A year ago I made this statement in a published interview (It relates to the 4.4 billion users of cell phones that are equipped to make photographs): “Easy to use computer software has put creativity in the hands of every one of those picture makers.”

A reader took exception. He thinks that “creativity” should be replaced with “craft”.

Which…got me to thinking.

We photographers “create”. We start with a real time experience. We capture a part of it with our camera. How we capture it or how much of it we capture starts the creative process.

From there we work on it mechanically or electronically to further transform it into something we want it to be. Or we may do nothing to it. Either way we saw something, we captured it with our cameras and, finally, we present in a way which is of our own creativity.

An artist with palette and brushes does much the same thing.

But let’s look at that artist and his work. Had he been given a line drawing with numbered spaces and matching numbered paints he could have produced a version, an interpretation, maybe even a creation which matches that of the paint-by-the-numbers manufacturer. But it wouldn’t be his creation.

Don’t we do the same thing if we bring an image into our processing program and apply someone else’s filter preset to it? And worse…present it as an example of our creativity? I think it is akin to farming out the creativity process. Maybe the analogy isn’t perfect and I’m not saying that the results can’t be artistic — often they are fabulous — but c’mon, people, are you really creative if you do that?

Now, admittedly this is rather harsh but I’m beginning to think of presets as talking to my computer this way:

“Here is a photo. Work it up in a bunch of different ways. I’ll select the one I like and claim it as mine.”

Likewise with HDR. Recently I’ve come to the conclusion that HDR programs should be used to do just what they were designed to do — capture a wide exposure range. If I want grunge I’ll use my own processing tools to make grunge.

I’m learning to use the tools in my processing program (Lightroom or Photoshop) to get what I envision. Methinks that comes closer to creativity.

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Guy Davies - I agree with you John. My background in processing was in the darkroom under the enlarger, burning and dodging etc (purely amateur). I use the same approach in Photoshop with well feathered selections and Curves adjustment layers to achieve the same result. Generally, if I can’t get the result I want I leave it and look for another image. I have never had much patience with semi-automatic adjustment programs. Also, I have to say that I use HDR software to recover high contrast situations, which it was designed for.

skeeter - Thanks for the comment, Guy. I wonder if this (using presets) isn’t just another example of each successive generation moving away from the manual skills of their parents. Maybe that isn’t bad but it seems a shame in some respects.

Guy Davies - I think you are right John. I wonder what our children and grandchildren will moan about when they get older!?

skeeter - Their children and grandchildren, no doubt.

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