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Nothing is real - Photographically Speaking

First published about 2017

Nothing is Real - Photographically speaking of course.

Throughout my photographic journey myself and several other photographers I know have come under fire about "Photoshopping" images

In this blog post "photoshop" will be used to describe any edit or editing done to an image, not just the use of actual photoshop by Adobe.

Many of you may know my history with photography and some of you may not and this is where I want to tell my story.

When I was 12 yrs old in 6th grade my mom got a free 35mm camera because she had subscribed to x amount of magazines. The camera was crap yet compared to the 110 camera we had it was like winning the lotto. It did not take me long to get my hands on it and start shooting my friends while we were out skateboarding. What a way to learn photography, shooting fast moving objects at various speeds in various lighting conditions. How did I learn about ISO and what each one did...I had to read the back of the Kodak film box. ISO 100=bright light and still objects. ISO 400=less light needed to capture fast objects and such.

Because the ISO was set by the code on the film canister I never had the chance to set the ISO manually to compensate for my exposures. I was still learning and only 12 yrs old....I just know that it took a lot of trial and error before I started getting the images I wanted.

I would have my friends get ready for a shot and then hopefully click the shutter at the right moment with the right ISO Film to get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze them in action. It was a struggle, a fun struggle though. This is how I learned what ISO worked best for different images...Now imagine the horror that I had to shoot all 24 or 36 exposures on that same ISO.....WHAT!!!!!!! NO control over ISO... now when I go shoot I probably change my ISO 100 times throughout a week long shoot... Ok back to the me this is going someplace...

In 9th grade I began using black and white film...we went on field trips and had a darkroom. Remember, Nothing is Real. While a point and shoot was a great camera to start with, it was very limited. Now that I had access to a darkroom I could adjust my images to my liking. I spent a lot of time in the darkroom working on developing and printing for the yearbooks as well as taking a lot of the images. I quickly learned how your developer temps and times for your film would adjust the outcome of your negatives. Nothing is Real. Yes we had some standards we used as guidelines to get good negatives so we could get good prints but they were just that. Guidelines. Now even with non adjustable ISO cameras I had control over the developer times. I could now Push or Pull my film. Once the film was developed and ready to be printed I would take an 8x10 sheet of photo paper put it under the enlarger that had the negative in it and shine the light on the paper for 1 sec, 2 seconds or however long I wanted to get a good image...Right here is where photo editing began for me and probably everyone else who has developed and printed their own work. By combining the exposure of light onto the paper and the time I left the paper in the developer tray I was essentially editing the image to my liking...Nothing is Real. Just think about those last 2 sentences for a while...Photoshopping before photoshop was even around..I wasn't the first, nor will I be the last...

Ansel Adams had a vision. Like most photographers these days we see a scene and we feel connected to it and want to create an image we feel strongly about. Ansel was a master in the darkroom while printing his own prints. His dodge and burn techniques were unmatched... do you think the camera he used was really able to capture ALL that dynamic range in a single exposure...No...He knew how to expose that sheet of film so he could then work that over in the darkroom and get an epic print. True, you have to have a good beginning to have a fantastic end print. He couldn't expose a shot with a completely blown out moon and expect to regain the details in the darkroom, Hence he probably metered on the moon (the brightest object in the scene) and based his exposure off that, knowing he could bring up the shadows and tonal values easier then he could ever recover a blown out moon...

Moving on, I am now 18, freelancing on my own and working in a 1 hr photo lab. I have purchased a Nikon F4s that I worked what seemed to be 1000's of hours at min wage to be able to afford...

Now I could change my ISO, shutter speed and F stops even though I was still shooting film..I had full control over the exposure the moment I clicked the shutter. This camera is sitting next to me right now as I am typing out this blog. I will never get rid of it as it was truly my first love of a camera. Now with the Nikon F4s in my hands and a darkroom at my disposal I was pretty much ready to go.. I soon went to work for a local news paper shooting sports, working in their darkroom doing layouts and printing the images to the specific sizes for the paper. Knowing I had to get that good image in my camera so that I would have a good image to work with back in the darkroom was essential to me. I wasn't just out there snapping away crappy images thinking, Oh well I will just photoshop them after I develop them. That wasn't the case at all. While I still had the ability to manipulate my images my goal was to get the original capture the best I could.

