One Person Asked

I’ve benefited from Dave’s Photoshop’s tutorials at photos4u2c.  Recently, I have looked at IHEARTFILM’s images, many of which are infrared or cross processed.  I’ve told him while I find some “processed” images interesting, I tire of them generally, and he quite appropriately doesn’t care a bit about my opinion!  We all have different aesthetics and filters but, our creative energy is our common bond.  Dave is a Photoshop wizard.  Chris is a chemical wizard. Also, I enjoy very much BonnieLuria’s blog and her painter friends because they often discuss “how” they do things.  Even though I can’t paint a bit, I enjoy eavesdropping on the creative process whatever medium it is in.

So, due to popular demand, I’m going to discuss my process.

(OK…OK.  One person asked.)

When I tell you I couldn’t tell you all the steps it took to make the bottom image the top image, I am not being coy.  Sometimes I do things impulsively and forget what I did.  But, I can tell you that for about four months, I have been taking multiple exposures of different scenes with the explicit notion of using parts of all of them in the final image.

In this instance, I took a series of exposures of the same scene, two full stops between each of three.  Then, I took multiple zoom shots of varying exposures.  Then, I took multiple long exposures to make the heavy traffic blur into one line of light.  The below photograph was the rare moment when no cars were present.  Now, the question is why did I take all these exposures.  Did I have the end result in mind?

No.  But, I knew several things I wanted.

I have been trying to photograph this spot for months at sunset as the skies are regularly spectacular.  In addition, Garelick Farms, a dairy producer, is in the middle of this photograph with the white storage tanks which dominate this section of the local road at whatever time of day. They are a large employer in the area and their trucks are often seen coming and going from this facility.  (I recently posted one shot of those milk trucks HERE.)  At sunset, the facility always seems to be ghost-like to me.

The other specific I had in mind were the shifts at Garelick: when they turn over or a train arrives at the nearby commuter rail station, traffic can quickly become very heavy when ordinarily it is quite light.

So, those were the elements that I had in mind as I went about constructing this image.

Just so you know, I’m not all that crazy about it as it is now, but it does show quite dramatically what one can do with a knowledge of Photoshop and multiple images.

I think people commit to Photoshop the same way they get married–for better or worse.  It can be overused as well as underused.  I could not afford to shoot film and process the number of shots for every image I currently attempt even if I had a mastery of darkroom technique and chemical processing.  The time and the expense of all my “misses” would totally discourage me.

So, there it is, my first attempt to deconstruct a final image.  Honestly, I’m going to try and take notes of what I do so I can learn myself.  Intuitive Photoshop would be the title of my textbook, not one keystroke on any page.

I don’t think it’s gonna be a best seller.

©Pat Coakley 2009


17 comments on “One Person Asked”

  1. “I think people commit to Photoshop the same way they get married–for better or worse.”

    It’s just a tool, much in the same way the darkroom used to be. As someone who had their own darkroom for about 20 years, I can say without hesitation that Photoshop is far more useful; easier to use; cheaper; less polluting and way less dangerous to one’s health than mucking around in a darkroom.

    I think the big problem (that really isn’t a problem) that many people need to get over is that an unprocessed image isn’t necessarily the “truth”.

    Cameras (be they film or digital) only approximate what our eyes see. Cameras don’t have brains that can give different priorities to various elements in a scene and adjust them. This is why straight images that haven’t been tweaked look so flat and the contrast is often different from what we remember.

    Photoshop is a powerful tool that can do two things.

    1) Bring an image back to what we thought we saw.
    2) Manipulate an image to create another one that didn’t exist before.

    Neither case is better than the other they are just two ends of the same spectrum.

    The whole idea of “reality” is such a subjective thing that a camera has no way of really capturing it.

    Oh! By the way, I like what you’ve come up with in your top image.

    • That’s one of the tricks of photography. The human eye at its best is amazingly good at making things look pleasing – good contrast, good color rendition, amazing sharpness, etc. Serious photographers often, it seems, go through a period of trying to emulate with a camera what their eyes see. When they realize that such an approach is often futile, they either give up or trade realism for artificiality. I have nothing against either, although I pride myself on hovering somewhere in the middle.

      • Good point, Chris. I guess for me I’d just question the term “artificial” as if there is something that is absolutely true and other variations are degrees of artificial. In my case, most of the photographs I invest Photoshop skills over are attempting to show what I “see” or experience behind the wheel or, in this case, at an intersection. It’s simply representational of what I see even though maybe someone else just sees the lower image. As I said to Don, I just saw a photographer called Eileen Quinlan whose work tries to undermine any discussion about that photography is. Google her.

    • Razz, Tipota’s screwdriver applies to your take, too. And, the “truth” is so essentially at the crux of this division, isn’t it? As I said to Chris, often the result of much Photoshop work is an image that is a reflection of what “I” saw, a subjective truth, perhaps, but still true to me. I like your sentence that the idea of reality really can’t be captured by a camera. But, I think the photographer can. It may be his or her own subjective reality but truth noentheless. The axe doesn’t imagine the log cabin, but the man with the axe?

