I think that one of the best indicators for success, using that as a broad term, in artistic or creative digital (or film) photography is the ability to visualize. What I mean by this is the ability to see a scene or subject and then intuitively know how you want your final image to turn out, using both your photographic skills and your software processing skills. This may not be a “one-shot” process but instead something that occurs over an amount of time.
I am not referring to creating an “altered” image, i.e., one with layers where something is added to create a composite, although I have done that and will continue to do that kind of image and that kind of image does include visualization. What I am referring to in this context is an image where the main subject is left intact (and this might be nature or a still life or almost any shot) but, using both sets of skills to work with the subject and/or background, the end result is the final image that was seen in your mind. This end result, for me however, might include an added layer in the form of a textured and/or colored background at times.
This kind of image can only be created by a photographer who can visually see the end result within their own mind and can use their combined skills to achieve success. The photographer most of us know who was an expert at this is Ansel Adams, although there are many other photographers, past and present, who had or have this ability. In Adam’s day, this “magic” was achieved by excellent darkroom technique and skills in burning (making a portion of the image darker), dodging (making a portion of the image lighter), blurring and sharpening, using toners, and by various other darkroom development techniques.
Today, we do this in the “lightroom,” not referring specifically to the actual Adobe Lightroom software (although this is my main processing software) but to processing technique in general.
“Maple Leaf.” Nikon Z7, 24-70 S, 1/200 at f/13, ISO 200. This original shot was a dull brown leaf in clear river water with a brown mud and hard shadow background. When I took the shot I knew that all I needed to do was get the shot very sharp and then I could process the brown leaf with a black background. This shot won a 2nd Place Award in a local photography competition in a nature category. The original shot would not have won anything! I made sure to take a darker exposure as I wanted to emphasize the black background.
Click for an enlargement
The type of file we set our cameras to shoot in is part of the total end result and this choice does impact the resultant image. There is a huge debate that rages on today in various online forums about digital software and digital shooting file format. Is it better to shoot in RAW format (the photographer processes the image) or JPEG format (the camera processes the image), why one or the other? What software to use and how to use it? What “should” the software limits be set at…burning and dodging or anything goes? Photography is no stranger to debate and the craft has been debated hotly since the first permanent photograph was taken by Nicéphore Niépce in 1826. Photographers have often been considered to be “techies,” more than artists, and through time there has been debate on the actual nature of a photograph and of photography, science or art?
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