Aug 22, 2022

digital editing - who knew it could be fun?

making the transition from film to digital photography has had a rather steep learning curve. some aspects of camera, lens and print are the same; others are quite different.

when i committed to this photography/creative process, i wasn't interested in all the manipulation of an image by computer editing, being something of a luddite. i thought it was changing the photo from what was originally recorded at the scene.

it took awhile to understand the process: see prints and screens/monitors for background info. the base line: digital cameras record an image based on zero and ones, pixels, millions of them. all of those numbers need to be interpreted or translated to produce a viewable image. and, there is not a standard way of interpretation.

jpeg is probably the most widely used, and there are several versions.  higher quality cameras record a RAW version with no interpretation.  when a camera saves an image as jpeg it deletes 10-30% of the available information and applies a standardized algorithm to decide how the image looks. given the complexity of images, those formulas do quite well. up to a point.

overtime, i came to understand that all digital photos are edited somewhere in the process, either in-camera, or post-camera on a computer.

so much for not doing any editing.

another insight from this information is that the RAW zeros and ones of an image, when recorded properly, provide an opportunity to edit the photo according to what our eye sees.  with practice, lots of practice, i began to see the creative possibilities available through digital editing.

and, surprisingly, i've come to really enjoy the process. painters mix colors, layer paint, and choose brush and paper. digital editing does that with pixels, dots of light, millions and millions of them.  that's a lot of potential in a 96"' x 24" dawn panorama of the alvord desert seen from 10,000 feet on top of the steens.

i truly appreciate how digital editing allows me to interpret an image of landscape, wildlife or flower in a way that more accurately expresses what i see and experience in that moment. for example: standing in the middle of the john day river at 3 a.m., shooting cathedral rock under a full moon with a background of stars. editing allows me the creative freedom to express that experience. a standard jpeg algorithm can't do that.

this is where photoshop excels.  i imagine i use, maybe, 5-10% of photoshop's capabilities.

a non-photoshop enlarging tool is extremely helpful with my size of prints. until a few years ago, enlarging digital photos had a dramatic loss of quality. now, tech advances allow me to print 8' and 12' widths easily.  i'm currently working on one at 16' wide. 

there's an interesting editing technique for macros (close-ups) called stacking:

a true macro lens can give incredible detail with very small subjects. to do this, the depth of field, or the parts in focus, can be very narrow, like one millimeter. to get the whole end of this pine cone in focus required 32 photos taken with the camera moving 1 mm away on a rail for each photo. these photos are then stacked in photoshop and blended so only the in focus aspects remain. this is a good example of the technology of editing pixels, a lot of pixels.

overall, i consider my editing style to be very light, or minimalist.  others may have a stronger, heavier approach which i find over-done: highly saturated, too dramatic, overly sensational. 

i prefer the more subtle. it's what i see when i am there.

exploring the benefits of digital editing has allowed me to learn something i hadn't expected. i appreciate this about a deep creative process.  it guides us into new, unknown areas we can learn and grow from.

i understand a little more when sculptors talk about removing the unneeded parts to reveal what is within.  or, how a potter shapes clay, allowing the form to emerge.  hmmm... shaping pixels.  i kind of like that.

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