Skipping ahead to 2006, I break down and bought a Nikon 5700 coolpix digital camera. This was a monster 5 megapixel and pretty much king of cameras at the was a point and shoot and it was digital. There was one thing missing....A back to basics, shoot to get the best exposure I could in the original capture. Then we got a computer and I quickly found some online forms where other people posted their images...I was blown away with what I was seeing...Nevertheless I stepped forward and began posting mine too. My images received harsh almost rude comments saying I was a crappy photographer, my images sucked, people told me to do this and that and how to make the images look better...It was a hard hit to take as someone who had been freelancing for years and working as a photographer for a newspaper. Remember, Nothing is Real and I am coming to this really soon.

Through the online forums I met some nice people as well as rude A$$holes. I was introduced to some image editing programs and was really loving the creativity I had over my images now. One of the photographers who I admired greatly at the time, Marc Adamus, was kind enough to ask me to go shooting with him and another photographer. Back then Marc always said it was best to get it right in the camera or as close as possible in the camera and I, to this day, still believe that with my heart and soul... Today Marc teaches a different way of photography and while our styles differ greatly, he is still by far the best photographic artist I know. His photoshop skills are like no one else I know. Can Marc shoot good single exposure pictures...Yes, he can.. His style today is more along the lines of shooting anywhere between 3 and 20 images to create one image. Maybe it's focus stacking, hand blending, exposure blending and so on...his images create depth and dynamic range you simply can't get in one exposure. As I said our styles are very different yet he is still highly respected as a photographer by me.

Between 1987 and 2012 I was pretty non artistic when it came to photography. I was pretty much a straight shooter. I would work hard to get that almost perfect exposure if it meant I had to wait hours for that epic moment of light or go back to a certain location many many times. This is what I did. I would then take the images into photoshop and adjust minimally, resize and post online..

I could go on and on about this but I want to get to my point...

NOTHING IS REAL (photographically speaking)

Photography from the beginning of time has never been real. Cameras, film, sensors, none of them can capture what our eyes see. Your eyes see differently than mine. We might look at the same sunset and you may see more reds and pinks while I see more oranges or yellows.. Even back in the day when photography first started nothing was real. The images captured were not the real images, they did not look like what the photographer saw with his eyes. Ansel Adams edited his images in the dark room. Photography is about choices, visual and artistic choices. If you choose to shoot a scene at 1/125th second and I shoot the same scene at 1/2 second we have both created an image based on our vision. Your image froze the subject while mine allowed it to move during the exposure. Your image came out darker cause thats how you wanted it while mine was brighter. These are our artistic visions.

Now that digital is the standard in photography I want those of you who don't know, to know, that our eyes see WAY more that a camera can ever capture. The dynamic range of even the BEST camera can not see what our eyes see.. So Yes, we edit the scene we are shooting from the moment we turn on the camera choose the ISO, choose the shutter speed, F-stop and so on... Then we take it back into the darkroom (photoshop) and bring that RAW file back to life. Even if you are shooting on Jpg mode you are still editing the scene and letting the camera process your images based on the settings you have applied in your camera. Those of us who shoot RAW do our developing and processing in the darkroom known as photoshop...

So when someone tells me they are against photoshop and only love REAL photography I ask myself, "What is real Photography?" Is there such a thing? Maybe it's the term "Real Photography"

2012 till present time I have been open about my artistic vision as a photographer. It has taken me this long to come to terms and inner peace with using photoshop and feeling like I don't need to defend process to anyone. We all take artistic liberties with our images. Some of us make small adjustments and some do composites of several images taken not even in the same location..It is what it is and if we never told you different, chances are you would't be able to tell. If you ever come across a professional photographer who says he or she does not edit their images, you can be 99.999999999% sure they are lying to your face...

I will leave you with this image which attracted a lot of heat recently on my Facebook Page. You can see in the first image how the colors are muted and dull. That is how the camera captured the image in RAW mode when I shot it.. The actual scene looked more like the image on the bottom. The sunrise was amazing that morning and the colors were a sight to behold...My camera just could't capture that on RAW mode...yes I could have achieved these results if I would have switched my camera to Jpg and boosted the contrast and saturation and adjusted the color to a slight magenta. In the end, I want full control over my vision like many artists, photographers, painters, sculptors before me we all have a vision and no matter how little or how big we make adjustments to our images....Nothing is Real!

Feel Free to comment below. I would love to hear your thoughts on this and thank you for taking the time to read.

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