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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Notes on Photographic Style, Goals, Technology, and Inspiration

I’ve thought a lot this past year about my photography. That which I do for/as Driftwood Photography Studios, and that I do for my own growth and enjoyment. I thought about my style. Refining it. Defining it. Followed by the inevitable redefining of it. Partly because I feel photography should be a constant evolution. Partly because I see what others are taking on the same days as me, and the resultant images that sell.

In regards to my photography, my biggest fear is to become stagnant in my stylistic progression. But despite technology, despite the need to constantly evolve, there are foundations that must be held onto (beyond good composition).

In a world of post processing and over compensating for what I can only assume is a perceived banality of reality many photographers must perceive in front of their lenses, and the teaming reality TV masses that thrive on whatever is loudest and shiniest (much akin to crows and magpies), I’m fighting to stay true to what my eye sees. The world is vibrant and stunning, but also shocking and unpredictable. So why as an industry are so many photographers changing their images so drastically on the computer?

Why in the digital age are so many photographers not content with the colors and lighting they see? -Or the scene and background for that matter?

I recently walked the expo floor at a photography conference. There were a dozen different software products being hawked. I stopped at a few booths and listened to the reps talk on various editing features, even let one give me a demonstration. I watched the rep take a nice portrait of a young couple at the end of a pier leaning against the white stucco wall of an outbuilding and change the colors, apparent light sources, texture of the wall behind them. I walked away thinking why not just setup a better shot, with better lighting, in a different location?

I got to thinking, what is the line between a photograph and photographic art? -Or graphic design? At what point does it become less about the scene in front of the photographer and their technical ability at capturing (and yes, altering) the light coming directly into their lens, to more about post-processing and their ability to manipulate software after the fact?

We can all lighten shadows, save minor blown out/clipped exposures, and enhance colors. We can make grayish, cold winter water of California look bright and vibrant in greens and blues. Very easily too with the latest editing software. Good editing, even extreme editing, can be incredibly impressive. But what happened to showing the world as it is?

Not every day, not every location, not every wave looks like Bali or Tahiti. And it’s not supposed to. But unless you have a 20-foot plus wave or Kelly Slater to work with, it seems to becoming the standard to try and make it look so. I’ve fallen into that trap myself without even realizing it until looking back at photos on a later date. So I’ve gone back to using filters, even staking them. I do my best to ensure I’m shooting with the optimal light. Waves and weather don’t always coincide, but there are always opportunities to setup a memorable shot. Whether it be here locally in Orange County, CA, back in the North East where I grew up, anywhere in between, or anywhere abroad/overseas.

I acknowledge that yes, the computer is the new darkroom. Some level of processing is usually required (slightly more so if you shoot RAW), just as various color and contrast filters, dodging and burning, etc. have traditionally been used to make prints from film. But there has to be a limit. There has to be or we’re all just graphic designers painting a picture with a mouse or track pad. I’ve taken graphic design courses, and I am a fairly good designer, but I am a photographer first and foremost.

In the beginning I strove to take pictures of what my eye sees. I still hold that to be the foundation of my photographic and personal style.

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