From Pong to Photoshop – my technological journey

By March 6, 2015Wildlife Blog

I consider myself fortunate to have been born in a generation that I like to call the technological cusp. I’m old enough to remember learning to type on an actual typewriter, looking up random facts in encyclopedias instead of Google and (I hate to admit this one!) playing my first ever video game: Pong.

Pong

For my young readers, Pong was one of the first video games ever made. It involved two paddles and a ball.

However, I’m young enough to be very comfortable with (and largely dependent on) today’s technology, especially when it comes to photography…

I am so grateful to have had the old-fashioned film and darkroom experience. My official training in photography was during my time as a journalism student at Mount Royal University (formerly college) between 1999 and 2002. Back then, we learned photography on fully manual SLR cameras, shot in black and white, developed our own negatives and created our own prints. Had I gone to J-school 3 – 5 years later, I would not have had that experience.

Having experienced both sides of the photographic era, I have to admit, I really appreciate the ease of the digital age. The biggest advantage is the ability to take basically unlimited images – nothing hones photography skills like getting out and shooting as much and as often as possible. There is no question that film is a limiting factor in the number of pictures one can take.

A picture of one of my very first images taken in 2000, developed and printed in a real dark room.

A picture of one of my very first images taken for my photojournalism class in 2000, developed and printed in a real dark room.

Post-processing (or editing) abilities have also made huge strides with the prevalence of digital technology.

I’ve often thought about the implications of using  Photoshop. Is it cheating to use image-editing software? I asked my friend, colleague, long-time photographer, and former photography instructor Paul Coates this very question a few years ago. He said something like, ‘there is nothing wrong with using a tool like Photoshop to help recreate what you saw – even if the camera did not capture it perfectly – that’s part of the art of photography.’

This opinion changed my perspective – I had not considered editing as part of the art before. Plus, the concept of enhancing images was not born with the digital age. Adjustments like lightening, darkening, cropping, etc could be done in the darkroom as well – digital editing software has just made it so much easier. Since that conversation with Paul, I proudly and happily edit my photos with the mindset of better reflecting what I saw in reality.

My goal is not to alter reality – it’s simply to enhance an image that could not be captured perfectly for a variety of reasons:

  1. The limitations of my equipment
  2. Wildlife usually doesn’t give you much time to react
  3. I’m human – I make a lot of mistakes

The key is to recognize what editing software can and cannot do. I teach Photoshop at SAIT, and the first thing I tell students when it comes to photo editing is:

Photoshop can make a ‘good’ picture ‘better,’ but can’t make a ‘bad’ picture ‘good’

Photoshop cannot reach into your brain, grab the memory of your image and display it on the screen exactly how you want it (at least not yet!) The software works with pixels and how they relate to each other – plain and simple. It cannot add detail that was not captured by the camera. If an image is too over-exposed, under-exposed or out of focus, the pixels just won’t make sense to Photoshop and there is nothing a photographer can do about it.

With that in mind, here are some examples of how I’ve used Photoshop to make what I consider to be good pictures better.

Noise Removal

I was able to significantly reduce the amount of noise in this great gray owl image – the low light and my 1/1000 shutter speed made for an ISO setting of 6400, that caused a huge amount of grain and noise.

 

Recovering shadow detail

In this image, my camera was likely metering for the sky, making my subject extremely dark. Photoshop allowed me to bring out some detail in the wings, and ‘sort of’ see that this golden eagle is carrying some prey.

 

De-cluttering

This is a minor ‘de-cluttering,’ but I so rarely get to capture Northern Pygmy Owls that I was happy to take some extra editing time to get rid of the bud that appears to be growing out of his head on the right side.

 

So does having these editing abilities make me a lazy photographer? Does it keep me from using my camera to its full capacity? I’ve thought about this idea a lot as well, and have ultimately decided..

No, I’m not a lazy photographer because I use Photoshop

Because I do some degree of editing on all my images, I can say with confidence that no amount of post-processing will beat getting it right directly from the camera. The reality is, most of the images posted on this website required very little editing. The above three examples are subjects that I really liked, and I’m glad Photoshop gave me the ability to make them better, but my goal is always to get it right with the camera.

The digital advances in photography may make some processes easier, but it does not take away from what I believe is the art of photography at its core. Our photographs are an expression of the unique way in which we see this beautiful world. This fundamental concept will never change, whether we use digital tools to enhance our images or not.

So keep on shooting and Photoshoping, and until next time, continue loving life and all things wild 🙂

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6 Comments

  • Elizabeth says:

    What a great lesson. I’m not a photographer by any stretch but you make this so interesting. Your writing style really captures my interest as a reader looking into the world of photography from the outside.

  • Rick says:

    An interesting blog post Kerri, and I think you’ve captured a dilemma faced by many photographers today. But I also believe that most photographers are also artists who compose and frame their images, then use technical settings such as aperture and shutter speed to further influence the outcome of the final image. Then there are additional techniques such as intentional camera movement to add a creative blur to trees, long exposures to capture the silky softness of waterfalls, or ultra long exposures to capture star trails. All of this of course before we even download our images.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that as photographers and artists we each have to be comfortable with the way we influence the final image, and whether that’s standing behind the camera or using post-processing sliders, it’s different for each of us. And as we evolve our art and craft, it’s likely going to continue to change.

    I agree with what Paul said about using PS as a tool to help recreate what we saw in the field and would go one step further. For people who simply want a “reality snapshot” then a point and shoot camera will capture what it sees, but as photographer’s, we use the tools available to us to recreate what we see.

  • Siva Sutty says:

    You are a good teacher too Kerri. You held my hands in learning PS and I am making one baby step by one baby step to improve my photos. Thanks for your help as a teacher in the class room.

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