Maternity Portraits of Jacquelyn and Shaughn

Jacquelyn and Shaughn

On 2009-09-30 I shot some studio portraits for my friend Anita Cohen at Daytona State College, of her pregnant daughter Jacquelyn and her daughter’s husband Shaughn. Even though I’ve been a photographer since I was 13 (5 years), this was my first time working formally. Thanks to Prof. Joe Vance for letting me use the photography studio at Daytona State College even though I’m not in the photography program (I’m a computer science student).

Jacquelyn is due to have Shaughn Brady Jr. at the beginning of Nov. 2009. Sadly, Shaughn has to return to Iraq for his second tour in Apr. 2010, so he’ll miss his son’s growth from the age of five months to over a year. Here, he is wearing his camouflaged U.S. Army uniform. He’s a driver rather than front-line infantry. I hope he stays safe and doesn’t have to kill anyone.

We had a white background. Anita helped me figure out how to set up the hot lights and deflectors. I used one incandescent light (warm a.k.a. yellowish) on the left and one fluorescent light (cool a.k.a. bluish) on the right, which worked well. While some maternity photographers exaggerate the size of the woman’s belly or emphasize deep, brooding poses, I did not do that here. I prefer realistic, upbeat portraits showing love and joy.

Jacquelyn and Shaughn

Shaughn kissing his wife’s belly. I wasn’t sure about Jacquelyn’s facial expression, but I think Shaughn’s outfit balances the discipline of the army with the love he has for his wife and first son.

Jacquelyn and Shaughn

The only portrait of Jacquelyn and Shaughn I used the flash on. This is a conventional rather than artistic portrait, but portraiture is about the people in the portraits, and not necessarily innovation of the medium.

Shaughn is covering a red birthmark above Jacquelyn’s belly button. On the first portrait I edited it out, but on the second it was easier to leave it. I like to remove most blemishes to make people look how they’re supposed to look. My goal is to discreetly present an idealized version of reality. I don’t want laymen to say “this is Photoshopped!” Photographers will always say it, but non-photographers should not notice. However, depending on the angle and lighting in can be hard to clone out blemishes, so I have to balance art vs. time. I don’t air-brush; I either remove blemishes well or I don’t remove them at all. In my portfolio I have done difficult edits requiring hours of work (i.e. removing twigs, power lines, and houses), but elsewhere I re-shoot or leave it.

Jacquelyn and Shaughn

Our couple standing together, with Jacquelyn showing her tattoo saying “Shaughn” in cursive with a Hibiscus flower. The tattoo is for her husband and her son. I like it.


Anita (Jacquelyn’s Mom) calls this the “Marilyn Monroe” shot, in the style of an actress from the 1940s and ’50s famous for poses like this. For all the portraits, Anita wrapped the green sheet around Jacquelyn. Underneath Jacquelyn had a blue bathing suit on. Unfortunately that came through here (on her hip), but we didn’t notice it at the time. It’s not a big deal.

I shot all these portraits using my Canon Rebel XTi with my EF 50mm F1.4 prime lens in RAW mode. I edited in Adobe Camera RAW 5.0 (vignetting and color) and Adobe Photoshop CS4 (spot-editing), which is industry standard. I brightened the photos and made the colors warmer by shifting to a white balance with a higher Kelvin temperature, because I used automatic white balance in camera which was too blue.

Incidentally, a Daytona State College photography student asked to shoot Shaughn while he was in the lobby, but Anita shouted out “he’s already taken!” :grin:

Big thanks to Anita for making a $100 donation to my photography fund. I opened a checking account recently and deposited it there. I will use it for whatever photography or non-photography purchases I need to make in the next months, or bills.

I give well wishes and lots of love to Anita, Jacquelyn, and Shaughn, and I want the United States to leave Iraq, Afghanistan, and every other country we occupy, as soon as possible, never to return. :smile:

Personal Development for Photographers

Personal development is universal, so it includes photographers. A lot of photographers are stuck in a lot of ways. They take too many photos, entangle their intuition with technicalities, refuse to rise above spectatorship, or abandon their creativity for the comfort of rigid rules. I did all these for some time, so I want to help others rise above these limitations.

