Sunday, January 13, 2013

Post Processing

I've been involved in several conversations over the last several months which debate the amount of post processing a "true" photographer should do on their images. This is a bit of a religious debate in photography; it has been for a long time, and it likely will be for a long time to come.

I arrived at the answer FOR MYSELF in the late summer of 2011. Someone asked me the question: "are you an artist, or documenting a scene for a news agency?" The implication was: if you think of your photography as "artistic", then like a painter, sculpter or musician, you take inspiration from all sorts of experiences and create whatever is in your mind's eye (or ear in the case of a musician). It doesn't need to have a basis in reality or mimic the situation which inspired the work you're creating. "Artistic license" is limitless, and the amount of scene setup, model prep, model direction, camera settings changes, in-camera editing, post processing, multiple image blending, etc. is up to YOU - the artist.

If you're documenting an event or scene for a news agency, there are rules. And the rules are that the image cannot be edited.

Now, I'm a Computer Engineer: I've gone through a degree program at a large Canadian University. I cannot draw a pleasing line without a french curve and a set of points to connect together. I cannot paint a scene, and my pencil work is limited to mathematical proofs turning complex equations into real world truths.

But, I'm wired such that I can create huge conceptual cathedrals of software architecture in the deep recesses of my mind. I can then turn that into real software which users are able to interact with. The average user of the software products I create cannot image the beauty of the software-landscapes that reside unseen just under their fingertips.

Those constructs of personality and code that are ME in that software have a direct parallel to the way I approach the products that I envision with my photography. It took me a long time to understand that I'm perfectly within my right to call myself an artist: of either photography, or software architecture, or both.

It is when I became comfortable with the term "artist" when describing my own photography, where I gave myself license to manipulate the images I produced. This came slowly to me. First allowing myself to remove a weed or squirting a fine mist of water on a flower before pulling the trigger. And more boldly later, by using Camera Raw to change the white balance of a capture in incandescent light. Then using Photoshop to combine a texture image (that I've now built a library of) with a main image to give the result more emotion.

The term "artist" didn't land softly in my mind. I'm not a great renaissance painter, or someone who goes through the BFA programme at the University of Alberta who's work is displayed in public places. I'm not someone who has spent years training their muscles to manipulate paint brushes or sculpting tools with exacting accuracy.

But, I am a thinking being. I am able to create conceptual scenes in the grey matter between my ears, and pull it together, piece-by-piece, through my eyes, hands and mouth in the form of adjustments, actions and direction on the lights, cameras, people, places and props that I use to create images. I'm able to manipulate my images with complex pieces of software; the knowledge of the use of has come with a great deal of trial-and-error, lessons learned in "less is more", what appeals to some but not others, etc. And I'm able to bring all of that together into a final image that I find expresses a part of how I was feeling when the germ of the idea began to grow in my mind.

Isn't that what art is all about? A sculpter who uses welding and metal work skills to pull together concepts grown in their mind uses a different medium and skill set than a painter or a photographer. But the process of going from concept to final product is the same. Like me, their art is out there to be challenged by the ethos that are the viewers of the piece.

I often hear people say (with some of my work and the work of others): "it's photoshopped..." Do those same people stop and say "the sculpter used a MIG welding unit on that..." (or something as equally distasteful to them) Or, while looking at neighbours pictures from a birthday party, do they say "you used the camera flash on that..." (remember, camera flash is adding something unnatural into the scene too).

Now when I hear this sentiment, I'm only bothered if the image I'm trying to produce is suppose to be realistic. Those words tell me I didn't do my post production correctly. When I here that same comment on a picture that is suppose to look "otherworldly", I assume that the person making that comment is a documentarian, and isn't going to like most of my work anyhow...

Are YOU an artist or documentarian?


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