I find beauty everywhere, in places near and far and subjects large and small. My focus is on the experience and enjoyment of nature, and my photography attempts to capture the sense of wonder and reverence that I feel for my subjects. My goal is to share realistic and natural images of my experiences and interactions with nature. I only share what I feel are authentic representations of something that I observed. I believe good photography is all about composition and light, and that postprocessing is simply a way to reinforce the qualities already present in an image. That's my vision in a nutshell... For more details about my stance on postprocessing and specific techniques I do or do not use, please read on.
HOW I SHOOT (AND EQUIPMENT)
I use photography as a way to better connect with nature. Hence, I only shoot with full-featured interchangeable lens digital cameras that offer full creative control of the image-making process. For me, there is no replacing an ergonomically-sound camera that offers direct control of all exposure variables without you having to look at the screen or controls, or - worst of all - click through a bunch of digital menus. I like to compose images by looking through the viewfinder, where all other distractions are eliminated from my peripheral vision. Only (very) rarely will I use the LCD screen for composition, if looking through the viewfinder is impossible because of the camera placement. I do not use a drone. While using one would open up a whole world of compositional opportunities, the experience would be incompatible with how I approach photography and my focus on having - and capturing- real and intimate connections with nature.
Getting the image right in camera is important to me, because I enjoy being out in nature much more than I enjoy postprocessing. In addition, because I often sell large reproductions of my work, using high-resolution equipment that delivers excellent image quality is important. So what do I shoot with? Equipment changes rapidly, and is ultimately secondary in creating meaningful images. I started doing photography in 2015, and already on this website there is work created with 5 different camera bodies and about 15 lenses. (It takes a while to find the equipment you love, and I had to cycle through some options.) At the time of writing, I own 2 Canon bodies and 10 - mostly Canon - lenses. I prefer Canon equipment because of the incredible glass (lens) selection, the perfect user interface and ergonomics that never get in the way of capturing a shot, and the incredible reliability. For those interested in what I am shooting with at the moment, check out my blog where I often post equipment and EXIF data for images, or send me a note.
THE DIGITAL EDITING DILEMMA
The power of digital image editing tools to bend reality with increasing ease has - understandably - cast a doubtful eye on photography as an art form. People often approach photographs from a defensive standpoint, starting with the assumption that their eyes are being fooled and taking it upon themselves to figure out just how. Yet, "cancelling" image editing altogether is not a realistic solution. Editing has always been a integral part of the image creation, and a critical element in how world-renowned photographers achieved their style (and recognition). If we reduce the creative boundaries of photography to "whatever the sensor captured," we would be cancelling our most cherished photographers and images. For example, I don't think anyone is ready to fault Ansel Adams for his masterful craft in dodging and burning to bring images to life. So, why should people take issue with digital dodging and burning techniques that manipulates an image in similar ways? To be sure, an analog process will always be more authentic and poetic to many. But I believe that the key difference - and the primary challenge with a digital process - is lack of transparency. Digital editing has made dramatic manipulations so easy that it is training us to not believe our eyes, and we grow suspicious when photographers are unclear about what they are doing. To make matters more complicated, digital editing offers a broad spectrum of possibilities, with each photographer drawing their own line in terms of what is acceptable to them, or what matches their vision. In my opinion, the reasonable path forward is for photographers to be straightforward about their process, giving others (including potential clients) what they need to make informed decisions about the work they want to follow, share, or collect.
AUTHENTICITY (AND WHERE I DRAW THE LINE)
I have captured all my images first-hand, with a DSLR, either hand held or with a tripod. In postprocessing, there are some fairly common practices that I avoid, because they cross over into what I would consider photography-based digital art. I list these below without implying judgement on those who use these techniques. What works for me and fits my vision is different from what works for others, and I don't believe there is anything "wrong" with tools or techniques, as long as there is some transparency in process. My work does NOT include:
- Collaging of images (including "sky replacements"): Most of my images are single exposures. I may blend exposures to overcome technical limitations such as dynamic range (for which I may employ exposure bracketing) or depth of field (which may require focus stacking.) These are exposures of the same subject captured in quick succession, often with a single click of the shutter. I never combine elements from unrelated images or bring elements to an image that were not in the original frame.
- Painting of additional patterns, texture, or effects: I never add or overlay external effects borrowed from other locations or images. This includes not only the obvious examples of collaging or adding flare or other effects, but also the practice of using a selection from one image (such as an image of fog that may enhance atmosphere) as a mask to paint in the effect on a different image.
