Photographic Approach

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View from Place Fell, The Lake District. Fuji X-T2.
View from Place Fell, The Lake District. Fuji X-T2.

Recently I have been talking a lot about camera so I want to redress the balance a little. I have been having a couple of email exchanges recently with people who don’t like my photography. I have no issue with this, I just can’t understand why they feel the need to tell me. What I do think is important though is that I’m expected to conform to another person’s view of how an image should look.

The issue in question appears to be that my images are “over processed” because the scenes can’t possibly be captured in camera, the way they appear. The fact that I don’t add or remove items and generally only process my work from a single RAW file is irrelevant. If it can’t be captured with a single shot and without processing, then it’s wrong in their eyes.

I am a landscape photographer. I view the landscape as a thing of beauty and I want my images to reflect the beauty I see. I love to be in the landscape and if ever I could, I would want others to share this experience through my work. If this means I that I need to modify the tones in my image to make it appear as I see with my eyes and mind, then this is acceptable; painters have been doing it for years.

This brings me to the age-old question of should we process our images. My view is that if we shoot Digital and capture in RAW, we must process them. A RAW file without any processing is flat and unappealing. It doesn’t do justice to the subject. If you shoot JPEG then your images will probably look much better initially than the RAW file equivalent. But all you have done in choosing to shoot JPEG is abdicate responsibility for the processing and turned it over to the camera.

As for the “purist” who thinks everything should be done in camera, consider this. If you shoot colour negative film, then the processing of the image and its look has been engineered into the film emulsion. If you shoot colour slide film, again the same is true but you must also modify exposure with graduated filters (in the case of landscapes) due to the limited dynamic range. Is this acceptable as its not in camera? If you shoot black and white negative, then exposure, tone and contrast are controlled not just in camera and when shooting with filters, but also during the developing and printing process. For some reason the same people who criticise image editing see the manipulation of traditional black and white print film as acceptable.

I’m not going to ramble on for much longer other than to make two points:

  1. As photographers, we should strive to develop our own vision of how the images we shoot should look. We also have a responsibility to develop our editing skills to be able to deliver this vision or we are doing our subject a disservice.
  2. We must also learn to appreciate the work of others, even if it differs substantially from our own style and preference. Don’t seek to change others to conform to your vision but ask what can I learn from this other person’s view of the world.

66 thoughts on “Photographic Approach

    Jim H said:
    November 28, 2016 at 8:58 pm

    Keep doing what you are doing. I hear this argument all the time about just getting right in the camera. Baloney! You end up with flat, dull, images that catch no one’s eye. I like what you are doing.

    Andrew Padfield said:
    November 28, 2016 at 9:10 pm

    I have often thought about responding to some of your posts and now I have! I find it curious that you have had people go to the lengths of telling you they do not like your photography. I find all of your posts interesting even if the result is not necessarily to my personal taste. For example, infra red photography is not my cup of tea but I still find it interesting to read about the processes. I enjoy reading about your trials and tribulations with different cameras. For what its worth, I use an Olympus OMD EM5 Mk2 and, in most respects find it entirely satisfactory to use. My main hang up with it is the (to me) complex menu system and I sometimes hanker after what I am given to understand is the more “manual” controls offered by the Fuji. Some of the topics you write about are a little over my head but that’s fine. Just keep on doing what you’re doing. I look forward to every post.

    Best regards

    Andrew Padfield >

      thelightweightphotographer responded:
      November 29, 2016 at 8:38 pm

      Thanks Andrew. I think we photographers need to appreciate the work of others rather than judge harshly because it’s not to our taste. Regarding the EM5 MK II, if its like the MK I I sympathise. The Fuji does feel as though it handles much better.

    philmphotos said:
    November 28, 2016 at 9:25 pm

    Hi Robin. I agree entirely with Andrew Padfield it comes to passing adverse comment on the work of others. I tend to strive for a natural look, but sometimes a more assertive approach to processing feels appropriate to me – it depends on the image and I find that I really don’t know where I want to go with an image until I see it on the computer screen. Yes, we strive not to make obvious mistakes of cows, exposure, framing, depth of field when we press the shutter, but the idea that photography is separate from processing has never, and will never, be true. You’re points about RAW and JPEG are of course spot-on. You are one of the most helpful and generous sharers of your photographic insights out there, so please keep up the good work!

