There is a tempest-in-a-teacup brewing in photography, and the new version of Photoshop, CS5, isn’t going to help much. The main gist of the debate is if over-processing an image with ‘actions’ in Photoshop violates some sort of acceptability for wedding photography, and if it’s being used as a substitute for ‘real photography’. The concern is that by over-processing images clients will be delivered something trendy, that won’t stand the test of time as a classic image should, and isn’t true to the photojournalistic style. There is a pretty good sub-plot brewing too, with a lot of name-calling and wasted energy, accusing some folks of selling things to new photographers instead of helping them actually take better pictures… but I don’t waste time on petty sub-plots, so lets stick to the main argument. Does using (or over-using) things like Photoshop make for tacky images? Is it for lazy photographers?
I call what I do ‘artistic photojournalism’. See that? How I slid the word ‘artistic’ in there? The truth is that most wedding photographers are in this ‘artistic’ group; the only thing the clients need to know is if they like the style or not. I’m not saying most wedding photographers over-process their images; I’m saying they create images that are true to their vision. If your photographer thinks it’s important for an image to have a certain look, and you like that look, then that’s about as far as the discussion should go.
But how well will shots with different levels of ‘trendy’ hold up over time? Decide for yourself; the internet can also be window backward in time.
I’m lucky – I can see into a past that my younger clients can’t. I was a kid in the 70’s, and I’ve seen a lot of bad wedding images since then. My wife was a bridesmaid when weddings were still shot with film and soft focus filters, and she loves that picture of herself and her friends; captured in their youth and all dressed up. What stands out to me more about the images are the trendy pink bow-ties and matching accessories the guys were wearing. And the freshly shampoo’d mullets. A bad hairstyle dates an image faster than any photographic technique! So if you want classic images, start with some classic ingredients, and avoid the trendy impulses. Or go with them; just be sure you’re doing your own thing.
So, back to photography. I don’t own Adobe Photoshop; but I do use Adobe Lightroom. For wedding photography I keep the processing to a minimum… but for general photography I like to explore the boundaries of what works and what doesn’t work a bit more. You should know that in the images below most of these processes make people pretty funky-colored. If you want your wedding to look like it was shot on cross-processed film from a plastic camera, no problem (no, really, no problem! I own a bunch and do shoot film occasionally!) But less extreme processing than what I’m about to show works better for classic wedding images.
I use Adobe Lightroom presets, which are akin to simple actions in Photoshop, to quickly apply certain effects. Some effects are as subtle as bringing out a little more detail in the shadows; some convert images to black & white, some are completely extreme and mimic old film and camera combinations.
If you look back 20 or 30 years you’ll notice that photographers might have used optical filters to provide some of the same effects; when I was a photography student back in the mid-80’s I had a small set of Cokin filters. I didn’t use them all the time, but for helping balance a bright landscape they were pretty cool. They made the whole world look like Miami Vice (or, not so coincidentally, CSI: Miami), with tobacco colored clouds and the bluest of waters. Sadly, I didn’t have a soft focus filter, or might have met my wife a LOT sooner!
This scene below is a pretty typical Calgary evening from a few days ago. Sunset; afternoon cloud, and enough haze to obscure the mountains. The clouds weren’t really this pink, nor the grass as green, of course. That’s Lightroom.
But this is how I remember it. One of our first warm days, lots of people on the paths around my house, and light streaming down through the clouds, too bright to look at. The browns of winter are finally overtaken by the vigorous greens of spring. This is how this image should look.
And neither of these images below are really true to the trees that finally bloomed this week; the first is quite a bit more punchy, the second is softened a bit more than I like, but it’s a good opposite for the first image. It really illustrates that depending on the mood of the moment you might remember either of these images as being correct.
I also dug through a folder of images from a past trip to California, and noticed that without treatment in Lightroom the images wouldn’t even be close to my vision of what they should be. So while none of these shots is exactly what the camera saw, it’s what I saw.