A smidge too far

One of WordPress’ “Freshly Pressed” selections caught my eye this morning. In his most recent post, Dan Jurak discusses using color matching to digitally manipulate his images:

I stopped worrying about the “right” color a long time ago. Unless you are shooting for a catalog where a client needs to see the colors of a product exactly as they appear, don’t waste your time trying to match gray cards or the like. Landscapes are about YOUR interpretation of the land. It’s about how YOU see it and how YOU wish to present it.”

I couldn’t agree more with Dan’s admonition that photographers find their own interpretation of a landscape. That’s exactly why Ansel Adams’ style is so different from Art Wolfe’s.

But for me, digital manipulation often goes a smidge too far and actually detracts from the interpretation.

Here’s my food analogy: When used well, seasoning can enhance a dish and make it more interesting. Add a bit more and you’ll get a stronger flavor—though your palate will tire sooner. But use too much seasoning, and it will overpower your dish and render it unappetizing.

Digital manipulation is just like that.

There’s no question that a little retouching can enhance a photograph.

There’s also no doubt that some techniques—such as HDR—can create the visual equivalent of a strong flavor. But while one or two HDR images may be interesting, look at ten of them in a row and your eye will quickly tire.

And if you overuse digital techniques you risk overpowering your images, leaving only a caricature of what you actually shot.

Photographers today have a dizzying array of tools at their disposal, and a “digital darkroom” is near the top of the list. But if you want to create better images, try to resist the urge to make a bunch of masks and crank up the saturation.

In the end, great photography still comes down to the basics: a compelling subject, creative composition, and skillful metering. A little digital magic should just be the icing on the cake.

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