Raw Material

I have come to consider many of the images I shoot to be raw material. They don’t become a finished picture until I have worked the raw material in post processing.


Today’s cameras are great generators of data. Every time I press the shutter I am sending around 50-60 MBytes of data to my memory card. And that is using a compressed RAW format.

A funny thing happens, though. The more data there is, the less the importance of each bit. For instance, even though my camera has great metering and a live histogram, I may shoot several frames of the same subject. This will allow for minimizing motion or camera shake. Or, if I am intentionally moving the camera (intentional camera motion) I will shoot many frames to up my chance of getting a keeper.

I never would have been so “wasteful” with film. It was too expensive. But digital images seem free. The perceived value of any frame is smaller.

But a side effect of this commodity view leads to a different relationship with the image data. It is no longer necessarily a “picture” as an indivisible unit. It is data. I feel more free to repurpose any of the picture data for other uses.


So now I have new ways to look at an image. Maybe I like its texture and want to apply it to another image. Maybe there are one or more elements in the picture that I think would be good included in another image. There could be a form structure that could be used to build another image.

I have moved from a “take it or leave it” judgement of an image as a whole to a sense of “parting out” a picture to harvest the good parts. That is so much easier now than it ever was in the past. The tools are there, it is a matter of adjusting the mindset.

Post processing

In today’s world, post processing is where a lot of the magic happens. Photoshop and Lightroom and some of the other editing programs have developed marvelous feature sets. They can handle large files and 16 bit depth and work comfortably in good image spaces like ProPhotoRGB, Photoshop is the choice (IMHO) for heavy duty pixel pushing.

It is almost (not quite) true that is you can think it, you can do it. The tools are not perfect, but they are so good that, for the most part, they stay out of the way and let us create fluently with them.

A lot of us have come to believe that a picture does not become a picture until we have spent some serious time in post processing. There is no reason anymore to be limited to what we originally captured, unless it turned out to be exactly what we want.


We artists are no longer “stuck” with what we captured at the moment we pressed the shutter. We have huge latitude for changing the look, the content, the color, and the whole feeling of the image.

Some people are threatened by this, but I see it as an opportunity to realize my vision. There are few excuses any more. Photography is very different from painting, but we have one new similarity: if we can think it we can create it.


To bring you a good image, I have to show not only what I saw but how I felt about it. Revealing the emotion behind it is easier now. Because we do not have to take the original bits of the image as fixed and unchangeable, we can add or subtract as necessary to achieve the effect we desire.

This can be a very freeing and empowering realization. Those of us who have done photography for a long time have to re-learn how to approach image making. We have to give ourselves permission to do any amount of modification, even to the point of completely creating a new work out of raw material from others. But it gives us a medium for expressing ourselves more fully.

This image

The image with this article is an example. That is not what the original scene looked like. No in-camera technique could have given the resulting image. A lot of Photoshop time was spent in blurring the image except for the evergreens. It is not what I saw when I was there. I did not even envision this at the time. I spent time thinking about surreal variations and eventually visualized this.


This is not dishonest. It is the same thing as a painter painting in what he likes and leaving out what he doesn’t like. The end result is art, not documentation.

Art is neither honest or dishonest. It is art. It means what the viewer takes it to mean. We are long past the time when we assume a photograph is “truth”. We should assume that every image is altered, composited, tweaked, and blended. That’s not just OK, it is healthy.

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