But what did you REALLY see?

June 27, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

 

As a fine art landscape photographer, I take great delight in capturing the wonders of nature with all its intricate detail from the patterns on the wings of a butterfly to the grandeur of a mountain range. So much to see, so much to capture! I enjoy printing, matting and framing the final product and people are appreciative (well some!) of what I share. While all artist appreciate admiration of our work (and stroking our fragile egos) at one point in the conversation I’ll often here a question along the lines of “Really nice picture! I love scenic black and white photography. But between you and me did you Photoshop it? What did it REALLY look like up there?”
I’ll be honest. That question use to really irk me. Blood pressure elevated, left eye twitching, right hand trembling. Outrageous! What do you mean did I Photoshop it? Of course not! I use Adobe Lightroom, not Adobe Photoshop! Okay, bad joke but you get the point. I think of a court of law. The defendant (artist) is on the stand and the public is the judge and the jury. “Sir, on the morning  of Jun 14, 2012 did you or did you not use your camera to take this picture (holds up my printed picture smudging it to my horror but hey, I’m on trial). “Yes, your Honor, I did take the picture.” “Very well.  This is exhibit B.” He hands out the same picture but this time it has been altered, more contrast, sharper with lovely tonal values. “Mr. Seawell, would you care to explain to the jury why you “Photoshopped” this picture? This is the same picture but radical changes have been done. It is obvious to everyone you cheated with this” Photoshopped” version and you are attempting to pass this off as what you saw. How votes the jury?” 
 
The jury members look at both pictures passing them back and forth amongst themselves. They look at both pictures over and over finally handing them back to the judge. An older gentleman rises to his feet and addresses the courtroom. “Your Honor we the jury find the defendant Mark Seawell guilty of the crime of digital manipulation and attempting to sell his version of reality to the public. He did use all the electronic tools at his disposal to edit, change, and alter what the camera captured into an image that represented what his mind’s eye saw and what he felt when he captured it.” I would have to say I’m guilty as charged and proud of it! I’ll gladly explain.
 
Mass media has bombarded the public with intense images from the moment they go online, purchase anything at a store or walk down the street. We all see images of perfect bodies, no wrinkles, no flaws and on a certain level we reject this. We all have flaws! These pictures have all being “Photoshopped” to make everything perfect. This has made the average person very skeptical of what they see, ESPECIALLY of photography too include my passion landscape photography. Unfortunately there is a huge disconnect between the artist and public concerning the intent of the art. I want to address this so my audience understands my intent with publishing my photography.
 
First as an artist I want to pursue and explore my vision of the world around me. When I rise early in the morning to capture the light of the golden hour, I’m trying to  show what I saw and what I felt. Art is passion and I want people to feel, to have an emotional connection with whatever they are seeing from my camera. As a semi-professional I can say after snapping tens of thousands of pictures the camera alone is not capable of conveying what I felt when I saw whatever it was that moved me enough to take the picture in first place.  On numerous occasions I’ve been told  “I took this picture but it doesn’t look like what I saw.” What they could add to that is “or felt”. Today’s cameras with all their sophistication are singular optical devices that can’t match the sophistication of your TWO eyes.  Put another way a camera can see in photo terms maybe 5 stops while your eyes can see 10! I won’t say a camera will never match the human eye but it will be some time before it does. That is why people are disappointed with their pictures. But enough of the technical stuff. They real question is why do artist manipulate their pictures.
 
Art is vision. I have a vision of what I want to see when I take pictures. If all I wanted to do was show people what I saw (replicate visual reality) things would get really boring really fast. And let’s be honest, anyone could do that! It's called a snapshot and that isn’t art. Art is when someone has poured their heart and soul into something, whether the world judges it as good or bad is another discussion. To represent what I saw in my mind’s eye and felt when I took the picture I must alter the picture. This is nothing new for photographers. In the days of film the greatest landscape photographer of the 20th century, Ansel Adams “dodged (lightened) and burned (darkened)” all his prints. The final version  of Moonrise over Hernandez, one of Adams greatest captures bears little resemblance to what he actually caught on film. If he hadn't  altered it Moonrise wouldn't rank as one as one . Ansel shaped it into something he felt when he stopped on that lonely road in New Mexico as the last light of the day lit up the crosses of a graveyard as the moon rose of the town and mountains. No camera can do it for you. Only the means of changing the picture into a vision has changed from a darkroom to a computer, from film to digital. Ansel Adams predicted the rise of digital photography  years before his death.  Ansel would love it and would be gleefully “Photoshopping” all his captures.
I hope this has educated the public to my stance on “Photoshopping”.  Capturing pictures with a camera is only the first step. Programs such as Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop are nothing more than tools for the photographer to express their vision and passion, not a blatant attempt to deceive the public. So to answer the question “What did you really see?”  I answer “The print in front of you.” To the question “Has this been photoshopped?” my answer is “Yes it has!”

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