by J. Rae Chip

I've been quietly observing a trend in the photography world lately, where images are becoming more and more over-processed, over-saturated, and over-sharpened. The web world has taken kindly to the trend, so I thought that maybe a well-worshiped internet photographer [nameless for the sake of professionalism] was right when he told me [publicly on his blog in front of several million people] that I would never make it as a successful professional photographer and photojournalist because I don't over-process my work.

Admittedly, as a journalist, I have to follow certain rules about photography. However, I also shoot portraits, and I like pretty places as much as anyone else. I do use Photoshop on both my portraits and my memory-keeper landscapes I take. I've just never got too much into adjusting saturation because I think it looks fake, and I don't like the hues that sometimes come in accidentally when images are corrected heavily afterward.

Outdoor Photographer recently published an article by Tom Till, a nature and wildlife photographer, who decidedly came to a realization that he was over-processing, after receiving a harsh note from a friend. 

The other day, I went on a little escape, a day off from the city, and wandered out into the California desert. I ended up at Bombay Beach for a sunset of a lifetime, and of course the moment was ruined by an arrogant photojournalist (or at least that's what he claimed to be.)

He was there with some friends, capturing the sunset. There were Jesus Clouds, angels were singing, and the magic was in the air. His friend set up a camera next to me, and started bracketing images.

Naturally I asked, "Are you bracketing for HDR or simply just to get different exposures?" 

The arrogant guy (who had the most gear, about four filters on the front of his camera, and a shirt that said [brkt]) said defensively, "That's what you're supposed to do in light like this."

I explained that I was just making conversation and not interested in a debate about photography workflow. He asked me why I wasn't bracketing, and I explained that I'm a journalist and don't really use things like that much. I explained that I generally don't really care for the look much either, as Photomatix seems to put more grays and silvers into color scenes. I also told him it was a free country and he could shoot however he wanted.

And the sunset was ruined with his arrogance. "Well just so you know," he said, "I was a professional photojournalist."

I asked him who he did photojournalism for, and he said, "Everyone. Every publication in California, and some international ones."

Knowing that the San Diego Union Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and many others don't accept images that look processed, I asked him why he stopped, and he said, "It didn't pay well enough."

His friends were condescending, asking me about how to shoot RAW images. They asked me what I had shot that day, and I told them I was just out shooting abandonment, Slab City, and some other stuff for an assignment. Then the arrogant guy wanted me to tell him where all my secret spots were. He was offended when I told him I wanted to keep them secrets. 

He wouldn't tell me his name. I wasn't going to publish his name, but I wish I had it so I could see the image he made. I'm just curious if it is as awesome as he claimed it would be.
This is my image from the night. I shot it in a single exposure, with flash to fill in the ground. I suppose I could have bracketed one shot to save the over-exposed clouds directly in front of the sun. This is how the scene actually looked.


12/18/2012 5:01pm

Well said. I think that often times some photographers can come across as way too arrogant. They seem to think that their way is the only way. Your image turned out fine, and perhaps his did too, but that doesn't mean they had to be created the same way.

J. Rae Chip (Author)
12/19/2012 5:17pm

Thanks Craig! Yea, I wish I could see how his turned out. It probably looks completely different, but that doesn't mean it's not good.

trillian petrova
12/19/2012 4:36am

i once hat a similar talk (beside the fact i am not a photojournalist or something, just enjoy shooting) with a jogger who turned out to be a "professional photographer". he ran by when i was playing with long exposure shooting on a lake. i also had my iphone handy because i am bad in calculation and so used it to calculate time and aperture. the guy stopped and started asked me questions: do you use gps on your iphone for your shots? no, i replied, just for calculation. he said: i see, your tiny camera doesn't have gps on board. no, i replied, the canon 5d comes without. he said: do you use photomatix for your hdr? no, i said, i don't shoot hdr. what? he said, why not, that's what photography is all about. well, i replied, i don't like the artificial style, don't know what its for but if you enjoy it, go for it. he went on and on and on with a lot of technical stuff. when he noticed i wasn't very interested and again concentrated on camera adjustment, he went away murmering: pah! stupid amateurs have no idea.

what i gonna say is: i totally agree with what you observe from the internet. and that's why i went back to film recently in order to "unsharpen" my eye. i had a discussion with a friend about what sharpness is defined. and we found out that neither saturation nor sharpness is the same as 10 years ago. it's defined by the technical ability of the gear and not the ability of the eye. people are not earlier satisfied than a picture looks better than in reality. that's so weird. i am happy to hear that several magazines and editors refuse overprocessed pictures by rule.

