have a ways to go before matching the brilliance of a transparency on a lightbox. Likewise another step up; what our human eyes see is far superior to what any film on a lightbox can render. However a well-made print today can be a reasonable rendition of the natural world. And it is that I wish to offer others. The often offered statement by those that advocate anything goes is that because prints can never look perfectly like the real thing, there isn't value in trying to record visual images faithfully. Of course a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater fallacy. Any person can readily tell the difference between a print in which the photographer tried to capture and post process a subject faithfully versus the vast majority that are manipulated.

The film drum scanning process introduces non-linearities and digital artifacts that must also be compensated for on a computer as well. I expend considerable editing effort with each raw drum scan file using advanced Photoshop color tools to match image hues to transparencies. And those transparencies are illuminated on a reasonably color accurate light box right beside my computer with a color calibrated monitor so I can continually make comparisons. For any photographers interested in creating reasonably accurate prints during post processing, I will emphasize that it is absolutely key and necessary to have the original transparencies on an accurate lightbox right beside them while they work and to develop a habit of looking while making adjustments.

Processing Attitudes in the DSLR World

A significant advantage for film users versus DSLR users is developed Provia transparency film provides a reasonably accurate record. DSLR users on the other hand capture images and once back on their computer, the vast majority have nothing to calibrate an image against except their own memory. Such mental memories days later are essentially worth little beyond imagination in their mind's eye. Camera manufacturers could provide better accuracy and internal color calibration but why bother when masses of customers today don't care or don't know?

No wonder most DSLR camera users embrace photographic art and manipulation. They really don't have much of a choice. What they do produce is reasonably believable images that their audience will readily accept as possible. Much the same as many landscape painters have always created paintings; a well-established and embraced art form. Today with large numbers of photographers all vying to get their work noticed by their peers and public or to make sales, it is hardly surprising what has evolved.


The result is color images taken with DSLRs are usually boosted up with contrast and saturation to the upper limit of believability. They are acting as though:

Only the more extreme colorful and contrasty possible natural conditions are worthy for photographic output. Most of the rest are simply too drab and boring to their audience. Only some near ultimate experience they can imagine is worth their presentation.

Places the rest of us seem to readily cherish just as they are. Tends to say nature isn't good enough as is and that bothers this person in particular because I appreciate and am immensely thankful for the wonderful planet Earth and its life we have. The very thing they make such an effort and big deal about to capture is unworthy. Rather tellingly as to their own sense of what they are doing is, if someone in their community crosses the line on believability, others are often critical. Why is that? Well because they understand at least subconsciously, how even marginally unbelievable images are not looked on favorably by the public. Thus there is a subtle community sense of a vague line where increasing numbers of their public audience will tend to be critical. And that many in the general public despite obviously understanding what digital cameras and post processing can do today, prefer photographic images to have at a minimum some sense of believability.

As an indication of how entrenched this status quo is among high end nature and landscape photographers, on image critique forums, many are quick to provide advice on how such and such ought to be adjusted to make images look even better aesthetically. In other words they have no interest in image fidelity and as a community exert peer pressures to join the rest with that attitude. And further, there is a sense given defensive responses, that some are uncomfortable with those that differ with that attitude as though it is some kind of subtle attack. Of course bookstores, photography magazines, photography editing applications, and sites devoted to such software, push the manipulate this way and that ethic because it means revenue. Again as I've related, there is nothing inately wrong having such a creative attitude and I am rather simply stating that the status quo is image believability and not image fidelity. However it now dominates landscape and nature photographers with a lack of balance to the extent I for one think it reflects a sad state of this art form. To be fair, there are many photographers that tend to be sitting somewhere in the middle using a modest amount of manipulation that creates much more believable results. Typical is the Velvia film user that merely straight post processes scanned film without resorting to all manner of further creation. However the line due to pressures I've related, is readily moving away from any restraints.

The Manipulation Debate &
History during the Velvia Era

This gets to the next central issue long debated with considerable discourse in serious Internet photography communities. How ought we deal with manipulation of photography regarding presentation to our public audiences? What are the ethics involved? Once upon a time, many in the debate lined up on each side of a line with everything black on one side and white on the other. Essentially, one side claimed photography is about accuracy. At least so in the graphic sense. Some even went so far to say only traditional silver halide enlarger developed prints off of actual negatives are real photography. The other said it is art and was never accurate. Then gave examples of how Ansel did this and Ansel did that as though the black and white realm bears on color aspects of the issue. Then in conclusion said it all means anything goes in a big dog eat dog free for all without restraint. And of course with the avalanche of this decade's new photographers, the latter attitude has prevailed.

In the previous era of color photography, this all started about 1990 with the advent of Fuji Velvia slide film. A film with superior resolution and attractive warm saturation. Commercial stock users, about the only real market for color photography, often chose gaudy over natural and the race was on. Thus a whole generation of former professionals using Kodak Kodachrome that had some sense of ethic about capturing subjects with reasonable fidelity of the day, switched to Velvia and many other soon developed high saturation films.

Style & Philosophy page 3

   David Senesac

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