Wasted Time?

bricksHow much time do you take working on an image?  Three minutes? Five? Ten?  More than that?  I know it seems like a simple question but how many people out there are concerned about the time it takes to correct an image?  If you read some of the postings and lists that I have read it seems like more and more people are concerned about the “amount of time wasted” in image processing.

At this point I find this concern misguided and here are some reasons why…

There have been a number of surveys of how visitors interact with paintings in museums. One found that an average viewer goes up to a painting, looks at it for less than two seconds, reads the wall text for another 10 seconds, glances at the painting to verify something in the text, and moves on. Another survey concluded people looked for a median time of 17 seconds. The Louvre found that people looked at the Mona Lisa an average of 15 seconds, which makes you wonder how long they spend on the other 35,000 works in the collection. (James Elkins; School of the Art Institute of Chicago.)

There is more…

On a vacation to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, I asked was asked by one of the park rangers if I was enjoying the view.  I replied that I was awed and inspired and could not wait to spend the rest of the day just looking and experiencing the light hitting the canyon in different ways.  I told him I was coming back for the sunset and wanted to just take it all in.  It was then his turn to amaze me.  His reply really stopped me for a minute; he said “I wish more people would take the time to see the canyon like that.  Did you know that the average visitor spends 17 minutes actually looking at the canyon?”  I was aghast… “Really?” I asked.  He stated that time studies by the Park Service showed that on an average day a visitor only spends 17 minutes actually looking at the canyon. Wow. 

So what should this be telling you? 

I’m not 100 percent sure but what it tells me that it is quite easy to be above average in your observations.  If the Mona Lisa only gets 17 seconds on average then my 3-5 minutes on an image would seem to be a lifetime.  Interestingly, this poses a new question. If people can take in all the subtle nuances from the Mona Lisa in 17 seconds what the heck am I doing for the rest of the time I spend on an image prior to starting color corrections?  I have 283 seconds to waste if I want to; so what am I doing?

Seeing…

Defined as a noun the word means: the sense or faculty of sight; vision.  To me it is more of a verb; it is an active process that I use to examine the scene before me and analyze the elements within the frame both during the actual capture process and eventually in the post processing that I do to finish the image.  I was fortunate that 25 years ago a very good instructor took the time and made the effort to teach me how to see.  It took me quite a while to figure out what he actually meant when he said I was going to have to learn to see because well…I was sighted and in fact the “vision” I had was quite fine with me at the time.  How little I knew back then.

Today my seeing is an automatic process that I do it is a part of me.  It creeps into my conscious mind at the oddest times…Watching a baseball game I critique the stadium lighting because “If they just move the main light 20 degrees to the left…” or driving through the downtown area locally I see the cars reflection in the glass and start to compose an image in my head…not good since I should be concentrating on driving.  It also jumps right to the front and center when I am working on post processing an image. 

The thing of it is…I learned this all in the dark.

Most of my seeing came to me as a part of analog darkroom processing and printing.  You had a few minutes back then to sip a glass of water, place the image in the proofing lights and look for problems in the image.  You then made some decisions, went back in to the dark, and “re-did” the print to see if you could improve the areas you identified. 3 to 5 minutes later you had another print to look at and make some more assessments.  Ugh..such a slow and outdated process.  Was it really??  I’m not going to get all romantic about wet process here but it did force you to think.  You need to know your tools, know your process and apply decisions in order to make a good final print.  It forced you to slow down and see your image…really see it.

Does any of that sound familiar?  It should, in fact it is the basis of all the digital work I do.  It is a frequent refrain from others; “How did you see that?” or “How did you know that was the issue?”  My answer has always been “I’ve practiced seeing items like that for years.”  I started in the black and white darkroom when I was 12 years old.  I learned from good people that you needed to look for things in your prints and you had to make changes to get what you wanted out of the process.  If you were missing highlight details that required you do “burning in” during the print exposure or if you were really advanced; you would “flash” the print to add exposure to the base white areas of the paper. (This was usually reserved or negatives so thick we called them bullet proof.) 

Today we can use multiple digital techniques to add density to an image.  We can use a multiply function on a layer, use a mask and a curve, change the gamma of the image, heck we can even re-process the RAW file (Digital Negative) and develop it in a completely different way.  Us analog guys really like that one! We used to have to expose separate sheets of film to get another shot at the processing for adjustments. Today, I can combine multiple copies of a single Raw file processed differently to achieve a HDR effect.

The question I have been asking myself now is this:  Are we any better for all the digital tools we have? Then I ask, are we less able and more reliant on the technology?  When I go out to various websites and look at the current images being posted to them, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Google+ I am sometimes impressed by what I see but most often I am disappointed that while imaging has seen a huge resurgence in popularity there is little thought given to quality.  I guess that’s because quality takes time…

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