      philmphotos said:
      November 28, 2016 at 9:29 pm

      Further to the above:
      Autocorrect has worked mischief grrrrr and I meant to say:
      “Hi Robin. I agree entirely with Andrew Padfield when it comes to passing adverse comment on the work of others. I tend to strive for a natural look, but sometimes a more assertive approach to processing feels appropriate – it depends on the image and I find that I really don’t know where I want to go with an image until I see it on the computer screen. Yes, we strive not to make obvious mistakes of focus, exposure, framing, depth of field etc. when we press the shutter, but the idea that photography is separate from processing has never, and will never, be true. Your points about RAW and JPEG are of course spot-on.
      You are one of the most helpful and generous sharers of your photographic insights out there, so please keep up the good work!

        thelightweightphotographer responded:
        November 29, 2016 at 8:39 pm

        Thanks Andrew, well put. I’m also pleased that its not just myself who suffers with the auto correct.

    Kevin Peden said:
    November 28, 2016 at 10:10 pm

    I for one, absolutely agree with you, and I have had much the same criticism on several occasion, and after stating why in very much the same way as you have, I now just say, “because I can”.

    Jed Orme said:
    November 28, 2016 at 10:13 pm

    Hello Robin. It is certainly unfortunate that other photographers would think it appropriate to tell you that what you are doing is wrong. It is one thing to come to your own terms with the level of editing or other adjustments to digital images that you are comfortable in doing, but quite another to think that everyone else should only be doing the same. In this process I have been helped a great deal by your excellent books & blog postings; they have also taught me a lot about the ways of making an image come out as you remember it when captured with the editing programs & techniques you have written about. You have stressed that what you seek, and I attempt the same, is to to recreate the actual beauty & details in a landscape scene, but not to cause it to appear unreal or not natural. I rarely find that my RAW images from my Leica Q are able to do this on their own, largely due to my lack of skill in working with it. So I quite agree with all that has been said above & encourage you to continue doing exactly as you have been. All that you have said in your last article is an excellent statement in reply to anyone who thinks it wrong or unprofessional to only produce images straight out of the camera, without any post capture editing. Please give us much more of what you have been doing & your advice or assistance so that we might be better able to do the same. Regards, Jed

      thelightweightphotographer responded:
      November 29, 2016 at 8:42 pm

      Thanks Jed. It wasn’t that these individuals bothered to tell me that was the concern but that they thought I should process or rather not process an image because that’s their “standard”. That’s the bit that I can’t understand. I’m all open to constructive criticism.

    kev4908 said:
    November 28, 2016 at 10:19 pm

    Robin, I agree with you 100%!! I have had much the same criticism made of my images on occasions, I respond in the same way as yourself. I now just say “because I can” and that seems to do the trick, as I don’t seem to get any come back after that statement…..Just keep inspiring others mate, your doing a fine job!!!

    Paul Richardson said:
    November 28, 2016 at 10:27 pm

    Don’t listen to those cranks. The very act of photographing is “artificial”. So I say process as you see fit. There are no rules.

    belindagroverphotography said:
    November 28, 2016 at 10:28 pm

    I agree with your approach. Lovely shot as well!

    Victor Rakmil said:
    November 28, 2016 at 10:35 pm

    I have had some criticism on other forums, all said to be in good faith. My view is that processing is part of photography these days, and how you interpret what you shoot is up to you. I have written about this more often than I care to admit. My Fuji does things differently from my Nikon, different approaches is great. Regards

    Chris R said:
    November 28, 2016 at 10:59 pm

    Hi Robin,I own an X-T2 as well and would be interested in some more details about that photo: what lens, aperture, exposure time etc.? What exactly did you do to the raw photo and with what tools? I would be particularly interested in how you improved the blue of the sky. Thank you in advance!

      thelightweightphotographer responded:
      November 29, 2016 at 8:46 pm

      Hi Chris. There will be more detail on this image in the future. It’s part of a video series I’m doing on You Tube. I suspect it will be a week or two away so in the interim, the secret to this blue sky was a polarising filter. It wasn’t done in post processing other than to balance out the exposure difference caused by the wide angle lens.

