While some people believe the proverb below is really a curse, what’s often overlooked is that it’s part of three such phrases that includes “May you come to the attention of those in authority” and concludes with “May you find what you are looking for.” There is no doubt that we’re living in interesting times, photographically speaking. The paradigm shift that replaced film with silicon continues while spiraling off in different directions with SLRs delivering more megapixels and image quality than the Honda Accord-priced medium format digital backs of a few years ago and small chip interchangeable-lens mirrorless cameras that are more powerful than early digital SLRs. As the point-and-shoot market implodes, being replaced by ever-more competent smartphones, the paradigm shift doesn’t show any signs of abating, but as I’ve said here before, it’s not the tool that makes the image, it’s the photographer.
Plug-In Of The Month
Want to add an arty touch to your photographs? Simplify 4 from Topaz Labs is the easiest as well as most fun way of creating digital artwork from your images. This latest version costs $39.99 and includes more than 100 presets collected into five categories—plus your own customized presets and favorites—to produce more or less instant artistic transformations. I say “more or less” because Simplify 4 offers sliders that you can use to tweak for adding depth and localized contrast, for example. There’s also a set of edge-aware and selective brushes that can be used to dodge, burn, smooth, or brush out effects.
Wherein I hereby submit your Secret Santa’s A-list of gizmos, gadgets, and gear for the digitally minded who may have thought they had everything but didn’t know that they needed more stuff to produce that ultimate image. This month’s column can be used as a shopping list for your favorite photographer or you could grab a Sharpie and circle all of the goodies you like and leave it near where your spouse eats their Wheat Chex. It’s worked for me.
While my silver 10-speed bike is a far cry from the silver Audi R8 I recently piloted around Sonoma Raceway they both have one thing in common: they are essentially transportation devices that allow a person to get from one point to another. And while the R8 gets you there lots faster than a bicycle, the journey is part of the experience. The one thing that the imaging tools featured this month have in common is they help you make images; they do so in different ways, based on the kind of photographer you are and what you like to photograph.
October is my favorite time of year: not only is it Mary’s birthday month, but the mornings are brisk and the aspens are turning gold. Winter is around the corner, so there’s still time to get outside and make photographs before the snow gets too deep and the temperatures get too chilly for my old bones. Shutterbug’s editorial offices are in Florida and sometimes when it’s cold and snowy I envy those lucky sun worshippers, and yet I still love October in Colorado. The crisp air gets me anxious to make new images and to capture infrared photographs before the leaves are gone with the wind. Just remember, as always, to have fun with your photography no matter what the weather is like.
At this time of year some Shutterbug readers are getting ready to go back to school while others, like me, feel they’ve already put in enough classroom seat time, but that doesn’t mean we should stop learning. One of the best ways to improve your photography is the self-assignment. Many people think they need to travel to exotic locations to do this, when chances are there are great photo ops just around the corner. For the past 30 years my personal self-assignment has been making images near my home. How close? I prefer making photographs I can easily walk to from my front door. This self-assignment wasn’t done for any commercial purpose and it’s personal projects like this that help us stretch our talents, skills, and imagination. What’s your self-assignment?
For the past 10 years, my personal photography has enjoyed a burst of creativity that Mary alternately credits to a change in camera brands and a change in my home office environment. Certainly living and working on Daisy Hill has renewed my interest in personal assignments, but I think improvements in imaging technology are another catalyst. How can hardware and software increase or help a person’s pursuit of creativity?
When I was studying photography at the Maryland Institute College of Art, one of my instructors commented that some of the best photographs were made in the break room. Not real photographs, mind you, but chitchat among my erstwhile colleagues about the great photographs they were going to make—someday. While some of those images may have eventually gotten made, I’ll bet only a few of my fellow students actually produced the photographs they talked about so excitedly. And that’s because it’s easy to get wrapped up in what you have been successfully doing for so long that you forget to explore what attracted you to photography in the first place. You can be so mesmerized by the pixels on your monitor that you forget to create new photographs, something that’s different from the last batch of images captured. That’s why I think it’s a good idea to not only take time to smell the roses but to photograph them as well.
