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Edit More and Edit Less

16th April 2013 General Articles

I had a long conversation with my friend and National Geographic legend Jason Edwards recently, and we’re both of a mind that photography is in a bit of a state – that particularly landscape, natural and documentary photography are going through an unfortunate stage where over-manipulation is worse than ever. I thought the problem was bad enough in the 80s/90s with the Velvia and Cibachrome plague, but this new plague (the ‘Lightroom Clarity and Vibrance’ plague perhaps?) is an even worse disease. (And yes, it pains me that they spell vibrancy that way as well).

And Jason and I agree the problem is top down – that some of this country’s supposedly best (who should really, really know better), are now amongst the worst purveyors of this sort of thing, and that is encouraging new photographers to take up this ‘style’. They are indeed actively touring the land, teaching this stuff to a new generation of image makers and it’s all excused as being ‘my interpretation of the scene’ etc. I am so very tired of hearing that. IT DOESN’T LOOK ANYTHING LIKE THE REAL WORLD….anyone who walks out of their door in the morning knows this. Indeed it does a disservice to the true beauty & interest of the world to present it as this over-saturated Disney pastiche version of nature.

If your photography needs all this sort of dressing up, then you’re failing at the fundamentals – building a great, expressive composition, showing an interesting viewpoint, getting out there and giving yourself the opportunity to capture a moment that is really special.

A great shot – not tarted up! (Copyright (C) Jason Edwards Bio-Images)

So my advice on this is – edit more and edit less.

Edit More – present fewer shots, only your best and those that are visually arresting on their own merits as soon as you’ve pushed the button. Can you honestly look at the raw file straight out of camera and already honestly say ‘that’s a great shot’ – or do you need to tart it up to make it interesting? If you do – bin it….shoot more, shoot again. Spend more time with your camera and (much) less in post production.

Edit Less – move away from all those buttons that can so easily ruin your images. Do the basics – a small crop, a slight tweak to exposure, contrast, white point, maybe even a little vignette [Edit – Jason tells me he doesn’t even like vignettes but I can’t entirely resist them!]….But stay away from ‘vibrance’, ‘saturation’ and ‘clarity’ – danger there. No adjustment should need more than a nudge….find yourself pulling that slider all the way over to the edge? Then you’re probably trying to fix a shooting flaw or generate something of interest in an image that just doesn’t have it. When you’re finished – look at your image – does it honestly, truly, and in a very basic human eyes kind of way – look like a real scene? Because the simple fact is that most of what is produced simply doesn’t these days.

Jason sent me a link to an article he likes that is related to the subject – Darkrooms are Irrelevant and Truth matters – and there’s been a lot in general in the press lately on truth in photography, e.g. this from The Online Photographer – which is more about documentary truth than the technicolour gimmicks, but to me the result is the same – this all diminishes photography through lies, misrepresentations and exaggerations.

Jason also tells me he’s a judge for the upcoming inaugural Head On ‘Head Off Landscape Prize’. I would love to be a fly on the wall for that judging session! Jason is a great example of what I believe photography should be about – if he has a catchphrase it is ‘Show Me The Raws!’. He abhors cropping and his average image edit is, he tells me – just 17 seconds of work! 17 seconds!! I am willing to bet that for 90% of Australia’s photographers that figure would be much more like several hours of trying to tweak and manipulate greatness out of things that just don’t have it….

I will be very interested to see what comes of the judging, that’s for sure!