CHUCK ARLUND BLOG » living one weekend closer to death

A Photography style rant. This is just MY OPINION

I guess this post has been coming for a while. I am going to have to start off with a disclaimer. I am in no way trying to offend any photographers that might shoot in the “portrait” style that I am going to be talking about. I think what you do is your own thing and if you can sell it, in my book that is all that really matters.

Ok, back to the issue.

I guess the reason I am writing this is due to a few Facebook posts in various photo groups got me thinking. Their seems to be a problem with young photographers starting portrait businesses and taking business away from seasoned or possibly not yet seasoned “high school senior” photographers.

One of the responses was basically if you shoot better then you will have a leg up on the competition. What I have come to observe is shooting better really is not what they are talking about. I personally think  photographers  do need to learn to shoot better if the case may be that.

What I think they want to say is, learn how to manipulate better on the computer with various photo editing programs.

I am not going to rip into Photoshop or anything else. I love the program.

It does feel to me though, the “standard” portrait photographer image is heavily manipulated. Here is a link:   Most of the images are heavily edited. Contrast that to this. some images from Vogue, which I personally love.

The PPA examples seem more like painting manipulations rather than photographs. The Vogue images for me have more impact because they at least appear “real”,  well composed and lit. Basically, they look like photographs. Traditional portrait photographs to me have mostly seemed like paintings. Or using photography to make an actual painting easier. It takes considerable skill to paint IMO. I switched to photography from drawing because my drawings were not realistic enough for me. I choose photography to make my visions more real. If I wanted to have a painting, I’d just get a painting. A photograph that “feels” like a painting just seems cheap to me.

There has always been manipulation in imagery and photography, digital has brought it to a new level. With cameras getting better and better, with auto exposure and the files getting larger, with more information to better be able to correct basic exposure mistakes. It does not take much of a photographer to make a well exposed image these days. Add some effects and wallah, you have a sellable image.

I like to take the Anti route and try and sell myself as a “natural” photographer. Meaning that I retouch my images but they hopefully still look like photographs when I’m done with them. The reason I am like this is? I look at those Vogue Images from years past and they still hold their weight for me and still will in 50-100 years. They are photographs that are well composed and lit. What is sad to me is the photographers that are exposing well and lighting great but still feel the need to over manipulate their photographs because of a trend in digital editing. I feel like it is dating the images that are supposed to be timeless.

I did my own example. Here is a recent senior photo. I processed it doing what I normally do and then I processed in my own idea of what would be overdone but might be the norm for many studios. Using lots of effects and textures and skin smoothing and eye enhancing…

What will look like a real photograph in 50 years?

So, what do you all think? Am I barking at a dead tree? Is this the photography of the future ? Will fashion magazines and journalism soon follow suit? Or is this a Portrait photographer trend? Is this the new “old school” when it comes to the corner portrait photographer? When did the division happen? Was it with Mathew Brady? When was there a division between photographers and Portrait photographers?

Just go look at the “how to” books in portrait photography. Do the images look different than say the portraits of Avedon or Beaton? Find their books at Barnes and Nobel.

Again, this is an observation that began when I first came into the PPA. I was being introduced to photographers that had their “Masters”.  I, unaware asked where they had received their Masters degree from. I am still searching for a good University to pursue mine. They told me the PPA, which is much different that a Masters degree from a university.

I began photography in a university atmosphere and it was not “cool” to be a traditional “mall” portrait or wedding photographer. I learned to admire and respect what many photographers do when I joined the PPA and WPPI in 2004. Up until then I had only ever looked at other styles of photography.

I embraced digital in 2000 when we had Nikon D1’s in the studio for the publication I worked at. What a great invention. I only hope it does not take away from seeing creativity without the use of the computer. Much like Henri Cartier-Bresson fortold in his Composition section of the Decisive Moment. 

” I hope we never see the day when photo shops sell little schema grills to clamp onto our viewfinders; and the Golden Rule will never be etched on our ground glass.”

Why does this bother Henri? Now that this come true many years ago. How do our photographs change given a “guide”

My question. How has our way of looking changed because of digital? In some ways it has improved, allowing us to try things and imagine things we might not have ever imagined. Has it also made us lazy? Thinking that images are just basic captures where everything can eventually be manipulated onto a final image with the computer. I mean, add a sky, some textures, some buildings. Composite images.

