The Thin Line

"Is that what it really looked like or did you Photoshop that?"

It's a common question.  Although, I actually think it's less common now than it was a few years ago.  I think today most people just automatically assume that most every image is Photoshopped!  However, before I go any further, let's define Photoshop...

  1. Photoshop (n.)-Adobe's rental software.  Formulated because they made their flagship software too good.  Running out of ideas that would make new, standalone purchases worth it, they decided to slowly bleed photographers and designers dry.
  2. Photoshop (v.)-To manipulate an image away from it's original appearance.
  3. Photoshopped (adj.)-An image that has been manipulated.

With those definitions in mind (thanks a lot Adobe...), I'm about to say something that will probably shut the entire Internet down due to how controversial it is.  That's a risk I'm will to take though.  Braces yourselves, you've been warned.

"Every image ever taken has been Photoshopped."

Whoa!  Are your minds blown?!  I guess the fact that you're still reading this means that the Internet did not actually shut down.  Perhaps my blog is not as influential as I think it is...  Nah, I'm sure that's not the case, but let's get back to the original point.  Every single image that has ever been taken has been edited away from reality.

LONG before computers and PS existed, photographers were still Photoshopping images.  In fact, the first images were the most manipulated!  In the beginning, God created black and white photography.  If a monochrome image of a color subject isn't blatant editing, I don't know what is.  My hero and photography purest St. Ansel Adams was probably the biggest Photoshopper around!  After all, it was he who said something along the lines of, "Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships."  I feel like everything I've ever known is a lie now...  Blasphemous!

Color film isn't much better though.  If you think color film is true to a scene, take an identical composition and throw Velvia and Portra at it.  Which one is real?  Portra with its huge range, but washed out tones?  Or Velvia with its nuclear hot reds and blue tones in white water?  The answer is neither.

What about digital and those #SOOC images that we post?  Even if you shoot JPEG and don't edit them, all you are doing is let the camera edit for you.  Each camera manufacturer programs their cameras to edit the RAW data and spit out an image.  This is what you see on the back on your camera's viewscreen or the actual image file if you shoot JPEGs.  However, even if you don't touch any of your camera's settings (camera profile, saturation, contrast, etc.) it is still not EXACTLY like the scene appears; there is some internal manipulation and interpretation going on.  Don't believe me?  Aim a Canon and a Nikon at the same scene and there will definitely be differences.  So which one is "right"?  Again, the answer is neither.

Now, we can come CLOSE to what is real.  One thing I've started doing is taking an iPhone pic of my compositions immediately after my 4x5 image.  I'll stand in that location and edit my iPhone pic to look as close as possible to the scene in front of me.  When I scan my film (especially color negative film) I'll pull up that iPhone pic and try to get the film image as close as possible.

If you really want to go existential though, you can ask what is even real?  What does something "really" look like?  The human eye is the ultimate autoexposure camera, but it can be fooled.  Last year in the Narrows I had an eye-opening (nailed the pun) experience; I was taking a reflected light image that had about a 5 minute exposure.  The glow started out good, but had a noticeable dimming about halfway through my shot.  I noted the time, closed the shutter, and looked up.  Sure enough, clouds had rolled in and killed the light.  I spent the next few minutes looking upward.  Once the clouds cleared, I looked back down and noticed a HUGE increase in the red/orange saturation of the wall.  The light hadn't changed that much in the span of a few minutes so I knew that the reflected light wall was the same; it was my eye that had changed.  While looking up at the sky, my eye had acclimated to the very bright sky.  When I looked back down to the relative dark of the Narrows, everything was essentially underexposed; my eye's f-stop was closed down.  This underexposure caused an apparent increase in the saturation.  So you can see, even our eyes don't know what something is supposed to really look like!

So in this crazy world where nothing is real, what's a landscape photographer supposed to do?!  You'll get multiple opinions on this, but I fall into the camp that landscape photography should "try" to be as realistic as possible...all the while understanding that realistic can be a relative term.  My goal as a photographer is for a person to look at one of my images and feel that they can just step into the scene. 

Are there manipulations that take place?  Absolutely.  Some are out of necessity to bring the scene back to realism.  I'll spend sometimes hours removing the blue hue that Velvia so lovingly places in white water.  Some editing is to correct for user error...dragging a curves adjustment downward to make up for the occasional overexposure.  And some editing is flat out to make an image look better; there, I said it!  My image entitled "Where Angels Tread" had three thin, annoying twigs hanging down from the branch that framed Angel's Landing.  I saw them as I was composing, but didn't have a wide enough lens to get close enough to where those wouldn't be a factor.  I have zero remorse from cloning those guys out!