Too many photos

Most photographers live with a scarcity mindset. This means they believe they must be taking photos every moment, in case they miss the ‘perfect’ moment. There is only one ‘perfect’ moment (scarcity), so it’s important not to miss it.

I can tell you this because I used to be one of these people, and I meet fellow photographers who are stuck in the same mindset all the time.

Back when I was in photography class, I met a lady who took 1500 pictures of a wedding in a span of two hours. I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid weddings, but I can tell you now that I would be taking 1500 photos, even if the wedding was all day. I might take 1000, but I can assure you they’d mostly be duplicates. I’d be deleting the worst and keeping the best on the spot, and by the end of the day I’d be down to 200 photos. Good photos.

What was even more unfortunate about this girl was that she made no effort to cull her work. “Culling” means picking out the best. I slaved for hours over my portfolio, narrowing down hundreds of photos to my best 30. Some good photos didn’t make it because they just didn’t fit in with the other ones. I spent more time ordering them by color / concept than choosing, because the order is far more important than the content.

It’s alright if you take 1500 photos for a wedding, even if you keep them. But when you do that, know that you’re going to bore the heck out of people by showing them all, and you’re going to put in many hours weeding out the crud.

If you don’t weed out the weeds, you’ve got nothing. All people will see is a bunch of weeds and they’ll walk away before you get to the good stuff.

The abundance mindset

Ironically it’s the abundance mindset that leads you to taking fewer pictures. Your work becomes much more interesting too, because you’ll produce a few great pieces instead of dozens of mediocre ones. Oftentimes you’ll actually take more photos, but they’ll be focused. Instead of doing 50 shots of every plant in the garden, do 200 of a rose from every possible perspective. Learn from it, pick out the best one (I do mean one), and discard (hide) the rest.

For photographers, the abundance mindset says that you’ll have so many great photo opportunities, it’s alright not to pursue them all. It’s even alright to ignore a beautiful sunset just to focus your camera on the light on the trees. If you’re in the scarcity mindset, you’re dead-set on the sunset because you’re afraid you’ll never see one like it again. But really, what you get is the same dull photo that everyone else has already taken, while you could’ve been using the sunset for something better, like portraits of passersby (the lighting is great), refractions off a leaf, the clouds behind you, or the light and shadows around you.

The abundance mindset lets you focus on one thing while ignoring everything else. If the space shuttle is launching right in front of you, take pictures of all the people taking pictures instead of the shuttle itself. Take a photo of the launch site ten seconds after lift-off. No one is doing that.

Believing in abundance lets you go for a walk in a “boring” neighborhood yet bring home a picture like this:

Basketball Hoop

Whatever you think is ‘boring’ isn’t so boring after all. I hear photographers complain all the time that there is nothing interesting around them, but really they aren’t even trying.

If you’re not willing to look harder for subjects (still life or people) in your current environment, go somewhere else. Go to different places, talk to different people, take different pictures. Go on vacation. Become a nomad. It isn’t that hard, and if you believe it is you’re only limiting yourself.

Hands-off photography

Other photographers believe they should be hands-off. “Just take pictures, don’t interfere with people or nature.” Photograph what you see. Really, what these people are doing is trying to absolve themselves from effort. They’re scared of directing people on how to pose, so they’d prefer just to leave it up to their models.

But the fact is, your models don’t know what to do. As the photographer, it’s YOUR job to tell them what to do. The word “photography” implies mere observation, but it’s so much more than that. As a photographer, you create the scene. Even if you don’t have to tear down buildings or dirty your hands with makeup, you do have to direct people and the environment. Even if you don’t touch anything, you’re still directing the scene through composition. You can get far away and use a telephoto lens, or close-up with a wide-angle lens, and you’ll get two very different photos of the same subject under the same light. You can take photos at eye level, or you can lay in the dirt and point your camera up. You can include things, you can exclude things, you can manipulate light, all without entering Photoshop.

