I attended one of Les Saucier’s “Refining your Photographic Vision” workshops this past weekend. I think it was the third or fourth one I’ve attended. I seem to always get something out of Les’ workshop that makes it worth the time and cost. This time was no exception. The thing that I find most fascinating though is that a lot of the things I learn don’t always come from the instructor or even the other participants. Sometimes the best “nuggets” are things that I learn about myself.
Part of the day’s activities involves a critique of images we have selected and brought in to share. Les goes through everyone’s images and comments on what he sees, how they might be made better and he usually has some good suggestions on things to work on and look for the next time. One of the participants showed an image that, while it was not taken with an iPhone, it was processed to look like it was done with one of the popular apps. Les’ comment was that – and I’m paraphrasing – the effect should not be the subject, that the software effects used in processing our images should be used to obtain or achieve our vision for the photograph. The photograph should not be “about” the effect. I found this interesting, because I feel that too often an image is shared to show off a technique, rather than to show someone what the photographer saw or how the photographer felt. I wrote about this several years ago in a post entitled “Don’t Make It About the Technique” where someone had suggested something similar to me about my use of camera movement to show motion in an image. The same concepts hold true here.
During the introductions, one of the participants mentioned that they were using all the latest Nik and Topaz software. Les asked how that person knew when to use what software, since the software is a tool to achieve our vision, not a vision in and of itself.
Several people in the class mentioned tools or software or equipment that they had purchased but “hadn’t had time” to use, hadn’t learned how it works or hadn’t even taken it out of the box. The problem I have with that is that too many people buy stuff without really understanding whether they need it. They just think that if they have something then they can take pictures just like the person who sold it to them. That may be true, and it may be absolutely OK if that’s what you want, but the best tool in the world won’t help a bit if it doesn’t help you achieve your intended result. And it does nothing for you whatsoever if it never comes out of the box. We spend way more time searching for recipes and magic buttons than we do actually figuring out what we want to say. Unless, of course, “look at all my stuff” is our message.
At another point in the day there was a discussion about tripods. Les gave us his “Good, Better, Best” talk and showed us his choices for Better and Best tripods. He told us that he couldn’t recommend the Best tripod because it costs too much. But the Best one is the one he uses, and also happens to be the one I use. I realize that there is a point at which we all have to determine what our needs are, and that helps us decide what price represents an appropriate amount to spend for a given tool. But when I ran those numbers for my own purchase several months ago, I decided that Best was what I needed and wanted, and while the difference was fairly significant in dollars it was relatively small in terms of my overall investment in equipment. Now that the money is gone, I never ever question my decision to buy the Best tripod. It is exactly the tool I need and has made a noticeable improvement in the sharpness of my images (notice that I didn’t say that it has made a noticeable difference in the quality of my photographs!). Again, we all have to make a choice, but for something as important as a tripod, I’m not sure the Better is good enough when Best costs only a little more.
The best nugget for me was during the critique of one of my photos when Les suggested cloning out a few distracting elements. I agreed with him and had actually thought about doing that when I originally processed the image. I thought about his comments later and remembered that the reason I hadn’t cloned them out originally was because I couldn’t get the result I wanted in Lightroom. Lightroom’s healing brush doesn’t work well on larger areas and to do it right I was going to need to use Photoshop. My desire to do everything in Lightroom (a nice way of saying ‘my hard headedness’) makes me avoid Photoshop obsessively except for the few things that I just can’t do in Lightroom. But as I thought about it I realized that it was foolish of me to allow my choice of tools to influence my artistic decisions. It’s no different from someone else using a tool or software indiscriminately to determine their vision. If I need to use Photoshop to get the results I want, then I just need to use Photoshop. So as soon as I have time I’m going to go back and re-work that photo in Photoshop to get the result I should have gotten to start with.
Overall it was a great session. I learned some things that I think will be valuable. Les’ biggest lesson is that we need to get our cameras out and go practice. So Sunday morning I did just that. This had already been planned before the workshop, but I stepped out of my comfort zone, got up well before sunrise and went out and shot some commercial photographs for a restaurant in Charlotte. But that is a story for another day.