I had a rather impassioned plea for de-photoshopping from a comment offered at the time the exhibiton launched. Here’s what he had to say:
‘Here’s some constructive feedback, stop hiding behind Photoshop filters. The Sahara is a beautiful place, captured so wonderfully by so many talented photographers. It’s a natural beauty that is destroyed by a flat yellow tint job and fake vignette. You may call that art, I call it laziness.’
Thank you Jim for your comments, it’s great to receive this! Art is intended to allow an individual to express themselves and their ideas in a physical medium, and some say it becomes successful when it creates discussion. Evidently my image taken in the Sahara has moved you so much that you felt compelled to speak so frankly, so I’m happy.
I can’t comment for all of the other talented photographers out there, as you have not submitted examples to support your point of view. I thought it would be interesting to go back and look at the file to see how and why I arrived at that vibrant yellow, because yes, I agree it is pretty intense. You’ll notice that the original file is underexposed by a good three stops which was due to the low light I had on the day (and let’s face it you’re on a travelling budget so the highest end digital camera with a much better ISO range is just not something I can have). That’s not a soft pretty pink, it’s underexposed and therefore muddy and unprintable as is. To make it print worthy I need a decent highlight tone which I identified as sitting in the sky area just above that background dune. The tonal information then moves down to a decent black, somewhere in the shadow detail in the grasses.
So when I pulled up the exposure, then additionally pulled up the highlights a bit further and dropped back the blacks, a natural contrast adjustment occurred as well as an altering of colour along with it. I know it looks like I tinted the image, but actually I haven’t, the history settings are all there to prove it. The tint and daylight temperature settings are exactly the same on the final image as at import. In the colour sets I have not changed the reds or oranges. Yellow hue has been made more green, which allows separation of colour between the foreground sand and the background dune (you’ll notice the background is a bit pinkier than its foreground counterpart in the final). Green saturation and hue has been altered to give colour contrast between the grasses and their sandy environment. This adjustment only affected the grasses, not the sand.
Clarity has been added to give more definition to the footsteps. The footsteps are the core of the image and I probably wouldn’t have taken it without them.
It was a cloudy day which is why the sky is grey, I have not changed the sky colour. Yes, vignetting was added. There was plenty already there in-camera so I agree with you I was heavy handed there, it could be lightened off some more. Also this darkened corner effect became enhanced when I added in a graduated filter for the sky to bring in the cloud tonal detail which had been lost when I originally raised the highlights. Generally speaking I liked the idea of strong vignetting for this particular image because when I took it I felt like I was seeing into another world, like looking through a long telescope at sea, it was hyper real to me to be out in the middle of nowhere and to see those footprints there like that. So when the boosting of highlights and shadows enhanced the contrast and colour, I didn’t mind that result in the end because for me it communicated something of the emotional/intellectual experience I was having of the place at the time.
What do you call art? For me an artistic result occurs from the in-camera decisive moment and image construction as well as then how that image is physically finished to a ready-to-view state. In this image (as with lots of my images) I wanted to document my experience and feelings of being there. I wasn’t really so concerned with capturing the natural beauty of the place, rather I preferred to reflect my personal experience of the place. So in fact Jim though you don’t happen to personally like the colour result, in fact I do and felt lucky that the technical requirement for printing actually brought that effect out in the image.
So thank you Jim, for your comments, I really appreciate the feedback. I would have to say though that you are looking at this image in isolation and out of context. This image belongs in an exhibition, where in context you may have had a different response. Maybe, maybe not. Hopefully you had a chance to see the whole exhibition.
Ultimately, this is why I LOVE digital – I’m no longer at the mercy of the lab. In film days there was only so much you could do when you sent off your exposed films to be processed and printed, unless you were in the darkroom yourself hand printing your images from negatives that had been hand developed from carefully constructed exposures as I have done for hours back in the old days. I sure miss that pungent smell of fixer, and being in that red lit darkroom with good music, my hands on fibre-based paper prints and standing dangerously close to caustic chemicals. There was something so aesthetic and tactile about crafting an image with your hands from start to finish. Luckily now we can do so much with photoshop. For me it offers unprecedented control so that when it goes to print, it comes out on the paper exactly, exactly the way you want it, down to the finest details, including vignetting! Photoshop is just the tool of the trade for me. But there is always room for learning more and I’m grateful for Jim’s comments.
What do you think is called art? How do we make a photograph an artwork?