  2. ‘Intuitive Photoshop’, I’d buy it! Otherwise the arguments of pro/anti-photoshop are rather moot, like a tool, i agree. would i be pro or anti screwdrivers? I guess it would depend on what kind of screw and what it is trying to do. then there might be another issue about handheld or cordless electric. sheesh. again it would depend on the skills of the carpenter. at any rate, these photographs are wonderful. and a good post for thoughtful reflection.

  3. Thanks for the insight into your process. I had no idea how you create your unique images. It always appeared to me that you have a sort of intuitive feel for working with photos that can only come through huge amounts of practice and thought. I’m not sure you could teach someone your process. It relies too much on your own feel for bending and shaping pixels. You can’t teach someone how to be a blacksmith through a blog. You have developed an amazing process. I’d be interested to hear how you went from taking straight photos to developing this unique approach. Did it take years? Was there an “ah ha!” moment? Where there any books or websites that helped you?

    Also, thanks for the plug. I’ll be watching for a stats bump :)

    • Dave, you are so right about the time spent and its essential organizing principle being my own “feel” for the project. I have tried to tell someone, face to face, how I did an image and honestly, I couldn’t tell them why I made the choices I did. Sometimes I even want to duplicate something and try to do it and can’t! I have often laughed to myself that I should try to do an “action” of my process and watch the computer explode.

      I used to be a film photographer, beginning in the 70’s. I was a civilian working for the Army Headquarters in Heidelberg, Germany and they had a darkroom run by a very knowledgeable man from Prague. I didn’t know a soul there when I arrived and spent time learning photography. He showed me how to do all the developing and the alternative processes. I loved it all plus I could buy fantastic equipment cheaply at the PX.

      I took a course in Photoshop in 1999, part One in the Fall and Part 11 in Spring of 2000. The layers thing always blew my mind and I had an instant feel for it. Somewhere during Part Two, using the rather simple rotating tool in Transform, I had what you call that ah-hah moment. I was going through an inbelievably difficult time in my life and the image I was working on as a result of this tool and layers managed to communicate instantly how I felt where words had simply paled and feel apart. From then on, I knew this tool could do far more for me than I had ever thought. I’ll try to find that image and post it so you can see it.

      Thanks for your insights and question. Oh, one thing I forgot. I don’t think your stats are going to bump up because I just tried the link to your site and it didn’t work. I had not typed it in accurately. I changed it now but hopefully folks in the future will click on it!!

  4. Very astute assessments from the pros. There’s a peculiar bias here where I live , perhaps all over, that digital photography is ” too manipulated ” and isn’t a purists’ medium.
    I disagree.
    Just as artfully and skillfully, a photographer can utilize these tools just as an artist can scrape, wipe, re-do, glaze over, or a writer can edit, erase, or re-write.
    It’s the deftness of skill of the artisan to know how and when to enhance.

    A very thoughtful post Pat.
    And thanks for the mention.

    • You know, Bonnie, I think I am lifting word for word of your explanation of how artists and photographers are using similar skills. I’ve never heard it expressed better!

  5. Thanks for the intereting description, Pat. Although only one person may have asked, we were all probably wondering!
    I love the result above — the lighting, the traffic streaks and the rays of light from the zoom shots. I had no idea you layered so many different exposures together to get your result, but I can see now how the zoom effect, for example, is quite different than what you can get with photoshop alone. Keep up the great work!

    • Don, the layering is only one part of it. That part I can remember. It’s the masks and blending and channel mixing that defies me following it exactly. Saw a film photographer at the ICA here in Boston today that specializes in images that are abstract, have no clear subject but Is purposefully trying to shatter the idea of photography as something recognizable. Her name is Eileen Quinlan and her exhibit has the terrific name of “My eyes can only look at you”. I loved it.

      • I love Eileen Quinlan. You’re talking about Momentum 13, right? I’d love to see her exhibit before it closes next month. Hey, maybe we can meet up. :)

        Oh, by the way, I do care about your opinion! Just not enough to change mine. :p

  6. Yeah, a new technique for me to try although I am not sure I have the patience for allofthe masking & layering that is involved. Before I had a DSLR, I used to hand color images, create elaborate masks to move my subjects to other locations… Since the DSLR, I think I take too many pictures to focus on any one with intensity. How long did it take you to transform that image? Maybe if I find out that it is not a multi-hour process, I will try it out.
    Thank you for the example. I love it.

    • Conni, oh, I’ve tried to think of an answer that wouldn’t discourage you from trying but the truth of it is, as I wrote to Dave, above, some of them take ridiculous amounts of time and others come together very quickly. I think the only principle is to experiment and to see whether you have the patience for it. There is that delicious feeling no matter how long the process that you are creating something that shall surprise even yourself. Of course, sometimes the effort results in a bad surprise but no matter… you have learned something in the process.

  7. Chris, Yes, “Momentum 13” is the name but it also is “My Eyes Can Only Look At You”. Changing your opinion is luckily not my goal in expressing mine! Otherwise, I’d be a very very frustrated hysterical girl and be given a talk show on cable! Let me know if you come to Boston.

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