Now You see them... you don't.  And I lose absolutely no sleep over this at night.

This brings up a tough question though; how much image manipulation is too much?  When does an image cross the thin line between an inspiring shot and a Photoshopped mess?  First of all, there are people that will tell you that it's all art and that it doesn't matter what it ends up looking like.  Ignore these people as they are wrong.  I don't know exactly why they are wrong, but they just are!  In all seriousness, I believe art in the truest sense must begin with a completely blank canvas.  Landscape photography doesn't start with a blank canvas.  Our canvas is already complete; it is just up to us to deliver it to the viewer in a pleasing presentation.  Landscape photography is equal parts art and documentation.  With that distinction being made, here are three things that I believe cross the thin line of image credibility.

First, if I can tell where and what you've done to an image, you've gone too far.  I don't want to spend my time looking at a landscape image and rattling off the Photoshop tricks that have been used on it.  The most egregious sins I see in this area today are in the shadows.  I mean, seriously!  What did shadow areas ever do to deserve such treatment?!  I don't need to see details in every single area of an image.  If a forest scene is being backlit, I shouldn't see every speck of bark on the tree surface facing me!  With that being said, I have no problem with people using Photomatix to create HDR images.  HDR is just a tool, much like Ektar is just a tool in my bag.  What I have a problem with is an image that's been HDR'd.  There's a difference there.

Second, if a photographer is intentionally misleading about their work then I pretty much lose all faith in their images moving forward.  For example, on a forum that I follow, someone presented an image of a typical wildflower mountain composition.  A super wide angle lens was placed almost on top of the flower to give it prominence in the composition.  The sun was just starting to rise, wispy clouds danced above the mountain peaks, and a crescent moon was still in the sky.  The scene was absolute perfection and the editing, full of the light blending that's so "in" right now, was meticulous and also perfect.  Not a single defect in the entire image.  It was presented as a single image (and believe me, the photographer went out of his way to point this out), taken on a Sony English-letter-Arabic-number-Roman-numeral with a 14mm lens.  The entire post received rave reviews.

And yet, there was that moon.  Not overly bright or imposing in the image, but it was definitely there...and MUCH larger than the speck it should have been at 14mm.  It was so blatantly composited that I typed up a post to call him out on it.  I literally sat on that post for 2 days before deleting it and deciding that I didn't want to be "that guy."  The fact remains though, he obviously lied about compositing the moon in there.  Here again, I have absolutely no problem with compositing.  It is just another tool to make up for limitations in our gear.  What I do have a problem with is deliberate misinformation.  If the moon was a fabrication, what else in the image isn't real?  The rest of the sky?  That flower?  The mountain itself?  Once you break the circle of trust, I've got to assume that all of your images cross the line of believability.

Finally, nature just has a "look" to it.  I can't describe it as anything more concrete, but when that look is wrong, you'll know it when you see it.  There is a relationship between, color, tonality, and texture that is just "right."  There is no other way to definitively describe it.  The most common examples in my work are color casts when I'm editing Ektar.  I'll sit on a image for days or weeks tweaking the curves to get rid of color casts.  Often I can't pick out exactly what's wrong with the image, I just know SOMETHING is off.  The line has been crossed!  Another example is with the current en vogue editing style.  Not quite HDR, but it involves multiple techniques to create what ultimately falls under the umbrella of light blending.  Again, you'll know it when you see it.  The images are often undeniably visually striking...absolutely gorgeous to look at! 

And yet, I find them missing something.  It's almost like looking at a video game environment.  It's beautiful, but completely sterile...unaffected by nature.  The degree of expertise to achieve this look is staggering, but somewhere along the line the spirit of the image was lost.  Nature is wild, unpredictable, and full of imperfections.  When this look is lost, I believe it triggers something in us.  Even if we have not visited a location, our experience tells us that there are certain ways things should look.  When this is edited out, the line of reality has been crossed, and the images are completely devoid of any emotion.

So you've spent the last 1853 words reading about something that "you'll know when you see."  That's time in your life that can never be had again;'re welcome!  No image is ever truly 100% realistic, no matter how hard myself or other photographers try to convince you otherwise.  Everything is edited to some degree.  However, I believe our visual and esthetic senses can tolerate manipulations up to a certain point.  Once you reach a certain level though, the line between reality and fiction has been crossed.  While this line is open for debate, I believe landscape photography in its truest form should contain a high degree of credibility.  Anything beyond is just digital fiction.

Also, my images are all CS4 Photoshopped.  No rental software for me!  Yet...

