Recently there have been a slew of photographers busted for using over-editing in their photos. Ant-eaters added, apocalyptic horsemen cloned, the list is long. These photos, then submitted to websites and shows, were quickly dissected and the photogs outed as phonies. This is a shame, both that they were outed as tricksters, and more importantly that they kept digging themselves deeper in the supposed lie. Well I think it’s time to dispel some myths about photographers.

The Photograph isn’t Original

Memphis Bridge
This reminds me so much of the Windows XP Wallpaper. How Original.

Reality check. That photo you took of the Banyan Tree ? It’s been done. The beautiful sunset you caught at Cannon Beach while reliving your Goonies days ?Google it. It’s been done. There aren’t a lot of original shots anymore. Mostly, it’s different perspectives or artistic visions of a scene. There are some really great challenges where multiple photographers are given the same model and asked to photograph them. The results are actually pretty cool. The model is the same, the photograph isn’t.

The Photo Has Been Edited

Mississippi Arkansas Bridge, Election Night 2018.

The amount of truly #nofilter shots that amaze and inspire are probably along the lines of “I can count them on one hand.” I’m not being facetious. Show any photographer one of those photos and they can probably name the filter – or at least do exactly the same look in Instagram or Snapseed. Everybody edits. The digital camera just records light. It doesn’t see the same way the eye does. Case in point, the photo above: I brought it up 2.38 stops, dropped the shadows a bit, brought out the whites, and upped the vibrance about 19 points on the bridge lights. Does that bother you ? Why ? It’s my photo! It’s like when George Lucas put the extra Jabba scene in A New Hope. Sure, it pissed people off but it’s his art. As artists we do what we want. We produce, you consume or you don’t. 

You Don’t Want it RAW

THe RAW file on the left, underexposed (on purpose) and the edited image on the right.

Trust me. You don’t want, nor will you appreciate, the RAW photo. If you hire a photographer to take shots for you, expect TIFF, JPG, or some other usable format. Don’t expect RAW. They’re horribly underexposed, a lot of times off center, and even skewed. Vertical lines through a camera lens become tilted, lights cause flares, high ISO causes grain that needs smoothing, and some photos need a touch of sharpening because they were almost in focus. Even great photographers in the glory days of film spent days in the darkroom and burned through many stacks of prints before getting it just right. If you saw some of your favorite photographer’s negatives, you’d probably think it was taken by somebody else.

These Photos Aren’t Always Planned

The green solitary lamp was a surprise. I didn’t see it when I took the picture because I was focused on the bridge.

Some photographers go to great lengths to get amazing shots. Landscape artists may spend days or weeks or even years scoping out the perfect location, time of day, and season for that once-in-a-lifetime shot. For the rest of us it was dumb luck. Street Photographers will be the first to tell you that many rolls of film were wasted and hundreds of the same shot sifted through before one was salvageable enough to crop, adjust, dehaze, colorize, and heal. It’s just the nature of photography. The general rule of thumb for me personally is that if I get one shot out of 36 on a roll that’s worth sharing, I’ve done good. I’ve also heard your first 10,000 shots are garbage. Either way, chalk a lot of good photography up to being at the right place at the right time and stumbling across it in post.

It Wasn’t Taken With Pro Gear

I’ve taken some of my most favorite photos with a Google Nexus 6 phone. I started out getting serious about photography with a Kodak Z740 consumer camera with 5 whole megapixels. The picture above was taken with an old Windows 8 Phone by Nokia, then edited in Snapseed or Adobe Photoshop, I can’t actually remember.

Taken with a Lumia 1520 Windows Phone!

I think it’s important to be honest with people because there are misconceptions about photographs and photographers. The real wow factor comes from the meathead behind the camera, the vision we have when we’re in the moment, and the reality we have to face when we get into the darkroom (or Lightroom). Too often lately a good artist is branded a bad photographer, and then in a panic the poor guy or gal lies and digs a deeper hole due to the overbearing Social Media Mob. Lay off us. Enjoy our art. If you don’t like the process, go grab a camera and do better.