I composite images, but I also try to keep them looking like photographs.

End of rant. 🙂

Denny MedleyAugust 31, 2012 - 4:02 pm

Amen, Chuckie. 100% agree.

lexia frankAugust 31, 2012 - 4:37 pm

everything i’ve been wanting to say but haven’t had the guts to. SO WELL SAID.

Robert WhettonAugust 31, 2012 - 4:41 pm

Fads come and go, but a photograph will still be a photograph 70 years from now..

I dabbled in textures and over processing about four and a half years ago, but quickly went off the idea..

MelissaAugust 31, 2012 - 6:02 pm

I was thinking about writing something similar to this on my blog, but haven’t yet…I completely agree! My fiance was trying to convince me to “break” from my style if it meant I could make 7K off of a senior who wanted overly smooth, fake skin, and an image that looked like they walked out of a fairytale/dream. Hopefully down the road, clients will see the value in a photo still looking like a photo, and seek out those whose style is more “real”

ChristineAugust 31, 2012 - 6:11 pm

I read you entire post…and my jaw dropped when I clicked on the link to view the 2012 PPA Grand Winners. Wow. ….hum…I don’t have anything nice to say about that one…so I won’t say anything at all. Having started from the bottom (below the bottom) just as photography was entering into the digital world..I can honestly say, I’ve done all these horrible awful nasty photoshopping trends. I was stupid. I was ill-educated. I was un-visioned. Not sure if it was my stubborn-ness or the competitive-ness that made me keep going, keep growing. I’ve basically been on a decade-long quest to “find myself” in photography. I’ve shamefully been through all the trends (spot-coloring, heavy actions, heavy textures..etc). In the end, I’ve learned the best images are the ones that are taken skillfully, artfully, and don’t “need” any photoshop trickery. This post was a pleasant read. {fist-bump to you}

samanthaAugust 31, 2012 - 6:19 pm

You are preaching to the choir. People do photography because its fun and they think its “easy”. Now you either have a creative eye or you don’t, and that eventually sets you apart in the end. From making a living as being a professional photographer to goin back to work at kinkos.

Then there’s the photographers style. You have to develop your own style and stick to it. No matter trend nor high water. What’s hard as someone who’s done something for so long, and then you have some joe shmo come along and make the same photo using your process and color correcting and now everyones doing it. Its hard to see, especially if you’re the small voices yelling “hey you fools I’ve been doing this for 10 yrs wtf!”

For me u have a style and u own it. No matter how shitty that style might be viewed in our eyes the viewer and customer, ie those over processed hdr painting portrait shit they sell the customer for $1500 a package of really nothing. Please! I see it. I laugh. I move on to making timeless images. Retouching should be about improving the imprefections but keeping the skins texture and integrity. So much in portrait photography makes the skin look like milk. Like fake. Who wants fake.

This topic really boils down to personal preference. To each his own. You just have to wonder what kind of person really buys that shit anyways.

Stacie FrazierAugust 31, 2012 - 6:38 pm

Couldn’t agree more. This is the reason I don’t submit any of my images to PPA competitions. Their competition is more of a digital art contest, it seems, than a photography contest. And, if i am perfectly honest, a lot of it seems incredibly outdated.

While I do retouch my Boudoir photos, I try not to let them look overly retouched. My clients want to look like themselves at their best, not a Barbie doll.

I do appreciate what people can do with digital art though. I just wish there were different categories for PPA competitions…realistic and artistic, maybe?

Jennifer Duffy PhotographyAugust 31, 2012 - 9:00 pm

YES! YES!YES!……”I’ll have what she is having.”

I was just saying the same things just last night. I have noticed a trend of this overly manipulated skin texture ( really smooth and soft) on every person,the fake sun flare, the flora bella technique it to death look….(those are excellent actions but less is more), or the just really bad editing….

If you are a photographer and you take a decent shot but are just pants at editing, your color theory sucks ( as well as being able to tell correct color) hire someone to do it for you… PLEASE!