One of the guiding philosophies for my personal work is to “have fun with photography” and that involves using image manipulation software to create either an idealized version, as in a portrait of a subject, or an interpretation of a previously captured photograph. Retouching portraits goes back to the hand-tinting Mathew Brady added to daguerreotypes delivered to his customers but in more recent times photojournalists have been fired from newspapers for applying a bit too much Photoshop on their images. The whole question of what is “too much” is fraught with contradictions: since we see the world in color, is a black-and-white photograph manipulated? Is burning and dodging or changing an image’s contrast a manipulation? Trying to find answers that everyone will agree on is enough to make you crazy so I don’t let it bother me because all I want to do is have fun with my photography. If you agree, here are some useful tools to help you do just that.
During a portrait session and perhaps to a lesser extent when shooting a wedding, you can control the lighting, background, and subject. During a portrait session, I try to manage everything from the subject’s pose, clothing, and makeup and the resulting photographs tend to be as much a portrait of me as they are of my subject. What often emerges from that control is a style, which is not something I’m conscious about when photographing, but the truth is that over time we all develop a signature way of shooting. The danger is that we keep shooting that same way or different versions of the same shot for the rest of our lives. Any style you develop must grow and change as you learn. Otherwise, what’s the point? As we continue to shoot and learn from experience, and reading magazines like Shutterbug, we start to tweak and improve those results until what emerges is truly a personal style.
As a creative medium, traditionalists may call black-and-white photographs “monochrome” while some digital imagers may prefer the more computerese “grayscale,” but there’s more to this medium than just an absence of color. One of the reasons that purists prefer “monochrome” is that it’s a more precise term that covers images created using sepia and other tones. Many digital cameras have Black and White or Sepia modes that let you capture images directly in monochrome but these photographs are really color (RGB) files without any color! If you prefer, you can capture your images in color then use any of the software I’ll introduce this month to convert that color photograph into a monochromatic one. You’ll also find a few useful hardware tools to make your photographic life a bit easier.
This is the time of year when readers are looking for gift ideas for themselves, family, and loved ones, so, presented for your approval, is a list of gizmos, gadgets, and gear for the digitally-minded who think they “have everything” but didn’t know that they really needed more stuff to produce that ultimate image. You can use this month’s column as a shopping list for your favorite photographer or grab a Sharpie and circle all of the goodies that you want and leave it near where your spouse eats their Grape-Nuts. It’s worked for me.
Richard Avedon once said, “I think all art is about control—the encounter between control and the uncontrollable.” That’s what a dedicated studio, no matter what size it may be or where it may be located, provides a photographer. It is a safe haven from the real world where, like the Outer Limits voice says, you can control the lighting, the background, and the subject. When working in this kind of environment, I control everything from the subject’s pose to their clothing and makeup and the resulting photographs tend to be as much a portrait of me as they are of my subjects. What often emerges from all that control is a style. Photographic style is not something I’m conscious about when shooting but the truth is that over time we all develop a signature way of shooting. The danger is, of course, that we keep shooting that same way or different versions of the same shot for the rest of our lives, so any style you develop must grow and change as you learn. To get you started, here are a few tools that will help enhance or define your style.
One of the most interesting promotional items created for my long out-of-print book The Photographer’s Digital Studio was a cartoon drawn by the brilliant artist John Grimes (www.grimescartoons.com) which showed trays of developer, stop, fix, and wash with floppy disks being dipped in and out of each one. The caption: “A common mistake in digital photography.” Years ago I labored many hours in a wet darkroom to produce a composite image showing what an historic statue would look like when moved to a different location. Digital imaging software would have let me do a better job in less than an hour and I wouldn’t have had to spend time working in the dark with smelly chemicals. Part of the reason some people even ask “why digital?” is that many believe that digital imaging is somehow different than traditional photography. That’s not really true. I think there is no more difference between the two methodologies than you would find when comparing photographers working with large format view cameras to those grabbing snapshots with point-and-shoot cameras. It’s just that the tools are different and this month I’ll introduce you to some new image-processing tools.
Dick Stolley, who many consider Time-Life’s best managing editor, once told People magazine photographers that a successful image elicited a “Gasp Factor” from the viewer. Stolley believed that if the image stopped the reader, forced them to take a second look, read the headline, and perhaps the rest of the story, the photograph passed his test. Often the best photographs—those “Gasp Factor” ones—are made under less than ideal lighting conditions. These images are made on stormy days, at the crack of dawn, sunset, or in the dark of night when getting the proper exposure can be a distinct challenge. It is those precious fleeting minutes when the quality of light provides photographers with images that separate photographs from snapshots.