Recently, as part of PhotoMidwest, I heard a talk by photographer George DeWolfe. He is well-known as a workshop leader, as well as a photographer, and at the lecture he described his ideas on contemplative photography. His basic idea is that a photograph is a picture of a moment and of what is known and unknown in that moment. The known consists of appearance and visual perception and the unknown is awareness and relationships. The skills needed for visual perception are an understanding of shape, change, and light. Awareness consists in mindfulness. It is the clarity of the photographer’s understanding of the relationship between the known and unknown that is the foundation for the quality of their vision.
In order to express that understanding, however, the photographer must have a firm grounding in the craft of photography. As he writes in George DeWolfe’s Digital Photography Fine Print Workshop (McGraw-Hill, 2006): “Craft is about attitude—the way you approach the subject. It is about excellence and consistency and practice. Craft synthesizes art and technology and makes them work together seamlessly” (p. xiii-xiv).
While I am in agreement with his idea that mindfulness is important in the practice of photography and establishing one’s vision, it was through reading this book as preparation for the lecture that I learned some very important and useful techniques for preparing one’s digital files for printing. As he presents it, this workflow is a process in which one uses the technological tools at our disposal to create a final artistic print. The workflow begins with cropping and moves through adjustment of contrast, brightness, color, defects, and sharpness, with the goal of perfecting the visual presentation of the photograph.
While the book is old and uses Adobe CS2 and the then-current version of Camera Raw for its examples, the processes and thinking behind the techniques are clear and easily transferred to Lightroom, which is my main tool. As a result of working with these ideas, my processing has developed significantly in the past couple of weeks, to the point where I can take a standard SOOC file and make something much more visually expressive than what I was able to accomplish before.
The photo above was a hand-held exposure, taken in mid-dusk light in a forest. While there is some slight motion blur, the original image was quite dark and had little definition. Using DeWolfe’s techniques allowed me to make a fairly acceptable image, with a high degree of tonal and color definition.
This has been a revelation. I have now gone through several older images and reworked them with wonderful results. Combined with the new controls in Lightroom 4, these techniques work wonders.