I spent the day on Photoshop, learning basic techniques as they are supposed to be done. Every once in a while you just have to sit down with the latest version of Photoshop and re-learn the basics. It’s a real timesaver.
So it was appropriate I would run across this blog post, Was That Photoshopped? It Doesn’t Matter! by Rick Berk. What I love about it is he compares digital “darkroom” techniques to an Ansel Adams. Ansel Adams taught me to use the darkroom. Not literally, I’m neither that old nor that lucky. But his were the first photography books I read, when I was in high school and had access to an actual projectors and chemicals darkroom.
Ansel Adams was a technical master. He approached photography in such a methodical, technical way that most people would never have considered possible before digital. And he was also a realism purist. He did not like photographs that abstracted from the original subject. His goal was always to catch the feeling of being in a place at a particular time while being 100% literal. He co-founded the famous photography group, Group f/64, named after a very tiny aperture setting (the lens on my camera now only goes to f/32). At f/64 everything in your frame is going to be in focus, which implies being absolutely faithful to what is in front of the lens.
But he wrote extensively about darkroom techniques such as dodging and burning which allow you to selectively darken or lighten an image. He also talked about how if you tilted the bellows on the projector or the easel your print was resting on, you could distort horizontal and vertical lines. This might be done to correct distortions on the film, but anti-Photoshop “purists” would probably still object. I don’t remember if he talked about retouching, but I remember in my high school photography class we were taught how to remove unwanted spots and lines on our prints with India Ink and a fine-tipped paintbrush.
One thing that sticks with me that Ansel Adams talked about, was how as he got older his images became more theatrical. He was still making prints from some of his old negatives, and a print made in his later years might have more dramatic contrast, clouds and shadows. I think about this often when I’m working on my photos. It encourages me to be a little more dramatic than my instinct, to bump up that contrast and saturation just a hair more than I otherwise would have.