    John Barbour said:
    November 28, 2016 at 11:02 pm

    Quite right too
    Ignore the cynics

    RogerH said:
    November 28, 2016 at 11:07 pm

    Robin – keep up the good work and ignore the perfectionists who must lead boring lives. If I were to follow their maxim, then I would have given up photography a long time ago in acute frustration. I value the extraordinary amount of time you take to share with us your trials and tribulations, experiments and triumphs. I have learnt a lot from you and am sure I will continue to do so – the net result is more photographs I am pleased with, sometimes with a number of variations in cropping and processing from the same image (and reprocessing later as my limited skills improve and the guys at Adobe bring out more tricks and wizardry). I fully support the sentiments in your blog comments and hope there will be many years more of them to come. If one or two readers don’t like what you are doing – there is an unsubscribe button!

      thelightweightphotographer responded:
      November 29, 2016 at 8:47 pm

      Thanks Roger. I know you refer to them as perfectionists but I see it more as people with limited thinking and imagination.

    thirtysixdegreessouth said:
    November 29, 2016 at 1:00 am

    Heartily agree with the comments above. I enjoy your posts and looking at your images and appreciate your comments on equipment and processing. Keep up the good work!

    Steve D said:
    November 29, 2016 at 1:01 am

    Just remember their ‘need to tell you’ is their problem, not yours. Unfortunately there are some people who are quick to criticize just about anything. I enjoy your posts and they help expand my vision. Regarding this post specifically, you are absolutely dead on about the need to process RAW files and the fact that “in-camera” processing simply leaves the processing decisions up to the manufacturers’ engineers. Further, ‘how’ you choose to process them is a matter of personal, creative taste. As others have said, if some readers don’t like your particular taste – and choose to learn nothing from it – they can unsubscribe. Just keep doing what you’re doing.

    Larry Norris said:
    November 29, 2016 at 3:30 am

    Well said. Your photos, your blog. If I don’t like what you’ve put out and I can’t learn from it, then I quit looking.

    Bill Stace said:
    November 29, 2016 at 9:40 am

    For me, the most important part of your article is your comment “I want my images to reflect the beauty I see”. I’m grateful that you take the time to share your photographic journey with us, show us the beauty you see and provide instruction based on your experiences. Thank you. Keep up the good work.

    stephen bastiman said:
    November 29, 2016 at 10:19 am

    An image has to be natural ? But what is natural ? There are many various forces which create endless variations of a ‘natural’ look, no two images taken using exactly the same parameters and processed in exactly the same way (in camera or post processed) will ever be the same – as another photographer / educator I follow once said, if you sit at the same location long enough, one day, for just a brief moment, the view will look just as you processed it, but then it will be gone.

      thelightweightphotographer responded:
      November 29, 2016 at 8:52 pm

      Good point. Perhaps rather than saying natural I should have said believable. I want people to look at my images and suspend their judgement of the editing whilst they enjoy the scene.

    peterdepledgePeter Depledge said:
    November 29, 2016 at 11:10 am

    Robin, I fully support your views and am grateful for the time and effort you put into your posts so please carry on in your own style. We are individuals and each have our own unique combination of tastes and preferences whether it be in aesthetics, subject matter, degree of image manipulation and so on. Personally I believe we should all at least try and understand and appreciate the work of others even if it is not to our own styles or tastes. Constructive criticism from others can be (is) helpful and may give an insight we may not see for ourselves; simply saying you do not like an image is of no value to the author – it is irrelevant.

      thelightweightphotographer responded:
      November 29, 2016 at 8:53 pm

      Good point. I’m happy to receive criticism when its delivered in a constructive way with good intension.

    peterdepledge said:
    November 29, 2016 at 11:12 am

    Robin, I fully support your views and am grateful for the time and effort you put into your posts so please carry on in your own style. We are individuals and each have our own unique combination of tastes and preferences whether it be in aesthetics, subject matter, degree of image manipulation and so on. Personally I believe we should all at least try and understand and appreciate the work of others, even if it is not to our own styles or tastes. Constructive criticism from others can be (is) helpful and may give an insight we may not see for ourselves; simply saying you do not like an image is of no value to the author – it is irrelevant.

    JohnAmes said:
    November 29, 2016 at 11:16 am

    Well said sir!

      DavidB said:
      November 29, 2016 at 1:25 pm

      Excellent response! Ti’s unfortunate you even have to put up with the type of comments you refer to …. as always …. those who can …. do ….. those who can’t …. well …. you know ….

      thelightweightphotographer responded:
      November 29, 2016 at 8:54 pm

      Thank you

    aughton said:
    November 29, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    Robin, I completely agree with your views on the use of RAW over JPEG. When do the editing on one day I can look at it on another and re-edit and end up with another photo, and the changes are possible to suit the “change of the weather, for example”. Thank heavens for RAW.
    Ian

      thelightweightphotographer responded:
      November 29, 2016 at 8:55 pm

      Than you for the support. I now appreciate RAW even more, finding myself looking back to images taken 10 years or more back. The RAW files are even better with todays software.

