I came across a photographer at an art show this month who had a sign on his booth that read something to the effect of “My images are made using film and traditional darkroom printing.  No computers!”  The message was clear.  There is something wrong with computers.  The subtext was that there was something less honest about digital manipulation techniques compared to traditional analog ones. 

This got me thinking about one of my visits to the Ansel Adams gallery in California.  If you ever have a chance to see one of his original negatives, you would see very little resemblance to the prints hanging in the gallery.  Adams was a great photographer but he was even better at darkroom manipulation.  Somehow there is this stigma that one who manipulates an image under the light of an enlarger is artist while one who manipulates an image on a computer is some type of a cheater.

But why?  Isn’t it all the same?  I think what it comes down to is that it is so much easier to do it on a computer.  What used to take years to master can now be learned in a weekend workshop.  Personally I see this as a good thing.  Photoshop has taken the art out of the hands of the elitists and into the hands of the every day enthusiast.  The digital darkroom has allowed every individual to express their own creative vision without having to invest in all of the equipment necessary to operate a traditional darkroom.  Power to the people!

But, according to Uncle Ben, with great power comes great responsibility.  So with all the power of Photoshop, how much is too much?  This is a question that must be answered by each photographer.  Personally, I only use Photoshop on my fine art images to add truth to them.  But how does something designed to manipulate an image actually add truth?

Take the accompanying image, for example.  The panoramic is image you see is actually made by stitching several images together in Photoshop.  I manipulated the image by creating it from two different panoramic images and combining them together.  I made one that was exposed for the clouds and another that was exposed for the foreground.  When I was there, I remember seeing red clouds and green trees in the foreground.  However, film and digital sensors lack the range to see both at the same time.  Red clouds mean black foregrounds.  Green foregrounds mean completely white skies.  So in this case, I used Photoshop to actually add truth to the image that the original capture lacked.

Its easy to associate Photoshop with lies, but maybe next time you’ll associate it with truths.



 For a more photography how-to tips, visit www.timothyfaust.com. Timothy Faust is an award winning photojournalist living in Breckenridge Colorado. If you have a photography question you would like to see answered in this column, please send it to questions@timothyfaust.com.  

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