This, then, was his “performance.”
Note the wonderful use of negative space, the strikingly expressive tonality in the foreground, the bold snowcapped mountains against bright lenticular clouds, the wonderful differentiation in the brush.
It took a lot of processing to make the image this good.
(Ansel is also the one who coined the phrase, “You don’t take a photograph, you make a photograph.”)
I have never heard anyone say they preferred the first print (the score) to Ansel’s ultimate vision (the performance).
This image is the most complete manifestation of his statement, “A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense, and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.”
Would Ansel have used Photoshop if he were alive today?
Absolutely, unequivocally, yes!
The difference between how Ansel made art by means of his post-processing techniques, and how it’s done today, lies in the difference between the darkroom Ansel used and the Lightroom (as in, Adobe software products) in use by modern, digital photographers.
Ansel used techniques such as dodging and burning to modify his images in the darkroom. He used the timing of chemical baths to enhance tonality and contrast. He used masking techniques to bring out clarity in specific parts of an image.
In Lightroom, and in Photoshop, those effects are still called dodging, burning, tonality, clarity, and masking, but they are all effected using software rather than chemistry.
But the outcome is exactly the same.
But I’m a purist! I don’t want post-processing!
From this point forward, since the word “Photoshop” has acquired a verb connotation in colloquial usage (as in, to “Photoshop” an image), I will use the word “Photoshop” in its generic form, to mean any software program used for post-processing or to enhance an image after its captured. That would include Photoshop, Lightroom, Adobe Raw, Aperture, Apple Photos, Pixelmator, Paint, Autodesk Pixir, Picasa, whatever. (Sorry, Photoshop, but you have been “Kleenex’d.”)
Some people seem to believe that image post-processing (manipulation by software) is wrong and should be avoided at all costs.
Let me be clear about this: all professional photographers post-process their images.
Let me say that again: all professional photographers post-process their images.
Because digital cameras do not produce actual images, instead they capture digital files made up of ones and zeroes produced by a proprietary algorithm invented by the camera’s manufacturer, a translation must take place from the native or “raw” file produced by the camera, to transpose that file into some kind of image.
The camera’s interpretation of the image is probably nothing like what the photographer had in mind when she made the photo, but at least it’s a visible image rather than a stream of ones and zeros.
What? My camera doesn’t make my photo?
Well, it does and it doesn’t.
I don’t want to get too technical, but what a camera really does is translate photons that impinge on its sensor into a digital data stream that can be translated later into a photo. This is done by means of something called a “transfer function” that was created by an engineer working for the camera’s manufacturer.
A version of that translation must take place inside the camera for you to be able to see the image on the LCD on the back of the camera (or in an electronic viewfinder).
But there is no reason to believe that the translation your camera’s manufacturer selected is the correct translation for the scene in front of you when you captured it, or anything like what you really saw when you made the photo.
In my case, some engineer at Nikon who wrote the translation algorithm for my camera decided how my images should be manipulated in post-processing to make them viewable.
If I don’t redo the post-processing myself, then I’m simply relegating the post-processing decisions to that engineer. I’m sorry, but I don’t accept that the post-processing judgement of a Nikon engineer is better than my own.
That’s why all professional photographers have to post-process their images.
Photojournalists don’t do post-processing, do they?
Of course not! That would be unethical!
(Psssst…. actually, they do. They just may not talk about it.)
The notion that it would be unethical for photojournalists to employ “Photoshop” is silly on its face.
Photojournalists color-correct their images, since the captured photograph will look different depending on the temperature of light present when it was made. (The camera’s sensor does not sense light the same way the human eye does, so images have a different hue depending on the ambient light, and this has to be corrected for.)
That is post-processing.
Depending on how a photojournalist exposes his image, there may be areas of the image that can’t be viewed because they are too dark or too light. In those cases, even photojournalists must employ “Photoshop” to correct the exposure and highlight the event he was trying to capture.
That is post-processing.
What should NOT be done by photojournalists is the addition or subtraction of physical features that were present when the image was made.
That would be unethical.
So what do people mean when they ask “Do you use Photoshop?”
It has become axiomatic that fashion photographers use Photoshop to do things that most photography disciplines would consider inappropriate: they manipulate the look of their models by making them skinnier, removing blemishes, changing the appearance of faces, adding things or people who weren’t actually there when the image was taken, and so on.
When most talk about using Photoshop, this is what they thnk it means.
The word “Photoshop” has been hijacked to mean substantial, borderline unethical, manipulation of an image to create a “more perfect” human, or to create a physical situation that did not exist at the time the image was made (Uncle Bob missed the family reunion so we’ll just Photoshop him in), or to create a false reality by addition, for example, of a lightening strike that did not occur, a person or animal that was not there, and so on.
I do not do any of these kinds of things to my images.
Nevertheless, like Ansel, I too believe that at least 50% of the art occurs in post-processing.
So do you use Photoshop?
A truthful answer would be “yes.”
But just like I once said “yes” to the question “have you ever been arrested?” when I could have said no, I fear that answering the question “Do you use Photoshop” with a “yes” actually can mislead the person asking the question.
I never use Photoshop in ways people normally think of when they ask me, “Do you use Photoshop?”
So what do you use Photoshop for?
Nothing that Ansel Adams wouldn’t do.
I color correct. I adjust tonality. I lighten shadows when they are too dark. I darken highlights when they are too bright. I crop. I sharpen an image as appropriate to the print size to enhance detail. I remove blemishes or errors from the image.
To illustrate this point, here is one of my more popular photos.
The first version is a straight translation of the unaltered raw file, converted to JPEG by the Nikon algorithm, so it is essentially straight out of the camera.
In other words, this image was post-processed by the Nikon engineer who wrote the camera’s algorithm.
I call this image “Manhattan Skyline at Dusk,” and here is my digital negative, my “composer’s score”: