My “Look” and Why I Like It That Way

About my look, or photographic post processing style…

It’s changed over the years, from a more documentarian style where I’d simply correct colors to taste and crop when needed, to my current dark aesthetic. It really developed from a combination of my camera history, my life experiences and finally letting my honest self be reflected. Let me explain each of those 3 elements and then bring it all back together.

My camera history: the first camera I ever shot with was a Canon AE-1 my dad bought after one of my uncles had recommended it to him. This was a time where my dad bought a VHS video camera and wanted a good stills camera to capture my brother and I growing up. I was about 8 or 9 years old at the time, too young and active to really care about the exposure triangle, but I mostly figured it out. Deep inside though, I just wanted to disassemble and reassemble it. But that’s a whole other story.

In my teens, another uncle decided to open a photo processing lab and studio. Doing event portraits with a Mamiya RZ medium format camera was my first experience that significantly impacted my current look. The controlled focal plane, vignetting and almost unreal tonality, texture and detail are all features that exhibit in my final processing. It’s why I currently shoot with digital medium format; to access that tonality and texture no smaller sensor can provide.

And then came a dark period in my life that still affects me to this day. I worked hard to ignore it, deny it, shut it away and pretend to be “normal.” Eventually, I’ve learned to not just come to grips with it but to lean into it with my photography. My processing became darker, literally, reducing my in camera exposures by as much as one stop. I stopped caring about details lost to darkness and shadow. I started bringing down highlights, bumping up contrast and adding a vignette by way of highlighting the subject or focal point. “Moody” is one way to describe it.

Finally, I began taking control of the texture and sharpness. It began with a mistake that resulted in an image that seemed to better encapsulate how I saw the world visually. Not just dark, but shallower, with a more purposeful gaze resulting in a shallower depth and less overall focus. Instead of using only light to emphasize my focal point, I began using soft focus and reduced texture to enhance the dark vignette. The result is somewhere between an impression of thin depth of focus and haloing, a look often found in medium and large format film purely by necessity.

So that’s pretty much it. It took a lot of years for me to accept how I feel and reach a point where I’m confident enough to let that come through in how I both set up the shot in camera and how I post process. My affinity for the large and medium format look plus my very dark emotional baseline is what dictates my photographic style. Most don’t like it but I’m confident enough in myself to not care anymore. The ones who do like it seem to really like it, and that’s all that matters.

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