We’ve Passed a Tipping Point

I’ll start this week’s post with a thought that popped into my head earlier today and refuses to be ignored. At some time in the past few years I think we’ve passed a tipping point.  Photo editing skills have now become more important than your skill with a camera. I do think the camera and lenses are important, but the ability to take a well composed and reasonably exposed shot has become the expectation. Here’s an image that I like and which doesn’t have much editing, but I imagine it would be ignored on social media.

A foggy day on the mountains of the Lake District. Fuji X-T3 with Fuji 16-80 lens at 16mm. Handheld exposure of 1/60” at ISO160 and f/11.0.

The images that now seem to wow us are the ones that never existed. They are the ones that someone has created through their skills with photo editing software. This becomes very apparent when you see some of the “starting images” of what you think are amazing shots. The starting point for many of these images often look dreadful. It’s only when we learn how to process these images well that we achieve a good image. Processing has become more important than photography.

But this trend isn’t just about processing. There’s something else that can make the difference and all great photographers have. It’s what makes these “new” images so appealing. It’s imagination.

It’s the ability to imagine how the finished image will look that makes the difference and that’s always been the case. We used to call this vision or previsualisation because you needed to see the potential of the finished image. Today imagination is a better word because we have the tools that allow us to create almost anything we can imagine and using them is becoming easier.

Am I in favour of this change? I honestly don’t know.

Latest YouTube Video

With that out of the way, I wanted to let you know that my latest YouTube video is live. This week I’m explaining how to use the Overlays in Affinity Photo. I know lots of people who edit with Affinity Photo but not so many use the Overlays – big mistake. This video’s only short and you can watch it on my YouTube Channel.

I should also mention that my monthly newsletter goes out overnight. If you don’t already subscribe you can read it on the newsletter page of my website where you can also sign up.

If you have any thoughts about my musings it would be great if you would share them below.

Have a great weekend.

18 thoughts on “We’ve Passed a Tipping Point

  1. Hi Robin, I find your musings quite interesting. Actually I have often noticed how you can make a very interesting photo out of an unremarkable landscape. Let me try to better explain what I mean. It seems that Ansel Adams once said that there are three mountains worth photographing in the world: the matterhorn in the alps, the half dome in Yosemite; and some peak I don’t remember in the Himalayas. You shoot none of these, yet you produce excellent photos. Thus I would say the less impressive the landscape, the more important the composition and post processing skills.

  2. Your comment about letting our imagination free and using Photoshop (or whatever) to create ‘new’ images makes a very good point. I try to do that in my photography, but one has to be careful to not carry it too far (unless that is the intention). In that regard, I think that your example approaches overkill. It lacks the subtlety that is far more characteristic of your images.

    1. Hi Don, if by overkill you are referring to the second image which shows the before and after, that’s exactly what I was trying to illustrate. It’s the first image which hasn’t been edited very much that I like. I’m trying to illustrate the extent of the change you can now easily make.

  3. Interesting thoughts Robin,
    Something being ‘Photoshopped’ used to be a dirty word. I find it fascinating what can be done these days, Affinity being my choice. I have sometimes taken mundane shots which I would not have done in the past and quite enjoy seeing how they can be ‘rescued’. I am also a bit of a sucker for Apps on my IPhone. Enjoy your Affinity tutorials on YouTube – very informative. Thanks.

    1. You’re right about Photoshopped being a dirty word. In my experience, it was usually people who didn’t know how to use it that made this remark. Watching someone learn the tools and then change their opinion is another eye-opener.

  4. Hi Robin,

    Nothing has changed. The exposed film from a film camera required developing and the developed negative required printing. Both processes required judgement by the photographer. With digital some processing is done in the camera (developing) but the photographer has some control over that. ‘Printing’ can be fully or partly automated or complete controlled by the photographer.

    Processing was always more important.

    “Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.” – Ansel Adams

    Thanks for making us think.

    1. What you say is very true. I think what’s changed is the tools and how far we can now go with them. Ansel was a wizard. How he extracted winter storm clearing from that negative by waving small pieces of paper on a stick over it is beyond me. I’m certain he would have embraced today’s technology.