The Winds of Change

The other day, a Timehop from 5 years ago popped up on my Facebook page.  (How this happened I will never know.  I've never posted a Timehop, #tbt, etc., but it was there nonetheless.)  At this time (July 2010) I had just picked up my first camera and was beginning to learn how to use it.  It was a Canon 40D by the way.  It was an absolute noise machine beyond ISO 800, but it's still a camera I remember fondly.  As is usual for people just starting out, I asked a lot of questions to my more experienced photographer friends.  So, five years ago I posted this status/question:  "If photography were still film-only, would you still be doing it?  For me the answer is no.  Film is too unforgiving and the results aren't immediate.  In short, I think it would be too hard for me."

I literally laughed out loud when I read this in present day, especially the "unforgiving" part.  I took some shots recently in the Smokies on Kodak Ektar 100.  I carefully metered, calculated an exposure time, and then randomly gave it about 15 more seconds of exposure...just because of reasons.  I'm waiting for the film to return, but I know that the exposure will be perfect.  

As someone who now shoots exclusively film for landscapes (I still have a full digital kit for people photography) I think it's safe to say that my opinions have changed a bit over the years.  My photography has changed as well.  That particular Facebook post made me scroll back through my timeline circa 2010.  At that point, I was strictly a people photographer.  There are still some shots I consider to be good in there, but the consistency wasn't there.  I cringe to look at my overall photoshoots!  Now, regardless of the situation, I know that I'm going to come away with good, consistent results.  So I think I can safely say that my skill level has changed in the past 5 years.

My tastes in photography genre have changed as well.  Somewhere along the line I got hooked on landscapes.  (To back up for just a second, if you found my photography blog through my YouTube channel or any other type of recent search, it may be a bit shocking to know that I have a completely different body of work floating around out there.  Check out for something TOTALLY different that what I post on this site!)  Honestly I have no idea what first attracted me to landscapes.  I wasn't a particularly outdoor oriented person.  Whatever it was, something clicked deep inside me, and I knew that I wanted to be a landscape photographer.

Of course there was the minor detail of me being a terrible landscape photographer in the beginning.  No planning, unrefined vision, and a complete reliance on software tricks to come up with a "good" image.  And believe me, I'm using "good" in the absolute loosest sense.  I knew another change was in order, but at the time I didn't know what that was.  I just knew that I needed to become a much better photographer.

I've written previously about some of my reasons for changing to film.  One experience that I've yet to mention was that one of my good friends Ben Finch (of Finch Photo seen in the link above) picked up a Mamiya RZ67 a few years back in a storage unit sale.  He started to shoot it occasionally, and this was really my first exposure to the film world.  Of course, at the time I thought it was stupid to waste money on something so outdated, and as friends do, I let him relentlessly know about my opinion of shooting film at the time.  (This is something he rightfully throws back in my face from time to time!)

I started to see his results though.  And even though he wasn't shooting landscape, I was taken by the methodology.  Working the scene carefully, taking a single shot, and getting good results without software trickeration.  This was what I wanted and NEEDED to become a better landscape photographer.  Add to that my discovery of Rodney Lough Jr. and the rest is history.

Today I find myself a large format landscape photographer.  I sometimes hike miles and miles with upwards of 50 pounds on my back to take a single shot.  I may wait for hours for the light to cooperate, and if it doesn't, I do not take a shot.  I may not know the results for weeks as I wait for color film to be developed or develop the black and white on my own.  I take fewer shots, but with better results than at any point in the past.  The changes I've gone through have made me a better photographer without a doubt, and I'm enjoying photography more than I ever have in the past.

So last week, Fuji (in what has become an annual summer event) announced film cuts and price increases for remaining film stocks.  Now fortunately, none of the film I shoot was cut, but this definitely did not seem like a change for the better.  Velvia 50 in 4x5 already costs around $6 per sheet (not including developing) and that is set to see a 20% increase.  Most people think that it's only a matter of time before Fuji cuts Velvia 50 as well.  As recently as a year ago, this would have sent me into a panic.  However, it really doesn't bother me that much anymore.  (For what it's worth, I actually think Fuji will keep around Velvia 50 and 400H for MANY more years.)

Here's why.  First of all, I've got enough Velvia 50 in my freezer to last me several years, so that definitely eases the pain a bit.  More importantly though, I don't shoot large format just because of Velvia 50.  Sure it produces stunning colors in the right circumstances, but I shoot large format because of the process.  It slows me down and makes me think before I shoot.  I've taken 4 shots this year, none on Velvia, and I've been very pleased with my efforts thus far.

