“f/8 and Be There” is a philosophy attributed to Arthur “Weegee” Fellig, a world famous photojournalist and street photographer, known for his works in New York in the 1930’s and 1940’s. It’s a great line but, for me, doesn’t go far enough.
Being in the right place at the right time, whether by chance or good planning, is obviously crucial and it’s probably better to be lucky than good. The art and craft of using the camera well can get me closer to what my eye/brain sees but even when good luck, careful planning, great light and decent technique combine I am rarely happy with the result without post processing. This is true even for ‘record’ shots. With most images, post processing is where the record of the scene is shaped by the minds eye. With radically altered images, such as composites and photoart, it’s the name of the game.
Photographers continue to debate the validity of digital processing, frequently making comparisons with the ‘true’ images produced by film and darkroom techniques. Digital cameras and processing expanded the possibilities but image manipulation is as old as photography itself. There is no such thing as ‘true’ images. ‘Unprocessed’ images don’t exist either. They are all manipulated and always were, by the people who manufacture the film and/or sensors, the chemicals and/or processors, the papers, printers, screens and all the other technologies we use. I have heard some excellent photographers proudly pronounce that they ‘add nothing, take nothing out’ and never ‘press buttons’. They do all of those things every time they open the shutter. Every composition seen through the viewfinder is a decision to about what to include and what to leave out. Every photograph has a range of tonal values and other attributes applied, either by the default settings in the camera or by our conscious or unconscious choices when using it.
A photograph is an abstraction from reality that begins the moment we press the shutter and those who believe that post processing debases the purity of the image ‘straight’ from the camera are deluding themselves. Camera craft is the first stage in the process of ‘creative image evolution’ but increasingly it is becoming the least important.
What we see or want to communicate about what we saw, may not have that much in common with the image as recorded by the camera. My objective is to use all the tools available to produce an image as close as possible to what I envisage and want to communicate. If others like what they see, great. If not, it doesn’t really matter.
Good camera craft but, more importantly, the process of manipulating what the camera recorded is where the art is.
“Every step in the process is a step toward the light…”. Jan Phillips – God Is At Eye Level: Photography As A Healing Art