Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Photography and Originality in the Era of Photoshop Filters

Here is a quick test for you: Count one point for each of the items below you have experimented with in your photography; remove two points if you are no longer interested in that in a consistent, regular way. Ready? Here goes:

  • HDR
  • Infra-Red w/ false color
  • Extreme macro (w/ lens reversing and/or stacking)
  • Seppia/duotone manipulation
  • ready cross-processing filters
  • Add two points if you use Instagram 

So, what is this all about? And what do the results of this mini test show?
Well, the more points you have accumulated, the less original your photographic artistic perspective might be. Think of it like this: When is the last time you created with Photoshop (or other similar program) something truly unique, a procedure that is truly original?

Catchy? Yes. Eye-candy? You bet. Original? No.

When is the last time you:

a) pictured an image in your mind
b) set up your camera accordingly, adjusting light and settings
c) went to Photoshop with your photo, knowing exactly what you needed to do
d) did that, and it did not involve any ready filters/plugins

We live in the era of Photoshop filters Instagram. Digital photography has truly revolutionized the way we take photos. Unfortunately, it has also altered the way we make photos.

And no, I am not a Luddite. Although I loved photography since the days of film - my first personal camera was a Kodak Instamatic taking 110-type film cartridge - I truly developed as a photographer in the digital era. And let's make one thing absolutely clear: There is NO way you can develop your art without first imitating others. There is nothing more natural that seeing a "catchy" image online and trying to copy it. That is one of the ways one learns the secrets of photography. But there must be a next level.

You might like this or not. But I guarantee you, you will NOT find a ready filter about this, anywhere online.

I, too, tried and retried all the procedures on the list above - with the exception of Instagram (to keep the blog civilized, I refrain from being explicit regarding what I think about Instagram). And I have left behind all of them. I rarely might apply some HDR procedure on an image, but not for the "HDR effect". On the contrary, I simply use it for lifting the shadows a bit. You wouldn't know it's HDR, which is the whole point, in the end. I also use Curves to achieve my desired tone/color result - much more flexible, leaving total control to the user. Read also this article
Here's what I said back then:
However, the important thing to remember when it comes to post-processing is this: Never do things randomly. Sure, you might accidentally come up with something that looks nice, but that's the equivalent of the "spray and pray" technique: you keep the shutter button pressed, take 40 pics in random, hoping one of them will look OK.

In conclusion, you must remember that technology in all forms (and in our case Digital Image Manipulation) is there to serve you and your art. If you consistently use ready filters and procedures, if you blindly apply them to all your images without further thought, you will achieve little. Will your images look catchier? Perhaps - depending. Will you create some eye-candy photos? Sure, and you will have fun in the process. But will you have created something truly original? Sadly, no.

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