I’m starting to think that when you process a photo, you screw with the space-time continuum. Anyone out there buy into my theory? How else can I account for the completely bizarre way that time moves when I’m processing? Hours pass in mere moments as I fuss and fiddle. Afternoons lapse into evenings. I miss another chance to get out during the golden hour. Suddenly I’m starving. And I remember all the “real work” that I ought to have been doing. But, more astonishingly, as I toy with the latest and greatest imaging software, I’m able to change my photographs in a way that transports me (and, hopefully, the viewer) to a bygone era.
I see through time.
Sure, there are plenty of so-called purists out there who prize only those photographs that were winners straight-out-of-the-camera. This group is largely made up of the same contingent that feels like digital isn’t photography. I don’t feel like waging that war here. All I’ll say is this: I can’t deny the thrill of taking a photograph that needs no enhancement, manipulation, or alteration. There is a certain pride that comes with nailing it. Like a child who’s just learned to tie her shoes, I want everyone to know what I’m capable of doing. So, I make sure I tag the image “SOOC” or whisper to my impressed audience, “no photoshop at all.” (Oooooh… Ahhhhh… ) I also understand that in certain settings such as portrait sittings and professional gigs, photographers would be foolish to try to “fix” everything in post. It’s simply too time consuming and difficult to do right. Every photographer needs strong fundamental skills because they enable us to be more creative.
But in-camera accuracy is not the only way to make an image that speaks and endures.
Processing is an art unto itself. Personally, I enjoy it most when I am able to use Lightroom or Photoshop to coax an emotion out of an image. (Or to inject my emotions into one.) I process to create or, better yet, recreate a mood. The series I’m sharing below was taken during a laconic August afternoon in a deserted stretch of eastern Wyoming. I’d been in the car for the better part of a damn-near-perfect day. The sun was setting slowly, as it is wont to do in the waning days of summer. Horse grazing. Insects buzzing. A soft, alfalfa-scented breeze moving across my face. I walked down a grassy hill, until the black and chrome sheen of the rental car was nearly out of sight. The Canon 5D in tethered to my wrist was the only reminder of modernity. As I began shooting, the camera became an extension of body, an enhancement for my eye, and I all but forgot it was there. I was, at once, fully present and utterly transported. I wouldn’t have been shocked to come across a pioneer who’d arrived in wagon…
When I first sat down to process the photos of that warm, honeyed sunset, I gravitated toward those that had the richest colors and softest glow. Those were the images I was most proud of, those which garnered a fair amount attention and accolades. But this morning, I came across the rest of the photos from that evening in my archive. Months — and many beautiful sunsets — later, it is the experience of timelessness that I wanted to draw out of the remaining photos. Processing them allowed me to do that.