jeff lewis, landscape artist

A word on digital processing and the "visual"

One of the most common questions I get about my work is, "Is that real? Or Photoshop?"

Let me be extremely clear.

I am a landscape artist. I do not care about "rules" of photography. I do not "mess with nature". I create

I am not a photographer who publishes final images that are straight out of the camera. That kind of work is not interesting to me. Being a journalist would hinder my ability to fully express myself. If you are searching for photojournalism, you will not find it here. 

The term "photograph" fails to accurately describe the vast majority of modern camera art. My work is no exception. I refer to my images as visuals.  A visual may not always meet strict criteria for a photographIt is camera art. 

As an artist, I don't find it exciting to release ten images from the same sunrise, each featuring one highlight or moment. I prefer to portray my vision in a single visual. This may require blending together images with varying exposures, focal points, perspectives, and times. For example, I may capture birds, wave motion, and sunset color in separate files from the same evening, then merge the best parts of each image into a visual that portrays my vision of the scene. The techniques I use in Photoshop are nothing that couldn't have been done in the darkroom -- they're now just much more accessible and precise. 

Photography, much more so than any other art form, is anchored in reality, as a camera depicts an actual experience in some way (often telling lies of its own!). This is not important to the result, but rather to the process. I enjoy the challenge of seeking the best conditions in the field, and find myself far more inspired to create when I am in such situations. 

In an increasingly digital age where classic darkroom techniques are resurfacing in applications like Photoshop, those who insist that a visual is "unnatural"  or "fake" because it has been digitally enhanced or altered are rendering themselves obsolete. This portfolio contains many of my own artistic visions, some subtle, some more surreal. 

My art will lie to you. But my descriptions will not. I might say nothing about my process, but I will not lie about it. This is crucial to my integrity as an artist. 

So, if your question is, "Is that edited?" -- the answer is "of course", but you're asking the wrong question. 

Happy exploring, and may the light be with you!

location, location, location

Few issues divide outdoor communities as deeply as locations. Do we share valuable beta with others, or not?

We are photographers. We are explorers. We are hikers. We are canyoneers. We are climbers. We are travelers. Immersing ourselves in our surroundings is what inspires us, what drives us. 

Others who join us in this experience are themselves part of the experience. There can be nothing more inspiring than sharing special conditions at a wild location with a few people we hold dear. And there is nothing less inspiring than standing in a line of 50 tripods in a place we once held dear. 

Whether or not to reveal our beta is one of the most difficult choices we face. Do we want to risk ruining a sensitive place? To some: of course. Locations are locations, just places for creativity. Let people come see them, just as others have done for us. 

But what if the location is...

  • ...closed to the public, or closed at the time of day the image was made, and photographers there must not attract attention? 
  • ...fragile, and susceptible to trampling, garbage, and vandalism?
  • ...sacred to native people? 
  • ...dangerous and potentially life-threatening to access or photograph from?
  • ...too small to fit more than one or two photographers?
  • ...on private property, and you had permission, but others might not seek it?
  • ...a place you simply enjoy solitude and just want to keep it that way?

If you discovered one of these places, and most of us have -- would you STILL share it with the world?

We all draw our line in a different place -- but I believe we all have a line somewhere. Where the problems arise is how we present our beta to the public in the context of our images. This is where social media brings out the worst in us. 

The simple answer is, if you discover a new or little-known location, or come up with a new concept for an image, you have three choices:

  1. Share it with the world. Post it to social media, tell people where it is and how it's done. 
  2. Keep it to yourself. You must not share images of the location, even if untagged. 
  3. An "unhappy medium" between (1) and (2). Perhaps share an image but exclude location and technique information, and refuse this information to most viewers who inquire. 

The problem with (1), sharing, is... it rapidly destroys the place. Large crowds quickly appear. And you caused it. Issues with landowners may arise. You might return next year and find no space for your tripod, or have your images ruined by light painters or model shoots. There may be a new permit system in place, or the location may become closed due to the actions of others -- you might not be able to visit at all. And your image will quickly become lost in a sea of similar-looking images from others. 

The problem with (3), the "unhappy medium", is... it destroys the place AND makes you a jerk. Others helped you discover little-known locations. You claimed the fame but passed nothing on. You contributed nothing to the art, other than borrowing someone else's idea and giving nothing back. And for that... you can screw right off.  AND, worse yet... it doesn't even work. Intrepid explorers will still quietly use your images to reverse engineer the locations and concepts. And you'll have no control over how they handle the information. They'll tell a few friends. Who will tell a few friends. And it's over. Same outcome. Just delayed. Location destroyed. AND you're a jerk. 

The problem with (2), keeping completely to yourself, is... you miss out on the joy of sharing your work with the world. Others inspired you, and you will surely inspire others... but you can't do that if you don't share your work. And there is little joy in creating if we have no one to share it with. 

So... what does that leave us with? We can't win, can we? 