Secondly, I've found that I really, and I mean REALLY, enjoy shooting black and white.  Again it has to do with the entire process of shooting it.  I enjoy the hands on aspect that I get by developing it myself.  There is something very satisfying about producing a tangible negative after shooting.  A year ago, I had shot maybe 4 sheets of  Now, I'm considering only shooting black and white in Zion this fall.   Talk about change!

Part of this change has been necessity.  Black and white film shows absolutely no signs of ever being discontinued.  I better learn to like it if I want to keep shooting!  But there is more to it.  In addition to the process, I believe there is a certain nostalgia and classic feel to a well done black and white image.  It's something I've learned to appreciate more and more as my style has continued to evolve over the years.  I can honestly say that I would be just as happy shooting monochrome for the rest of my life.

So fear not; change can be good!  It took me from a terrible photographer to one who at the very least now has passable results.  Embrace change, even the seemingly bad changes of film cancellations.  It can take you in exciting and unexpected directions.


So you may have noticed (or most likely not) that my corner of the Internet has been a bit quiet lately.  As in almost total radio silence.  There's a bit of a reason for that, and I'll attempt to explain it in this blog.  However, first a bit of house-keeping.  In case you don't follow me on social media, my wife and I are expecting a boy in August! 

Also, we are expecting his brother to be born at nearly the exact same time.  That's right...twins!  Nathan and Ethan will hopefully arrive safe and sound sometime around mid-August.  We don't know yet if they will be identical or not; we have to wait until they're born to find that out (which I thought was weird in this day and age).

Although she wanted "stisters" Addison will be getting baby brothers this summer.

We also just returned from Disney World, the busiest...I mean on Earth.  We went during spring break and it appears several other people had the same idea.  It really was a fun trip though, getting to see Addison react to all of her favorites from the movies.  I blocked off a day for photography, attempting to do my best Clyde Butcher impersonation.  Instead, I discovered that Orlando is really not like the Everglades.  At all.  I also found out that Florida likes toll roads.  Like, a lot.  While driving to a natural preserve, I ran across 4 in a span of 20 miles, eventually running out of change and having to beg for mercy from the toll attendants.  (Side note:  Why in 2015 are you NOT accepting a card?!  Who has cash on hand anymore?!?)  I didn't get a shot; Clyde's spot as Florida's preeminent large format photographer will remain intact for a while longer...

In addition to trips and twins, spring is prime climbing season in East Tennessee.  Next to photography, trad climbing on southern sandstone is my absolute favorite thing to do.  I love every bit of it:  being outside, placing gear, getting scared above the gear, the mental conversations that take place...all of it!  Unfortunately, I let myself get horribly out of climbing shape so I've had to regain that before feeling safe above gear.  I've been hitting my basement climbing room pretty hard in an attempt to regain what being lazy cost me.

Plugging gear on the warmup route at the local crag.

My home gym, for when I get super out of shape.  Took my buddy and I about 30 hours to build.  Named it Brock Rocks; even had a sign made...

You thought I was joking about the sign, didn't you?

So I've been bit busy, and that's at least partly responsible for why I haven't put out any content in the last three weeks.  However, there is something a bit more.  Tomorrow I'm delivering a 24x30 framed print of "Heaven's View" to be put on 6 month display at Knoxville's McGhee Tyson Airport.  It's definitely an honor, only 5 photographs were selected for the mixed media exhibit out of more than 500 entries, and it's a goal I specifically set for myself earlier this year.  It's also a big deal to me because I was responsible for every part of the image: capture, developing, and printing (Inkjet, not darkroom.  I'm still not a real photographer yet :).  At no point was any of the image out of my control.  Theoretically I should be over the moon about photography right now.

But I'm not.  I'm going to let you in to the circle of trust here, so no judgments...

I'm bummed about photography.  Really bummed out about it right now if I'm being honest.  This is not your typical creative block that almost every artist goes through at some point.  I've had those before; they come and go I think, but right now I've actually got tons of ideas to shoot.  Instead, I'm really frustrated about where I am as a photographer.  As in literally, WHERE I am.  Absolutely everything that I'm inspired to shoot is about 2000 miles west of where I sit typing this blog.

Now I know most people will say I've just got to look harder for things to shoot here.  My response would be why should I try to artificially generate interest in something that doesn't inspire me?  Not to get too artsy here, but that lack of motivation/inspiration will most DEFINITELY show through in my work.

