I'm usually as resistant to change as anyone else I know. You find stuff that works and you try to stay in that groove until something pushes you out. I'm coming to grips with the idea that post production isn't just a way to fix stuff we didn't get right in the shooting, it's also a way to finish out your illustrative vision. Maybe a path to completing what you had in your head when you were out shooting but what can't be done by camera alone.
There was a time when, by necessity, most everything was done in camera. At some point in the 1980's or the 1990's the art of photography starting to diverge along two pathways. One path was litered with the saints of documentary photography and its religion called on followers not to crop, not to heavily burn and dodge and never to change the contents of a photograph with retouching, air brushing or other methods. And it was good. And these people were called, "photojournalists."
The second pathway was engendered by the relentless needs of the marketplace. Here anything you could imagine could, with time and budget, be done. This was the land of top technicians and people with visions that couldn't be easily realized with regular, in-camera techniques. This has become the land of post-processing. In the past it was the land of air-brushing. Nothing in the photograph could be taken as "truth" but it sure did look cool. These people were imaginative. And what they do we called, "Photo-illustration."
I was always in the first camp. Henri-Cartier Bresson implied, to an entire generation of photographers, that only pussies needed to crop. Real men saw the composition in the decisive moment and leapt upon it like panthers. Generations of magazine picture editors forbade radical color changes because they would not be objective. Never mind filter effects or added grain. Anything that broke down the presumed objectivity of an image was forbidden. And this was not just the provence of journalists. The most powerful advertising icons, from the Herb Ritts/Calvin Klein underwear ads to the "Marlboro Man" ads to Bert Sterns Smirnoff ads were all done in this manner. As are many ad images even to this day. Sure, we retouched the frazzled edges but we didn't light em up.
PhotoShop changed everything for professionals and the ardent. And now programs like Snapseed* are changing it all for everyone else. It's everywhere. The unspoken mantra is that a photograph is not ready for viewing until it's been dipped in the magic pool of post production. Every image. Every time.
I used to fight stuff like this. I used to make impassioned arguments that photography should remain "pure" but I've given up. This change feels permanent. When we came to a cultural conclusion that, if all the stuff coming off a camera sensor is already filtered, manipulated and color tweaked by firmware and software then wasn't it already "retouched" for all intents and purposes? If you shot jpeg and you liked your files with a little extra sharpening and more saturation and you set your camera that way weren't you already toeing over the line of strict objectivity?
But it was all just an academic construct in the first place. After all, even in the early days of color you could choose between the palettes of Kodachrome and Ektachrome and even Scotchcolor. You choice of film speeds could buy you some extra grain and so one.
It's always tiring to tilt against windmills. I'm tired of trying to bail out the Titanic with a small plastic bucket. And I'm equally tired of trying to catch a two edged sword with no handle. From now on anything goes. Everything goes. If it sells better with a coat of psychedelic paint spilled on it then who am I to question the marketplace?
I've written my last column disparaging HDR. If you like it, more power to you. I'm taking a psuedo-intellectual sabbatical from taste. I'm working my maximum Zen and trying to live in the land of "no judgement."
We'll see how that works out. I'm off to figure out how to automate Snapseed so I can churn my whole catalog of images through the "grunge" filter. With enough grunge and tilt n shift I may even be able to pass myself off as one of the crowd.
*Snapseed is an app that was developed for use on the the iPhone or iPad which would allow you to tweak you images with contrast, color, sat and sharpness corrections but it also enables you to apply filters to create trendy looking images. You can control the effects and combine them. It's $20. Now they make a version for the desktop. I've taken the plunge, stopped lighting or even trying very hard during the shooting process, confident that I can just "auto-grunge" any of my images to save it. You can too.