As seen through a filter

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This past spring, I took an intro to Photoshop class at Fresno City College. It was a frustrating experience overall, mostly because the program itself has grown so gargantuan and counter-intuitive over the years that it takes a long, long time to come anywhere near mastering it. My instructor joked that there would probably someday be a Ph.D. in Photoshop, and that no single person would ever know everything there was to know about it. So, I accepted early on that nothing I could learn about Photoshop in just 18 weeks would give me more than a cursory introduction. That said, I was happy to discover and practice many of the basics. I can now make passable basic photo adjustments for color and tonality, black-and-white conversion, dodging and burning, blemishes, and restorations.

For one assignment, the instructor asked us to go out and make photographs all over campus– the biggest variety of photos we could make in an hour or so– and then come back to the lab, edit down the shoot, and then experiment by applying Photoshop filters on our final picks. The Fresno City College campus, dotted with greenery, walking paths, and older buildings, provided a gorgeous subject to photograph, especially in the golden hour when these photos were made. I had a lot of fun not only making the photos in the field, but I also enjoyed playing with the dozens of filters available in Photoshop CS5. My favorites images from the assignment are presented in the slideshow here.

I’ve read a fair number of articles lately about how Photoshop filters and mobile apps like Instagram have destroyed creativity in photography with their blurry, fuzzy realities. Prominent editors at places like National Geographic have even urged photographers to please stop using software filters altogether. I understand and agree with some of those arguments, especially when it comes to photojournalism, so in my own work I have mostly stuck with the idea that if you can’t do it in the darkroom you probably shouldn’t be doing it in Photoshop or some other program.

But of course, there are exceptions. I do love to play with Instagram filters because they’re fun, low risk, and built primarily for instant sharing via social media, rather than for more formal photography. And newspapers and magazines for years have used sepia tone and other alternative processes– both in the darkroom and in Photoshop– to give certain photographs an intentionally old or weathered look. I still believe that the primary measure of quality in a photograph will always come down to the composition. But as software continues to evolve, perhaps so will our attitudes about seeing through a filter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s