Take the Smokies for example.  It's the closest National Park to me.  Many photographers produce stunning work from this place, work that I truly admire.  But it does not make me want to go shoot it the way that an image from Zion or Yosemite does.  I'm certainly not trying to insult those who find the Smoky Mountains beautiful; they just don't speak to me in that way no matter how hard I try to like them.

It's not even like they are that close either.  From my house it takes just under two hours to get there.  That's actually quite a long drive if your heart really isn't into it.  Furthermore, it's not like I can look out the window, see good light, and be there in a split second to set up a composition (the way Ansel could with Yosemite and the Sierras).  Instead, I have to make trips there and work with whatever light I'm dealt in the best way that I can.  Tonight was a perfect example.  As I was driving home, the sky was spectacular.  A storm had just cleared and there was drama to spare in the sky.  And I wasn't even remotely close to a compelling composition.

My trip to Zion last year taught me something.  Now, this is going to sound arrogant, but stick with me for a bit.  My fall trip taught me that I'm a really good photographer.  (The Peter Lik book I bought on humility is really paying off I believe...)  Not necessarily that the images I produced are good.  That of course is up to the individual viewer to decide.  What I mean by "good photographer" is that I'm at a point where, if I'm familiar with an area and the light, I can produce compelling images that match my vision.  Months before that trip there were several images that I composed mentally, and without exception I was able to create them in camera.  I feel that this was a major turning point for me as an artist.

So I've taken all that momentum I had from my big mental breakthrough...and done absolutely nothing since.  And it's frustrating me to no end!  I love following fellow landscape photographers on social media, but whenever I'm unable to produce any work, I kind of pull back away from all of that stuff.  Don't know what that says about me, but it's the truth.  (Remember, circle of trust here so no judging!)  It's not that I'm envious of their work; I'm envious of the fact that they are out there producing work.  I think that's an important distinction to make.  I have a real sense that I'm missing out.

So my question is, for those who aren't full time landscape photographers, how do you combat this?  In the grand scheme of things, this of course does not matter.  Whether or not I get to produce images in the American Southwest might be the most first world problem ever.  However, as trivial as it may sound, this is an important part of my life.  I've planned my next few trips, and I do get excited thinking about them...but they're awfully far away.  I'm currently in serious negotiations with my wife for a SECOND week away per year to shoot, but those talks may have to be tabled for a bit.  Something about twins coming soon...  :)  So what say you Internet; how do I get past this?  Leave a comment below and let me know!

The Worst Image Ever Taken

Bad images.  We've all taken them.  Perhaps we were just starting out and learning about camera settings; after all, nobody was an expert in the beginning.  Or maybe a scene just didn't turn out the way we had pictured it mentally.  Perhaps the scene's dynamic range exceeded the camera's capabilities.  Whatever the reason, we've all captured some real duds in our photography careers.

Making bad images is all part of it, and a bad image is not necessarily a bad thing.  If you go back and study the image, try to learn from it, then it can be a positive experience.  Mistakes are great learning tools.  It becomes a problem when we take bad images and don't learn from them.  And the real tragedy occurs whenever we make a bad image...and think it's good.  This is my story about a bad, no TERRIBLE, image that I thought was good.

Let's rewind a little over 3 years.  At this point in time I don't even know what the term large format means.  I am, however, an experienced photographer having shot and assisted on several weddings.  My wife and I also shot families from time to time.  So I knew my way around a camera, albeit the digital variety.  However, even at this stage what I'm really drawn to is landscapes.  I have no idea how to shoot them, but the thought of being out in nature is alluring.  This is the area of photography I would like to explore more.

It's 2011, and I'm about to turn 30 on Christmas Eve.  And I don't like this...not one bit.  Therefore, at my request our families decided to take a trip to Hawaii instead of doing the usual Christmas and birthday thing.  As it is really the first time I have been to a location that I consider worthy of shooting landscapes, I was very excited to get out and try to capture something "epic!"

We stayed on the island of Maui, and very early on Christmas Eve morning, as a birthday present to myself, I decided to drive around the eastern side of the island to see if I could find something good to shoot.  That's when tragedy struck and I took the worst image ever in the history of the world.  Not exaggerating.  I'm about to show it to you.

First though, a few words of warning.  What I'm about to show you, you cannot unsee.  I cannot be held responsible for any night terrors you may experience.  Second, I'm pretty sure the saturation slider on this went beyond 100.  Apologies in advance if your eyes bleed.  Finally, as a disclaimer, this is NOT who I am as a photographer anymore...please no judgements!  :)

Here goes...

Why Alan?!  Just why???

And just for even more grins, here is the RAW file it came from.  It's practically monochrome...

