Journal Entry: Sat Jun 23, 2012, 4:15 PM
The kind of photography I'm into (landscape) is a problematic one. The obvious issue with it is that we are, of course, at the mercy of the weather and (assuming we're not taking star trails) we can only shoot during the hours of daylight. And even then, we only get the best light at the start and end of the day when the sun is at such an angle as to soften the edges of a scene and cast golden hues on it. Moreover we often have to travel a bloody long way to get to a particular location and we inevitably get up in the dark and return in the dark.
All of this makes it even more painful for us when we get home, put the SD card in the laptop, import everything into Lightroom and discover that the photos we took were, for whatever reason, shite.
Now there are a couple of responses to this scenario. Firstly, we can sigh heavily, format the SD card, put it back in the camera and hope to do better next time. Secondly, we can place our faith in Photoshop or Photomatix or the hidden data nestling within a RAW file and try and coerce a few images into being good at gun point. The latter option is one I've certainly tried myself on a few occasions and I'm here to tell you that it is pointless.
The enormous power of an application like Photoshop has made us believe that we can resurrect shitty images with some clever use of curves adjustment layers, the ever-faithful saturation slider and the clone tool. Never mind that what we inevitably end up with bears absolutely no resemblance to the original scene. We got up at 5am, walked for five miles, endured a thunderstorm, trod in cow shit (twice), caught our jacket on a barbed wire fence, fell down a slope, broke our favourite filter and came dangerously close to walking right off a cliff - nothing is going to stop us getting at least one photo out of that saga. I feel your pain, I really do, but forget it. Really.
The bottom line is that a bad photo is always going to be a bad photo. No amount of surgery will make the pixels you captured when you pressed that shutter button transform magically into a wondrous image. And yet every day on this site and other photography sites such as Flickr and 500px that's what I see - people polishing turds.
It doesn't help that two current trends are great for obscuring bad photography. I'm talking about over-saturated images and HDR photos - or both. I guess its human instinct to prefer the gaudily colourful over the naturally shaded, but the photos that continue to rise to the top on this site are the (rare) ones that were just naturally colourful or (far more common) have been nudged in that direction by turning the saturation slider up to full. I find it hard to believe that anyone could believe these acid-saturated neon-nightmares were real, but then you look at the comments and see people praising the scene and its colours and complimenting the photographer, when in reality they should be thanking Adobe.
I'm not one of those people that think you shouldn't use any photo editing software. Far from it - in fact I can state that I have used Lightroom or Photoshop on every one of my images in some way. And while I have definitely been guilty of turd polishing in the past, as I have learnt more I've come to accept my failings too. I have learnt that I would rather wait for the really good images than spend hours pissing around with vibrance and saturation and curves and levels. You can't polish a turd - you can only put a bow on it.