140323 Post - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

For my new series I've been doing something that I don't often do: post-production.

The untitled photo above has had some work done, but not very much: tonal adjustments to bring it back from its original exposed-to-the-right state, and tweaks to its saturation, and of course it has been cropped to the aspect ratio I prefer for these photos. But aside from that it really is pretty much straight from the camera.

Of course the camera itself isn't straightforward. This was shot with the tilt-shift lens swung down on my D800, which creates the asymmetrical falloff, and with a ten-stop neutral density filter – and heavy tripod – that allowed a thirty-second exposure on a windy afternoon. The clouds are softened by it, but the Lake Ontario waves refuse to smooth themselves away as they interact with the river and the headland.

Other photos in the series involve more experimentation. This twenty-second exposure was taken with the same equipment as the previous photo, but I shifted the lens left and right while the shutter was open. This smooths the water and streaks the clouds, but depends on the camera being very precisely level, as being off by even a few pixels causes a distinctive double horizon. A lot of time went into creating unsalvageable images, but when it worked it looked the way I had hoped it would.

While I've modified the saturation and shifted some colours around, this photo is also fairly faithful to what the camera saw even though it's not a scene that existed otherwise.

This photo was also recorded while sliding the camera lens from side to side, but it has also been through a pixel-editing program where I've duplicated and mirrored some of the elements. This adds some symmetry and additional smoothness, but differential masking and blending hopefully keeps it subtle.

I've pushed and pulled the photo farther from the original data, but moved it closer to my original vision – in the beginning sense, if not necessarily the creative one.

This final image was recorded on a different day from the same place, which is why the sky is so different but the water is so similar. It has had much more heavy-handed post-production done to it, with the mirroring being left obvious even though it has been cropped to be off-centre, and a digital 'motion blur' effect further smooths away the pixels.

As a photographer I'm driven by process. I like the end results of this image, but not the way that they were created. Recording the photo took some planning, good equipment, and a small amount of skill, but the final look that brings it into line with the series as it evolved was a digital afterthought. That bothers me, even if nobody else would know its origins and backstory.

I'd rather do it the hard way.

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