There are more than 35,000 digital files in my photo library, and the number keeps growing. Though, it ticks up at a little slower pace than it did a few years ago. Even though I go out with my camera more often, I come back with fewer photos. I have become much more intentional and patient about finding the photo before capturing it.
The intentionality has come because I have started to be able to see my desired image in my mind before the camera and lens capture it on the sensor. And I would argue that the processing of the images has something to do with this. I now know the feeling and the emotion of an image and how to use tools such as Adobe Lightroom CC and Photoshop to create it on the desktop — or the Darkroom App on my iPhone.
This would be an appropriate place to inject an obligatory quote from Ansel Adams. After all, he was a great proponent of post-production and spending time in the darkroom. But first, I will quote one of his printmakers (and a legend himself), John Sexton, who once said, “There is a considerable amount of manipulation in printmaking from the straight photograph to the finished print. If I do my job correctly that shouldn’t be visible at all, it should be transparent.”
I think that a seamless transition from start to finish is only possible when you have a photo in your mind long before the button is pressed. In my short photographic journey, I have come to a conclusion: in this era of billions of photos captured, uploaded, and shared every day, all photography — or at least, all creative photography — is interpretive.
The more I become comfortable with the camera, and the more I am able to easily use the post-production tools, the less I am interested in the literal. Sometimes, when I am brooding (which happens a lot) my photos become an expression of the grays in my mind. Sometimes, when joy envelopes me, the images become bright and hopeful, a vision of possibilities and the endless horizon.
The layers of the sea, the waves that come crashing in, can be angry or calm — it all depends on how you choose to view them. The rolling hills are either a battle lost to time and Mother Nature, or they are just a journey through the ups and downs of life. How one sees them and brings them to life in a photo, is just a reflection of their inner self.
This comfort with my own emotions has allowed me to go back and look at some of my older photos with fresh eyes. I thought there might be a chance my new post-production skills would help me reinterpret those images. And I was quite wrong. Only a handful of images were could be successfully translated, mostly because they were the ones made with a feeling that has not faded with time. These two photos from a 2018 trip to Hawaii were my hesitant first steps to finding my photographic footing. And when I looked at them again, it only took a few minutes of subtle manipulation to get them to the emotion I felt then.
These photos from the Faroe Islands in 2016 were on the opposite end of the spectrum. I wasn’t sure of what I was doing then, and as a result, the photos lack that emotional resonance. Turning them into black and white images gave them a new feeling, but I am unable to find a connection. Though that trip taught me that I am mostly a 50mm guy, I was not feeling the photos when I was taking them.
As I scroll through the archives, I am reminded of one true lesson of the past five years: feel the photos.
December 21, 2019, San Francisco.