This image brought to you by digital photography.
Most of the images I have taken could easily have been taken during the heyday of film photography. Having never purchased an external strobe (I’m only now experimenting with wide angle lenses), I use mostly natural light for my photographs. Although I learned how to manipulate photographs with Photoshop when I was in high school, I’ve never used anything more than Picassa’s basic cropping, contrast, and saturation tools to develop my images. For a long time I think it seemed a matter of integrity to me: I was trained as a darkroom photographer, and didn’t want to start artificially enhancing my images. I had a photo teacher who once told me, “If it can’t be fixed in the dark room, you should have done a better job in the field.” He’s right, I think: programs like Photoshop sometimes blur the lines between photography and digital/media art.
With all of that said, a score of images have been sitting on my hard drive for the past few years that I was loathe to delete even though it seemed like they would never be rehabilitated. They were the ‘fixer-upers’ of my photography portfolio: good bones, good lighting, good composition . . . but all of them were speckled with noise. In some cases the background needed to be burned (or dodged), but burning and dodging tools weren’t available in my basic Picassa program. For the most part, however, the background was busy with backscatter. While in some cases the backscatter was my fault (poor exposure, poor lighting), at other times what one would perceive as backscatter was in fact hundreds of fish larvae floating around my subject.
I finally caved this past winter and bought a copy of Photoshop Elements. At first, as I carefully removed the larvae one-by-one, I wondered whether or not the image would be worth it after all. As I burned the background and dodged the eye of the trunkfish, I hoped that I wasn’t trying to salvage a ‘negative’ that was so poorly exposed it was beyond repair. In the end, however, this is what I came up with: and a side-by-side comparison of the two images is truly stunning: eliminating the backscatter and appropriately burning and dodging the photo has really brought the little trunkfish to life. Despite my reservations, it seems that I took a properly exposed and composed shot — it just needed a little loving before it was ready to be added to my portfolio. I think I’ve finally come to accept that digital-age loving can include a healthy dose of the rubber stamp to tidy up negative space — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Now I find myself quite inspired and excited: I can’t wait to run more of my abandoned ‘fixer-uppers’ through my new digital darkroom.