How many times have you been asked if you edited or retouched your nice photograph? And how many of those who asked probably thought you were cheating because you did so? Well this post is for them and probably for you as well. Allow me to explain why I’m doing what I’m doing.
There is a big difference between taking a photograph and MAKING a photograph. The former ends when you click the shutter. The latter involves so much more.
Taking a photograph is like playing backyard basketball with your friends. Making a photograph is like being the captain ball during a championship match crafting your best plan of action during the dying seconds.
Taking a photograph is like going to a McDonalds drive through. Making a photograph is like being in the finals of Masterchef.
See the difference?
Allow me to explain further and take the McDonalds drive through as an example. Sure, you have choices of what food to get but you do not have control over who made the burger or what ingredients they put in there. Personally, I don’t like mustard in my burger but I like the Big Mac. Getting into the finals of Masterchef means using all your skills in crafting the best meal possible for the judges. Yes, you can use all the advanced cookware but they are just tools. It’s the final output, your masterpiece, that the judges will get to taste. Would they ask what oven or frying pan was used or whether you used your armpit to mold the dough? The method does not matter at all. The output is everything.
The same is true in photography. If you think that your job is done after tripping the shutter then you are basically just accepting what the Canon or Nikon engineers think is the best JPEG output. The truth is you have just cheated on yourself. The camera could not possibly capture all the light intensities and colors that the eyes see. Don’t be disheartened if that magnificent sunset sky background became a pale crap of gray color when you took a snap of your girlfriend. It wasn’t your fault. A big part of that failure is the camera’s inherent limitation. That’s why casual shooters rarely get photos that are worth keeping. They do not understand the limitations of their equipment. They think they are hopeless photographers when in fact, it’s the camera that isn’t capable of capturing what they saw. Even modern cameras with advanced metering systems and automatic everything could not match the human eye and brain combo.
Even during the film days, photographers carefully chose their film. Velvia for landscape, Portra for weddings. Because films have different characteristics. The landscape photographer Ansell Adams spent countless hours in the darkroom tweaking his black and white negatives to achieve the prints that made him famous.
Tweaking makes a good photograph great. Tweaking can’t make a poorly captured image great. Maybe better but not something you could hang on a wall. There are photographers who can take nice photos straight from the camera but to settle for nice is being shortsighted.
Not all tweaked photographs are nice. There are those who overcook their photos and make them look like clown vomit. They make a nice shot look terrible.
If a photo looks great then it is great. Do you really care how it was made? And if you do, can you accept the fact that it wasn’t what you expected? If you can’t, then don’t ask. Just enjoy the masterpiece. If you are genuinely interested then open up your mind and start learning how to make a photograph.