After talking about the recent photo challenge I participated in I thought that since I had the web space that I might as well talk about the other challenges we have done. Today I will talk about the ‘in camera’ challenge
“Fix it in post” is what they all say. It doesn’t matter if you are in film, (movies that is), photography, or any other production medium, the fall back when you aren’t sure if you have everything right or notice something wrong after everything has wrapped is “that’s ok, we can fix it in post.” Some extra tweaks here and some extra nudges there and viola, you have either corrected the mistake or edited it to the point where it might not be what you intended but still is passable. Now, I don’t think it is right to say this is a crutch to enable sloppy work. Taking the lazy approach of ‘eh, we’ll fix it later’ does show a sign of a less than involved tone in the project. But ever since photography has been around there has been editing.
As you can see in this image (the very famous image of James Dean in Times Square has edit notes all over the image. I am linking this image from an article online “Magnum and the Dying Art of Printing“) Dodging, burning, adjusting shadows, basically the tools that are in PhotoShop today are pulled from the dark room toolbox. Editing is nothing new. When we are not in the studio we can’t control every element that will be captured within the frame. Hell, even when we are IN the studio we can’t always control what is to be captured. If you think Ansel Adams didn’t do any editing on his landscapes then you need to go to a little google search. Editing is part of the process of image creation and there is nothing wrong with that. We can see something that sometimes the cameras can’t quite pick up on. Our eyes are more sensitive and have better mechanisms for viewing than a camera lens does. Editing just help push that initial captured image to what we were seeing in our eye and our mind’s eye.
Living in the age of digital media and digital images we sometimes forget that yes, a person can edit the crap out of a photo and get it to be whatever that want it to be. The cameras are just about smart enough to ensure a technically well exposed image, all the person in the human suit needs to do is aim and click the button. Cropping, playing with color, adding elements, taking away elements after the fact can turn an ‘ok’ image into something bold and powerful. Everyone can take pictures and make something pleasant to look at if they know PhotoShop but nothing about photography.
With that said, one can’t, typically, turn a complete trash picture into something amazing. Yeah there can be some diamonds in the rough but that is more the exception than the rule – and the final image will look exactly like someone has spent a lot of effort to drag, kicking and screaming, a good image from the trash. So digital tools are not a crutch used by lazy photographers. Many photographers won’t let prying eyes see any photos until after the editing process has been complete. Finalizing a photo isn’t like painting a picture. Watching the artist process go from a blank canvas to a completed picture is fascinating. I admit that I will stop to watch sped up videos of people painting so that I can see the entire process in a matter of minutes. And so I think there is some mystery and lack of trust on the part of the audience when they can’t see the process. Once some here PhotoShop, they start to think of the intense editing that can happen with glamour model shots where body parts are being shrunk and elongated, where skin is being turned to porcelain, hair is lengthened, colored differently, eyes are tinkered with, the list goes on. People can think that you aren’t a ‘true’ photographer because you have to digitally manipulate in order to fix because you don’t know what you are doing with a camera. But like I said, I can see why one would think that because they don’t know the process, and each photographer approaches editing in a different way. Botton line – does digital manipulation get over used? Yep, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
So, a long introduction for the ‘everything in camera’ challenge I wanted to tell you about. Knowing that we all rely on editing before showing anything to anyone, one of the chalenge suggestions I threw in the hat was ‘no using the computer for anything but viewing the image.’ As expected, there were some grumbles and a couple ‘what about…’ so, we came up with the extended ground rules for this challenge and they are as follows:
- Everything had to be done in camera. You could tweak settings in the camera to your hearts desire
- Once the memory card left the camera the only use of the computer is to transfer the image from the card to the hard drive
- No editing in Photoshop
- No sharpening
- No resizing
- No adjustment
- Bring only one image to the table
With the rules established and our lunch hour well past its 60 minutes, we scattered to the winds and got our brains churning.
I am a fan of B&W, film noir, grain and noise. Ok, scratch that, I adore it. The texture, the stripping away of color to slow one’s eyes down and force them to really stop and gaze into the image, beautiful. Without my digital tools to help create what I am cultivating to be my style I had to figure out what to do in order to still produce that look. Sure, I could go out and grab an image and not keep it in the same theme as my other work but that really isn’t a challenge now is it? The other non-spoken element of this challenge that I was using as a rule was ‘and keeping to your style’ so that we were trying to create an image that would be true to our individual look but without using the tools we have as part of our creative process. I’m happy to say that it didn’t take me very long to figure out how to attack this challenge compared to all the other challenges.
Here is what I knew. I knew I could select the setting on the Nikon D3 to shoot in B&W. I knew I could push the ISO to 25600 introduce some noise and to turn off the noise reduction as high ISO. I knew I would shoot in JPEG so there was no RAW conversion altering the image. I knew I had a studio with lights. I knew I wanted to only use one light to help frame the image. I knew I wanted minimal.
This is a challenge where I didn’t go around to several approaches, even in the studio. I get in the studio in the morning before anyone else does, so I had the space uninterrupted by phones, emails, people, anything. I shifted equipment out of the way, killed the overhead lights, focused the single light on a chair and used only one other prop, a bottle of water. Who was this chair for? What was about to happen? I liked that sense of anticipation – something was a bout to start, but what? I think I spent more time setting the light and chair more that I did shooting. Because there was no editing all I had to go off of was what I saw on the back screen of the camera. When I say some images I liked I made a few adjustments to try a few different angles but this was one of those situations where you knew you had the shot once you shot it. My only fear was that the LCD screen on the back of the camera was giving me a false sense of security. These screen, while useful and very close, can also give the wrong impression on highlights and deep shadows. But, after reviewing any and all information I could grab off the screen I turned the lights on, the camera off and pulled the card. Loading the images in the computer I had a task still…which to choose. After some internal debates with myself I pulled what I though was the best all-around image of the bunch. A minimal set-up image but not minimal in how it reads. I have resized the image for this blog post.