At one point, this image may have had potential.  Sadly we'll never know...

My gosh, it's been years now and I'm still embarrassed to show it.  This is unquestionably the worst image ever taken.  However, it's only a real problem if we don't learn from it.  So let's look at everything that went wrong so that this mistake will NEVER be made again!

First, I felt like I had to bring back and "epic" image from Hawaii...regardless of whether or not the scene actually looked good.  For starters, this scene is not terrible.  I parked on the side of a pretty much deserted road and hiked about a half mile to the coast.  I was greeted with a somewhat subdued sunrise, but the overlook was quite nice.  A very expansive view, and large areas on breaking water.  Armed with a ND filter, I knew I could get a long exposure to really enhance that water.

However, when I returned to my computer and loaded it into Lightroom, I was greeted with something decidedly NOT epic.  Hmm, this simply would not do as I absolutely needed a trophy shot to return home with.  And this is where I murdered this poor, innocent image.

While the LR XMP files have (thankfully) been lost over time and computer transfers, I'm pretty sure the saturation was cranked to 100.  I'm sure there were Clarity and Vibrance shenanigans as well.  This is really where it goes south, and I promise I'm not making a single bit of this up.  As I was STILL not satisfied with my less-than-epic, I ordered Nik Software (back when it was still expensive) to see if I could throw some filters at it!!!  I don't remember what concoction of filters and sliders I threw at it, but I do know at some point, the sky literally started to fall apart.  Unable to hold the weight of so many filters and saturation boosts, it became a blotchy mess.  No worries though, because I ADDED A GAUSSIAN BLUR MASK TO TAKE THOSE AWAY!!!  Again, you just can't make something this bad up.

After several tries and combinations of garbage (err...Nik filters) I finally had it, my EPIC shot!  Super proud of how good a landscape photographer I was, I immediately posted it to social media.  As expected it received rave reviews and tons of "likes."  I did it; I was finally a good landscape photographer!

Thinking my image would dominate all on a National scale, I entered it into Popular Photography's annual Reader's Contest.  Sadly (and shockingly?!) my masterpiece did not win.  Peter Lik did (more about that at this link).  However, even though it did not win, a few months later Pop Photo used it online to promote next year's contest.  It was uncredited, but I didn't care.  My image was on perhaps the largest photography website in the world!  I was amazed at how great a landscape photographer I had become in such a short amount of time.  Of course I posted the PopPhoto link to the expected congratulations.  It's literally the most famous I've ever been.

Look how awesome I am!!!

An image this famous MUST be printed and displayed large, so that's exactly what I did.  I sent the file off to (what I now recognize as a lower end) lab to have it printed.  I chose all of their best finishing options and anxiously awaited its arrival in the mail.  Thankfully, this is where I came out of my delusional bubble...the print was terrible.

It was a grainy, dark mess.  The manipulations had obviously taken their toll on the file.  Also, at the time I knew nothing about printing so my uncalibrated monitor gave me a dark print.  Slightly dejected, I chalked this one up to just not knowing about printing yet.  Surely the actual image was still good.  Maybe I just needed to study printing more.  Yeah, that's got to be it.

Only I couldn't shake this nagging feeling.  What if my masterpiece was actually just not good?  Hmm.  Surely that couldn't be the case.  I mean, people "liked" it on Facebook; a magazine used it for a major online promotion!  Despite all of that, the more I looked at the image, the more it literally made me want to vomit.  It didn't represent what the scene looked like AT ALL.  While the actual scene has long since faded from my memory, I am confident that what came out of my computer did not represent reality.

This is not at all who I wanted to be as a landscape photographer.  It was at this point in my photography "career" that I made some choices, which in a roundabout way led me to large format.  First of all, no more trying to randomly come up on a scene by chance.  I would have to scout everything out first.  This would definitely reduce the number of images that I took, but it was worth it to me.  This also led me to the conclusion that the only way I was going to be able to seriously do this was to take dedicated, repeated photography trips so single locations.  That way I would be able to become familiar with areas and more importantly the light in those areas.  After searching some online forums, I found an image of Ben Horne's from the Virgin River Narrows and the rest is history.

Speaking of forums, it was time to join one that I felt offered some honest critiques by photographers whose work I aspired to.  I found Fred Miranda, and while I'm not as active as I would like to be, I feel that there are several people on there that I can learn from.  Also, I've tried my best to swallow my pride and genuinely learn from the critiques given there.