Any wedding actually involves three people: a man, a woman, and a photographer. It’s really a marriage of three. You have to tell the couple how to pose, where to stand, what to wear; perhaps even what day to plan their wedding for or where to hold it. If it’s a Florida summer, retreat indoors. People like sunshine, but cloudy days make for better lighting. These are all going to be important if you want to create good memories, because memories are about emotion, not facts or record-keeping.

Embracing flexibility

I used to have this unstoppable urge to stretch the histogram across the gamut from light to dark in every photo. This means I’d edit contrast fairly aggressively, and then whatever was left over I’d leave up to the computer’s “Auto Contrast” tool. Every picture should touch (0,0,0) (pure black) and (255,255,255) (pure white) in at least one pixel.

This worked fairly well for a while. I did cool stuff like Raindrops and Sky’s Camouflage. Even Two of Us Against the World, which most people think of as soft-toned, is stretched across the whole gamut.

Cherry Tomatoes

This became very limiting, though. When I got to pictures like Cherry Tomatoes (above), it couldn’t look good with the tomatoes going to black, but that’s the only decision that would keep in step with my beliefs. I compromised on that one; the darkest tone is about (110,20,0), with 90% of the colors being in the upper fourth of the luminance scale. This way, I could continue criticizing other photographers (in my mind) whenever I’d see anything with dull contrast.

It turns out, dull contrast is often good. Going back to the basketball hoop photo, if I would’ve done what I used to do, the sky would be right up against pure white. But with subdued colors, it’s much more appealing and interesting (the sky doesn’t go past 230/255).

What this means is: be flexible. No rules are hard and fast, and everything can look good in different occasions. Don’t use rules or formulas to determine that; use your eyes and your innate sense of beauty. Which brings us to…

Stop making sense

Psychologists say women like mental pictures, men like real pictures. This (supposibly) is because men are left-brained while women are right-brained. This means that “visual learners” fall into the left-brained category.

For 90% of photographers this is false. Unless you’re in technical or journalistic photography, you’re going to be dealing with the right-brain (emotions) most of the time. This falls under of the umbrella of artistic photography—most people just call this photography, because it’s what the medium has become associated with.

But even if you’re a photo-journalist, a big portion of your time (if you’re good) will be about emphasizing emotion. If there’s no emotion, create it. You can ‘cheat’ without editing the image. Use a different angle, or convince the people in the scene to act differently, consciously or subconsciously.

The purpose of my photographs is to create emotions within my audience. It doesn’t matter if the pictures are true. It doesn’t matter if I tore up weeds or if I used a medicine dropper to add droplets to a leaf. It doesn’t matter if I completely Photoshopped the colors so they look nothing like the actual scene. It doesn’t even matter if the scene is a physical impossibility.

What matters is creating feelings within my viewers, be it affection, love, awe, repulsion, emptiness, bravery, coziness, timelessness, intrigue, courage, freedom, oneness, or inspiration. While I may not identify it as such, each photo has one main emotion behind it, and sometimes a second one, which either complements the first or contrasts with it in an ironic way. This isn’t something you can purposely manufacture; I never even thought about it this way till I wrote this paragraph. It’s just there.

This means that photography falls on the right side of the brain. Emotions are more important than logic.

Pink and Purple Sunset 3

The sunset above doesn’t exist. The sky had the same colors and appearance, but it was much less brilliant. I emphasized the colors in Photoshop. You might be able to do the same thing with a polarizing filter or settings in-camera, but you’d always be creating something better than reality.

Most people, seeing this photo, either revise their model of reality to include the existence of sunsets like this (90%), or ask me if I manipulated the photo (10%). The last group I tell yes, so they can appreciate this sunset while knowing it isn’t ‘real’ (whatever that means).

If you act ashamed that you edit your photos a lot, your viewers will assume it’s a shameful thing. Don’t do that. I removed trees, houses, and streetlights in the sunset above, not because I wanted to, but because I had to. I’d always prefer just to take a new photo than to spot-edit an old photo, but this one was worth it.

