Who needs Photoshop Anyway?
What did we do before Photoshop….?
How were images manipulated…?
Did image manipulation exist….?
Questions, questions, questions…. We managed, didn’t we?
I came from an era where film in the form of negative or positive was the only option. The seventies and eighties were great for photography…truly fantastic. This was closely followed by Polaroid Instant Film but we are going slightly off the beaten track there aren’t we? Yes we did have image manipulation, it involved push processing. dodging and burning and even masking; sometimes all three not editing I hear you say but at the time it was classified as image manipulation.
Did anyone question the ethics of this work in the darkroom? Well I was never questioned if that’s a genuine answer. No I don’t think they did.. Surrealism is considered to be an element of this subject but I don’t want to cover that here.
I have slightly touched on this whole subject in other blog posts but after chatting with someone the other day it spurred me to write this post. For the purpose of this blog and this blog only we will call him “Jeff”. Jeff is a nice chap and a damned good photographer too. Up until last year he continued to use colour slide film which he had stock piled for years in his darkroom refrigerator. Many purchases from Channel Islands discount film stockists had packed full his darkroom fridge. Opening the door would reveal a sea of small green boxes marked “Velvia”. Oh what a memory, a fantastic slide film for landscapes and general photography alike. Velvia was favoured by landscape photographers for its lovely greens and blues which gave awesome rendition when viewing slides on a large screen.
Jeff is a few weeks shy of the grand age of 74. He has been a photographer for nearly 45 years and has progressed through the decades from the post war years to modern-day Britain. The SLR camera is where things stop for Jeff, for his talent lays not just in his ideas but also in his skill with the tool of the photographer….the camera itself. He continues to turn out fantastic images that are super sharp, images with awesome clarity that are perfectly exposed and all round very pleasing to the viewers eyes. So why should Jeff change to meet with modern technology? He is very happy with the results he obtains, what advantage would it be to him to make the switch to digital photography? The answers to that is “None”. Simply because he doesn’t want to. In a single word Jeff is “Happy”
Jeff processes all his own slides using the traditional process of a developing tank, chemicals and has mastered the technique very well. And I supposed that’s quite understandable after all these years. If Jeff wanted to make any alterations to his images then it would mean a change to the processing technique. This in turn would affect all the images on the roll. There are lots of combinations that can alter the way a film was processed from the chemicals used to the way that it is agitated to the amount of time it stays in the tank. All these contravene the manufacturers recommendations and are classified as “manipulation”. The resulting film can have a slight colour cast, which….if that’s what the photographer intended then all is well. With practice it can be achieved every time. What matters here is that Jeff was happy with his alternative approach and continued to ignore the manufacturers guidelines.
Jeff won many competitions. Dozens and dozens, not just locally but nationwide and even a worldwide contest too. His work was outstanding and was way before its time. Jeff was no means the first to do this, it was the normal practice to do this with the wet film process and was by no means frowned upon. It wasnt for everyone, the “average” photographer wouldn’t even consider darkroom manipulation (Please accept my apologies for the use of the word average, I didn’t like to but couldn’t think of an alternative) It was very left-field but there was no complaining and it was never frowned upon.
Take a step forward now and consider Jeff’s youngest grandson James. James is 19 and follows in his grandfathers footsteps with his love for photography. For him its a passion, photography is his life. He spends all his waking hours taking images and working for a local paper part-time. All this whilst studying at University for a science degree.
Jeff has never lived in a photography world other than a digital one. His understanding of his hobby is that photography is a three stage process.
1. Ideas and Investigation… researching and drafting ideas for the results we want to obtain
2. Capturing those ideas using a camera and recording them on to a memory card.
3. Transferring those images on to a computer so they can be edited and completed.
Just to go in to a little more detail regarding the above three statements as they leave a little bit to the imagination don’t they? I am going to use an image that I took as an example as Jeff’s images are unavailable to me.
