Make no mistake about it, I am NOT a Photoshop God.  Neither am I a Lightroom Wizard.  When it comes to the Digital Darkroom I’m a minimalist and for the most part I rarely perform any digital task that doesn’t emulate what I used to do in a chemical darkroom.  These days I do probably 95% of my editing in Lightroom and my workflow looks like this:  Crop, adjust color balance, adjust exposure, set black and white points, sharpen, export.  Pretty minimal, don’t you think?  But lately I’ve been conflicted and here’s why.

A friend recently posted a stunning image on a forum I patronize and a description of the process he went through to make the image.  A composite of 12 images stitched together.  Not only that, but each of the 12 images was blended from 2 or more exposures to capture a great deal of detail and dynamic range.  So technically it took as many as 36 images manipulated to make one.  As I said it is a stunning image and one of few that I look at and say “damn, I wish that were my image.”

Also, in preparation for my upcoming trip to the Pacific Northwest I’ve been going through my usual routine of viewing lots of images and one photographer has some images of the Palouse that I can’t stop marveling at.  The most intimate details and small areas of each image have been massaged and adjusted create a myriad of colors that one can only imagine were present when the capture took place.  I have a friend who hired this particular photographer to guide him on a workshop in the Palouse last year.  When I asked my friend about the photographer’s post processing techniques the description of how he worked in the digital darkroom made my head swim.  Again, a great deal of time and work and multiple masks and layers go into the creation of each image.  And again I say “damn, I wish I’d shot that.”

What to do, what to do…If I continue with my minimalist approach I will continue to produce some fine images, ones I can be proud of.  But the little man inside my head is speaking to me…”What if….”  What if I learn some of the masking techniques and composite image techniques?  I already have the Nik HDR software.  And what if I create more intricate stitched images?  I could learn to create the other worldly type of images I’ve been seeing online.  But how would I feel about them?  Would I be compromising my photographic integrity?

We’ve come a long way from the earliest days of digital processing to the capabilities we have now and with the progress has come a change in public perception.  In the beginning we as photographers would create a wonderful image and the public would automatically assume it was real, not manipulated.  These days the attitude is just the opposite and everyone automatically assumes the images are unreal until we prove differently.  Do I want to continue that perception?

The answer that I don’t know.  As I write this I’m contemplating what I may do to jazz up the images I bring back from the Northwest.  Will they be up to par with the stuff I’ve been seeing or will they suffer from a lack of manipulation that will require me to exercise some more complicated techniques?

As always I will attempt to create images that convey the emotion I feel when I press the shutter button.  But will I be ready to commit to 5 or 6 hours of digital processing per each image?  I suppose time will tell.

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