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Heritage Hunt Photography Club

The Two Aspects of Photography

by Alan Skerker

Ansel Adams famously said, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”

Fast forward to the era of digital photography and what Ansel Adams said is still true. The camera captures a raw file of luminosities. Luminosity is the intensity of light that strikes each pixel after passing through the various filters and color array that the camera manufacturer may have put in the optical path to the sensor. The RAW data must be converted to a digital image for us to view it on a computer display and even further processed in software to produce a photographic print, book, poster, or greeting card. This leads us to think about the two fundamental aspects of digital photography; using the camera to capture the data, and using software to create the image and perhaps a photographic print.

Capturing the data is about learning how to use the camera to compose, focus, and expose the scene to get the information you need to create the digital image or photograph you envision. Many photographers will expound on the merits of “getting it in-camera,” but the reality is more complex. The camera does not see what you see... the camera responds linearly to light, but your eye is non-linear; the color filter array in front of the camera sensor has a spectral response which does not necessarily match your eye or the way your brain interprets what you see; moreover, the world is not divided into 3 by 2 or any other rectangles; and, if that weren’t enough, there is no unique solution to how raw data is converted to a color image. This is easily demonstrated by comparing JPEG images from different cameras, or the developed raw images from different software packages... what you find is a bit reminiscent of the U.S. color television standard NTSC; affectionately known as "Never The Same Color" twice, the phenomenon seen when looking at a row of TV’s in a department store. In short, you, the photographer must take the data from your camera and create the image or photographic print you want. Creativity, done outside of the camera is every bit as creative, if not more so, then what can be done within the camera.

Modern image editing tools enable the photographer to add, delete, or change virtually every pixel within an image. Some view this capability as totally against the spirit of “true photography,” while others simply view these capabilities as part of the modern bag of creative tools that software provides. It is the latter view that drives my approach. In my view, the camera simply provides the raw material, as a shovel in the sand provides the raw material for the furnace and the artisan glass blower it is software that enables me to mold the raw material of the camera into a product of my mind.

Try to get the best image you can, it will probably mean you will need to do less work during post processing, but don’t fret over it. Composition and quality of the final product will make or break the image; consequently, it is better to include extra stuff that can be removed or cropped in post-processing than to cut-off an important element. When in doubt, I go a little wide, even if the subject looks a little far away as a result. Oftentimes, circumstances prevent me as they will you from working a scene over and over or from different perspectives. Here again, "photographic adage" will advise you to go back again and again until you get the scene the way you want it. I understand that obsession, but it is a personal one, not a requirement for making photographs you are proud of. Perhaps you get one or maybe a few quick shots of a scene before the scene changes or disappears. Although the shot you take may have imperfections, the raw material may be perfectly adequate to create an image or photograph you like and will be proud to display. Above all, don't throw out a marginal shot until you have objectively examined its potential. I'll be showing examples from my work and demonstrate my strategy for having deciding whether to work up the image to create a photograph.

Alan Skerker