jessica, i really much enjoyed reading your article. and i do like your picture. i know the spot and i recently visited slab city and several places around the salton sea. my sould is somehow connected to this area. it "does" something with me. i think, you know, what i am talking about.

go ahead. thank you and take care :)

J. Rae Chip (Author)
12/19/2012 5:16pm

Hey thanks for the reply, Trillian. =) There is a big push for HDR lately, and it is true that many magazines are embracing photography and not digital art. NatGeo is a huge stickler, and it's nice to see OP coming around. Next time you're back in the area, we'll have to go find some more of the places together. Every time I go out there, I find more places, and I live here :)

12/26/2012 5:25pm

Rant on Photography: Digital versus film; art photography versus reality photography; arrogance vs humility.

So is hardly anyone shooting film any more besides me? I am amused at the levels of arrogance and ego involved in the crumugination of our "modern" photographers. Sorry, I have been absent from this planet for about twenty years. But I'd like to point out that this has always been the case. We photographers have the tendency to act a bit arrogant without even knowing it. Nothing has changed except the technology involved. I used to get comments from other shooters back the good old days (1960s/70s/80s) that I just didn't know about the latest techniques or methods of capturing an image. "So fricking what!", I'd say and just go back to setting up my shots with whatever camera I had to be using at the time. I still love shooting 8x10 format film and am fascinated by the coolest digital stuff out now. Hell, I prayed for the day when we didn't have to "develop our images just to see what we got!
My 8x10 and 4x5 cameras don't have HDR, ICM,pdf, ICBM, or gps. But with the help of a a trusty flip note book and lead pencil in my pocket, I religiously keep track of aperture/exposure, film type, Brackets (yes I always shoot brackets, dammit!) tilts n swivel angles, lens length and model/brand. This was the mark of a professional always and editors demanded this information mostly to qualify your work and to pass on to the Printers who did all the other adjustments to get "their" standards met so my pix looked good coming off the press. I used to marvel at the fact that they always used to print the exposure/film/camera/lens info next to the photographers credit line. I don't see this much anymore. Perhaps with all the meta data associated with a camera manipulated image this is because it's just ridiculous to have to print a paragraph or more about the shot anyway?

To over saturate and over process in the good old days was NOT the job of the photographer; it was the "fault" of the printers. Oh how I used to curse a printer who over tweeked my images. The arrogant bastards just had to mess with what I thought was perfection.
Finally, we all must remember that we still only see a small portion of the light spectrum and therefore are limited by our personal perceptions of what is in front of our eyes and limited only by the strength of our eyes and the depth of our imaginations. To let our egos get in the way is the biggest filter of all leading to that all obnoxious professional flaw of arrogance. One is NEVER too good at what one does to learn something or try something new. Only by pushing the limits (and not following the rules) do we allow ourselves to see and present what we see to the rest of the world.
It is our vision internally and externally and our power of observation that gives us the power to help the rest of the world see what we see. And at the same time, it is only our ability to stifle our arrogance and be humble to this power that makes us truly attractive to this world. And being truly attractive to the rest of the world is what makes them want to see what we are creating next! And who knows, even want to PAY us for our next job. I have had too many times where I said, I don’t care about money, I just need the world see what I see. And then there have been the times when I just couldn’t shoot anything without folks throwing wads of cash my way. In retrospect, I think I like those times better.

There are pretty much only two goals in the work I have done in the past 50 years of doing photography (setting aside the obvious goal of making a damned decent amount of money). They are reality, and art. And they cross over into each other's territory often. First, photo journalism or documentaion is the art of showing reality with the greatest amount of truth possible. This includes shooting pix without alterations of any kind to show just what any given situation is in front of a lens objectively and without prejudice from the photographer's beliefs, opinions, or emotions. A robot could do this but I hope they never take over our jobs. So it is still important to shoot our world that others might see it as it is, not as we enhance it to be. (Unless of course, a huge pay check is involved and we shoot it as our benefactor wants like the little whores we all can be for a buck sometimes. Purely amateur photographers can never have this problem however.) So in order to be true to reality we MUST shoot with integrity to preserve an image the way it really is, period. If or when editors stop demanding un-retouched or enhanced images - look out, our world is in trouble.
The other goal of image making is art. This is where anything goes and any manipulation of any kind is not only good but really important. The main purpose of creating art photography of any style has always been to cause an emotion in the eyes, heart, emotions, and soul of the viewer. If one shoots


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