On occasion, upon viewing one of my shots, someone will ask, “Do you use filters?”. The short answer to that question is, “Yes, always!”. Both the question and my answer deserve explanations and I’ll get to those shortly. But first, why was the question asked in the first place? Of course, no one really knows what goes on in someone else’s mind and, therefore, cannot really know why they might ask. But, I have some pretty good ideas and chief among them is that some do not consider photography as an art form. Now, this is not a guess – I’ve met such people and to them, photography is a means by which moments or scenes are captured and should be presented as factual representations. And, this is true – for photojournalism. That profession is tasked with presenting photos from news events and/or features to help tell a story. Ethical photojournalists should not alter the content of their work much like a reporter’s responsibility to report the news as it is. Still, while their images should be unaltered, they most always are adjusted for color and exposure. And that kind of leads me to the initial question posed along with my answer.
But first, a bit about photography as art. When I post, print or offer photos for sale, I’m presenting images as I’ve seen them with my mind’s eye, through the camera lens. I’m not offering a newsworthy photo to let the public know what is going on nor am I offering it in an attempt to sway anyone’s opinion or coerce them to action. So, whether my photo is of the sunset, a pier, a scene in the park, or anything else, the image is presented as I interpret it. And, as soon as I snap the photo, the image, digital or film, becomes mine – to print and enjoy, to share, to sell. Of course, there are commercial limitations and requirements, like model releases and such, but that is veering off course.
So, the photo belongs to the photographer and when asked if filters were used and why, the smart-ass answer would be one of ownership. However, it might be helpful to know some of the technical aspects of getting that photo from the camera to the screen or print. With film photography, there was no photo until the film was ‘post-processed’. I’ve written a bit about this in an earlier blog – developing the film and creating the print from a negative. In that process, the photographer manipulates the photo by adjusting the exposure, burning , dodging and masking. Glass filters are used when taking the photo by adding them to the lens to produce different effects – reduced polarization, color enhancement/saturation, exposure adjustments, adding tints, etc. The film photographer has and uses these methods and tools to create his art, what he sees through the lens.
The digital photographer has these same tools available and more – they are now, though, available in electronic format. To understand the ‘why’, it helps to know a bit about how a digital camera stores images – without getting very technical. First, I’d like to point out that I use and am speaking of a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera – a DSLR. My film cameras were also of the SLR variety and that is where the name comes from in addition to its description of the device’s process. With a DSLR, one can choose how photos are captured and stored. Most everyone has seen ‘.jpg’ in relation to a digital photo and that is one of, probably the most used, settings by which a photo is stored. When this format is used, the DSLR uses its computer to apply colors, tints, exposure correction, etc. The format/setting I use is known as '.raw'. This is the digital equivalent of a film negative, or as close as it comes in digital photography. The resulting saved images are not without color; however, they are dull and muted. The photographer is then free to enhance the image during post-processing – the digital equivalent of working in the darkroom.
There are a lot of different software applications designed for working with digital photos, the most popular of which is Adobe – Lightroom and Photoshop. I have both, however I rarely use Photoshop unless I’m working on portraits for a client. Photoshop is mostly for altering images, whereas Lightroom is used for bringing the photo to life, much like the darkroom was/is. And, like the filters added to the lens in film photography, Lightroom has the tools to perform the same functions, and more!
So, yes, in essence, I use filters. And I’m darn glad they’re available – crayons just don’t cut it!