Is That Photoshopped?

Trillium Lake Aurora

“Is that photoshopped?” I hear that question every now and then, mostly on Social Media, although not as much as I used to ten years ago. I suspect that it could be that digital photography has become accepted more, and with websites such as Instagram that allow the user to alter their photos with a touch of a thumb, most of the time in an attempt to emulate a bad film photo, people are more accepting of photos with an artistic twist.

Photoshop is a photo editing program but the word is now used as a transitive verb usually in past tense to describe an altered photo. An altered photo is a very broad description for a process that can easily go from simply resizing a photo to altering a photo into representing something that wasn’t there. There are those who find no fault at all in the photographer editing their own photos, and there are those who say that one dare not touch their photo lest it become fake.

In reality even back when we sent our photos to the drug store they were altered in some way through the process, usually in an attempt to auto correct by the technician or because of the quality of the maintenance or calibration of the machine used to develop the film and even the type of film that we used.

As a photographer who learned how to shoot using a 35mm camera, a Yashica Electro 35 to be precise, and learned how to develop my own black and white photos I have my own take on the whole, sometimes controversial, subject.

Happy Sadie
Happy Sadie

Back when I started out as a hobbyist in 1977 I wanted to learn how to develop my own film in a darkroom. I joined a camera club and learned from the “old guys” there. One thing that I did learn is that it’s not just a simple process of developing, rinsing, fixing and drying. There’s also more to enlarging and making a print than what I suspected. What I learned the most is how much one can alter the look of the photo either by accident or on purpose in the darkroom. This is not to mention how one can alter a photo while they are making the image in the camera using the basic adjustments.

While in the darkroom one is able to push or pull the process which involves leaving it in the developing solution for a longer or shorter period of time, as well as dodging and burning areas independently of other areas. This was a favorite process of Ansel Adams and how he was able to put into practice his Zone System. Masking can be done with cut outs made of cardboard during the printing/enlarging process. Pieces of other photos can be combined, other details removed. One can be creative in the darkroom and most don’t realize that this was done regularly.

The composites that I mentioned that were made in the darkroom are still done today, and are the likely source of the use of the word photoshopped as a verb. These include images that include components that were not a part of the scene at the time such as huge moons, false skies or a person in a scene that they weren’t a part of. Some do it not to deceive but to create art. It’s done as an artistic method and the image or the artist usually make it known. But as with all good things in all good things there will always be those who abuse it. If it’s not real say so.

I say that in a judgmental way and I’m not afraid to say that. Any kind of deception isn’t good. In the world of photography it makes those who would otherwise enjoy genuine hard earned and skillfully made photos question the photo’s authenticity. It also makes beginners hesitate to enjoy the freedom that they have today in digital photography to be able to develop their own photos without chemicals or a dark room.

In digital there’s no such thing as not adjusted, or as some call it, “SOOC”, straight out of camera. It’s a myth that the image is a pure image. You have presets that are programmed onto the camera when it’s manufactured, usually Landscape, Portrait or Vivid, Neutral or even Black and White. All of these are processes that develop your photo in the camera. An engineer is, essentially, processing your photos for you, so why not do it yourself?

All of this considered, today we have the ability to do the same processes with our computers with the lights on. In my work my processing workflow follows closely the processes that are used in a darkroom. Exposure, contrast, color correct, dodge, burn etc. Even the one “special effect” that I use was made for film photography, the Orton effect.

I urge anyone who has ever wanted to learn to become a photographer and develop their own photos to not let digital stop them. I also tell them to not let the judgement of others affect what they do in either life or photography. Don’t let the question, “Is that photoshopped?” stop you from being creative with your photography. And the best part is that, due to the introduction of Lightroom you can say no it’s not, that is until lightroomed becomes a verb.  

Upper Trail Lake at Moose Pass Alaska

Upper Trail Lake Kenai Alaska
 A front row seat to the light show at Upper Trail Lake at Moose Pass on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska.
 
The story behind this shot... Darlene and I had scouted this location out earlier in the day and then drove in the Seward to get a room for the night and some food in our bellies. We returned about dusk to wait for the show. When we arrived there were two guys there with their tent set up.
 
We parked and I approached them and said hello. They were from Germany and were touring British Columbia and Alaska by car. They flew in to Vancouver, bought a cheap used car and hit the road.
 
We had a great time visiting and shooting the aurora. Darlene wasn't feeling so well that night and so as she was sitting above and behind she decided to take a photo of us down by the shore. When she showed me the shot I had to do it too, of course. 🙂 This is my version of the scene with our new German friends and Darlene standing at the shoreline getting their shots of the aurora.
 
The other detail that might complete this scene was that there was a beaver who would swim past every now and then and slap his tail on the water to try to chase us away.
 
Props to Darlene for standing back and capturing the scene and not just the scenery. 🙂

Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center Photography Workshop 2016

Opal Creek 2016

Opal Creek Ancient Forest Photography Workshop 2016, the third year for this amazing experience. We had the largest group yet and we all had a great time.

The weather was sunny for the first day for the hike in to Jawbone Flats and to our cabin. We spent the rest of the day exploring places around the historic mining town to photograph. We all got to know each other before we called it a night early enough to make it breakfast when the bell rang at 8am.

