the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Archive for July, 2011

Pet Peeves – Is that photo enhanced?

Skunk Cabbage

I was in Spokane last weekend visiting my Dad. While there, I played golf with Dad and my brother. On the golf course, my brother mentioned he had never visited my website. So I gave him a business card to help him remember. My business card has a photo on the front (some surprise there), and my brother asked if the photo was “enhanced.”

Now, I must admit, this question really annoys me. Certainly he is not the first person to ask if one of my photos has been enhanced, or Photoshopped, or digitally manipulated, etc. But, being my brother and not a potential client, I’m afraid I answered a bit too sharply, asking him “What is enhanced?”  I went on to give him a mini-lecture about how every digital photograph he’s ever seen – those taken by friends and family with cheap point-and-shoot cameras and those taken by big-time professionals with expensive DSLRs – are processed by a computer. The computer might be in the camera, or it might be on the photographer’s desktop, but all photos have been modified from how the camera records the data. I explained the difference between RAW format and JPEG. I told him I shoot in RAW format, and who is to say how I process an image is any different than how the camera would process it if I had shot in JPEG format. I think he is sorry he asked the question.

However, now to be totally honest, I know when I process a RAW image, it will certainly be different than how the camera would process it as a JPEG. So I guess, the question does actually have some merit (sorry Matt for coming on too thick!). In fact, in hindsight, I’ve been guilty of asking the same type question. I remember once when I was at a reception at Art Wolfe’s studio for winners of a photo contest. I met a relatively well-known landscape photographer there whose work I admired (not Art Wolfe, though I do admire his work and met him there as well). I asked this photographer what processing he typically does to this images. He told me he typically does very little processing. And I thought, “what a load of crap!”; it was obvious he did quite a lot of Photoshop work on his images. (This particular photographer, on his website, no longer makes this claim.)

But still, this question of enhancement comes up even where it should not. I’ve seen the question pop up in certain photo contest rules; rules stating no digital enhancement may be applied to an image, and if an image is chosen as a finalist and came from a RAW file, the original RAW image must be provided so the judges can see if was enhanced. So it’s okay for the camera to apply processing, but not the photographer? That doesn’t make any sense! Ansel Adams’ prints look nothing like the negatives they came from, and he’d be the first to tell you so (if he was still alive). Yet no one asks if Ansel Adams’ prints are enhanced.

I guess this blog officially rates as rant (and since this is my blog, I’m allowed). A photographer I much admire, David deChemin, has a Rants and Sermons category on his blog (which is well worth reading by the way). Perhaps I should start such a category as well! David deChemin, by the way, has written a whole book on how to process/enhance RAW images. This book, Vision & Voice: Refining Your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, shows how deChemin converts his RAW images to match his vision as expressed through a photograph. He makes no bones about it, his images are enhanced, but done so in a way to match his particular photographic voice. No questions there – his images are enhanced.

Some think that photography should only be a recreation of reality. Yet that is impossible. Reality is three-dimensional, photography is two-dimensional. Reality is every changing – time does not stop. Photography takes a portion of time and compresses it into one image (or multiple images in the case of video or movie photography). Reality is more than just light. Photography only captures light – and cannot show that light without processing, be it digital or traditional. Because of these limitations, photography cannot be a recreation of reality. Because of these limitations, photography is an art. Like any art form, the artist can attempt to make their creation as life-like as possible, or as abstract as possible.

Take the photo I’ve included to illustrate this blog entry. It’s an image of a skunk cabbage that I took back in May at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island. Would anyone ask if this photo is enhanced? I think probably not. Yet, it is obviously not life-like. This plant is green, not shades of black, white and gray. The original RAW capture is basically shows shades of faded green. I chose to turn it to a black and white image; and when converting it, I chose specific settings (for those of you technically minded, I used a Photoshop Black and White adjustment layer) to make it the shades of gray it ended up. Then I chose to change the contrast a bit, and do a little selective darkening around the edges of the photo. I also removed a few small pieces of dirt on some of the leaves. Do these “enhancements” make the image less of a photo? Not for me; those enhancements help make the photo closer to my vision of what I want the image to be. It’s art; it’s not reality.

What’s your opinion? Reality or art? Do “enhancements” matter?

Grinding Coffee with a Hatchet

Chuckanut SandstoneTanya and I spent the first half of the week camping at Larrabee State Park up near Bellingham, Washington. We selected the site to, hopefully, to avoid rain (and did so, at least until our last morning when packing up). Our original choice was Kalaloch, on the coast, but with our wet summer, that seemed like a bad choice.

I’ve found, when camping, that we typically forget something. This case was no different – I forgot my glasses and had to survive with only contact lenses – not too bad; but we also forgot towels and went without a shower for three days – bad. What was different about this trip is not what we forgot, but what we brought – whole bean coffee instead of ground coffee. (Actually we did have ground decaf available, which is all I drink, but  Tanya needs her caffeine.)

