Rhapsody in Blue, Jokulsarlon, Iceland

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru. 

glenn-guy-travel-photo-guruWe all enjoy receiving positive feedback about our work. It feels good, reassures us and helps maintain our enthusiasm to continue the creative process.

I’ve been teaching photography for many years. While I continue to teach in a formal environment, most of my teaching these days is conducted during one-to-one private photography sessions (e.g., camera techniques, Lightroom, fill flash, etc.).

During the more formal courses I run at traditional centers for learning I employ my own photos to illustrate all manner of techniques and concepts. Folks, while they’re always complimentary about my photography, often ask if I use Photoshop. I guess the thinking is that it’s just not possible to produce images that good straight out of the camera. Well, they’re right.

RAW versus JPEG

Firstly, I never photograph with my camera set to JPEG. If I did I would be asking the camera to perform two quite separate functions: to expose (i.e., record) the image and to process it. While the camera does a pretty good job recording the world, it’s a lot to ask for it to be both a recording device and a photo lab. And, just like baking a cake, best results are usually achieved when the process is undertaken by an experienced and quality conscious human being.

That’s one of the reasons why I always photograph in RAW mode. The term RAW refers, essentially, to the original, unprocessed data recorded by the camera. The resulting image appears flat (i.e., lacking a sense of three-dimensional shape). Adjustments to contrast, color, sharpness and, often, exposure are required to produce a decent result. And the only way to accomplish this is for me to process the photo myself on the desktop.

I use Adobe Lightroom for this essential function. Because I’m well versed in the use of this program, I’m usually able to make the changes I need within two minutes. After a single, three-hour one-on-one session I’m able to pass on this approach to others. That’s one of the reasons why I love and recommend Lightroom to photographers, regardless of their level of expertise.

While you can certainly improve a photograph that’s been processed and compressed into a JPEG in camera within Lightroom, you can achieve far more with the original RAW file. What’s more, while the camera-generated JPEG will do a reasonable job of processing the original RAW file, how can it possibly know the degree of brightness, contrast, color and sharpness required for the subject or scene in question? Just how sharp do you want those wrinkles to be?

Is RAW Right for You?

Now that’s not to say I’m one of these RAW Rules campaigners. Frankly RAW isn’t for everyone. In fact, I strongly believe that the vast majority of folks are better suited to JPEG. Why? They simply have neither the time nor the desire to process their own photos. So you see what’s best is, more often than not, irrelevant. It’s what’s appropriate to the individual in question that matters most.

While most of my image processing is conducted within Lightroom, I almost always take the image into Photoshop and sprinkle a little bit of fairy dust to add a, somewhat, signature look to my work.

Now that we’ve covered much of the back story, we can return to the original point of this article. The fact that I’m often asked if my photos have been processed/changed/enhanced in Photoshop.

Great Photographer, Master Printer

Ansel Adams is probably the most widely known artist in the history of photography. That statement is almost certainly the case in the USA, Canada, England and Australia. However, in other countries, local photographers might be better known. Language, political ideologies and, prior to the web, more insular societies would have contributed to this situation.

Ansel Adams, during a life long dedication to his career, produced amazing black and white photographs of iconic locations such as Yosemite and the American Southwest. He was regarding as an excellent photographer, with an exceptional understanding of our craft. But he was also a master printer, a fact that’s very relevant to this article.

Many great photographers of years past produced their work through a combination of camera and darkroom skills. These days, the darkroom has been replaced by image processing on the desktop. And applications like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop are key components in that part of a photographers creative workflow.

Photography is the Art of Intervention

I understand that when folks ask me if I employ Photoshop they’re using the term generically. They’re really just asking me if I process my images on the desktop. For the main part I employ software in much the same way I used the darkroom in days gone by. Back then I intervened in the development of the film and during the exposure and development of the print to produce a better result. That’s the whole point of a hands on approach. And I did it then, as I do it now, to produce a better result than the average photographer and to better express my own creative intent.

Naturally there’s so much more that’s possible on the desktop than in the darkroom. But, fundamentally, I employ Lightroom and Photoshop based upon the way I used to work in the darkroom. For example, on occasions, I’d use Unsharp Masking procedures to produce sharper prints. The process involved making a high contrast, black and white film copy of the original color negative or transparency. Both the original and copy film images would be placed together, in perfect registration, and printed. The result would be enhanced image sharpness. It’s no coincidence that Photoshop has a feature named Unsharp Mask.

Likewise, I’d use the plastic wrap from around a pack of cigarettes (difficult to secure, as I’m not a smoker) to alter the quality of light coming out of the enlarger to add a sense of glow to highlights within the print. Interesting!

The image at the top of this article, made at the sublime Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Southern Iceland, features just such a glow. It was achieved due to the light present at the time the original image was made; the fact that the water was moving during the exposure; and, thanks to a little Photoshop magic, an effect from years gone by without having to swoop on an unsuspecting individual about to open their terribly expensive pack of cigarettes. Assuming, that is, that cigarette packs are still wrapped in plastic.

Rhapsody in Blue, Jokulsarlon, IcelandCanon 5D Mark II camera and Canon 70-200mm f4 IS USM L series lens @ 106mm. Exposure: 10 seconds @ f29, ISO 100

Photography is, and has always been, a process of intervention. Applications like Lightroom and Photoshop are simply the tools of today. They are not evil and, in the case of Lightroom, are relatively straightforward to learn and use. Just remember that, as in days gone by, what separates a good photo from an average one is the intent of the artist, the tools they use and the implementation of those tools to achieve a creative outcome.

Glenn is the author and primary content producer of the Travel Photography Guru website and blog.  To see more of his write-ups, check out www.travelphotographyguru.com and follow Glenn on Twitter

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