One of the most frequently asked questions I get from photographers is how I get my images to look the way they do. The answer is deceptively simple. Vision, previsualization, technique and artistry using any tool at my disposal.
It’s hard now to imagine a time when there were no digital cameras and Photoshop. Long before I became a professional photographer, I spent much of my life in a darkroom. Starting in 6th grade with a darkroom in a basement and later becoming a professional printer specializing in hand crafted, custom fine art black and white prints.
My printing technique involved a lot of dodging and burning by hand. Selectively darkening and lightening areas of the print using my hand in various shapes. Think shadow puppets. I also created a set of tools, various shapes cut out of black art board and taped onto pieces of coat hangers. Sometimes, I would add texture to my prints by exposing through a piece of dry mount tissue or other objects. I could change the focus by tilting the easel during exposure. I even had a processing method that used two different developers. All of this was the technique of printing. The look was achieved through experienced post production techniques.
None of this has changed aside from the tools of the trade. Now, instead of a traditional darkroom, we have a digital darkroom. The advantages are mind boggling. Gone are the health related issues associated with the chemicals of a traditional darkroom. The modern darkroom offers tools to create repeatable results. These tools can be altered to fit your vision and style and saved. With Photoshop, the steps taken to create a particular look can be saved as an action. This saves a tremendous amount of time and allows me to bring a fine art feel to nearly everything I do.
The problem with many photographers starting out is they are looking to cut corners. Trying to bypass the vision, previsualization and technique. Looking to create art by purchasing a Photoshop action and pressing a button. Sure, you can quickly mimic the look and feel of everyone else out there that you admire, but it’s not as simple as that.
Compelling images begin with good exposure, composition and light. A moment worth capturing that can hold the attention of the viewer. While shooting, I have a vision for the image I’m creating. In addition to the technique of lighting and framing and capturing my image, in my mind, I already know what I want to do in post production. I have a vision. That vision is tempered with a technique I’ve developed from knowing my tools. Knowing what to reach for to achieve the look I’m wanting to create in my image.
Here is an image from a senior session. The first one is straight out of the camera with no post production other than processing the RAW camera file to a working production file. The second image has been retouched, cropped and enhanced with Photoshop. The image I had in my mind when I was shooting.
Over the past 10 years, I have created a set of tools, Photoshop actions that are the foundation of my work. Many photographers have approached me, asking if I’d ever sell them. I decided to put together a set of my actions, called the Foundation Set and started selling them earlier this year. It’s been a word of mouth, labor of love and if you are interested, let me know. As someone who is very particular about his images, I’ve never been impressed with any of the creative action sets that are available, with one exception. Totally Rad Actions or TRA.
Created by Doug Boutwell, these Photoshop actions are truly innovative and hip. They’re fun and as the name says, totally RAD dude! If you are looking for a creative jump start or a fresh look to your images, you would be hard pressed to find a more well rounded or more creative set of actions. Never press play and expect art. A true artist rolls up their sleeves and gets dirty. These actions are best used with vision. They are fun and that’s what creativity is all about.
Last, but not least are textures. Digital textures are photos of anything from a concrete wall to a faded, yellowing piece of paper. These are brought into Photoshop and layered over an image. Using the same tools of a traditional darkroom, such as selective dodging and burning, masking and varying opacities and blending modes, you can transform an image into a work of art. I use them sparingly, but haven’t fully utilized their potential yet.
One of the problems with textures is they don’t always work. A lot of hit and miss. Doug Boutwell, in a true moment of inspired genius is poised to once again transform post production workflow for photographers. His soon to be released TRA Dirty Texture Plugin for Photoshop will offer a visual tool to quickly assess any texture file with your image. I can only shake my head in amazement at the brilliance of this new tool.
Here are a set of before and after images to help illustrate how an image is transformed, with vision and technique utilizing every tool possible. What are your thoughts? Favorite recipes? Take a moment and share. Thanks for stopping by!