Thirdly, I wanted to be the type of photographer who captured a scene as honestly as possible.  Now this is open to HUGE debate, and I'll discuss it more in-depth in a future blog, but I wanted the majority of my work to be behind the camera and not in front of a computer.  To that end, I've taken a few steps.  First, I use my cell phone as a serious photographic tool.  After I've taken an image on film, I'll take the same image on my cell phone.  I've got a pretty powerful editing program on there that I'll use to edit the image on site to be able to represent the scene as closely as possible.  (I'll make careful notes of screen brightness during this process as well.)  This allows me to pull up the image on my phone while I'm scanning the film to get it as close as I possible can.  This is absolutely crucial for color negative film as there is no way to look at the film and know what the scene looked like.  However, it is also important for Velvia as this film tends to make water go REALLY blue and this must be corrected after scanning.

iPhone Pic.  I took this immediately after I exposed a sheet and edited it to look as close to the scene as I possibly could.

And the resulting scan on Kodak Ektar 100.  The most obvious difference is the use of the polarizer to cut throughout the reflections and a slight exposure difference.  Other than that, the colors are pretty close to what my phone says the scene actually looked like.  This is my goal as a photographer. 

Also, I learned how to print.  Even on a calibrated monitor, sending an image off to print was more trial and error than I wanted it to be.  Therefore, I read A LOT on the subject and ordered several (ok, about 75) paper samples.  I narrowed it down to my 3 favorites (matte, a sort of glossy but not annoyingly so, and a special one for monochrome images) and learned every nuance of those papers.  I now can say I can print with complete confidence and am fortunate enough to be able to do so in house up to 44" wide.

Finally, I NEVER want to be so overtly heavy handed while editing...EVER!  Now this is still a learning process.  When I went to Zion in 2013, I shot digital mostly and looking back there are several of those images that are on the unrealistic side.  I've used my 2014 trip as a guideline and have reopened those images in order to hopefully obtain something more realistic.  But I've added a constant reminder to myself.  Remember that horrible print I ordered?  It's on the wall about 2 feet to my right as I type this.  I decided to go ahead and hang it next to my computer as a constant reminder of what NOT to do.  In this way, my terrible image ends up not being so bad as I'm doing my best to learn from and not repeat my mistakes.

Do not repeat the mistakes of my past!

Thoughts on Peter Lik...That's Not How You Pronounce it Though

In one of my previous blog posts, I mentioned that I'm generally a pretty positive person.  While we can't control what happens to us, we can control how we handle things.  In that regard, I try my best to be positive and see the good side of things most times.  This blog post will not be one of those times...

Moonrise Over the Towers.  Single shot.  Peter Lik Filter applied in camera...

Peter Lik.  Just saying the name will usually draw an emotional response.  To his fans, Mr. Lik's work represents the apex of landscape photography.  To them, his vibrant images are the work of a true master.  Mention the name in any type of forum that takes landscape photography seriously and you will get a much different response.  To these people, his work is an abomination of fake color and overzealous marketing.

I tried my best to stay away from either extreme.  Sure, his work wasn't my style.  As I have grown as a landscape photographer, my tastes have migrated to a more realistic representation of nature.  Some of Peter's earlier work qualifies as realistic, but not much that he has produced recently.  His marketing skill, however, is second to none.  Since I am deficient in this area regarding my own work, I always admire people who are superior in this field.  As I am typically a laid back person, I also admired his enthusiasm when speaking about photography.  Besides, hating on Peter Lik would make me seem jealous, and I am most certainly not jealous of Mr. Lik.

That all changed last week when the New York Times released an article on Peter's work detailing his recipe for success (link here).  A photographer I follow on Twitter linked the article, and I opened it expecting to hear about his recent $6.5 million print sell.  What I got was an alpha douche waxing poetic about himself (and his sexual conquests).

Then he did the unthinkable...he insulted Ansel Adams.

NOBODY INSULTS ANSEL IN MY PRESENCE AND GETS AWAY WITH IT!!!  Therefore, it is now Peter Lik rant time; this has been a long time coming.


Ignore the horrid image...this is my one uncredited claim to "fame." :)

Let's start with an anecdote from one of your peers, Mr. Lik.  I was speaking with a fairly large "name" in the landscape photography world once, and we got on the topic of famous prints.  This photographer of course had many, and me...not so much.  I did have one story with an image of mine getting a VERY, VERY small amount of exposure.  (And believe me, I cannot emphasize how small my "famous" image was.  A few years back I entered an image into Popular Photography's Reader's Contest.  Of course mine didn't win; ironically Peter Lik won that year.  However, the next year Pop Photo used my image, uncredited, to promote that year's contest.  When you clicked on my image, it went to a page containing Lik's winning image...)  After telling this story, this photographer said, "First of all, you're pronouncing it wrong.  It's Peter Dick." 