    Don Gilbert said:
    November 29, 2016 at 2:29 pm

    Robin, I agree with you. A photographic artist is not the same as a picture taker.

    alan frost said:
    November 29, 2016 at 3:22 pm

    Couldn’t agree more. Expressing your vision, whilst being true to yourself is of utmost importance in photography and for that matter any other form of creative art. Long live RAW and the ability to process an image however you ‘the photographer’ see as appropriate.

    nigel holmes said:
    November 29, 2016 at 3:35 pm

    I really enjoy your regular image posts and your informative comments.At the end of the day we all have our personal preferences re image style and different ways of achieving them,but there is always something new to learn.Thanks for taking the time to share your expertise and thoughts.

    John Marsh said:
    November 29, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    Excellent and right on! For me, as primarily a BW landscape photographer, processing is everything and it starts out with a RAW image. From there it is all processing to arrive at my final vision. I, like many others, try to emulate the great Ansel Adams and others who used film to transform (manipulate) a scene of reality to one of art. If reality was all I was thinking about, yes I might just try to capture the scene as it was, but photographic art is all about one’s vision even if it is as convoluted as a Picasso painting. I find the real problem is social media where everyone wants to use it as a “pulpit” to criticize ad nauseam and without much critical thought. Of course kindness and respect are also often completely missing in their biased rants. Cameras are just paint brushes and film or digital sensors are just the paint. It’s up to the photographer to paint the scene the way he saw it!

      thelightweightphotographer responded:
      November 29, 2016 at 9:01 pm

      Thanks John. I couldn’t agree more. What a lot of people forget is that Ansel was always experimenting with the latest technology. I suspect he would have become a wiz with Photoshop. As for the feedback I received, it was fortunately via email rather than shared with the world.

    Mitch Zeissler said:
    November 29, 2016 at 9:12 pm

    Meh. Politely tell them to stuff it next time.

    Your blog, your photography — your rules. That’s what I do when someone starts with the “in-camera purity” nonsense. As my dad says, “Life is too short for bad pizza.” 🙂

      thelightweightphotographer responded:
      December 2, 2016 at 8:46 pm

      Thanks Mitch. And your Dad sounds like he’s on my wave length.

        Mitch Zeissler said:
        December 3, 2016 at 1:29 pm

        Lol. Yep… he certainly caught my attention with that comment. I use it all the time now.

    Richard Wisniewski said:
    November 29, 2016 at 11:06 pm

    The processing vs. straight out of camera debate is a hopeless one. But criticizing your images for being “over processed” makes no sense. Processing images is what you do! Your response is well said: All photographs are the result of processing of some kind. As someone not yet into processing raw photos, I value your blog because I can learn from it. The detailed steps you take to achieve the final version are beyond me, but the end results are stunning and inspiring. I am also learning about the importance of composition by studying them. As a first step toward learning more, I just purchased the new Luminar program for Mac users. That said, I have likely a puerile question. Why do many photographers still include aperture and shutter values for their processed photos? Once the manipulations possible in digital processing are put into play, are those basic values still relevant to the final image? Am I missing something? Richard

    >

      thelightweightphotographer responded:
      December 2, 2016 at 8:49 pm

      Thanks Richard. To answer your question, I include the information because people ask me to. You can though tell quite a lot about the techniques that were used when capturing an image based on the settings. That said, I personally just like to look at the images.

    janetwebster said:
    December 1, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    Well said. Keep on rocking!

    LensScaper said:
    December 1, 2016 at 7:40 pm

    Well said. I long ago stopped worrying if people don’t like what I shoot or process. I shoot to please myself, if others like what I produce then that is a bonus. One of the joys for me of being part of this on-line photographic community is seeing a new batch of images land on my desktop every single day. I don’t like all I see, but I can guarantee there will be some gems every single day that inspire me. And this is a gem.