The second morning was beautiful. It had clouded up giving us some nice even light for our hike down the Little North Fork of the Santiam River, a three mile walk through some amazing old growth forest. We stopped for a picnic on the side of amazing bedrock pools. The further that we walked the more wet it got, but it didn't get intolerable until just before we got back to the cabin. The rest of the day was spent looking at and processing our photos from the hike and talking shop.

The third day was anther day of scattered showers for the hike back. We photographed our way back to our vehicles and bid adieu to each other as new friends.

The experience was indeed one that is more to be described as an adventure. Staying in a cabin together, eating in a community hall family style with the rest of the staff and visitors of Jawbone Flats. In only a matter of a couple of days we start to feel like a part of this unique community.

If you're interested in a truly unique photography workshop experience please consider joining us next season.

Here are a few photos of the field trip.

Take Better Cell Phone Photos

The Columbia River

What did we ever do without our cell phones? In this era of miraculous technology it's hard to remember how it was to wait until we got home to make a call or to search for a phone booth along the way. They have revolutionized communication. These little devices have also revolutionized photography as well.

Gone are the days of limiting the amount of photographs that you take or the need for delayed gratification due to having to send the film out for developing. We just snap, smile, share with our friends on social media or email then forget about them as we continue to record in more pictorial detail our day to day lives.

As cell phone camera technology is improved the pictures become better and better. They have become so good that they have essentially replaced the point and shoot camera. They are all the average person will ever require for their personal photography needs, and even though they have become incredibly capable, they still take a little experience to master, especially in challenging light. A few tricks can make your photos even better.

Don’t shoot with a dirty lens. As we carry our phone here and there we can put them through a lot. Dust and dirt can collect on the lens of the camera. A little lens cleaner on a soft cloth will help to keep your photos clear and crisp.

Don’t miss the shot. Cell phone cameras won’t give you an instant shutter actuation. They take a second or two to find and focus your subject. This is referred to as shutter lag. Anticipate this shutter lag and be prepared to get the shot a few moments prior to the moment. This is especially true with moving objects.

Cell Phone Photo
Cell Phone Photo

Don’t use direct sunlight when photographing people. Find bright shade to eliminate sharp contrast of glare and shadows. Your subjects eye won’t be as apt to be squinting.

Don’t use your flash. The stark light of your flash will wash out your photos. There’s an HDR (high dynamic range) setting, use it. And of course there are always exceptions to the rule. I like to use a flash when my subjects are back lit, such as at sunset.

Dont zoom. Zooming with your cell phone camera is not an optical zoom but it an electronic enlargement of the image. The image quality suffers when you zoom in. Choose to move forward or back to fill the frame. If you have a cluttered background move in to fill the frame to make your subject dominate the scene.

Don’t use harsh light.. If you are going to do portraits choose to do them in either mid morning or late afternoon. The light during these times has a less harsh feel and is more warm and welcoming. The camera will struggle less with the light and the photos will turn out nicer.

Cell Phone Photo
Cell Phone Photo

Don’t settle for straight out of the camera. Post process them. Your camera does, why not you? Download applications such as Snapseed or Lightroom Mobile to adjust the photo to make it look its best. Most camera phones come with their own image editing application.

Don’t be selective in what you shoot. Film is cheap when you’re shooting digital. You increase your odds of getting a great photo if you take more of them.

Don’t forget about them. In the past we would take our photos, print them and put them into a photo album. We can still do that today even though we’re no longer using film. You can either print them yourself if you have a printer, go to the drugstore and use their kiosk or you can send your digital file to a company online who can print them and send them back. Even better is that you can now self publish your own book in any quantity, including a single issue of your vacation photos.

Do have fun with it. It’s always with us when in the past we would leave our cameras at home today it’s usually within arms reach at any time of the day. You have a much better chance these days to get a unique photo of life as it happens around us. With these few little tricks you can make your photos better, but it takes practice and the willingness to tell your camera what to do.

Alaska Glacier Workshop 2016

Matanuska Glacier Workshop 2016

Alaska is an amazing place. It's so expansive that the scale is nothing that can be imagined but needs to be experienced to comprehend. Even the travel from location to location can be challenging in its distance. There is so much to see in Alaska that careful planning or a lot of time to wander is required.

Darlene and I have just returned from our trip to Alaska. We were there to conduct a workshop at the Matanuska Glacier. I guided seven photographers out and onto the ice for a four day Alaska workshop, and what a time we had. Everyone was blown away by the experience and the photos. The chance to explore a glacier is one that is not experienced by many.

The months prior to our arrival were unseasonably wet in Alaska. We were fortunate that the weather cleared up to provide optimal conditions for the workshop. The skies cleared and the temperatures become quite moderate which made walking around on the ice much more comfortable. Nobody was uncomfortable the whole time.

Our home base was the Long Rifle Lodge in Glacierview. The food was great, the view of the glacier from the dining room is breathtaking. A couple of the attendees stayed there as well. The rooms there were quite adequate, clean and comfortable especially considering that during the workshop all that one has time to do in them is sleep. Other's stayed in various cabins or bed and breakfasts in the area.

On day three we all decided that the conditions for Autumn colors was optimal so we all decided to go to Hatcher Pass. While there we all wandered through the tundra, photographed arctic ground squirrels and explored the old historic Independence Mine with a side trip to Summit Lake and the amazing highland views through moving clouds and mist that created beans of heavenly light. It was a truly incredible day and a good call to go there.

Everyone was tired at the end of the four days, but were all left wanting more.

If you're interested in an Alaska adventure please consider joining us next season.

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