Most of the time I do editing across the whole photo, like contrast, brightness, and color temperature. I’ll do localized dodging and burning (brightening and darkening), but I try to avoid spot editing, not for ethical concerns, but because I’m lazy. Spot editing is hard, and if I have to spot-edit a photo to take out power lines or trees, I may as well start over with a new photo.

Be insanely interesting

This picture makes no sense:

Night of Darkness

People love this when they see it, and even more so when I give out print copies. They’ll try to interpret all kinds of meanings into a solid black image, and just discussing it raises their personal awareness. Obviously it’s a picture of nothing (I left the lens cap on) but because I’ve gone through the effort (and possibly cost) of printing it, titling it (The Night of Eternal and Unrelenting Darkness), and giving it to someone, it must have meaning.

I’m actually having 100 printed out (I get them through thievery so it’s no big deal), one for each of my students in calculus and biology, and I bet it will be my most popular (at least most talked about) photo. The reason is that it’s insanely interesting. Nobody else does stuff like this (much less handing them out). If I posted to Facebook or deviantART or YouTube, it would probably be removed as pointless ‘spam’, merely because such originality scares the deletionists.

To be insanely interesting, you should create something from nothing. If everyone did this, it wouldn’t be interesting. Most people are very uncomfortable with this. They want to create something from something. This is because most people have a subconscious desire to be directed / told what to do. Personal development is all about flipping that on its head.

Being overly technical

What happens to a lot of students when they get into photography school? They start worrying about things like the golden triangle, film speed, the zone system, apertures, focal length, vignetting, the rule of thirds, sharpness, filters, white balance, color temperature, optical distortion, color calibration, sensor size, chromatic and spherical aberration, file formats, resolution, signal-to-noise ratio, refraction, demosaicing. The beautiful photographs on their walls are replaced by crazy formulas like (1 / f) = (n – 1) * ( (1 / R1) – (1 / R2) + ( ( (n – 1) * d) / (n * R1 * R2 ) ). They went to college because they had a talent for artistic photographs, but that talent totally disappears when they get there. They fail miserably. Grades are irrelevant; you’re failing with A’s if you’ve lost your heart.

Why does this happen? Because people naturally want to replace personal responsibility with assignments and directions. Instead of creating beautiful photographs, you create photographs that are beautiful according to other people, because you want to be told what to do. That’s why you went to school to begin with. No one forced you. Plenty of great photographers have never set foot in a school of photography.

I remember when the colors on my computer monitor started drifting, and my edits wouldn’t turn out right in any prints. They’d be close, but not perfect, and I couldn’t get the thing calibrated by eye because my eyes aren’t good enough. I took a whole month off searching for a cheap colorimeter and a dual-head video card to use with my new LCD monitor (which, incidentally, is no good for photo editing; I keep all editing to my bulky CRT). I did find one eventually, but I would’ve been better off working on new photos too, even if I had to go back over and re-edit them. When you get too caught up in technicalities, you produce no art. Technicality is all about perfection, but if you make perfection the goal, you’ll never get anywhere. You have to balance analysis with creativity.

Overly technical people get caught up in the things that ‘should’ look beautiful but simply don’t. Take a look at this rose:


Doesn’t it look nice, sublimely colorful, etc.? If a pink rose is pretty, an even pinker rose must be prettier, right? In fact, following the technical mindset to the extreme, beauty is proportional to color saturation. So this rose must be ten times more beautiful:

Simplicity overkill

Of course, it’s terribly ugly. A flower doesn’t become more beautiful when you dye its petals—in fact, it loses its beauty post-haste. But you’ll see stuff like the above in photographers’ portfolios. Usually, they’re either really new to photography, or they’ve been doing it for a long time but stagnating in technicalities.

The proper response to analytical photography is not analytical photography with intuition and creativity tacked on. It’s creatively intuitive photograph, tempered by technical analysis. That means that yes, it’s alright to purposely put your subject one-third into the frame (I do it all the time), but just don’t become too extreme regarding technicalities. When you break the rules, don’t even think about it. They’re not rules anyway.