- Focal length blends: This is a practice that blends somewhat-related images often taken in the same place, and involves shooting a foreground at one focal length, a background at a different focal length, and then combining the images to create an effect that is quite different from reality.
- Dramatic distortions or stretching of images: My photographs are genuine representations of the scale and proportions of the subjects that I photograph. They have not been significantly distorted in a way that changes the nature of what I saw or experienced.
- Edits that change the atmosphere of an image: I am not interested in editing an image to look like something it is not. An example of this would be taking an evening image and changing the exposure and white balance to look like a dark night scene. I do not attempt to create photographs that diverge from my recollection of the experience and place, regardless of whether doing so would produce a beautiful image.
- Editing done with digital filters, presets, or other pre-packaged solutions designed to create a pre-determined effect or aesthetic.
MY IMAGE EDITING PROCESS
I consider every step in the making of an image an integral part of the creative process. This, of course, includes the postprocessing. My goal in editing is not to change the nature of an image, but rather to subtly reinforce the composition and light, as authentically captured in camera. Because I make large prints of my work, it is important that I pay close attention to small things that may go unnoticed in a screen. I process my image using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, focusing on:
- Managing tonality: Most of my editing centers around managing tones. In other words: fine-tuning the contrast and adjusting highlights and shadows as needed. I probably spend 90% of my editing time getting the tones right. These adjustments are both global and local. Targeted adjustments are usually accomplished by dodging and burning, a technique for brightening or darkening portions of a photograph that has been passed on and adapted from the film days. For more on dodging and burning, including links and examples of how it is used in film photography, and how I use it, you may refer to my blog entry from 2017.
- Managing color: This includes adjusting the white balance and managing hue and saturation across the tonal spectrum. Color is subjective and, as anyone shooting with automatic settings has discovered, cameras sometimes get the white balance "right" but sometimes they are way off. I shoot in RAW format, which allows fine-tuning of the white balance during post processing. This is where a strong memory of an experience comes in. In adjusting the white balance, I often refer to other images captured at the place and may even solicit input from others who were at the scene with me.
- Cropping: While I try to frame images perfectly on the field, some cropping is sometimes necessary. Browsing my galleries you will notice that most images share the 3:2 native ratio of my camera sensor, but I also show some 5:4, 1:1, 16:9, and 5:2 images. The vast majority of those crops were intended at the time of capturing the image, while a few were discovered as a preferred option during editing.
- Eliminating distractions: I try to do this mostly by dodging and burning, as described above. However, I do sometimes eliminate (erase or "clone out") what I consider tertiary elements in an image, if they detract from the overall effect. These are elements that where not important to the composition and, even though they are small, may be quite distracting when making a large print. They may include: dust spots from the camera sensor, lens flare, a piece of trash, a "rogue" branch or twig, etc. These are edits that would be hard to pick up if you are flipping back and forth between the unedited and edited image, but make a big difference when making large prints. In very few instances, I may remove a larger - secondary - element from an image, and will disclose this in the image caption (see text on editing disclosures below.)
While I believe this page should answer most questions regarding my photo editing, I am always willing to answer questions from any potential buyer. Please do not hesitate to contact me if there is a topic that I did not cover here.
Edits that go beyond what is described above are disclosed on the image caption. I include disclosures for:
- Cloning of elements that, when comparing the original and edited images, are easily recognizable as being removed.
- Blending of exposures of the same subject and made in the same place but at different times (as necessitated by light conditions.) You will find this disclosure on some night images, where the foreground may have been shot earlier, and the camera was left in place until full darkness allowed for capturing of the stars.
I believe there are some widely held misconceptions that need to be addressed before we can have more productive conversations about image editing. The first being that there is such thing as a "pure" or "unedited" image. In practice, all images are interpreted and adjusted by the camera equipment and/or the user. A white balance is set that may or may not be "accurate," for example. Furthermore, even if you don't "do anything" to an image captured with a phone or point-and-shoot camera, the files are automatically enhanced with contrast, tonality, sharpness, saturation, and other adjustments to produce the image you see on the screen. The second misconception is that certain tools, such as Adobe Photoshop, inherently create images that are not genuine. The issue is not the tool, it is how it is used, and how transparent each of us are in our approach. Nowadays, even an iPhone has built-in powerful editing tools to adjust tonality and color in ways that parallel what many of us use the Adobe Suite for. I am hoping broader access to such tools will help to demystify image editing and that this, in combination with increased transparency from all artists, will help us move beyond the culture of suspicion towards photography to an environment where we can simply enjoy the beautiful and diverse work available to us.