Quite some years ago when I was doing my Fine Art Degree at University I was working on an image which I wasn’t quite sure about. My tutor came over and asked what was wrong. I told him that I thought people wouldn’t like one aspect of it. He looked at me and said, “It’s your image, you can do anything you like to it.” Ever since then I keep repeating those words to myself.
For a number of years now I’ve been putting images on the internet like so many other people. The internet is flooded with them, yet, since the advent of digital photography, there seems to be a growing trend that making images your own is somehow cheating, or it is no longer a photo because you “Photoshopped” it. I don’t understand where this has come from.
So many times we hear people saying that they want to take the perfect image straight from the camera, but even in the days of film every image was manipulated to some extent in the darkroom. When working in the darkroom not every photo was printed exactly the same. They were all given different exposure times, or different levels of magenta for contrast (I only printed black and white) to get the best result. You could also dodge and burn for tone control.
Even color good labs would print an image once, then make colour corrections and repeat until they were happy with the final result.
I have no issues now in manipulating my photos until I am happy with the result. I am not looking for a true representation of what I see – I am looking for something more.
Of course, I have to add that there are different types of photography and some styles, like nature and pure landscape, that frown on too much editing. You can really only do basic editing to those. I do fine art photography and I think in this genre as anything goes.
I once read Adobe said about Photoshop “If you can imagine it, then you can create it.” I love that statement and it is one I live by. I believe there is nothing that is impossible and I push my images to get the best results for what I desire.
Having a Vision
Before you start doing a lot of work to your images it is good to have an idea of what look you are trying to achieve. I don’t know about having a preconceived idea first. Some people can work like that, but I’ve never found it helpful. I usually find if I do work from a preconception, I’m often disappointed with the final result.
I have a certain thing, or look, that I try to get with my images because I like lots of drama and a sense of theatre. I have always been fascinated with how the world we live in would look if it were abandoned. I like empty images – images void of people. So many of my images, the fine art ones, don’t have people in them.
The thing to remember is that everyone works differently, and how I work is not going to be the same as you. I have some techniques that I often try with images, but I tend to work intuitively. I just try things, delete things, and keep going until I am happy with what I have.
Putting Images on the Internet
The big test comes when the images are put online and people tell you what they think of them. The biggest thing to remember here is that it is your work; it is your image and your vision. What other people think shouldn’t matter.
There are always going to be people who tell you what to do with your image, and think they know what you want to do with it more than you. I come across these people all the time, and I usually say something like, “Thank you, that is an interesting idea, but it isn’t really what I wanted,” or, “I tried it, but decided I didn’t like it.”
Sometimes I think we care too much about what other people think, but in the end the only person who really has to like the work is you. If you are true to yourself then people start to understand that and begin to appreciate what you do.
Fine Art Photography
When you start disregarding the rules, you are moving further into fine art photography. There is a history in this area of pushing work to the limit, and bringing it back.
If you go to any gallery and look at the contemporary art works you will find things that are unique and were considered, at the time they were done, as breaking rules, not conforming. You have to admire artists like Picasso who just did what they wanted. They make their own images the way they wanted. How different would the world be today if artists like Picasso, Monet, Warhol, to name a few, hadn’t disregarded what was considered art and just did what everyone else was doing?
We live in a world where anything is possible and you can do whatever you like to your photos. There are always going to be people who think what you do isn’t photography, but you have to remember that it is just their opinion and you don’t have to listen to them.
Making My Work My Own
In my own work, I have visions of what I am trying to accomplish and I strive to reach them. Though often, I have no plan of how I will actually get there, I just keep doing things until I am happy.
I have folders of skies, so I can make sure I get the sky I want for my images. I’ve had people tell me that if I replace the sky then I have changed the image and it is no longer a photo. I ask them, “What is it now?”, they say they “don’t know, digital art”, but what is digital art? I don’t listen, it is still a photograph. It is merged, and there’s more than one image, but it is still photography.
I have folders of textures to apply, though they can be overused. Again, it is a personal opinion and I might think that, and you can disagree. I find they can help certain images, but take over in others. It usually depends on how I feel at the time. I will try them, delete them, and then try something different. Often the hardest part is finding the texture that works best for that image.
It really is all personal. Art is subjective. Love it or hate it, you have to respect what others do to their images. No one thing that Ansel Adams did in his darkroom was bad, we love his images. I say to you embrace that, make your images your own. Always remember;
It is your image and you can do what you like to it.