Not being technical enough

You do have to be technical to a certain extent. You can’t leave everything up to chance, or put all your faith in your “eye” without learning a certain amount of technical concepts (exposure, f-stops, zooming, composition, shutter speed, grain, etc.). A great photo is no good badly exposed and printed.

Particularly in film photography, there is a lot of technical grunt work you must deal with by hand. You don’t want to use any old developer or fixer, and you should use a timer, a timing chart, measure the temperature of your chemicals, etc., because if you mess things up, you could end up with nothing, especially if any light gets to your negatives before you develop the latent images. Once you’re done with this process, enlarging the images isn’t so dangerous, but light-sensitive paper is still expensive, so a mistake might cost you 70 cents.

I prefer to just stick with digital photography. You have as much control in film photography, but you don’t have an “undo” button, and I can’t get by without that (yet). It’s like writing in pencil vs. writing in pen. Except digital cameras are a bit better than pencils.

Photographers vs. gear collectors

It’s okay to collect cameras, lenses, gadgets, and relics. But only if you’re going to use them to advance your photography hobby. If you’re not, be sure they’re really cheap, because a bunch of lenses do nothing for you if you can’t find the shutter button.

A lot of self-dubbed photographers don’t take pictures so much as they collect picture-taking gadgets. These people think about becoming real photographers occasionally, but then they get stuck in self-doubt.

These are the types of people who will put off photography for years waiting for the technology to get better. Things are getting cheaper all the time; that doesn’t mean you should stay out of digital photography forever. Buy a camera now and take a big ‘loss’ in a few years. It isn’t really a loss anyway, because nothing that lets you work on your art is a loss.

Also, these people will look back at what they did in the past with a cheap camera, wishing they could retro-actively change it to an expensive camera. You can’t go back and do that, and even if you could, you can’t improve by imitating your past work (tell that to Ketchup 2 and Ketchup 3).

Don’t collect gear. Use gear to take photos. Whatever camera you have now is good enough to do something good with. You just need some creativity, not more stuff.

Keep on snapping.

Being a Free Photographer

break away

I run into a lot of photography purists, but I don’t believe any of it myself. Photography is nothing but a series of manipulations. You’re manipulating the scene by composing it any differently than a non-photographer. You manipulate the appearance of the scene by zooming in or out. You manipulate your viewers’ outlooks by composing to exclude unsightly objects. Motion blur, shallow depth of field, under or over exposing… these are all creative manipulations on your part. You may not have as much creative control as with painting, but you can still be quite expressive. But creativity isn’t “pure.” If we can define any solid definition for “pure” photography, they’re going to be dull, boring snapshots that no one wants to look at. Don’t do pure photography. Anyone can do pure photography; it takes a real master to do impure photography.

The great thing is, when you embrace impure photography, a whole world of creativity opens to you. Pure photographers are constantly wasting time with ethical debates: is it okay to make the world look purplish in Photoshop, or only through the white balance setting in-camera? Can I crop my photos, or is that misrepresenting the scene? Can I add contrast to a scene that obviously needs it, or do I need to stick to my limiting philosophy? Impure photographers have no such shackles. The “code of ethics” is: do whatever is right to make the photo beautiful. No one cares if you change the white balance. Adding contrast is great. Brightening teeth? Spot-editing blemishes? Sure. It makes people look like they should. It isn’t a question of keeping the image true to the camera sensor; the goal is to produce an image true to the vision in your head. Creative photographs come from people, not computers.

Ironically, as an impure photographer, you’re always making the world look like it’s supposed to. Sunsets are supposed to be beautiful, bright, breath-taking, colorful. Raindrops are supposed to be frozen still, black and white, shiny, and contrasty. And darn it, flowers and people are supposed to be bright and animated with nicely blurred, defocused backgrounds. If you’ve ever debated F1.2 as impure for not showing the world like our eyes see it, you’re really steeped in the dogma. Let it go. You’re on to a grand world of free photography.

