Post Production

Ansel Adams once said that great photos were made, and not shot. And damn if he wouldn't know.

"Floating Tree" 1969 by Jerry Uelsmann

My darkroom, circa 1979 (high school-era). Note 3 enlargers and the wall of Uelsmann prints.

My photographic education began with the work of Jerry Uelsmann, famous for his multiple image creations. His darkroom (and mine) had a series of enlargers in use at one time, with a different element in each, and he'd construct his photographs in the darkroom, not the camera. Where Ansel Adams preached "previsualization", Uelsmann was the king of "post-visualization" and i enjoyed the darkroom work to build an image. From that foundation I recognized both the surreality of all photography (manipulated or not) and the degree that post production was implicit in all photography. Even as Adams spoke of previsualization, he truly was all about "fixing it in post."

In my post about color i describe the handful of reasons that monochromatic printing is more interesting than color. The adjustments to a color image are generally about preserving (or recreating) the color in the actual scene, which may or may not be feasible. But in b&w, all color and light is somewhat arbitrary, and its far easier to make a statement. By way of example, here's a regular color image I snapped one morning in my neighborhood:

It was early morning, the light was flat, the colors muted. Visually it was sorta dull—the church almost indistinguishable from the buildings in the background. It's not that strong an image.

If you just remove the chroma, or use a simple filter, it doesn't get a lot better:

It's easy to reject this. But with a skilled printmaster (or with the right skills), the church can be brought up, and the city brought down, and while it's only done with burning and dodging, it feels like a different image:

This is the nature of printing well, and working with experts in photography. Seeing the photograph in the original image is something you start to learn. As one more example i offer this family classic from 2011; i've always loved the composition and how everything is in motion. It's not well exposed though—the woods were dark and the kids were backlit. This image was rescued from a far more marginal color original and it took awhile before i realized what was buried in the darkness. Here they are, "after" and "before".


These things can't be executed with basic filters, and are nice examples of the contribution of a printmaster to the post production of your work.