Saturday, September 4, 2010

September Monthly Special: Revise, Reshoot, Refine

Original, snapped hastily in a rare moment without people sitting in them.

Revised: straightened, cropped, decided that the background was too static, added motion blur, punched up the color a bit, and voilĂ !

It's back-to-school time and since I am teaching four classes this semester—each of them with at least three writing assignments to grade— I know I will be pestering my students to spend more time revising their work. When choosing a theme for this month, I thought about three "Rs" of my photo taking process from my most recent trip to Paris: Revise, Reshoot, Refine.

I can't help but make comparisons between writing and photography (hey, etymologically, it means "light writing"after all). Here's what I wrote (and yes, it feels weird to be quoting myself) for some bio interview questions sent to me by Wild Apple (the company I recently signed with):

Probably because of my background in literature (PhD in French Literature), I think of photographic technique as a form of research and writing. I start with an idea, a concept, a sort of thesis. Just as I would use keywords to search a library database, I take my ideas out into the city and use them to create order out of all those possibilities. As a scholar, I have spent untold hours in the libraries of Paris pouring over old books and manuscripts, searching for the details that can take on new relevance and interest through my writing. As a photographer, I explore Paris as if it were a library filled with books—some of them well-read classics (the Eiffel Tower, the view from Notre Dame), and others, the overlooked stories waiting to be discovered. I am inspired by Victor Hugo’s assertion that when you know how to see, you can see the face of a king in a door knocker. In other words, the city itself has a language that the careful observer can learn to read. Of course, reading is not the only step. I also spend a lot of time revising/reshooting, editing, and refining. With Photoshop, I can literally cast my ideas in a different light again and again until I find the presentation best suited to the message.
So rather than focus on the more traditional concept of "composition," I want to think about the photographic print itself as a composition. In the selection and editing process, there is a moment when you decide "this is the version I'm going to print." How does that happen? How can we improve? What if we took a "finished" work and completely rewrote it?

My high school English teacher always told us that you never finish a composition, you abandon it. Kind of a negative way of looking at things, but that's exactly how my perfectionist tendencies speak to me:

perfectionist tendencies: You're going to turn that in? Really?

me: Um. yes. Why?

pt: It's just that, well, hmm. Oh it's probably nothing.

me: What's nothing?

pt: I'd probably make it more, you know—polished. But that's just me. Go ahead. Turn it in if you're happy with it. I'm sure it's very, uh, comment dirais-je?—adequate.
My perfectionist tendencies are a passive aggressive pain in the butt and naturally, they speak French. They love to say "impossible n'est pas français!" to which I reply, "Impossible is not French? Go into any store, ask for customer service. It's their favorite word."

But I digress...

My point is that shooting and editing photos is not unlike researching and writing a paper. Personally, I think it's a lot more fun, but it still requires work and attention to detail.

This month, as I sort through the 3000+ I took in Paris, I will be making a lot of editing decisions. Those decisions often involve revising my initial composition (i.e. cropping), and they always include refinements (or retouching) including color correction, noise reduction, and sharpening to creative choices. Sometimes, an almost-good-enough photo inspires me to go back and reshoot (which, for Paris, will have to wait until spring). For most of the month, I will focus on the many editing choices that go into a version of a photo that is worth the price of the print.

Note: I've decided to stop using "Mister Linky," but I still want you to participate by putting links in the comments. I'm looking at using a different tool based on a suggestion, but haven't had time to do it yet.