  5. Continuing in the teachings of Adams (I remain a disciple), I live by his statement that the negative is the score, but the print [the final image] is the symphony. I believe that he worked lovingly with each image that he turned into what he called “the fine print” to render it into what he visualized/envisioned when he made his exposures. I have paid my dues for many years in the classical darkroom and treasure the lessons I learned there. I’m quite confident that he would have embraced the tools available to us now that allow us to develop them so much more efficiently (although many seem to use them to rather extravagant extremes). In the end, the art is the product of the mind of the artist, and if everyone had the same opinions about art, how boring it would seem.

  6. Well, you are correct, I’ve come to believe that only a good ‘composition’ is necessary, as post processing can salvage the rest..some of my work is done with a camera which has been modified for IR (720nm) and post processing can do wonders for creating a stunning final result which is not obvious in the captured image.

  7. It’s funny, Ansel Adams came to my mind also before I had read some of the previous replies. This is a big subject. I have been ‘accused’ in the past of adjusting my photos by non-photographers (..”but they’ve been photoshopped!”) and then attempted to inform them that their digital phone / camera jpgs (and their old printed ones from the high street) had already been manipulated automatically, that the art is in controlling your own adjustments to achieve the image you want. There is, of course, no right answer to your question. As always choices within the entire process from capture to output is simply what we choose to enjoy and get out of it.
    In my case my photography happens to be ‘opportunistic’ rather than deliberate photo shoots. So I grab the ‘raw material’ in-camera from the time and place that I am. I take pleasure in finding the angles, framing, composition, lighting from non-ideal photographic situations using appropriate camera settings, and already having a vision when taking them of what I will do in the digital darkroom. My result may not be totally truthful to the time and place of the capture but my objective is an image that is creative and pleasing to my eye. As long as this process is not crudely overdone I am happy with this approach. And with everyone else’s approach. Long may we all create wonderful images by whatever method we choose to use.

    1. Thanks Steve. I don’t think what I wrote in the article came across as clearly as I had hoped. I fall very much in the camp of you need to Photoshop your photos. The question I was trying to raise is how far do you go? I’ve seen a lot of images where the mountains have been exaggerated, different focal lengths blended, huge moons added in wide-angle shots and even mountains moved or added. I can’t deny that some of these are amazing as is what’s now possible with the software we have. But when these are passed off as photographs rather than art it feels to me like a lines been crossed. I shall give this some more thought.

      1. Ah yes, and I agree. I reckon we are all on the same page. I know the the type of photos you mean and your words are spot on “when these are passed off as photographs”. They are graphic artworks, constructs, but receive comments that suggest people perceive them as otherwise. I might appreciate the digital effort but not the results. Again, I must be careful not to be snobby about our photography and accept there is a place for everything but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. And I do dismay at the increasing amount of auto software buttons and apps that allow users to replace an entire sky or replace content. How far do we go? All we can do is draw our own lines on this. I’m happy to alter a photograph beyond the real if it achieves a dramatic artistic results, but then I also tend to call them images to try and differentiate them from a real world representation of a scene. Beyond removing pieces of litter or an annoying wire I wouldn’t want to add scenes – that is graphic art – and that is a different product and should be labelled as such. Keep up the great work Robin. Thanks.

  8. Hi Robin et al
    Ever returning question – and very often emotional. It is, of course, difficult to express how much and what kind of postprocessing is meant in words only, without the image and without the discussion partner „in flesh“ at one‘s side (although this might be dangerous at times 😉)
    For my part, I often think that contemporary landscape photography is full of too much postprocessing: especially, garish colours are very en vogue. On the other side, sometimes I myself see them (colours e.g.) more vivid when I am looking at potential images „n natura“ than later in print or on screen. I do not know yet – I am certainly not a skilled printer, but sometimes I have a feeling or kind of hunch of a thought, that one simply cannot transport the light as seen outside on paper with all the radiance, fullness and all. So we try to do it in PP, but sensors, lens and PP-software simply are not yet there to be able to render nature really, really one to one. Any ideas? (Hope I could make myself „clear“)

  9. To the image above: What distracts me is the possibility to view it before and after. I feel the image before somehow more true, albeit technically not optimal. The postprocessed image is technically perfect, but clearly not true. BUT: I cannot say now how I would react to both images should I see them separately, not side by side. I certainly would notice too much dark areas in the before-image. I am not so sure, that I would have so much against the after-image like right now. On my iPad-screen it seems too light (foreground), but a print would be different again. So, I do not know for sure. Ask myself, what would Ansel say ? 😉

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