There was absolutely no trace of professional envy in his voice or demeanor.  He was giving his honest opinion; as it turns out, it was a highly accurate opinion.

Second, let's talk about his work.  At one point it was what I consider to be good landscape photography.  Beautiful scenery with maybe a bit of extra saturation.  Not really a problem for me; after all I do shoot Velvia.  That photographer, though, is long since gone.  The first time one of his images offended me (and yes, I actually mean offended in I was angry at what my eyeballs had just experienced) was when I saw "Bella Luna."  (Did the Google work for you here.)  Look closely; when is the last time you saw the moon IN FRONT OF THE CLOUDS?!?!  If I ever see that, something in my life has gone horribly wrong.  And why is the sun setting on the same side as the dark side of the moon???  And to add further insult, there was a time where this was presented as a single exposure (although that information has since been removed from his website).  I once tweeted that this image made "Lone Wolf" t-shirts on Amazon look good.  I stand by that statement.

Does anyone actually think his stuff looks good anymore?  It's just an oversaturated mess that has been through Photomatix.  Take a look at his "Aviator" series (here).  That's not even well done HDR.  It's like he realized at some point that his marketing schemes were so superior that he completely stopped trying to even be a decent photographer.  Honestly, I think he's probably getting amusement from it all...seeing how terrible he can make images while still selling a mountain-ton of them.

The landing page for Peter Lik's website.  Think he's trying to tell us something?!

Speaking of marketing schemes, I felt sick to my stomach reading in the article about those people who thought they were making an investment...only to find resell values of his work were absolutely horrendous.  Look, I get that in the digital age it is necessary to add a sense of urgency to make photography sell.  (There was a time long ago, when printing processes were much different, that early editions of an image were desired because it was physically a better print.  With the advent of superior inkjet and lightjet printing, this is no longer the case.  The 500th print will be identical to the first.)  I have no issue charging more for later prints as a method to sell.  What I do have issue with is how much he marks them up with regard to the resell market for his images.  If the numbers in the article are correct, he sells late edition prints for about 10 times their "worth."

Then he goes and brags about it, saying he sold the most expensive piece of "art" ever.  First, the now 2nd and 3rd most expensive photographs sold at auctions, allowing their extreme value to be determined organically.  Peter picked a random, astronomical number and then contacted his "collectors," eventually finding some gullible putz to pay that amount.  A fool and his money are soon parted I guess.  However, in spite of the buyer's poor financial sense, the fact remains that the 6.5 million dollar total is artificial.  Secondly, it's clear that this was ONLY a PR move for Mr. Lik.  After all, it was his team that made the announcement, and it's kind of hard to ignore when it's the landing page for his website.  It's ALL about the money with Peter Lik.

Which brings me to the final point of this rant:  Ansel Adams.  The blatant disrespect Lik has for Ansel Adams is appalling.  To say that he was only at the right place and the right time?  BS  First, you think it's coincidence that he just happened to be in certain spots when the lighting was perfect time after time after time?  This makes my blood boil.  Lik's complete ignorance of what goes into scouting light when shooting large format is laughable.  Adams was a master of his craft; he didn't just use garbage HDR and saturation sliders to make up for subpar talent.  And the one time when he was literally right place at the right time (Moonrise Over Hernandez)?  The technical knowledge he used to calculate that exposure is mind blowing.  The light changed so fast that he didn't even have time to take his customary second sheet; forget about bracketing multiple exposures

More importantly though is how Ansel used his work.  I truly believe that conservation and protecting the land was more important to Ansel than even photography.  To that end he used his images to educate the masses.  From reading the article, I get the feeling that Peter Lik has a deep desire to be important.  However, he will NEVER matter because he only cares about himself and making money.  Ansel is an important historical figure because he was so much more than just a photographer who sells prints; Peter Lik is only a person trying to make money.  When he is gone, his art will not matter or be of any worth.  We will not remember or celebrate his birthday decades after he has passed.  He will merely fade away as so many pretentious douche nozzles have done before him.

Also, contrary to his own belief, he is not God.

And finally, I work with the public on a daily basis and occasionally come across men who brag about their sexual exploits (as Lik did in the article).  Without fail, they are always compensating for something.  Always.


Oh my gosh, that felt good!  I was literally shaking I was so mad writing the last few paragraphs.  This blog, of course, will never be read by Peter or make a difference in anything at all, but man did it feel good to rant about that!  I'll have to do this more often...