Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.

— George Eastman.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Man Behind the Curtain

The topic of Photoshop has come up this week in several forums of which I am a member. It has come up in context of the question “did you Photoshop that?” The implication is that using Photoshop is somehow bad or artificial—a “manipulation” of reality. I was stung by this accusation recently when someone said critically that I had "over-manipulated" the sky in a photo. The reality was that the photo was taken on a perfect day with perfect clouds and the only manipulation was the use of a polarizing filter at exposure. To the inexperienced eye, it must have been "Photoshopped".

This question never goes away to my amazement. In the "wet process" days, no one ever asked me "did you 'darkroom' that?" Photoshop is my digital darkroom. I can do little in Photoshop that I couldn't or didn't do with film and the darkroom. Ansel Adams said, “To visualize an image (in whole or in part) is to see clearly in the mind prior to exposure, a continuous projection from composing the image through the final print.” Using Adams’ Zone System, prior to exposure, I choose whether to overexpose or underexpose my film. Then I adjust my development time, under or over, to compensate for my exposure. That was just the beginning of “manipulation” of the image through the final print.
Digital technology is ubiquitous: when every cell phone is a camera, the curtain has been pulled back and the Great Oz revealed as the little man behind the curtain. Where people used to admire prints made with skill and artistry, today they ask, "is it Photoshopped?" It is demeaning to a well-made print and this affects all digital art. With drawing, paints or watercolor, the focus is on the work of art; with digital media, the focus is on the software, as if Illustrator also lessens a work of art.
There is a steep learning curve required to get the maximum out of Photoshop. As always, it takes a good eye, training and experience to get outstanding prints. Yes, the curtain has been pulled back, but, in the end, the wizard still had a brain, a heart and courage. Whether using Photoshop or a darkroom, good prints will still always be good prints.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Photography Is Not A Crime

D.C. Chief of Police — Photography Is Not a Crime.

On July 19, 2012 Washington D.C. Chief of Police Cathy L. Lanier signed General Order GO-OPS-304.19.
The new policy states, "The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) recognizes that members of the general public have a First Amendment right to video record, photograph, and/or audio record MPD members while MPD members are conducting official business or while acting in an official capacity in any public space, unless such recordings interfere with police activity."

The new regulation says, "Members are reminded that photography, including videotaping, of places, buildings, structures and events are common and lawful activities in Washington, D.C."
"In areas open to the public, members shall allow bystanders the same access for photography as is given to members of the news media. Members shall be aware that:

  1. A bystander has the same right to take photographs or make recordings as a member of the media, as long as the bystander has a legal right to be present where he or she is located.
  2. A bystander has the right under the First Amendment to observe and record members in the public discharge of their duties.
  3. Public settings include, e.g., parks, sidewalks, streets, and locations of public protests; but that protection extends also to an individual’s home or business, common areas of public and private facilities and buildings, and any other public or private facility at which the individual has a legal right to be present."
"...members shall not inform or instruct people that photographing or recording of police officers, police activity or individuals who are the subject of police not allowed; requires a permit; or requires the member’s consent. Additionally, members shall not:
  1. Order that person to cease such activity;
  2. Demand that person's identification;
  3. Demand that the person state a reason why he or she is taking photographs or recording;
  4. Detain that person;
  5. Intentionally block or obstruct cameras or recording devices; or
  6. In any way threaten, intimidate or otherwise discourage an individual from recording members’ enforcement activities."
The full text of the General Order, signed by Chief of Police Cathy L. Lanier is available here:

This follows a similar General Order issued in Baltimore in February 2012. That General Order said that Baltimore police officers may not "prevent or prohibit" photographing or taking video of law enforcement activities. Both General Orders were partially in response to federal lawsuits involving both police departments. This is an important issue for more than just professional photographers. The ubiquity of cell phone cameras makes this an important First Amendment issue for everyone.