It’s What You Do With it That Matters

It's What You Do With it That Matters

Dear Walter, friends of Walter, and other friends of mine:


I am following up on our last conversation. I want to be abundantly clear, the photograph is not what you “take”. The photograph is not what is captured on your memory card. What is on your memory card is a bunch of data, right? 1’s and 0’s and pixels of red, cyan, and magenta? The real image lies in wait between the intention to create; the impulse in your mind, that moment of, “hey – look at that!” and the way down the road time when you actually make a print or upload an image. You get to create the image! You, yes you, my dear friend are the Artist (capitalization intended). The world is your inspiration. The camera is your tool. The data on the silly little card is the palette if you will. Ok, the metaphor falls apart here, but the point is – you are the artist and you create what you hope to see. You shoot with intent; and ultimately, what you do with it matters.


All too often, people who are new to digital photography look at the back of the camera, at the LED screen and are disappointed. Well of course! That is a mere sketch of your idea. Low resolution jPeg sketch. It is not the final product. The back of the camera, and primarily the histogram, will let you know if you have what you need to make your photograph. The playback image is not to be confused with the final product.

Here is the thumbnail of a window that caught my eye. It started out looking like this. Dull and green-ish-yuk-ish-blue-ish, but I knew what it could be. A nice black and white detail of an old window and weathered shingles. I knew that ultimately I wanted to print it with the strong white vertical running down the left third of the frame, but I couldn’t get my body in that position without falling in the Gulf of Maine. I knew that I had enough data that I would be able to crop the shot and not lose a lot of quality. I could see that I had all the data I needed to make the photo I wanted. The light at the time was a bit dull, a bit flatter than I prefer for black and white, but my handy-dandy histogram let me know I would be able to pull up the highlights and stretch out the mid tones.


(If you don’t know what the heck a histogram is don’t go running for Urban dictionary, just come to a workshop, I can help anyone find their histogram. If you prefer you can ask David. Whatever makes you most comfortable. We are the histogram whisperers!  We won’t buy pizza in Indiana but we can whisper the heck outta some histograms!!! Hush Walter, I know, I digress..)

So, there you are, you push the shutter, you have a set of data recorded, you’ve create a nice happy healthy histogram. No blown out important highlights. You have details in the shadow areas. You take your card out of the card slot and feed it with great anticipation to your computer. You open it in LightRoom or Photoshop, and….. and….and…. now… you are still disappointed! Why? You have not created the image yet!!! You are still looking at your palettes, and brushes, your herbs and spices. (ok, call the mixed metaphor police on me). You, the artist now get to create the image. You get to fulfill that initial spark of creativity that compelled you to push the darn shutter in the first place; “what, like three months ago” as my fourteen year-old would say?

I am not a big fan of messing with images. I don’t do much. Tweak the exposure maybe. Probably add a touch of black for contrast, small dash of vibrance and crop if needed. Do you want to make it a black and white? Do you want it hyper-saturated, soft or grainy?  It is all up to you and this is where the real fun begins. Here are a few images all created from good capture with very different results:


I won’t lie to you. I think some choices are better than others. I do not think all choices are created equal. I actual believe there are some ways of processing that enhance your vision and some that detract. You want your processing to complement the subject matter.  A good rule of thumb is is to ask yourself what will the viewer notice first and foremost about the image – the subject, the impact of the photo, or will they notice the processing?

You never went out on that hike and thought, “today I will take a beautiful photograph of HDR, and while I am at it I will toss in a waterfall!”  You never thought, or at least I pray to peanut butter you never thought, “I sure hope people will ask me how I made this!!!” I think you, like me, hope the viewer will look at your image and know exactly what excited you about that shot.  You want them to see the final image, experience the wow, the ahh moment.  You want them to react to what you are trying to share. You want to elicit a reaction, an emotion, a connection in the viewer. Isn’t that why we share our images in the first place?  Otherwise, they can all sit and languish on our ever expanding hard drives.

So take the picture, press the shutter, and don’t despair. Make your image sing, and then share it – because yes Virginia there really is a ….wait! Yes Walter, it really is what you do with it that matters.

Any more questions?


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