This past weekend, I was shooting the Big Air Windjam kiteboarding competition in San Francisco. To help try and drum up some support, I stayed up late Saturday eve putting together a small promotional gallery that I posted to some local kiteboarding forums. On Sunday, a number of people who know me and saw the images came up to me and said, “Wow, great shots! You really must know how to use Photoshop!”
Wow, what to say, where to start…. My reply was simply, “Yep, sure do!” (EDIT: I should also add that this is while I was shooting and most of the people who came up to me were not photographers/people who understand basics of digital imaging at all) It’s funny seeing people’s reactions to that simple statement. Some look kind of shocked, like they just expected me to argue. They usually end up just kind of walking away. I’ve learned that the bulk of the time, it’s better just to say “yes” and to not try to deal with subtle explanations about image processing.
Then, a few people will start pressing me further, saying things like, “How long did it take you to put the kiteboarder in front of the golden gate bridge?” It’s rather amusing to see their reactions when I tell them that the only thing I did to that image–and I used Aperture, not Photoshop–was to boost the shadows slightly. If they don’t suddenly stare glassy-eyed at me, I continue on to say how I feel that nearly every image can use some manipulation, whether it’s boosting the shadows, cropping it slightly, modifying the white balance, or straightening the horizon (it’s a personal pet peeve of mine when I see a published image with a crooked horizon–there’s no excuse for that anymore). The fact that Aperture lets me make these adjustments so quickly is a dream come true. I was able to go from CF card with over 3,000 shots (the 1D Mark III’s motordrive is jaw-dropping) to edited DVD in about 12 hours (including import, edit, export, and burn time).
Take these before/after images of the two kiteboarders rounding the buoy in a race. The before shot isn’t bad, and I saw a number of shots like it, with dark faces and lots of water or land, in people’s personal galleries of the event. However, by tweaking the levels, boosting the shadows, and cropping slightly (15 seconds worth of work?), I think the final image is significantly better. In fact, I feel like Aperture is this secret weapon that we have, which lets us make these subtle improvements very quickly, helping to bring our images to the next level (sidenote: I am not saying you can make a bad image great but rather that you can make a good or great image even better). I almost even feel like we all should stop telling people we use it so that they don’t learn this secret! But alas, Apple’s advertising is very well-done, and I suppose competition is good and makes us work harder :)
However, the next time someone asks you if you photoshop your images, try saying yes and see how they react. At the very least, I’ll bet that you save some time trying to explain shooting digitally!