Ideas and Investigation……..It’s very easy to walk out of the door and go take some photos….Its even easier when you visit a place you know well and have an understanding of the location, the light, timings etc…. However, going somewhere new requires a little more research before stepping out of the door. How will the sun influence your day’s shooting? How will the time affect your visit and the available light? Even something as simple as the weather may affect your ideas and the end result. The very point of this is that we are in control. If the weather isn’t right we have two choices; carry on and deal with the problem or cancel and wait for an alternative opportunity on a better day/time. Doing a recce of a location is an essential part of any photo shoot. I always research using the internet, Google Earth and then Google Street View. All three are part and parcel the same thing but these resources are a photographers best friend and can be a massive time-saving exercise. I look for ideal locations on Google, look where other photographers have been and think of alternatives. Look at the way the light falls on a location and using tools available on the internet you can work out the time of day they were taken along with the time of year. Look for locations that have cover in case it is raining. Think of every possibility….what would you do if the road was closed etc etc…Anything can be researched, and this is a vital part of the photo shoot so don’t put it off. If the worst comes to the worst, go to the location a few days before and have a look around.
Capturing those ideas ……. Providing you have done your research well the location should be now quite familiar and you should be well prepared for what is thrown at you by the elements. You will have a mental (if not written) note of what you are planning to do. One thing I have learned to do over the years is plan individual images. This may only come with experience but visiting a location I am able to wander around and pre-visualise what I want to capture, what I will do with the image in terms of editing and what the final piece will look like. I will describe an example to you…then show you an image.
Haverigg, Cumbria. A location I know very well that hosts a wealth of images and truly is a landscape photographers playground. I have visited this village on the southern tip of The Lake District hundreds of times but for one reason or another I have never managed to capture this particular scene; let alone on a sunny day. The view from the mouth of the River Lazy looking north back up river from the beach incorporates the edge of the village, the harbour area and the river, some wooden edge fences, and finally the beach and the mountains in the background. The day before the shoot, the weather forecast predicted a sunny day with scattered clouds….ideal. I visualised this image as a high contrast monochrome with the blue sky converted in the edit process to an almost black, I wanted the wooden fence to lead the viewer in to the scene showing great detail in the foreground. I need the clouds to look heavy but not pure white to add drama to the scene. I knew at the moment of taking the image that there was no way I could balance the exposure between the sky and the land masses with camera skills alone. This was always going to be attended to post shoot in CS6.
Transferring the images ….. The images are imported as RAW files (CR2) straight from the memory card in to Adobe Lightroom 4. I use Lightroom mainly as a library organiser and an editing tool. It really is great for editing but Photoshop CS6 is my tool of choice. The image was actually edited in CS5 as this was before my software update. In the RAW browser of CS5 the original colour image was opened and adjustments were made to the exposure, shadows and highlights until I was satisfied with the process. I then open the image in to the CS5 interface and this is where the real work begins.
I first create a layer of pre-sharpening using Nik Software RAW Pre-Sharpener. This is only a light application at around 10%. I now take a look at the areas of the scene that the camera didn’t deal with perhaps as well as I would have liked. The house fronts were far too white and really over exposed. I made a selection around the blown out highlights and on a separate layer made an adjustment to the exposure, dropping it by half a stop. This just took the glare off the whites and stopped the eye fixing on this particular item. The next task was to create some detail in the shadows and darkest parts of the image. This is in preparation for the conversion to monochrome. The areas around the fence posts in the bottom right corner were very dark. A quick working with the dodge tool in CS5 revealed just enough of the detail to make it acceptable. The same was applied to the next fence post in the line. The next job was to work on the sand to the left of the frame. This was also blown out with it been a large expanse of highlights. I worked on this without making a selection and just used the burn tool on certain areas I felt had detail to reveal. I then moved on to the shadows behind the fence in the central area at the foot of the image. These were dodged until detail began to show. The next job was to apply some tonal contrast using Nik Software’s Color Effx Pro 4. The tonal contrast adjustment revealed the details without going to far and making the scene too gritty. It was now time to convert the whole shot to monochrome. For this I used Nik Software’s Silver Effx Pro 3. Like I mentioned earlier in this post…knowing exactly what I wanted made the job so much easier at all stages of the shoot. In the monochrome conversion process I added a red filter; the red filter makes the blues look black and creates quite high contrast. This really brought the detail out in the cloud formation as well as darkening the shadows and blackening the blue sky. Finally, a layer of Output sharpening was added followed by a swift pass of Nik Define to remove any noise generated by the editing process.
And that was it….one image complete. The whole editing process took about an hour from start to finish. I know this will seem like a lot of time just for one image, in my eyes it was worth it.As always, thanks for reading and all comments and questions are welcome