how we see ourselves

March 25, 2010  |  before and after, musings, people, photoshop

Yesterday I discussed an image that was recognized with a third place award by World Press Photo and later disqualified because it did not follow the rules which did not allow cloning. A link I included showed both the rather ordinary original RAW image and the final processed image that was submitted. I was curious to know how people felt about the final image and the steps that the imagemaker had taken to create it.

To try to understand this approach to making an image, I used one of my own photographs and followed a similar strategy to create the image I posted yesterday. Today I am posting the RAW image so you can compare the two. Basically I cropped a very small part of the original image and then heavily processed it to see if I could create a better story.

When I first started learning photography, it was drummed into my head to get it right in-camera–from the exposure to composition. As I began to study the tools that are so much a part of digital photography today, I learned that you can work with an image where the exposure or the composition are not technically perfect. This has raised questions for myself that I am still trying to answer. There is an interesting post over on Art Wolfe’s blog where Jim Goldstein interviews Art on the age of digital and poses the question “what do you feel is the most important take away to remember as (people) evolve as photographers?”. His reply was “I think it’s how they see themselves“. There is a longer answer in the context of the entire interview so I encourage you to read it.

Here’s where my thinking is at today. Whether we see ourselves as artists, imagemakers, or photographers, we need to have a philosophy that will guide the choices we make. That philosophy develops over time as we learn and grow in our craft culminating into something that can be as sophisticated as an artist statement or what’s simply termed “our vision”. As for my little experiment, I have to say that I found it much more satisfying to work with the whole image than with what I cropped. Inside my head, there is a voice saying that if I wanted to get that close-up image, I needed to step closer. If you think you can’t do that successfully for a press-type image, just take a look at Gavin Gough’s work on the Red Shirt Protests where there’s a great image of a gun sitting in the holster of a policeman.

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11 Comments


  1. I, too, have had the “get it right in camera” drilled into my head, but perhaps that’s because I started with film and had less control afterward. I really like the freedom I have now to further refine my vision using today’s digital cameras and software tools but, like you, I still have that voice in my head saying, “don’t be lazy.”

    I think you’re absolutely right that we need to examine our own motivations for the photos we take—i.e., what David duChemin calls the “why” of photography. It goes beyond just getting it right in camera or choosing modifications in post-producton. We have to ask ourselves, “What is my motivation for making this image? What story am I trying to tell?” The rest is about making choices to reinforce that vision and tell that story. Getting better at those is how we grow as photographers.

    That said, I’m not sure it ever actually culminates into a final philosophy or statement. For me, at least, it keeps changing based on the rest of my life: the events that surround me and my journey simply as a human being. How I see myself as a photographer is always rooted in that context.

    Very though-provoking post, Sabrina.

    • “Don’t be lazy” is exactly what I was thinking!

      “Culminate” may not quite be the right word here. I like the word “rooted” and that’s more what I mean. Our choices we make should be rooted in something and we need to know and understand what that something is. I think as it is revealed to us we become more aware of who are as artists, imagemakers and photographers.

      Thanks Stuart…that’s where my thinking is at now :)

  2. Agreed, another great post. There is certainly merit in ‘getting it right’ in the camera. Apart from anything else, there are practical concerns about getting it done quickly. I think you will be improving your vision if you can see the image you want earlier in the process, rather than only seeing the opportunity in your post processing software. As long as you still strive for that, to improve your own skills towards to goals you wish to achieve, then is there really any harm in cropping as you did?

    You created a very compelling image which touched me and I imagine many other readers of this blog. We did not know how it was created, only the effect it had on us. Is art for the artist or the viewer? I’m sure that will vary from Artist to artist. I don’t think I’d call myself an artist, but I think one of the driving forces for imagemaking is to help someone to see or experience something new or from a different perspective.

    Apologies for rambling – please keep the fabulous posts coming!

    • Simon, I definitely agree with you on improving our vision rather than only seeing the opportunity in post processing.

      I think as long as we are striving to improve and the crop does not become the ever-present safety net, that’s fine. Henri Cartier-Bresson said it best: “when you hit the target there is no need to crop the picture”.

      Thanks for dropping by and rambling. You’re welcome here anytime!

  3. Exceptional writing, Sabrina. Love how you’re tying it all into your photography. This all gets even more crazy with the new tool in CS5 – how many photogs/imagemakers will use it to “clean up” their photos. I have a blog post brewing in my head about this too…hopefully it will come out soon.

    For the record, I really love this image in color. It’s striking and beautiful.

    • Thanks Mark; you make me blush!

      I don’t even want to think about CS5 but there’s so much buzz about what it can do that I am curious about it. I’m looking forward to your future blog post on this.

  4. I think Stuart hit an important point for me… “What story am I trying to tell?” Given any situation, their may be dozens of potential stories. If you have the opportunity to explore a larger story, it’s not always clear what is at the heart of things until you have a little space and a little distance.

    Your two photographs pose an interesting example. Yesterday’s image, for me, was about poverty. But because of the black and white processing, it felt dark, and perhaps a little hopeless. I don’t mean that in a negative way at all, just that you created a powerful mood. Today’s image, with the clean + bright school uniforms, still speaks of poverty, but it speaks even more loudly of potential and hope. No doubt the colour processing adds to that.

    Perhaps the take-away for me is a reminder to take lots of photos. I don’t take nearly enough. It’s silly not to make full use of each opportunity.

    As has already been said… another great post + photograph.

    • I agree Erin, it is about the story we’re trying to tell whether or not it’s a press-type image.

      I like that your interpretation of the image today because that is really what the story was. The children were lining up for lunch outside a kitchen that was built by Give International.

      I really should process the RAW image!

  5. Content should follow intent.

  6. This is a great discussion. I, like Stuart and the others, also have that nagging voice in my head telling me to get it right in camera. And many times when I come to post-process I look at my images and wish I had got closer. I am very reluctant to make that tight crop. That doesn’t mean I abhor those who do, it’s just the way I work.

    Keep up the great, thought-provoking posts, and the images that accompany them.

  7. Hi Sabrina, if you haven’t seen the work of Diane Varner, you really should check it out (http://www.dianevarner.com/). For me she’s a great example of someone who can take and ordinary scene and create a wonderful piece of art and for me that’s the inspiring thing in photography. I might walk along the same beach or pass the same field and not see the potential lying right there in front of me. There’s a place for photo contests where the objective is to create a kind of combined art and documentary picture and if one’s goal is be recognized for producing a great image of that sort, then the best advice is to understand and follow the rules. If creating a piece of art is the goal, then don’t enter the contest. It may be a simplistic view of things but I figure there’s room for both types of photography.

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