Brian's Photo Blog — Article 340
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You Don't Take a Photograph, You Make It
Sunday 22 June 2014   —   Category: Processing
It’s been said that Ansel Adams — that ascended master of photography — believed that only half of the creative process occurred behind the camera, while the other half took place in the darkroom. He would sometimes spend a whole day in the darkroom just to produce one print. Not only did he take wonderful shots, but he knew how to bring out the best in them during processing. Thus these quotes from the master:
When I’m ready to make a photograph, I think I quite obviously see in my mind’s eye something that is not literally there in the true meaning of the word. I’m interested in something which is built up from within, rather than just extracted from without.... You don’t take a photograph, you make it.
In this modern digital age, I love using Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop to process my images. It is a challenge, and a satisfying thrill, to take a mediocre photo and transform it into something worth looking at. Today’s image is a prime example of this.

After taking and processing a striking black and white image of a snail a couple of days ago, I came across a snail — perhaps the same one — on my daily neighborhood walk this morning. But this time it was on the sidewalk instead of on a wall. The rising sun was shining on it a bit, and I thought that the rough texture of the sidewalk might look good in black and white.

Putting my pocket camera into macro mode, I stooped down to get some shots. I wasn’t very concerned about the colors, because they could be easily adjusted later. Neither was I very concerned about getting exactly the right exposure, because that could also be adjusted later, as long as I avoided clipping the highlights and shadows. Even the composition could be adjusted later, to some degree.

What I was really concerned about was getting the entire snail in focus. Some sharpening can be added during processing, but only to a certain extent. If the subject is noticeably out of focus, the photo is pretty much useless. After getting my shots, I couldn’t wait to get home to see what I captured, and what I could make out of it.

As you can see from the top image to the right, the results straight out of the camera were not very impressive. But that’s OK, because that’s only half the creative process!

My first approach was to process the image in much the same way as the previous snail photo. That turned out great when the snail was on a white wall, but as I quickly discovered, the texture of the sidewalk and the texture of the snail were too similar for that to work with this picture, as you can see in the second image.

So I started over, sticking with color this time. After lots of playing around with various settings in Lightroom, and the application of a Radial Filter and a number of Adjustment Brushes, and then another round of processing in Photoshop, I ended up with the third image, which you can click on to see larger.

The first question I’m going to get about this photo is, “But is that what it REALLY looked like?” My reply is that if you have to ask such a question, then you are totally clueless about what art and creativity are all about! If you REALLY want to stick with what it REALLY looked like, you can hang the first boring image above up on your living room wall! As for me, I think the final image is unquestionably more interesting!

Like Ansel Adams, I see in my mind’s eye something that is not literally there in the true meaning of the word. And like him, I’m interested in something which is built up from within (myself), rather than just extracted from without. Adams also said:
Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art.
He even went so far as to say:
Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.
Well, Adams was not much of a theologian, but he was definitely a master of photography! I hope that this article inspires you to embrace BOTH halves of the art. Get out there and take lots of interesting shots. Then come back to process you photos — even ones which, at first, may appear to be failures. Give your creativity free rein, push the boundaries, and think outside the box! You, as well as others, might be amazed at what you are able to create as you MAKE photos, and not merely TAKE them!
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 340
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Reader Comments
On July 6, 2014, Gloria Byrd wrote:
My Mom wrote: Wow!! The outcome is wonderful, and you know how I feel about snails. I won't even pick them up. This is the way to view them. Thanks!
On December 13, 2014, Lisa Orvis wrote:
Hi Brian,
I came by to check out some of your blogs and photos - this was really intriguing. I don't know anything about photography so I loved getting a glimpse of what you are so passionate about and some of the skills and knowledge required.

Now on to admire some of your photos!
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 340
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