The Most Horrible Photo Words

I dislike two words that are common to the photographic lexicon:  “editing” and “retouching.”

Editing implies a business-like cutting away of elements.  The main goal is removal of elements rather than the building up of elements.

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The original image of musician Jessica Kelly and one with about an hour of post-work done while sitting at Burger King. Background simplified, multiple textures added, dodging and burning on the figure, monochrome treatment applied, Nik software tone mapping and Silver EFX Pro applied, layers mixed.

Retouching is primarily associated with making a more commercial product for an ad.  It’s easy to imagine retouching a model or actor’s skin, or a product shot, to make it as appealing an image as possible.  It’s harder to imagine, say, Barbara Krueger creating her political slogan collages via “retouching.”

In sculpture or illustration, you start with nothing and add elements.  Video and photography, you create a recording and try to create the best version of the recording through blending elements.  Music is somewhere in-between- songs don’t exist until you start adding elements, but then you create the recording.  The best description I’ve seen for manipulating recordings is post production or postwork.  It better describes the process of creation than mere cogs in the wheel like “editor” or “retoucher.”

Those words apply to the creative side of photography.  On the business end, there are a few words that are like nails on a chalkboard.  I get a lot of emails asking to “collab,” which is text-talk for “I want you to help me create my ideas for free.”  Best not to go down that rabbit hole.

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New/ Old Scans – Redefining a Series

Jane 1I haven’t shot much this week but I did a lot of organizing. That can be as productive in building photo series as creating new work. I’ve done scanner work of 4 models at this point, and I’ve decided to widen the series to include all kinds of people, not just nude models. To this end I dug up some old scans of Patrick and took advantage of a father-in-law who visited.

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Most of my series start with using a technique, then take on their deeper meanings. Scanning people was weird and cool but it’s become about human skin, aging, approaching the human condition by staring realllllllly close.

Patrick scan

The Pre Shoot

Merrique 1  Last week I had a shoot with model St. Merrique and I was thinking about how I operate before a model shoot. It’s exclusive to model shoots because these are the kind that usually require special planning in advance. If I’m traveling, it’s all about being open to the experiences presented to you; if you’re doing a family shoot or a wedding, those are pretty by-the-book. But an artistic model shoot is different.

1. I have to establish what category the images will fall under. If they are going in my “pop” or “mythology” categories, then it’s digital and the D700. I take this camera no matter what, but there has to be some conciousness as to what I’m going to do. The images I paint on or Vesna does embroidery on, those need to be composed a certain way.merrique8-2

2. When I have my category, I look over what I already have shot and what I could add to the series. In the case of the scanner series, I have quite a few that prominently feature squished faces, boobs and hands, so if I want the series to be any more than that the next people I scan have to do something different. Scanning St. Merrique, we did some of her back and swirly hair that looked special and unique.

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3. At this point I may do a sketch or two, gather props, but the most important step seems to be…

4. Forget most of my plans or anxiety and let instinct and experience guide me during a shoot. So often a prop, or some other element of a “plan” doesn’t work, but there’s amazing light over thataway, so let’s go thataway and take the good photos rather than struggle.

Trust in your own talent. You’ll get more good pictures that staying driving concepts into the ground.

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The Battle of Picacho Peak

The yearly Arizona Civil War reenactment at Picacho Peak offered an interesting opportunity to try to recreate the specific look of that time.  The Civil War wasn’t the first war to be photographed- that was the Crimean War- but it was the first war Americans ever saw images from.  In particular the work of Matthew Brady’s company of photographers is so iconic it’s the first thing people think of when the Civil War is brought up as a topic of conversation.

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I went with my 4×5 Graphlex Field Camera and 14 sheets of film.  I also took my son Patrick, who opened up one of the film holders before I got any shots at all.  In February, I was at another Civil War event at Pioneer Village north of Phoenix, and the attendance there was low enough that I figured I’d have the actors and location pretty open to shoot in.  Not so.  There were thousands of people at the Picacho Peak event, and anyone who has ever tried to get authentic period shots when you have so many other people milling about knows that it ain’t easy.

ImageQuite a few of these spectators were photographers themselves, from DSLRs to medium format to an interesting DIY combo of “Frankensteined” vintage lenses on a mirrorless Sony camera.  The 4×5 was slower than usual due to issues in keeping my son calm and happy, but it worked out in several ways:

  1. Forcing me to plan out shots, rather than “spray shooting” and hoping to sort them out later
  2. Forcing me to shoot in a framing style similar to the real Civil War photos
  3. Getting me a lot of attention from actors, kids, other photographers.  Nothing like a weird camera to help introverts like myself talk to people.

