Monday, January 27, 2014

Photo Processing Then and Now

In 1989 I moved from Milwaukee to Sheboygan Falls and began my professional photography career.  I got a job at Central Photo, now NZ's Bar, on Michigan Avenue in Sheboygan.  I had had a darkroom in my parent's basement that I'd been using since my high school days.  Now I was getting paid to do what had once been a hobby.  I've done mostly black and white film processing and printing while working there and at the Motophoto which became Light House Photographic Lab.

As film photography was supplanted by digital imaging, the demand for the work I did dropped to nearly nothing.  I occasionally shoot black and white film, but I do most of my work digitally these days.  I have a few customers that I print custom black and white enlargements for, but it no longer is enough business to pay the bills.   Digital has pushed film photography into a corner, a niche that especially for b&w can be loosely termed "art photography".  

I'm ok with that.  My art photography has grown as my ability has increased.  But it has also changed as I have gradually shifted to more digital imaging.  Finding new methods and exploring untried options keeps it all interesting for me.

Some things haven't changed.  A photographer will always need to understand lighting, composition, color, contrast, and presentation.  Tomorrow I will be teaching a workshop on how to photograph artwork and I have been reflecting on one thought recently.  It was true in the days of film photography and is true today. The average snapshot taker and even some advanced amateur photographers do not realize that the click of the camera does not end the making of the photograph.  Whether the image will be seen as a print or only on a screen, there are many variables that should be controlled by the photographer in order to make that image a "good" one.

As an example, here is a photograph I took yesterday.  My camera has automatic focus and exposure capabilities as well as many programmable settings.  I generally get decent results when adjusting it for the situation I'm in and the result I want.  But hardly ever do I look at a digital image right off my memory card and leave it untouched.
Not bad at all, I'd say.  But for me this is just the starting point.  I did several corrections to it, digitally.  If I had shot film, the technician would have made decisions regarding contrast, density, and color, and perhaps even cropping.

Here is my revised image.

The differences should be obvious.  While a blue color cast is generally accepted for a snow scene, I wanted to take it out.  I cropped the image a bit, and adjusted the density and contrast to bring out some detail on the coat.  I took some control over this image with settings on my camera.  But I took full control over it by decisions I made while editing it.  The software I used was Photoshop Elements 12.  

So, the point I want to make is this.  A person makes a photograph.  Obviously a camera is an essential tool, but the choices made by the photographer or the person printing the pictures at the local minilab are critical to determining the quality of the final picture.  

When I hear people complain about their photos, no matter if they blame their own skill, the camera, or the store that printed them, I think to myself that they know the picture should be better but don't know how to work their camera or are too accepting of poor processing.

Knowledge is Power!

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