Digital Editing 102: Making it Sing



Master photographer Charles Cramer writes 'When [the image] finally starts to "sing"...' on his site in reference to image editing: hence the title of this tutorial. Anyone who's worked seriously in darkroom or lightroom knows what Charles' felicitous phrase refers to. Of course, singing ranges from operatic warble to Crosby croon, so it's rather unlikely that my version of "sing" and Charles' version will bear any great resemblance. ;) For, of course, each of us must find his or her own voice. That cannot be taught, but techniques can: hence the intent of this tutorial.

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Fig. 1: Making it sing

Before digital many a photographer would shoot Kodachrome or Velvia, get back a box of mounted slides, then happily stick them in a projector in front of a silver screen. Zero post-processing. Between the magic of illuminated viewing and the candy-coating of saturation-enhanced film stocks most everything looked good.

In stark contrast darkroom-based photographers shot black & white neg film, often with colour filters to change luminance balance, then spent hours working with an ever-morphing mix of alchemist's chemicals, dodging and burning each print just so, all in order to produce a subtly refined image in shades of grey on glossy paper.

From these roots two very different schools of photographic thought – Mordor and Gondor – blossomed. The Kodachrome school militantly maintains the quaint doctrine that a photograph should be an unmodified representation of the real world. Unmodified, of course, except for long exposures to turn running water into clouds, warming, polarizing, and neutral density filters to change various properties of the scene, and colour-saturating film stocks. The darkroom school remains suspicious of colour but often embraces digital post-processing in all its geeky glory and holds this sacred: that the print, not the LCD panel, is the true sacriment of the photographic process.

If your sympathies lie with the Kodachrome camp, you can stop reading right here – everything that follows (indeed, most everything on this site) will just serve to upset you. ;) If your sympathies lie with the darkroom camp, I hope we can come to terms, but fair warning: what follows is all about colour.