digital_style

Digital Style – The Joey L – Jill G – Dave Hill Look

Editor’s Note:

The following is a collection of thoughts on Digital Style, an elusive element of Digital Imaging, an extension of Photography.? The author has already admitted during our last project meeting that he “has” no style, nor any particular story to tell – which made him the logical choice for this article.? This is a Style piece, and logic therefore need not apply.

The Writer's Hand

Photoshop is a great big beautiful doorway to the realization of any creative genius that the Devil can conjure up.? For a generation of digital-born image makers it’s the go-to in creating a digital style – that illusive look that sets one image apart from another and defines the distinctive qualities of an Artist.

Millions of poor fools are locked in the cult-mindset that their crap photos can be saved by the Photoshop high Priest-magic of our time – the Photoshop Action.? Load a photo, run the action, Photoshop does all the changes to your image – and there is your masterpiece.? The object of their obsession is getting “the so-and-so look” the high dynamic range of Dragan, the cartoon-like softness of Dave Hill, the gritty power of Joey Lawrence, or even the emotionally engaging elements of Jill Greenberg.

Photoshop, like any unchecked religious fascination quickly becomes a short-cut to thinking if the “program” is placed before the “story.”? Some would say it’s all down to plot and the story line.? Most everything worth reading, watching or looking at has it.? You check out a photograph and there’s a message, something there, a story that pops into your mind and pulls you in.? If there’s no story in your photos, no amount of demon-inspired-bastard Photoshopping will save your blunder.

Relax Hand Hard Shadow

You can spend hours searching for a top-notch Dave Hill action script, or you can spend about 30 minutes on Strobist, StudioLighting.net, FlashFlavor, and any number of free-learning websites where a sheep can shave the wool from their vision and learn to use light to paint a story on a digital imaging sensor.? Photoshop can enhance and manipulate, but it’s not a creativity creation machine – and it doesn’t need to be.? Creativity is just the Artistic neighbor of Quantum Physics, terms used to things which are not fully understood by the people who use them.

The simple truth is that there’s no secret to Jill’s emotionally charged images or Joey’s gritty grung work.? Lighting and subject, with Dave and Jill and Joey, they are awesome.? Awesome subjects and lighting.? Sure you can imitate Jill’s style, just call up Gwen Stefani or your local bear handler and set up a shoot.? Get the lighting right and you can copy her look. No Photoshop action needed.

“No, no, I got it, Jill and Dave use RING LIGHTS.”

It’s true, many photographers such as Jill G and Dave Hill make sensible use of right light flash heads, but dropping $400 on an Alien Bees head won’t make your images “good” if you have no story to tell.

The limited edition White Stripes Meg Diana with ring light accessory is a different story.? If you drop $180 on this cool camera you’ll space-jump to Hollywood lighting pimp in the span of 5 seconds.

4…3…2…1…take off

Climber I

Seriously, if you’re looking for digital style – quit Photoshop.? There’s no point in wasting time with the program if you haven’t a clue what look you want or what the story should be.? Take a walk, pick up a Japanese ink pen, build a house of cards, and come back when you have something to say.

The story doesn’t have to be anything special, profound or engaging, but if you simply manipulate your photos in Photoshop trying for that special look and post photos to Flickr messages boards looking for accolades from the web community, your sheep mind will never rise above the level of a second-rate snap shooter.? But is doesn’t have to be, it’s cool just using new tools to be Creative.? However, with new tools comes confusion, consider leaving the digital sanctuary, turn your back on the Photoshop cult and tell your story as it exists in your mind.

Of course, if you have no desire to – keep doing what you were doing.

Looking to the East

Trust me, I’m a scientist.