In truth, the only way to be a photographer is to be a free photographer. As a creative photographer, your task is to create an idealistic reality that is also a realistic ideal. If that means desaturating backgrounds on roses, removing specks of dirt, and burning in corners, then so be it. If it means adding a glow effect, filters, and sunrays to a sunset, it’s all good. Your tool is your camera, but your real power is your mind. It’s like painting, where you get to pick all the colors for the scene, but without all the heavy lifting. You can create so much more because there’s no need to build everything from scratch. You start out with a solid base (the world), and then you take away or alter the elements that need changing, be it by composition, post-processing, or any other method. As a photographer, you unlock your creative mind and become a more free person, because you’re set free from the grunt work of other artistic mediums and can instead work on the big picture. It’s like moving from assembly code to a high-level programming language.

As a free photographer, you will refuse to support film where digital surpasses it in quality and efficiency. There is no purism; hard work does not contribute to the creative value of a piece. It makes no difference if I took 100 shots of the falling droplets on my digital camera, picked the best, then edited out the ugly bits, rather than wasting 100 expensive frames of film and 15 prints in the darkroom getting my exposure and burning right. Even if I do that with the film, it’s not going to be as good, because I’m not good with film. If you’re not good with film, so what? Use digital then. It’s the wave of the future. The finished product is what counts. If it took you three days in the darkroom or thirty minutes in Photoshop, it makes no difference and each medium is as valid as the other, as long as what you do looks good. Your photos have to be inspiring, beautiful, challenging, creative, and fresh, all at once. That’s what counts.

If you’re in any sort of camera clubs or photography classes, your friends won’t like what I’m writing. They’ll spout some spiel about how photography is a time-honored and labor-intensive craft, and it must remain so. It’s not your job to change or influence the world; you’re just a recorder. If you edit your work, you are cheating your viewers. Your taking away from all the good photographers who put the work in (a.k.a. luck) and create one-tenth the beautiful images because of their fear-based orthodoxy. That’s what you’ll be told. Don’t listen to it. It’s not your friends who are talking. Their true thoughts have been stolen by the prevailing spirit of oppression and negativity. It is not your job to change them. Just go into the world pushing forward with your art, and if you are being a free photographer, other people will take note, because you’ll be producing fantastic work. And they’ll start switching over too. We can start a revolution.

A note on “camera clubs”: don’t join one. I’d never join a camera club. If I want to be with my people, I’ll join a photography club–not a camera club. Just like if I want to read, I’ll join a reading club, not a book club. It’s not so bad with book clubs, though. The unfortunate thing that happens with camera clubs, is that people get caught up in the science of photography and forget about the art. And even then, they’re not focusing on the science so much as their own notions: limit-based notions that keep them from pursuing their art form for want of some technical limitation. But there are no technical limitations. Sure, this is all relative. You can’t do much with a cheap disposable camera, and there are just things our cameras can’t capture, like huge ranges of light or certain shades of purple. But the difference between what our cameras can do, and what the camera club participants pretend they can do is quite vast. If you have a Canon PowerShot A590 or anything like it, you can do anything. Practically anything. In fact, by the time you get near the do anything level, you’ll be four cameras up. It won’t even matter. Start creating your best work now, not ten years from now.

I remember when I started getting serious about my creative photography in 2005, and all I had was a Fujifilm FinePix A360. And there were some things that I just could not take pictures of, or they were really hard to take pictures of. I could never get a good shot of lightning, despite numerous attempts, because I had no control over the ISO speed or shutter speed. With the cheap cameras, many things are automatic-only, like the settings on mine were. I wanted a good shot of falling raindrops, and after much perseverance, I got Raindrops. Unlike with my Canon Rebel XTi and fast lens, the only way to do it with the FinePix A360 was in the bright sunlight, so it had to be raining in the sunshine, but that happened because I kept watching. Then I had the necessary light to freeze the rain in motion.

