March 12, 2011

Ask Dave, March 12th

Question from Adam… What is your editing technique, as everyone has their own style and really "morals" when it comes to editing? How much or what kind of editing do you think is appropriate and or do you use on your images? Also, I am trying to create my own workflow, do you have any tips or suggestions on a digital workflow?

Answer… I think it is easiest to start with my published artists statement:
My photographic aesthetic is the “Wilderness Sublime.” This term is a modification of the term “Landscape Sublime” used by the photography greats Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. The “Landscape Sublime” furthered the idea of “straight photography” by Alfred Stieglitz with his popular “291 Gallery” in New York in the 1900s-20s, which was created in response to the pictorialist movement. My belief is that the principles of the “Landscape Sublime” can encompass all things grand or minuscule in the wilderness of our great planet.

I adhere to many of the ideals of the straight photographers. For my images I strive to be able to call them “non manipulated” which means: A single uninterrupted exposure. Cropping only to taste (no drastic crops, always keeping 3500 pixels on the long end, or more). Common adjustments to the entire image, such as color temperature, tonal curves, and sharpening. The only local editing I do is dodging and burning; but that is used sparingly. I strive to make my images as technically perfect as possible, from the beginning. Shooting an image incorrectly and fixing it later is for “Photoshoppers.” This belief dictates that if I am looking for a "creative effect" I need to think of a way to do it even before the image is captured.

Becoming more proficient with my camera has allowed me to branch out into new ways to render images that can stir emotions in a way that only the wilderness can. With the common acceptance of High Dynamic Range Merging (HDRM) to merge different exposures of multiple identical photographs, the ability to match what the human eye can see, in regards to color depth and dynamic range, is finally possible. The allowance for multiple exposure images merged to one final piece of art makes it possible to display what the human eye is able to see and perceive when the image is captured. This is something I use sparingly, and when I do use it I clearly label the output image as such.

If an image is anything other than what I have outlined above, it will be clearly labeled as such.

I photograph wild, non captive, creatures. I avoid approaching too closely and causing stress to the animals. I am a firm believer in "Leave No Trace" ethics and try to live by the following mantra: "Take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints."

By capturing the traditional, non-manipulated images of the wild, and at the same time looking for the "straight beauty" that can be made with "creative capture," I am able to push myself into new realms of photography. The “Wilderness Sublime” is what I find inspiring, what I seek to capture, and share. My goal is to, with every release of my shutter, create an image that allows others to briefly glimpse inside nature at its most sublime.

NANPA has a few other general guidelines that I follow, they are presented at the following links:
  • Ethical Field Practices
  • Truth in Captioning

  • Now for a shorter answer; if I can do it in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3, I'll consider doing it. Occasionally I will use Photoshop CS5, and tricks within, to enhance an image; but even then I do not bring new elements into an image. My star trails are single exposure, and my HDRM work is all that is creations from 2 or more exposures. I teach students how to do all kinds of editing "cheating;" but for myself if I knew how to do it in the darkroom, it is probably something I fell good about doing in the "lightroom."

    Lastly to your question on digital workflow; buy and use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 and/or Apple Aperture 3. Use of these applications, once trained/familiar, makes life as a digital photographer significantly better/easier/faster/more efficient. All of my images go through Lightroom 3 and the "keepers" live there, referenced on my external raid (Drobo).

    If you have questions you can email me at

    UPDATE... I should mention that before I used 18/21MP cameras my crop guide was 3000 pixels on the long end I also use the same standard when cropping to 6:6 and when turning a landscape into a portrait, or vise versa. I also should note that I do create panoramic images, though I prefer to use T/S lenses so as to create stichless panoramas much as we did with film. After chatting with some professional bird photographer friends, in regard to this post, I have been advised to leave myself room to crop bird images to 3000 pixels on the long end. I also fully realize that in the future I might need to start baiting/calling/staging for some species of birds, when/if I decide to do so, I will disclose that with the image.


    1. Great points! I'd love to here why you subscribe to this method. Photography isn't just photography anymore and film isn't just film anymore. With DSLRs and more powerful software available the world is changing. We don't just take pictures or just film video anymore, we use combine these things with animation and illustration to create something more and different.

      I'd argue that photography in itself is a thing of the past and those who don't embrace the full potential of digital media will get left behind. All the pictures have been taken. Just type the word "wolf" into flickr. There really isn't much new stuff out there. If we are to create anything meaningful with a camera it's going to be by combining new mediums and methods.

    2. I would say I see differently than the first comment here. And probably more in line with the intent of what Dave has expressed. My work flow is a bit different, but I aim to get the capture with the camera as close to the final image as possible and the pixels I capture determine what I will and won't do further with the shot. That said, stitching to make panos, etc. is just a solution for those of us lacking scan backs, but not the same as combining elements from many captures to "create" a single image. I'm not a proponent of the later.

      While I tend to agree that getting a unique capture is tougher than it used to be, I don't think that justifies "creating" an image because we can. I do think it just requires more of the photographer. I think digital capture offers many pluses that hindered film capture, so while it may be more challenging to get unique shots, I think it's possible to capture at a far higher degree of quality and even range than with film - especially for print.