Social media, of course, is the primary driver, and makes the problem worse than ever. Most photographers chase images that perform well online, or sell well. If you achieve these, there will be people knocking on your door for information, so they, too, can get in on the social media action. The information will get out, whether you provide it or not. Crowd growth is exponential. Social media photography is a disease. It must die. If I think you're gonna post your image to Instagram, I'm sorry, but I won't be sharing my beta with you. 

I can understand both sides. I go back and forth between them myself. I enjoy sharing beta for the happiness it brings others, and to give back to a community that has helped me so much. However, I have experienced firsthand the pain of publishing unique work from unique locations, and soon returning to find dozens of tripods chasing my creative success. I have tried to find the unhappy medium, but always failed. And that unhappy medium, of course, comes with being a jerk. 

If the image appears on social media, even without information, it will not be unique for long, and its location will no longer provide solitude. It may never be the same again. And you have to live with the fact that... well, you are responsible for that. Despite your best efforts, you let it out. And you were a jerk by refusing to give back to others who were interested. What a mess. 

In the end, what it all comes down to is, if you have a secret location that you want to preserve, do not share it, and do not share images of it. Posting landscape images for "preservation" but withholding beta on them is a snake's tactic, not a happy medium. If you truly want to "preserve", or just want to enjoy it for yourself, there is nothing wrong with that -- but do exactly that. By sharing the image, you are now enjoying it with others, who will want to see it for themselves. You can't have fame and recognition for your discovery without also making it popular. You can't have your cake and eat it too. It's just a choice we have to make.

I find this choice is best made on a case-by-case basis. With each new image you produce, consider this: Is this an image you would like to establish your name with, or is this a place you would like to return and have it to yourself? 

Because you can't have both. 

When Two Worlds Collide: Art vs. Social Media



Debates continue to rage within the social media photography community, over issues like compositional ownership and what amounts of post-processing are acceptable. Occasionally the pot boils over, then briefly returns to simmering, only to boil over again in the coming weeks. 

If I released a cover of your song, of course I’d credit you. Why don’t photographers do the same? Shouldn’t they?

Similarly, how is it fair to a photographer who runs their business by creating honest photographs, or does some blending to compensate for camera limitations, but doesn’t drop in skies from other days – when someone else can just drop their sky in and get more attention? It’s not fair, right?

Remember: this is social media. This is business. This is a society that worships likes, comments, and dollars.

Photography isn’t any of those. Photography is art. What are the rules in art? There aren’t any. Who are we to impose our personal beliefs and limitations on others? If I say one thing is OK, but something else isn’t, who am I to make the rules for someone else?

Both sides are right, really. But it’s the approach that determines the opinion.

The real, underlying problem is when one tries to put all photographers on a level playing field on social media, while everyone is taking different kinds and amounts of steroids. This is a world (a bubble, if you will) where all work is the same -- “photography” -- and competes for likes, favorites, comments, and other forms of attention. Money may be involved, too. Success is typically defined by the amount of attention an image gets. In a social media world, it absolutely isn’t fair if your honest image, which you worked hard for, gets 100 likes, while someone drops a sky over the same scene in 10 minutes and gets 1000 likes. And it isn’t fair if your fresh image, which you worked hard to scout for, gets 100 likes, while someone else copies your composition, doesn’t credit you, and gets 1000 likes.

But wait a second – are we talking about photography, the art, or are we talking about social media? Those are different!

If you insert a sky from halfway around the world, you have obviously taken steroids. If you move the contrast slider or add a tone curve, you have also taken steroids. And if you use a single long exposure to blur moving water, you, too, have taken steroids.

“But what I do is different,” you say. “I stretch reality, but it’s believable. It’s natural. It’s not fake. It's not like that.”

Time for a reality check. What the hell are you talking about? Of course your work is fake. You altered the raw file that came out of your camera, which didn’t represent reality in the first place. And who cares?

Social media cares, and rightfully so. Because it isn’t fair to have everyone play the game using different kinds of steroids on a level playing field.

But we have to understand something here. Social media does not promote art. The web promotes competing for attention and business, and by rewarding replication of trending topics, it ends up suppressing creativity as much as it fosters it. That’s one of the reasons why I recently stopped posting my images on social media, and just keep them to my website.

Interestingly, since I’ve stopped posting on social media, I’ve noticed myself doing new kinds of experimentation that I wouldn’t have done before. Why? Because I don’t have to prove to anyone that it’s real, original, or worthy of their like or comment. I don’t have to brace myself for comments from trolls and self-proclaimed experts. I don’t have to weather the storm of photographers defending “their” comps. I simply don’t have to give a hoot what anyone else thinks. It’s not like I’m trying to use the image to get 1000 likes, to draw attention to my work, to drive traffic to my workshops page. I’m back to making art. And I enjoy that. I still have personal guidelines, merely because those describe the creative process I find most inspiring, but… really, once you remove the competition and comparison, who cares?

Seriously, who cares?

Ah, right – social media cares. Artists couldn’t care less.

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