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|| News Item: Posted 2003-09-29

The problem is not Photoshop 7.0, It's Human Nature 1.0
By Scott Sommerdorf, San Francisco Chronicle

Photo by Scott Sommerdorf

Photo by Scott Sommerdorf

Los Angeles Rams RB Eric Dickerson uses a payphone in the runway of Candlestick Park to phone his Mom back in Texas. He wanted to make sure she was there to watch him play against the SF 49ers on Monday Night Football, Dec 9th, 1985.

Good photographers are getting in trouble these days with a technique we've all used.

"Burning and Dodging" by themselves are fine tools. They can add a subtle bit of simplification to a composition or gently redirect the reader's eye to important areas of the frame. But like anything, it can be abused.

This is sounding like a 12-step meeting. "Hi, my name is Scott, and I burn and dodge."

I remember eagerly reading my News Photographer magazines cover to cover in 1978 when I started as a photographer. Inside were great photographs by excellent photographers making superior photos and winning all the awards. Most of them printed fairly hard. They were dramatic, they "popped." And I emulated their style way too much.

Mediocre photos were saved and good photos were made better. I told myself I was building a personal style, but really I was making pictures that succeeded because of their dramatic look rather than the information.

So when you look at the recent troubles of Brian Walski and Patrick Schneider -- two very good photographers -- I can understand how they went wrong. Although I need to insert here that Schneider's transgressions are misdemeanors compared to Mr. Walksi's felony.

If I can have any sympathy for what Patrick Schneider has done recently it's because I know how he got there. I bet he's a perfectionist. His style is very clean and I can tell he takes great care with his composition and backgrounds.

Perfectionists will always feel that good enough is never good enough if it can be made better. And since the ability to make it better is so easy and close at hand with PhotoShop, it may be too hard to resist the temptation to step over your ethical boundaries and do the sort of things that cause such a controversy in North Carolina and on the Sportsshooter message boards.

"Burning and dodging" is not the problem -- it's our own weaknesses.

Human Nature 1.0 has to take a back seat to your duty to the industry, your readers and your own high standards.

Related Links:
Scott Sommerdorf's member page

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