      I would also suggest that most of what "most" people like or are drawn to is mediocre at best. Photography has seen the same cycle as design has seen. As consumers got access to better gear and better software, the general level of quality has shrunk - and it's become harder for the "good" photographers to distinguish themselves in the sea of the mediocre and the sea of the mediocre also blinds the less discerning to what a really great shot can be. I'd suggest most "wildlife photography" is just reporting what people saw, but not really the capture of something great - unique. I struggle with this myself. I'm aiming to capture well, both technically (where many fail) and creatively (where most fail). To say it differently - there is a technical side - understanding the gear - software and all the variables in these elements. And, there is the aspect that has to do with composition, use of light, color, contrast, etc. To care enough to care about both and to aim to excel at both, I would suggest, is rare indeed. But, just because it's rare doesn't mean it isn't a worthy goal.


    3. hmmm... my comment/reply did not stay posted. I'll have to get my brain to recall it and type/post it again. Think brain, think.

    4. Wileec… I agree.

      Anonymous one… I agree with your first paragraph; but I disagree with your conclusions/assumptions/predictions.

      I should explain a bit about my start in photography: I started photography as a 5 year old with my Grandfather. I have shot 35mm, medium format, and large format film and I spent years working in a darkroom. My formal training was in film based photography with an output through the darkroom, at first, and later with scans into photoshop. Much of my influence comes from learning from a journalist, who made it clear that as a photographer I needed to remember that I was working with a trusted medium, where the general public believes what they see and are told about an image (surprisingly that is something that is still relatively true today). I also spent my childhood and teenage years as a bow hunter, so I love being outdoors waiting (odd I know). Much of my formal training is in using photography as a fine art, although I do have considerable training in design, editing, production, and multimedia; but that is more for my day job ;)

      I do not believe photography as an art form is dead or dying.
      I do not even believe that film will ever be dead, it is for me, and most "working" professionals; but some will cary on and many "fine art" artists will continue to use it indefinatly.
      I do believe photography as a profession has changed twice (DSLR and HDSLR).
      I do agree that working professionals "who do not embrace the full potential of digital media (multimedia) will get left behind." The world expects the turnaround of digital, the quality of digital, the edit-ability of digital, the forgiveness of digital, as well as the integration of multimedia content to the internet and its applications. Those who are not utilizing multimedia (beyond stills) will quickly find that they are behind when it comes to what most clients want/expect. Multimedia and the use of the internet is key to the future of photography for most working photographers (note I said "multimedia" and "internet;" "The web is dead, long live the internet").

      [Continued in next post]

    5. I don't see how my artists statement, in any way, indicates that I do not combine photographs/video/audio together for projects/presentations/etc. I do, and do more of it than most. I have been doing multimedia work for 7-8 years, and have been an early adopter of HDSLRs and their ability to make the capture process much easier for me (I have even sold all of my video only equipment). Multimedia is the future (look at iPads/tablets/smartphones and digital subscriptions). I contribute multimedia to creators of animation and illustration often, and don't see how my personal editing ethic has anything to do with that.

      My editing ethic lines up, almost perfectly, with that of most major news/journalism agencies, and (my favorite) the National Geographic Society.

      When I sell a rights managed content to an ad agency, company, or magazine I don't dictate how they incorporate it to work with their needs, I just charge them for what they choose to do. Flip half the image, clone something out, adjust the colors; heck the client can do as they want (assuming that is the agreement and that is what they are paying me for).

      As for new stuff out there, I disagree. Digital (and multimedia) is allowing "new stuff" to be captured/created all of the time. Think of all the things we could not shoot with film or digital even a few years ago (think high ISO); but now we can. If there is nothing new then all photographers should go home, sell their gear, and contract a graphic artists to go to town on their archives. Art Wolfe, Tom Mengleson, and others should quit traveling and photographing, they should just sit back and let their editors get to creating; but that is not happening.

      I am not sure if your "wolf" comment is trying to get at my no captive belief; but if it is I'll argue that many of my wolf images are as good as, if not better, than most of the captive wolf imagery available. Counter argument, my cougar stuff sucks compared to much of the captive cougar images available; but oh well. I think the main place for captive photography is for photographers who make the majority of their living with selling stock images, they need to have everything, and that is not realistic if you do not shoot captive animals. I never expect to have a photograph of a snow leopard, let alone two cubs peering over a snow bank in perfect light with the mountains of Montana behind them (John Shaw's three image captive composite comes to mind). I love simply being in wild places, and if I have to put in 100 days to get the image I am after, then so be it. If I need a special light to make a scene what I desire, then I'll put in the time to get the light I want/need. Often nature can give us things we would have never imagined to create/fake ourselves. i.e.(I would have never thought of the tree and colds like that)
      As a side note; I teach my students to do all kinds of things that I do not do for my personal work, I also do all kinds of other things to images when needed for commercial clients and for work.

      If you would like to chat more in depth please fire me an email, so we can chat or set up a time to skype/call/etc.

      This is not quite as good as my first version; but…