You’ll run into all sorts of limitations like this in your photography. Perhaps you have the Canon Rebel XTi, and you’re finding the kit lens is too slow for indoor low-light portraits (I did). Or you’re filling up the burst buffer too quickly with your rapid shooting on the football field. The limitations can be anything, but the free photographer’s way is to embrace and work with them, at least till you can afford the expensive gear that attacks them directly. Learn how to be still to avoid camera shake with a bad lens, accept grainier photos with a higher light sensitivity setting, or just take three shots for every one so you’ll be bound to get one right. Switch from RAW to JPEG for quicker burst shooting, or buy a faster memory card to compensate (rather than a faster camera, which is much more expensive). Whatever you do, don’t give up saying that good photography is impossible with your current setup. That’s the coward’s way out.

Free photography, as much as it is about embracing all formats, methods, and editing as equal and valid, it is about not making excuses for anyone but yourself. If you miss the moment when the lightning struck the ground, don’t blame your camera, or your lens, or your lack of a college education. If you can’t produce a beautiful image because your source image needs work and that work isn’t permitted by your oppressive photography religion, don’t accept it as fate. Don’t blame anyone or anything else for shortcomings in your work. Have the courage to accept that anything you’ve failed to do or any photo opportunity you’ve missed is your own fault. The reason you can’t create beautiful photographs isn’t because you never see anything interesting. There are plenty of interesting things in your house, in your yard, and around your neighborhood. Or there are dull things which can become interesting when you shoot them in a new light or from a new angle. The “I never see anything / go anywhere interesting” excuse is your own way to excuse yourself from the guilt of not following your artistic passion. But you can stop it, right now. Instead of saying “there’s nothing interesting,” say “I don’t put enough effort in.” Once you rephrase your thoughts and words to put the keys in your hand, you’ll be on your way to putting more effort in, or making whatever change you need for your art form. It’s the first step. No more excuses.

I’ve used the “I never see anything interesting” excuse myself, once or twice. But if all I’ve written hasn’t appealed to you, I have one more piece of advice. Go somewhere interesting. It’s not that hard. Millions of other people do it every day. Go for a walk, visit the park, climb to the top of some high building. If you’re not seeing interesting subjects, it’s your responsibility to change that. It’s all part of being free and empowered, rather than a slave of fate.

Enjoy your life as a free photographer. You’ve just made a huge step above 99% of the other people in your field. I hope to be with you too.

The “Pure Photography” Myth

Pink and Purple Sunset 3, an example of heavy editing

I do whatever it takes to make the photo look good, but I try to avoid spot editing like removing stray tree branches, power lines, etc. Unlike most, it’s not for “ethics,” but because it’s a terrible pain to remove elements while holding to a realistic ideal (no smudge marks, dark spots, obvious cloning, etc.). Spot editing with a soft brush for dodging, burning, or desaturating is easy, but for removing distractions, it’s easier to recompose or chop down a tree than to fix it in Photoshop (usually). If you’ve spent three hours meticulously removing telephone poles, houses, and reshaping trees like in the title photo, then you know why (right is mirrored to show continuity).

I get a few hecklers saying that efforts are no better than a forged bank note, and must be labeled as photo-manipulations—the Scarlet Letter to any “real” photographer. To them I say: how could I dare claim that of my work when I’m doing basic stuff like color shifts and increasing contrast, while others are spending days weaving dozens of photos into a cohesive vision? If anything, it’s not the ambitious photographers that are the trouble, but the people who press “auto levels” and then call their pieces digital art.

To all the fledgling digital photographers: don’t let anyone tell you that you’re “cheating” by editing your creations. This is the new revolution; this is your photography. Go wherever your art takes you. You’re stymying your creativity by not enhancing your photos. Know that when to stop is not when the image is looking too different from the “original,” but when it is looking bad on its own accord.

Over-saturated version of Pink and Purple Sunset 3

^ This is no good. When colors go to solid pink or blue, there is no detail or brilliance there; just an unshaped blob of light. Sometimes, like in the silhouetted trees, no detail looks good. It takes a human to know this, not Photoshop. You are that human. Let no one stand in your way. You are the artist, and the world is your canvas.

For more about this, read Being a Free Photographer.