A quick post. Staying flexible.

I was pretty flip (cynical, sarcastic, dismissive, etc)  about the effects I was getting with Snapseed when I last wrote about my adventures in post processing.  But today I had a mini-lecture from a great swim coach about the need for enhanced flexibility if we intend to keep swimming butterfly into our middle ages... (wry smiley face implied...).  Then I looked up at my analog bulletin board and saw the quote from creativity consultant, Ian Summers, which reads, "Grow or Die."  And I thought I should sober up and take a hint from the converging messages I'm getting from the universe.

When I was printing traditional black and white prints (in the darkroom) I had dozens of little tricks to make a print pop or sing or look sexy.  I had a Pictrol which is a little contraption you stick under the enlarging lens to soften the corners in an artistic way.  The blurred spilled light also enhanced the black tones around the edges.  Of course we would burn and dodge but we also stole a technique from 1940's Richard Avedon in which you place very thin tracing paper in contact with the print during printing.  You could also do it selectively.  Just in areas.  The parts that touched the paper were sharper than the parts that didn't.  Primitive darkroom "tilt-shift" technique?

We selected paper for effect.  And we did full contact, radical toning.  With selenium, sepia, gold and even coffee (which never worked as well).   And for a while we did lots of art on the print with transparent Mashall's oil paints.

So why the burr under my saddle about modern post processing?  Can't imagine it would be anything but jealousy in not having discovered it first, followed by curmudgeon tendencies.  So I'm coming clean.  I actually like playing around with this stuff and I've been re-working some recent images to re-interpret how I used to print.  After all, the Snapseed generation had to find their inspiration somewhere.  Right?

If you are bored with your photo work right now you might want to change processing.  The water's fine.  Jump on in.

edit/addition feb. 2:  An interesting article from www.luminous-landscape.com about the "RULES OF PHOTOGRAPHY."  http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/rules_of_the_game.shtml  A fun read, in light of our continuing discussions here.


  1. Every generation has had their effects box, way back to the "pictoralists" who would kick the 8x10 camera tripod to produce a blurry effect. Today, Sally Mann shoots an ultra-large format wet plate camera for ... effects. Then, as now, people would eventually get tired of the stupid processing tricks and go back to a more literal interpretation.

  2. Kirk,

    I spent a couple years in an old portrait photographer's darkroom waaaaay back in 1982 I think. Learned all kinds of tricks, but didn't know the Avedon trick you mentioned. That's sounds pretty cool actually.

    I thought Snapseed was way too limiting at first, but it has become my favorite app of all of them now. Filterstorm is more sophisticated of course, but Snapseed just seems to get out of your way and let you play more. I've thought about buying the new desktop version, but the reviews are a bit weak. Are you using the desktop or iOS version?

    Also, saw some news about your Nikon Series 1 stuff. Looks like they're committed to the line.

  3. Skip. Yes, the desktop version. I like it, but then I've never worked with the mobile version.

  4. I used Snapseed on the iPad and liked it, but for some reason haven't used it lately. Thanks for a reminder to get back to it -- I found it fun to use.

  5. Fadya... wow. This makes me speechless. And I guess I'm gazing like the six year old I used to be, asking himself how such beauty can exist.

  6. I was always what you call a straight shooter I guess. Pretty much from the camera, tweak it up as needed. But about 6 months ago or so things started to change for me when I reviewed some work of a shooter for potential hire. Some of the images were cross processed and the work was great. It was at that point that I said "Yes, there is room for it."

    So I set out on the web in search of come basic digital formulas such as those for crossprocessing. And I found out one important thing. When you use someone else's canned bulsh&t things rarely work out. You have to go beyond Presets and also understand and interpret the dreaded photoshop tutorials out there, not merely mimic them. Otherwise you're just a monkey pushing buttons and moving sliders.

  7. Interesting post. Thank you. A lot of great photography is founded on effects of one sort or another--Nancy Rexroth's Diana, Gene Meatyard's double exposures, Shiela Metzner's Fresson prints, and, as noted above, everything the Pictorialists did, etc. In fact, I doubt if anyone has ever seen a real-life sky as black as the one in "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico," by the master of straight photography. The major difference is that we used to have to work pretty hard to get our effects. We had to tape up our leaky Dianas and file out our negative carriers and learn the Zone System. Now we just download Snapseed and we're good to go. But I think that the photographer's responsibility remains the same. We need to produce thoughtful, credible images that have a reason to attract viewers. As a new iPhone user, I see zillions of photographs that are slathered in overpowering effects and that just look silly. We should, by all means, use the new digital effects (most of which mimic the old analog effects), but we need to apply them to our own fundamentally sound vision and not allow them to override our hard-earned taste and judgment. One final word re the iPhone--it's an astonishing piece of equipment. I was skeptical until I got one. But the ability to take a picture, process it, and post the image to a world-wide audience in a matter of seconds really changes the game for me. I hope that the more traditional camera makers will consider adding connectivity to some of their cameras.

    Thanks, Kirk, for your thought-provoking blog. I visit frequently and always find something that makes me appreciate photography even more.

  8. I'll admit I've been using Photomatix lately, though leaning towards "can't tell it's hdr" results. Nice thing is now the program has several automatic presets so you can preview how ridiculous your image can look without messing with the sliders. Very fast too, and aligns handheld bursts easily.


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