ImageWe arrived back at our house in Chandler around 4 pm, developed the film by 6 pm, scanned the 11 good images by the next day, and I finished them off using a combination of texture overlays, Nik software’s Tone Mapping in HDR Pro and Silver EFX Pro, and Adobe Lightroom. ImageImage

I Get By With A Little Help From My Vendors

“Scream Queens” opens up next week and there were a couple small businesses involved that are worth mentioning.

Blue Cube Printing is a service in Portland that I have do all my printing.  Why use a service in Portland?  Because

A. I can’t stand printing myself.  Ink and paper cost a fortune and maintaining a good printer is difficult.  If a business prints for you, they can do it better, cheaper, and they have to give you a decent product.

B. Blue Cube is fast, prints on Fuji Crystal Archive paper, and is cheaper than local alternatives.

I was lucky to get my stuff printed during one of Blue Cube’s sales.  Each of my 20×30″ images was $9.99.  Compare that to $20, $30 at other places.

The other business is Image 3D.  They create custom Viewmaster reels, starting around $25 (less if you just want a reel and no Viewmaster).  As a marketing tool it’s awesome- no one can resist picking it up, flipping through it, oooohhing and ahhhhhing.

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my first custom viewmaster real, a sample of portfolio fashion work done in a pseudo-color wheel.

My aesthetic has a lot to do with being a manchild, so having toys involved in the show experience is crucial.

David Miller Phoneographyworks

My mother brain dead in her last moments.  I wouldn't have brought up all my photo gear for this image but I had my phone with me and wanted to show my sister in Arizona what to expect.
My mother brain dead in her last moments. I wouldn’t have brought up all my photo gear for this image but I had my phone with me and wanted to show my sister in Arizona what to expect.

When Instagram claimed rights to all photos shot using its processing/ sharing app, I deleted my account within seconds.  It didn’t matter that they backtracked on their new policy later that day, I decided that as a mere processing and sharing tool it wasn’t worth the hassle.  I spend/ waste more than enough social networking time on Facebook, tumblr, model mayhem, soundcloud, and WordPress to have  another virtual mouth to feed.  It is way too much narcissism as is, and so far only one of those sites (Facebook) gives me any regular work.  Not to mention there are many other photo filter apps out there that don’t exaggerate their importance.

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shot inside an antique store

Now, on my phone home screen, I have a “picture frame” containing my instagrammed photos of my children.  They are quite lovely but the gallery no longer grows.  In the last two months, I made the concious choice to fall back in love with my ancient (3 years old) Nikon D700, and forced myself to do all the personal photos with it rather than leaving it up to the phone to fill that gap.  I was better with this other device that weighed more, required more thought to use correctly, and took significantly more time to process in the computer, but in the end the effort seems to pay off.

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Patrick dressing up at the grocery store.

At this point, some might say “why don’t you just photography with all the devices at your disposal?”  For myself, I need some parameters to my shooting.  I am not the kind of person always shooting, capturing every boring moment of my day.  I can’t convince myself a phone shot is good enough when I could have done it better with the D700 or view camera, but it is so easy to convince oneself when they rely on the phone camera at all times.

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I have no doubt that there are phoneographers making great work, many of whom wouldn’t be doing any photography at all if not for the convenience and freedom allowed by apps.  And there are definitely many photos that simply cannot be shot by the average person without their phone- shots in stores, at concerts, inside small objects, etc.  But the psychology of shooting is greatly affected by what tool the photographer uses, and settling for convenience is a poor motivation for making art the best you can.

Joel Sartore: At Close Range

National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore was a big influence on me, not so much in his style or subject matter but the simple fact he was from Nebraska.  Not many people associated with Nebraska go on to any sort of fame in their field- Matthew Sweet, Warren Buffet, Connor Oberst, Johnny Carson being some of the exceptions- still a pretty short list. I caught Sartore speaking at a local college back in 2000 and he made a big impression on me.  He was a genuine guy who did great work and was recognized for it, and made a living at it, which in general terms is where I want to find myself as  a photographer.  At Close Range is a NG documentary on the man and his work.


Sartore never shys away from peeling back the curtain from what others may think is a glamorous, adventurous job.  He’s contracted many diseases including one that will stay with him for the rest of his life.  His family openly weep when he leaves on a trip, then make big decisions while he’s off in the field, such as buying a house.  These kind of sacrifices are what’s necessary to go where Sartore needs to go, do what he has to do to get the great images that can uplift communities and preserve nature preserves from devastation.

At Close Range is currently showing on Netflix.