October 31, 2009

The Images I Create, Look Nothing Like the Images I Shot

This week I was speaking to a High School photography student about how the images I create, look nothing like the images I shot.  When I photograph something, I have a vision of what the final image will look like and I work to bring the captured image in line with that vision. My art does not try to faithfully reproduce what my eyes saw, but rather to recreate what I saw in my mind’s eye or my “vision.”

I characterize my creations as being composed of 50% the shot and 50% this vision.  Bringing the shot into line with my vision starts with the image capture, sometimes I’ll underexpose like with “Alphie” above, to set the mood I’m trying to create.  Transforming the image continues as I convert it to black & white, frequently using a lot of blue channel to give a contrasty and grainy look.

But most of my vision is introduced when I dodge and burn the image, working in Photoshop like I did in the darkroom, but with infinitely more control.  Using a pen and tablet I paint the image to darken it, selectively enhance contrast and to tease out the highlights exactly where I want them.  This step is where the “created” image can take a radical departure from the original shot.

Sometimes during processing I might see a new possibility or find a surprise in the image, but generally I know from the moment of capture what the finished image will look like.  I think this ability comes from having a personal vision, knowing your capabilities and the limitations of your tools.

Alphie was created about a week ago off the Santa Cruz pier.  It was early morning and the sea lions were just becoming active and lazily floating in the water; they seemed to be stretching and waking up.  I photographed them as they took on various poses and once I saw this image, I knew that I had what I was looking for.

But as you look at Alphie, remember that you’re really seeing him through the lens of my vision, and not the lens of my camera.


7 thoughts on “The Images I Create, Look Nothing Like the Images I Shot

  1. Cole,

    Really nice vision, I love the artistic quality like a charcoal drawing – I tend to find in my own photography the images I enjoy the most are those previsualized as artwork or play vs documentation. There seems to be more emotion in these.


  2. I am leaning more and more towards this trend, too, in thinking of what do I want this image to be…we have that option and luxury as it were with new techniques and tools. Many images in my new group on flickr:> http://www.flickr.com/groups/danceswithlights/ a group for excellent only images, reveal that the artist went well beyond the camera to achieve what they wanted. That is accomplished in every other art medium, why not photography? I enjoy your blogs and will attempt to respond to each one.

  3. My single “whine” about Alphie is that the image is too small and with my vision issues, I cannot see him at that size very well. The image seems to be magnificent, though.

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