    chris whear said:
    December 9, 2016 at 8:45 pm

    I’d be interested to see some images from the people that criticise you! Your processing is surreal in some cases but by God does it catch the eye, if ‘theirs’ are half as good as yours I’d be surprised. I love what you do, I process mine but don’t seem to get quite the same results (although they are improved) but think a lot of it is down to patience, I almost want to be able to improve them with 2 or 3 clicks whereas I think you must spend a lot of time enhancing details. Which is the best (general) video of yours to watch to see you enhancing your RAWs. I have a 5D MkIII, L series lenses and just use Camera RAW and Photoshop, I haven’t really splashed out on plug ins etc as I feel I need to grasp the basics first.

      thelightweightphotographer responded:
      December 10, 2016 at 6:24 pm

      Thanks Chris. I haven’t heard from the two individuals since and the exchange seemed pretty short lived. Odd that there seemed to be two people involved and this was the only time this has happened to me. In terms of video, take a look at this one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvgA1DTNJ00. I would also encourage you to download the free Nik Collection as it will make you life much easier as you will see in the video.

    Peter John Bull said:
    December 15, 2016 at 7:08 pm

    Being in my 81st year,and having been in Photography since about the age of 10 years old,I would like to put in my two penny worth of criticism of the so called purists,who spout off about pictures coming straight out of the camera as the only way it should be.What a load of utter clap trap.
    They should research the likes of Ansell Adams who invented the Zone system,the genius of the man yet to be equaled in my estimation. The Flashing of the printing paper to get a solarized effect,of the different developer formulae we concocted, to get a different look to a negative,. cross processing,by which negative film is processed in transparency developer. And vice versa.We also had something called Farmers reducer,so that if a negative was under- exposed ,we could try to rescue it,or toning solutions like sepia. How about putting two transparencies together in the negative carrier on the enlarger, to put a new sky into a dull looking image. Just like Layers in Photoshop today.What a blessing .Dodge and Burn,with bits of black cardboard on the end of wire.Where have I heard that.Nothing has changed .Like today a means to an end.
    No.We never printed straight out of the camera if you wanted an acceptable image,unless of course you went to the chemist to have them printed. We manipulated the negative to get the best possible result one could hope for with the technology of the day. It makes me wonder what the so called Purists pictures look like.The Rant is over.

      thelightweightphotographer responded:
      December 15, 2016 at 8:59 pm

      Thank you for adding to the weight of the argument against being a purist. I suspect the people or person concerned has either lost interest or found someone else to pester. I haven’t heard from them/him recently. Your points are well made and indeed the tools in Photoshop are based on the processes developed (excuse the pun) in the darkroom. Thank you.

    chris whear said:
    December 16, 2016 at 7:07 pm

    What a great reply from P J Bull, I have never personally done darkroom processing but used to watch a skilled friend of mine doing these manual magic tricks and what Peter says is spot on! This question isn’t really pertinent to this post but as I replied here I thought I’d ask it here, sorry if that is wrong. I can’t find it specifically but in a couple of your articles I’m sure you’ve made mention of a preference for slightly underexposing images to keep the highlights from blowing out. There is a theory that advocates ‘shoot to the right’, (referring to the right of the histogram), I’m sure you’ve come across it. The first mention I saw was from Bruce Fraser who wrote about it in early Adobe info about camera RAW, and this link explains it for anyone who wants to understand it. http://rezphotos.com/dablog/histograms-and-expose-to-the-right/
    What is your thinking re this practice against what you say about under-exposing or am I getting completely confused and they are 2 different subjects?

      thelightweightphotographer responded:
      December 16, 2016 at 9:18 pm

      Hi Chris, yes it is an excellent reply from Mr Bull.
      To answer your questions, I like to overexpose so that I can capture lots of detail in the shadows and reduce the chance of noise. With todays sensor technology, there is much less chance of noise but sometimes it can be a problem. I also tend to use ND grads on the sky when shooting Landscapes which allows me to over expose further without blowing the highlights. This gives me even more detail in the shadows. Using this approach means that you then need to reduce the exposure when processing the RAW file as well as increase the Contrast and Clarity or you end up with a pretty dull and flat image.

      I do know photographers who regularly under expose images. I’m not one of them although sometimes I will do this to avoid exposure problems.

      All my cameras are different though and have different charactoristis. Witht eh EM5 I tend to over expose by up to a stop. The same is true of the Fuji. With the Sony I will often accept the camera exposure because the RAW files are so flexible and the colours are wonderful. The one thing you must to when exposing to the right is avoid blowing out the highlights as you can recover this detail. You need to know how your camera performs and how far you can push the RAW files before this happens.

      Has this helped?

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