Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tale of Three Pictures

Three pictures.
One photo.
That's the beauty and the inherent danger of Photoshop.
Like so many of today's conveniences, Photoshop has made us lazy. As photographers, we no longer have to concern ourselves with hindrances like exposure and focus. In the old days, we had to worry about stuff like that. Film was unforgiving. The darkroom barely more so. A bad photo, no matter what we did with it, remained a bad photo. Bad photos didn't get published. As a result, photographers who wanted to get paid made it their business to take technically great pictures.
Photoshop doesn't care about any of it.
Out of focus? Unsharp Mask makes it crisp.
Too dark? Levels and curves bring it into the light.
Jaundice faces from stage lighting? Add a blue filter.
No contrast? Use Shadow Highlight and make images appear where almost none existed.
Photoshop is magic, no doubt about it. And hey, I love it. It can make just about any photo better.
What I don't like is how lazy some photographers have become. They just snap away at any old thing without regard to any photographic principles, knowing that some poor sap somewhere is going to have to perform Photoshop mouth-to-mouth to save their complacent arses.
But not only do they not show any regard for technical skill, they also seem to lack any feeling towards the art of photography.
They care little about expression.
Or depth.
Never mind imagination.
I think newspaper photos have suffered in recent years. Photoshop and digital cameras should have made newspapers better, not worse. 
Back in the day of film, photographers had to be skilled professionals with specialized equipment – not like today when any old joe can buy a digital camera for a couple of hundred bucks and pretend they're Karsh. 
In those days, photographers combined technical skills with the desire to take amazing photos: photos that touched our hearts; that made us smile; or cry; or gasp. They weren't Photoshopped. They weren't even in colour. But they were great photos, pure and simple.
Back in journalism school (30 years ago), a photographer from the Toronto Star was a guest lecturer. Something he said stuck with me: "You should never publish a bad photo."
No matter how important the subject of the photo is, if it's not in focus, if it isn't interesting, forget it. Let the story do the work.
On the other hand, it's true that a picture paints a thousand words. With a great photo, you don't need anything other than a simple cutline.
There are photographers who still care about their work. These are the men and women whose walls are lined with awards and who will never find themselves out of a job. I admire them immensely. I wish I was more like them.
I remember being like that. Every time I went out to take a photo I tried to take the best photo possible, better than I had ever taken before. This competition with myself made for some interesting pictures. I look back at them with mixed feelings. Some are silly, for sure. Some are pretty good. All of them display the fire that boiled my blood back then.
These days I am merely a hack. An amateur.
But I still hear the words of that Star photographer, urging me to be the best I can be, no matter what the circumstances.
You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, they say.
So let's make more silk.
And leave the pigskin to Photoshop.

P.S. The photo was taken of a tree in our front yard, frosty with ice from river mist. Lordy, it's been cold lately. Minus 21 C this morning. Colder than a witch's boobie.


  1. Another Muskoka blogger, middle-aged and crazy!!!
    Be sure to visit My Muskoka ! I've put you on my blogroll!

  2. I'm going to take that advice to never "publish" a bad photo. That's damn good advice.

    I've been hankering to try out .. wait! I'll save that for my blog :D


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