While I was working at the Western Idaho Fair Thursday, a photographer came to the booth, visibly upset, or displeased, or disgruntled ... something. It was clear he wasn't happy before he even started complaining about the judging.
I'll try to summarize his complaint, briefly, even though it wasn't brief in the moment.
"It's not fair that I have to compete against these winning photos. They're clearly not real. They've been photoshopped. Mine is a real photograph; theirs are enhanced photographs. How am I supposed to compete?"
Using my counseling skills, I listened for a while, making sure I understood what he was trying to say. I wanted to understand what his definition of 'enhanced' is, and what he meant by 'photoshopped.' I've heard that term used frequently, but what does it really mean?
When I felt he was ready, I started explaining my thoughts.
Photoshop can be used in so many ways. PS to a graphic designer is completely different than to a commercial photographer, which is in turn completely different to a professional photographer (portrait, photo-journalism, etc), which is different than an amateur photographer. Some of these artists use photoshop to create something from nothing. Some photographers use PS to add or remove elements from an image, and some photographers, like myself, use PS to enhance what's already there.
I use PS sometimes, but I also use other processing software. I use Lightroom most of the time, Nik sometimes and Topaz sometimes. I even have Perfect Effects (which I rarely use and got for free), and Perfect Layers (also free). I have been known to remove a stray spot here and there, a distracting branch or two, stuff that didn't add anything to the image.
I use the software to make the image look like it felt when I took it.
I spent some time with the man at the fair, explaining raw images versus jpg images. I explained to him my perspective on photo enhancement and where I personally draw the line between the right amount of processing and too much.
However I was able to do it, I got the guy on my side. Instead of defending his position, he started asking for more information. He wanted my thoughts on why certain photos won ribbons and why others didn't. We talked about composition, lighting, technical aspects (like focus and depth of field), and the impact a particular image is. He showed me his 'losing' image and I critiqued it and compared it to the winning image. I was able to explain the weaknesses in his images (and other images that didn't win ribbons), and make suggestions about how to improve his photograph. We also talked about how to approach a subject.
One of the winning fair images was of a bristlecone pine (an amazing image). This man also took a picture of a tree. His image didn't win anything. It wasn't a strong image. So we talked about why.
"What were you trying to capture with this picture?"
"Well, the tree."
"What was it about the tree that made you want a photo of it?
"It's old and gnarly. The grain and bark look really interesting."
"The way you took the photo, I can't see any of that gnarly-ness. I don't see texture, or age. I just see a tree in the dessert."
I suggested he could have moved a lot closer to get that old, gnarly-ness he liked. I also suggested he could have moved further away to give the tree some context. There were some great cliffs in the background, but I could only see a small portion of them. I also talked about how I might photograph that particular tree. "I could see myself spending an hour with that tree," I said, "shooting it from 100 different angles and finding as many compositions."
When we started the conversation, he had decided not to enter the following year. "There's no point in entering because I can't compete."
By the end, he and his daughter were thanking me for my time. I think he was excited about improving his photography and coming back the next year. I know my job was to man the booth and be there to answer questions. I didn't anticipate questions like this.
But that 30 minutes was the best of the whole fair for me.