Life Choices

Michael Johnston answers the question of what he would do today if he was a 23 year old just starting in the world of photography. A couple of quotes:

I’d definitely practice photography and not “digital imaging”—that is, I’d make pictures that respected the lens image, that were intended to be true to the world, to reality. Whatever Photoshop skills I learned would be in the service of that principle.

I’m with him there. Part of me wonders if that’s because I believe in the purity of the craft, or if I’m just too lazy to sit down and learn Photoshop properly. But when I do watch a tutorial video where someone takes a photograph and transforms it into something new, carefully adjusting the colors in each part of the picture and removing bits that don’t lead to photographic perfection — I cringe. That’s not a photograph anymore. That’s someone’s interpretation of reality, but it’s not real.

My editing is far less severe. If I can do it in Lightroom, I will, but that’s about it. These days, my favorite features are lens correction and noise removal, and I’ll very occasionally use the adjustment brush to brighten up some raccoon eyes, but that’s as far as I go. I’m not removing a gum wrapper from the grass in a picture of the park, and duplicating birds in the background to make a more “involving” picture, and dropping in an uber-dramatic sky to replace the bright blue one with boring clouds I actually had there.

That’s no longer photography to me. That’s creating something new from old bits, but it annoys me that people like to pass it off as a representation of reality.

I’d both commit to being a photographer as a serious avocation—one I could dedicate myself to, one I was willing to sacrifice for—but I’d also make sure I did something else for a living.

I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately. Part of it has to do with life, in general. I often wonder how dramatically different life would be if I had been born five years sooner or five years later. If I had been born five years earlier, I might have been a more serious programmer at a younger age. I might have learned assembler language as a teenager or hand sold my own video games or something. In the mid-80s you could do that. Instead, I was a little too young for all that. I enjoyed my computer a lot in the 80s, but I wasn’t mature enough to seriously program anything until later.

And if I had been born five years later? Serious digital photography might have entered my life at an earlier age, and I might have gotten more serious about it and been able to devote a lot more time to it, and I might have some kind of side business of photography more seriously established.

Yet I still think I’d be making my living as a computer programmer. In the end, I’m a wuss who likes the security of a “real” job, even as I thrive on the vagaries of freelancing to some degree on the side. I’m probably safer that way. Also, once you make your hobby into a job, you need a new hobby. I don’t know that I want Yet Another New Hobby, thanks.

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