Camping can also be about improvisation – making due with what you have. Tanya made a classic example of this. How does one grind coffee without a coffee grinder? With a hatchet of course! Put some beans in a ziplock bag and pound away with the blunt end of a hatchet. Works every time! Tanya said it was some the best coffee she’s ever had.

Photography is often about improvisation as well. I went on this trip hoping to some good shots looking out toward the San Juan Islands. Larrabee State Park is along Chuckanut Drive, which is blessed with stunning views of the San Juans. However, the conditions did not cooperate. We could see the islands, but the view was a bit hazy, and looked very poor photographically in afternoon light. So I got up early to do a morning shot and was defeated by fog and low clouds covering the view. Now fog can offer its own special look, but not in this case. The view over the water toward the islands was essentially a gray wall. And while I did get some sunset shots, the sunset was toward the northwest, away from the main body of  the San Juans. And frankly, the sunsets were nice to watch, but not all that fantastic photographically.

So I had to make do with other subjects. The coastline at this spot is made up of Chuckanut sandstone, which makes a rocky shoreline with interesting boulders. The unusual erosion patterns in the boulders made a good photographic subject. We also visited a friend in Bellingham; which provided me with an opportunity to photograph the historic district there, including some graffiti which made interesting abstracts.

I didn’t get the shot I had hoped for, but I was able to improvise and find some good subjects otherwise. You know the old saying, about lemons and lemonade. Or I guess you could change it to say “if life give you a hatchet, make coffee.”


Larrabee Boulder

Bellingham Graffiti

Fairhaven Wall

Dead Men were Here

Lavender Report

Purple Haze Lavender Farm

Guest cottage at the Purple Haze Lavender Farm.

I meant to report on the state of the lavender fields up in Sequim, Washington after my trip there last week, but got caught up in preparing for the Art on the Ave, which was held last Sunday.  I’ve wanted to photograph the Sequim lavender fields for years, and finally made time to do it. I was able to visit the Purple Haze lavender farm  and the Jardin du Soleil farm. Unfortunately, our seasonally cool weather this spring and early summer defeated me again – at least partially. I did come away with a few nice photographs, as you can see by the images illustrating this blog entry, but not with shots I was really looking for.

The Lavender Festival is coming up this weekend. It is always the 3rd weekend in July, supposedly timed with peak bloom. Well, peak bloom is  late this year. There is some lavender blooming, but a lot of it still needs several weeks of summer to reach full bloom. The early varieties were blooming nicely last week, and probably are still doing so this week. But most of the fields are planted with later blooming varieties, which were showing much yet (at least last week they weren’t).

So when will peak bloom be this year? No one is sure, but I doubt it will be this weekend. I spoke with one of the employees at Purple Haze about when they thought the peak would be. Their best guess was toward the end of July, or even possibly into early August. My best advice, which of course I didn’t follow when I went up there last week, is to check out Purple Haze’s webcam. However, don’t wait too long, the lavender gets picked after it blooms; and with the late bloom this year, I imagine they may want to not wait too long to pick it.

Jardin du Soleil Lavender Farm

Garden at Jardin du Soleil Lavender Farm, note the lavender fields in the background are just starting to bloom.


Early blooming lavender at Purple Haze.

July Travels

The Only Tree in Scotland
“The Only Tree in Scotland” – July 2008, a scene captured on the Isle of Mull, Scotland

It is finally acting like summer around the Pacific Northwest. The high temperatures in Tacoma so far in July have all been over 70 degrees (though only one day was over 80). This might not see like summer temperatures for a lot of places; but it is for here, especially after the cold wet spring we had.

I’ve always thought that with summer comes traveling. I have always enjoyed traveling in the summer – both on long vacation trips and on short day trips – much more than traveling in the winter. This may stem from my childhood, when every summer my parents packed up the station wagon with us seven kids, attached the tent trailer, and headed off of a family vacation. I don’t have any extended travel plans for this summer, but do hope to make a number of short trips (starting tomorrow with a trip up to Sequim to see if the lavender fields are blooming).

In celebration of July travel, I’m posting a series of photos taken in the month of July from 2004 through 2010.

Running Stars
“Running Stars” – July 2004: a tidepool on Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park

Carter Headquarters
“Carter Headquarters” – July 2005, taken in Plains, Georgia

Fishing with Dad
“Fishing with Dad” – July 2006; image from Caye Caulker, Belize

Wall of the West
“Wall of the West” – July 2007; a scene from Fossil, Oregon

Thunder by the Mountain
“Thunder by the Mountain” – July 2009; a travel shot from close to home, Mount Rainier and a thunderhead cloud captured in Tacoma, Washington

Adams Minis
“Adams Minis” – July 2010; miniature tree on the slopes of Mount Adams, Mount Adams Wilderness, Washington