About Me

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Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer has been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a weekly blog about photography in New England.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Photoshop Challenge

The more I show my work in galleries and on-line, the more I recognize a set of routine comments and questions. There are the welcomed reactions; "Beautiful work", "I love your work", but these satisfying comments are often paired with the less straight foreword, "Looks like a painting".  I'm no longer annoyed by the "painting" comment. I simply choose to interpret the sentiment as meaning that my photograph doesn't look like the standard film photograph with all its limitations of color, focus and dynamic range.

Then there are the two most common questions. The first "What camera did you use?" makes me want to bludgeon the questioner with the
The Right Moment
"camera I used", but instead I try to patiently explain that the success of the image had much more to do with being in the right spot at the right time and planning the shot to give me the best image for the editing process. That answer doesn't always satisfy, but it often leads to the second, and more problematic question,
"Did you use Photoshop on that?"
and its corollary,
"Did it really look like?".

Storm Over Portland Head Light

The Photoshop Stigma

The world has become thoroughly familiar with the power of image editing programs, such as Photoshop, to alter reality.   Everyone has seen the atrocious examples of flawless models with legs twice as long as anatomically possible, and breasts which are incompatible with an upright posture. It is not surprising that our audience would wonder how well our images actually reflect the natural experience. Of course, Lightroom now enters into this discussion, but it is Photoshop which by far carries the greatest stigma.  As someone who invariably incorporates Photoshop into my artistic process, I have struggled with the appropriate answer to this pointed challenge and I have come to appreciate that the answer must vary depending on how editing contributes to our own images and how much the critic really wants to hear.

Old Faithful Dawn

Although I can't say that I've found the perfect response, my own explanations have evolved, and hopefully matured, over time.

Oops You Caught Me

An early reaction to this question stemmed for a embarrassed sense of insecurity and guilt. "Well yes, but only a little.", followed by an apologetic listing of every wire that was removed and every tweaked shadow or highlight. Partially, the goal was to overwhelm with enough minute detail to make the questioner wander away from shear boredom.  But I think I was also trying to convince myself that I wasn't cheating Mother Nature. The whole process became exhausting, leading to the natural over-reaction.

Damn Right I Used Photoshop,
What Are You Going to Do About It!

Probably not the best retort, but it does tend to end the discussion more quickly.

Question; "Did that sunset really look like that?".

Answer; "I can't precisely remember what it really looked like, maybe I should have taken a picture? Wait a minute, I DID! and here it is! You moron!!"


Ok, as much as I would have enjoyed it, I never actually said that. Although infinitely more satisfying, the aggressive responses are no less a sign of insecurity and don't accomplish anything to explain the nuanced decisions that go into editing choices in digital photography. So take a deep breath.
Let's start again.


Did You Use Photoshop on That?


 Not "Yes, But", but, without hesitation, "Yes absolutely". "And here's why my images deserve everything I can do to make them the best they can be".

Start by estimating how much your questioner is likely to want to hear. I can go on for hours about the ability of Photoshop to bring out the best in an image, but a long involved dissertation is usually not the most effective approach. Based on the interest of the listener, the best response can be some combination of a number of different tracts of reasoning, and they range from the quick and coldly practical to the prolonged, warm and artsy.

The Practical

Shooting in the RAW

It's often my first response. "I always shoot in RAW, so I must use an editing program like Photoshop".  RAW images embody the most complete and accurate reflection of the natural scene (The purist critics love to hear that kind of stuff) .  RAW images contain the most information and provide the greatest flexibility during editing, but basic RAW images come from the camera appearing unnaturally flat, and dull. They must be edited to bring out their natural fidelity and so, of course, I must use Photoshop on every image. Quick and Simple, and although it doesn't remotely do justice to the process, sometimes that is all you need say.

Seeing Nature

Seeing What the Eye Sees

Here is where things get a good deal more complicated and lengthy. Compared to film, digital photography provides the opportunity to capture a scene in a way which is much closer to how our eyes actually see it. We can; expand the dynamic range, preserving detail from brilliant highlights to the deepest shadows; achieve tack-sharp focus from foreground to distant background; and keep color balance true to the subject despite the contaminating effect of varying illumination. The capabilities are amazing, especially to someone who shot film for years, but none of this magic is possible without editing software such as Photoshop. Although any editing can be taken too far, at its best, Photoshop is the key to capturing the world as we actually see it. When those unfamiliar with the "magic" look at one of these images and say, "It doesn't look like a photograph", I believe what they are really saying is "It doesn't look like what I expect from a standard film photograph", with all its innate limitations and its inability to see as we see".
And to that I say, "Absolutely !"

Seeing Beyond What We Can See

Chesterfield Gorge - Infrared

Photoshop is not solely about a slavish duplication of our natural vision. Digital photography and editing software are also about extending our vision to places we can only imagine.

Dublin Lake

I wrote a previous article about the ability
digital photography to extend our visual perception. This includes seeing into the infrared spectrum, capturing motion in time laps video and gazing deeply into the far reaches of our galaxy. And yes, Photoshop is the window to many of these remarkable, but otherwise unseen worlds.

Pemaquid Light - HDR - Don't be Afraid, Its Only Art

It's All Art

The most satisfying compliment that I can receive about my photography comes when someone says,"Your pictures make me feel that I am standing right there in the scene". For me that is the magic and the art of photography, the ability to transport. There is no approach to image recording that can produce a completely accurate representation of the "real" world. Whether it is captured with colored paint, microscopic flecks of silver or tiny pixels, all methods of recording the world can only be imperfect approximations governed as much by the strength and limitations of the medium as by the actual experience. The art comes from the mastery of the particular medium in an attempt to capture the feel as well as the look of the scene.

Sunset in the Field
When I stand in a field, marveling at the remarkable beauty of a distant mountain, I know that I can't capture the aroma of the freshly cut grass or the gentle brushing of the cool breeze on my arms, but I can try to use the visual elements to reflect a small part of the complete experience. Photoshop is the brush I apply to my digital canvas to speak of what I felt, as well as what I saw. I could merely regurgitate the scene unedited, but, to me, that would seem false and would not do justice to the layers of beauty that bring me back again and again.

Lupine Sunrise

To me, someone who looks at any image and asks, "Is that what it really looked like" is fundamentally missing the point. If they want to know what
it "actually looked like", they should get out of bed at four in the morning to actually see and feel the sunrise for themselves. The test of any artistic rendering of reality extends far beyond the mere fact of the image, and how it was created, to how the work makes you feel. That deeper sense of the art comes only when questions about the kind of brush used or the way the pixels where brought to life are set aside. When the viewer can be transported, to stand next to the artist in the field and smell the freshly cut grass.
Rye Beach Rainbow

Whew! That was undoubtedly the most intense collection of artsy gobbly-gook I have ever produced, but  don't blame me, the question was asked. I would love to hear how you respond to the Photoshop Challenge. Hopefully after all the talk of RAW images, the nature of seeing and the art of reality, the poor victim's eye will have glazed over and he will just buy the damn painting.

Oops,  I mean photograph!

Jeffrey Newcomer

1 comment:

  1. This bird photo looks excellent . Like these very much, Thanks .