And while I have been guilty of the soft and under contrasted work my self…there is a difference between the tonal look and not fixing a blue cast due to shade….that is really easy to fix! Come on people!!!!!

So I agree 100% on a lot of what you are saying Chuck and Thank you!

LeeAugust 31, 2012 - 9:22 pm

Creativity in most of those photos from the PPA Awards has everything to do with Photoshop and retouching, and little to do with photography. On the other hand, that “July 1930” Vogue photo by Huene is one of the most creative photographs ever taken. What looks like two bathers on something like a diving board overlooking the ocean is in reality, two models in bathing suits sitting on boxes on the rooftop of Hoyningen-Huene’s Paris studio. The “beach” is just the low wall of the roof slightly out of focus making it look like a horizon. That’s simply creative genius, not digital manipulation.

ChuckieAugust 31, 2012 - 10:23 pm

Lee. That image of the “bathers” might be my fav of the whole lot. Ago glad you brought that particular image to attention. Amazing creativity and just gorgeous to view.

anonymousAugust 31, 2012 - 11:25 pm

I think it depends on why you got into photography. I personally got into it because I was a concept and digital artist who got tired of using other people’s photos in my work or wasn’t able to find images that suited my needs so I began getting more and more into photography. Both styles are ART… One is creating a more fantasy style image or world the other is reflecting the existing one. Think of it like the movies, you’ve always had science fiction, Stanley Kubrick’s work was futuristic but very reality based. It was a futuristic reflection of his decade, where as today’s sci-fi looks a lot more futuristic. You can escape easier into that world and feel like its actually a different world. Those images in PPA comp still took a lot of work and a great deal of artistic talent and shouldn’t be taken lightly. I can appreciate both and both styles have a place and a client. There doesn’t need to be one or the other. Different strokes for different folks

Julian Avram Toronto PhotographerSeptember 1, 2012 - 2:00 am

I’m sure some of the Vogue images were altered in the studio back in the film days. So I think it’s ok to do some post editing … but just enough to keep em looking “real” 🙂

Brett JarnaginSeptember 6, 2012 - 2:21 pm

I definitely agree. When you posted this image in Light Casters I thought it was a weird image from you. I wanted to say it looked over processed, that her eyes looked fake sharp, etc but didn’t want to be a jerk, haha. I don’t know why the extremely over processed images/composite backgrounds are so popular right now. I guess because it looks “out of this world.” As you said, if you can sell it, great. Some people will love that style and others won’t. What matters is pursuing the style that you are passionate about and can plant your flag in… not hopping from trend to trend. I used to put textures on everything and still sell a product that makes that process incredibly simple, but I have almost completely stopped using textures for this exact reason. I want my images to be clean and timeless. The subject should make the photo have impact, not necessarily the editing. (All that being said, there are some photographers who do incredible stuff in PS. Ben Shirk always impresses me with his stuff.)

SchorschiNovember 18, 2012 - 12:02 am

The syntax police would like to politely point out to you that “wallah” is not a real word. What you probably meant to write was “voila,” a French word.

Robin OwenNovember 25, 2012 - 11:20 pm

I think both styles have their place. As a photographer I can appreciate both. This photo, was created in painter. I have a large 24×36 print of it in on canvas in the studio. It’s the image that makes every client stop dead in their tracks and stare. They love it and they want one of themselves.
Unfortunately most photography isn’t valued the way other art is. People can pick up a Nikon D40 kit at Wal-Mart and they suddenly think they’re photographers. They know how much a cheap frame costs and they know how much photo paper costs and they think that if you add those two things together, that is how much a photo is worth. If you can make it look like a painting, something they can’t do them self, *most* clients will perceive it as having more value. They don’t think about what it will look like in 50 years. Only photographers do that.

LarryDecember 1, 2012 - 10:29 am

PPA photographers work generally have a very in-bred look. They are taught and judged by creating one style, and to be honest I think it’s very boring! It’s characterized by very static, cleaned up looking images. As of late Dave substituted computer manipulation for creativity and powerful images. They use the word art without understanding its true meaning-which is to evoke an emotional response rom the viewer that is not emotionally connected to the subject. I found their work to be extremely conservative and far from cutting edge. I like like that PPA exists, but I rarely impressed with the work the photographers churn out.

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