Monday, November 9, 2009


This conversation came about between myself and a flickr member Chuck Foley. I'd been thinking about this stuff and how much to post/reveal about my workflow and well, this is what I think.

I hate it when people horde information. I hate it when people don't share what they know.

As I'm learning how to shoot/retouch, I find it harder and harder to access the type of information that I need. This is primarily because less people have this information and therefore it's simply more scarce. This scarcity of information can result from the higher level of difficulty of the process thus making it less likely to be widely accepted as the way to do a achieve a certain effect. Or it can result from people creating proprietary workflow that is inherent to the way they achieve a certain effect and thus unwilling to share the "secret recipe".

I am conflicted because the more I shoot and retouch, the more I have developed a "way of doing things". I don't know that I would call it a "secret recipe" because there's no secret behind what I do. The sharer in me wants others to know the individual pieces and techniques that I use in order to do what I do. I'm not sure if the techniques can be likened to "processes" or to "basic ingredients". A process can be patented. An ingredient can not be patented. By these definitions, I feel that the techniques I use should be considered ingredients and should therefore be common knowledge to all. After all, every thing I do in Photoshop can be found in some Photoshop manual. With that said, the greatest chefs don't necessarily share their connections/suppliers for their favorite ingredients. Also, the sequence of actions that I perform in Photoshop aren't going to be found in any generic book.

The sharer in me believes that if someone is really dedicated to learning and discovering how to achieve a certain effect, that they will ultimately prevail regardless of whether or not I reveal my own processes. I am not the only source of information. Which is why for the most part, I'm not afraid of sharing my lighting diagrams/setups, camera setups, and even sometimes my retouch screenshots. The sharer in me believes that the secret lies not within the individual steps, but rather the choices that I make in that sequence for every step throughout that particular image from conception to posting. The techniques aren't the secret. It's the vision... and you can't really steal my vision.

Besides, what I do isn't unique. I'm not the first to do what I've done. While I do it well, even I am constantly learning from others and thus cultivating my own skills and vision. Until I develop a look that's so trademark "Charles Yeh" that you could tell just by looking at it, like Dave Hill or Jill Greenberg, I should really not worry about this too much...

But you won't find a step-by-step process on how to achieve the Dave Hill effect from Dave Hill himself. Nor will you find a how-to from any of the great photographers on how they achieve their signature look. In fact the fact that Dave Hill's look has been discussed to such depths, illustrates how valuable the "secret recipe" can be. The closest thing I've found to a recipe is an interview with Amy Dresser where she discusses the individual steps she goes through in processing a Jill Greenberg picture. That's got nothing to do with Jill though. Jill uses Amy pretty exclusively for her images and Amy's a retoucher so she can share what she knows is she wants. I bet Amy makes a lot less than Jill and could stand to accept more work from various places anyway. Perhaps sharing that information/knowledge is a means to those ends.

But I'm not Dave Hill. And I don't have a "look".

Or maybe, I don't really know what I'm talking about :) You know, if anything that's probably my slogan or tagline from my posts...

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