Ted Talks: Two Questions About The Work

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Enchanting. Soothing. Reminiscent. Captivating.

These are just a few of the adjectives I hear every weekend about my work. It is a goal of mine I keep floating in the back of my mind – to elicit these types of responses – as I seek out new scenes to photograph. My imagination is my canvas and as I flip through book after book of Ansel Adams, Andreas Gursky, and Galen Rowell. I have a vision in my mind, and I am searching for the location that may provide me the canvas to execute the vision.

My goal is to Stir the Soul – to create beautiful artwork of the natural world.

My vision involves the perfect composition, beautiful lighting, and fantastic display all with the goal of creating something beautiful – to stir the soul. I don’t mind that people believe my art to be surreal or unbelievable (literally they don’t believe I took the photograph!). My goal is to Stir the Soul – to create beautiful artwork of the natural world. However, my work and the feelings it elicits often comes with questions – “How did you do this!?” being a very common rhetorical one. Two other questions though may be more important than that.

Unreleased Image of New York City

I am often asked at shows if I “photoshop” or “enhance” my photographs. All of my images are “enhanced”, but not a single one of them are “photoshopped”. First let me address the claim of “photoshopping” an image. It is my belief that when someone asks if I “photoshop” an image, what they are really asking is: “Is this real? Is what I captured exactly what is there?” The answer is absolutely, emphatically, and without hesitation, “Yes!” I never add or subtract anything within my photographs. I hold firm the belief that what is in a composition, must remain within a composition. As to “enhancing” an image – this is a much harder question to answer. It is much harder to answer because the question in itself is flawed.

Next was a journey in to the dark room, a mythical place to modern digital photographers… a place many have never ventured.

The average layperson may believe that the photographic process is fairly simplistic: Take a photograph, Print said photograph. Before digital, this was exactly the steps many people would take to have their 35mm film developed – take a photo, fill up a roll, take the roll to CVS to get it developed, come back the next day and Voila! you now have a bunch of family photos! For professional photographers, this was never the case. Even after getting to a location, waiting for the perfect light for that composition, and snapping down the shutter – your work was only half done! Next was a journey in to the dark room, a mythical place to modern digital photographers… a place many have never ventured. I was lucky. I took a class in high school developing from negatives and printing large format images. I learned split toning. I excelled at the art of manual dodging & burning. And I experimented with selective contrast filtering. These are the tools of the dark room, tools that Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Galen Rowell, Peter Lik, Art Wolfe, Bill Brandt, and many hundreds of prolific photographers mastered.

Ansel Adams in the Darkroom

The techniques I use to “enhance” my images are the same those trailblazers of photography used. I lighten my shadows and darken the highlights (selective filtering). I occasionally use a manual dodge or burn to draw the eye through the composition. And I almost always have to adjust the vibrancy to correct the ‘flattening’ that results from selective filtering. Very occasionally I will also soften the image (the darkroom equivalent of diffusion) to give a piece the ‘dreamy’ look.

In addition to enhancing an image, the printing medium is often overlooked and has an extraordinary impact on the final print. The variety of mediums alone is staggering and a great indicator that the printing medium has a dramatic effect on the final piece. There is a wide variety photographic paper alone, including matte, glossy, satin, lustre, metallic, super gloss, crystal, watercolor, and the list goes on. Choosing the perfect printing surface is an art in itself.

Combining my knowledge of the darkroom, experience with printing mediums, and uncompromising dedication to attaining the perfect composition, I believe my work attains my goal to Stir the Soul. I enhance my images to achieve this goal but I will never remove or add anything from the composition. That is the line I have drawn in the sand and if it means I might not achieve a specific shot, so be it. There are scenes I may miss out on, but my clients know that my shots are real – portrayed in the best possible light.

One thought on “Ted Talks: Two Questions About The Work

  1. All the best Sandy and Fran Bolway

    Ted, always a pleasure to read your blog. We are in Delray Beach. Hopefully the weather will cooperate this year for the art show and that you will be exhibiting. All The best.

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