Excellent Photographers:

Jill Greenberg
Joey Lawrence
Dave Hill
Michael Grecco
Andrzej Dragan

Further reading:

A drawn-out Flickr discussion – the Dave Hill Look
A useful Flickr discussion – the Joey Lawrence Look

Flickr Photos without a Style or a Look

Photography and Photoshop – Getting Digital Style

I’m sort of on a Style quest.  This isn’t meant to mean that I’m trying to define a certain photographic style because I read online that I need to do so.  Getting a certain style, or look in my digital images in just an extension of the process that started many years ago.  I started out in photography with mountain photography, documenting trips in Colorado or New Mexico, which eventually shifted to locales like Bolivia, the Swiss Alps, and now to parts of Japan.

Photography is a natural part of travel, and in Europe I took the time four yeas ago to head out with a universal train pass shooting about two rolls of mixed 35 mm and 6×4.5 for a month in places like Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Germany.  The point was that I wanted to see what I liked shooting and didn’t care much for – to figure things out.  Eventually I moved to off-camera lighting with a Strobist education, and now I’m expanding further into the freedom provided by Photoshop – initially inspired by the work of Joey Lawrence.

Photoshop is one of those crazy amazing programs where anything is possible, but if you just randomly click things without any feeling for the result you’ll never really use the program for anything beyond an amusing supplement for television.

It’s important to remember that Photoshop is just a visual translator, an avenue for the user to express a visual representation of an idea.  Like most computer programs, the actual user-computer interaction sucks.  Many of the elements of Photoshop like the paintbrush tool are traditionally controlled by a computer mouse – one of the least bio-mechancially compatible gadgets ever invented.  It doesn’t matter the shape, number of buttons or color, the mouse was not designed for a person to easily interact with the computer.  It was developed because in the age of post-DOS early Windows programs, it was the most basic component that could be produced to allow user-computer interaction beyond the keyboard.

I’m still waiting for the day when mechanical design and analysis programs like Pro/E and ANSYS are sold with VR-goggles and three-dimensional motion gloves to enable real user-program interaction.  If you really want to start interacting with Photoshop and making it an extension of your imagination and body – drop the standard mouse and pick up a graphic tablet.  Mine is a basic small Wacom from like 8 years ago – superior to any of the latest button-crazy-curved-but-non-ergonomic mouse designs found today.  Plus, it’s small enough to pack along to all corners of the Earth with my dented G4 PowerBook.  I’ve been drawing in class since kindergarten – sketching with a pen or pencil is my natural visual expressive process – so using a mouse with Photoshop is just imposing a handicap.




Once you get a feeling for what Photoshop can do by starting out with some basic online tutorials, buy yourself a sketch book and drawing implements.  My current favorites are a Moleskine sketch book, standard pen, and Japanese ink pen.  The Moleskin has heavyweight pages that soak up excess ink are great for shading.




The Japanese ink pen is essentially like having a paint brush in your pocket.  You can buy different brush lengths, and are generally available in art stores.  As I’m in Tokyo at the moment, I plan on bringing a small bag full back to Zurich.  When you feel like it, draw something, anything, fill in lines, create shadows, contrast, change the feeling from happy bunny to evil man-eating alien with a few pen strokes.  That’s really all Photoshop does, just on a much larger scale.  Get used to doing it with simple sketch books, and you can start opening up the creative flood gates in Photoshop.




Photoshop is great for doing contrast and brightness adjustment, but if that’s all you’re using the program for save yourself the hassle of having all the other features and go with a simpler program like Gimp, Lightroom, Aperture, Light Zone, etc.

The reason I’m exciting about using and abusing Photoshop in the coming year is the amazing possibilities with selective lighting and local image adjustments.  Using a graphic tablet and painter techniques one can really start using the program as an extension of the mind-body and use it as a creative tool to create – as opposed to modifying images.  I always knew these things were possible, I just never took the time to explore them before.




I don’t know where I’m going with Photoshop, but I love the possibilities, I love using the program as an extension of my mind and starting to visualize the creation and evolution of images from the initial image capture to the thing my mind originally envisioned when I tripped the shutter.