Dean Collins on digital

There are people that have a major impact on your life, your career, your way of thinking etc.
For me without any doubt this was Dean Collins.
The way he explains photography is something that really opened my eyes, however also the way he taught with loads of humor,  but stil being able to explain something that seems incredibly complicated into understandable pieces of information, making people realize that in fact when you know your lights there really is not much that can’t be done. Dean mostly worked in an age where digital was not there, however here is a video fragment where he talks about digital and I think that this contains some VITAL information and will make (hopefully) some people think.

The fun thing for me is that he actually hits the nail on the head.
“the computer won’t create anything for you, it will just put it together”
“if you master the first two the third will be seamless”


A great example of this I think is that you will hear a lot of people starting out in Photography now a days only focus on gear and Photoshop/Lightroom and not on understanding lights, getting a meter etc. And don’t get me wrong I won’t say that this is 100% wrong, I do agree with Dean however that if you truly focus on understanding your light (being a masterphotographer in the first place) and incorporate Photoshop in that workflow you can create more even more stunning looking images than they could in the years before digital.


However when I look back at some of the images in the past and now I see almost the opposite, and I hope I don’t get flamed for this (remember it’s just an opinion), when I look at modern photography in MANY magazines I see flat lighting, errors in lighting that are not nice (some can be creative, but I really mean not nice in this case), the same looking image over and over again, images relying heavy on postprocessing and I miss the mood and atmosphere you saw in the images from the 60’s/70’s/80’s/90’s


When I’m on trips I always love to buy the Vogue, somehow the photography in Vogue I love (depending a bit per country), also look at magazines like Harper’s bazaar and there are some more out there, those magazines often have stunning photography, compared to the flatter/same looking images in other magazines it’s just an enjoyment to look at. Now one could argue that this is depended on the time we now live in, that people love the more flat look, but I beg to differ. I strongly believe that editors/photographers etc. create the look that is popular and that the public likes what they hear/see the most in a certain degree of course.


As a photographer I can enjoy both and I would be 100% ok with it (and this sounds stronger than I mean it) if this was just a trend, however what I find slightly troubling is that when I teach and start with a Q&A the first question often is “what do you use in Photoshop”, “How do you create the look you have in Photoshop, are you gonna show us that”, “what’s your favorite filter in Photoshop”, “which version of xxxx do you run”…. etc. Almost 80% of the questions I get asked are about postprocessing, about gear and about putting things together digitally. And don’t get me wrong I LOVE gear, I LOVE Photoshop and I LOOOOOVE digital. However I strongly believe that gear is in fact almost irrelevant, Photoshop is just a tool to finish the image, a darkroom on steroids so to speak. And that most of the look you create should in fact be done in camera or on set.


Over the years some people have labeled me “old fashioned”, “meter geek” (loved that one) etc.
But what I always love if after a workshops, or watching on of my videos, people mail me and tell me that they changed their way of shooting and they are now faster and get better results and they are able to visualize the shot BEFORE they take it, instead of just shooting and later in Photoshop trying to figure out what they should do with the shot. Maybe it has also something to do with stock photography. Budgets are going down for magazines and publications and buying an image for a few dollars can be much more interesting than spending a lot of money on photographers and retouching, however when you shoot stock you will often choose a safe in between way of shooting, meaning the image can be used in many different ways, this also often means that the shots won’t be too moody because if there are too much shadows maybe a magazine won’t buy it, or it can’t be used in a composite etc. this somehow (and again this is my personal opinion) also set the trend to the more flat looking images we see in most publications today. There still is a lot of stunning photography out there by the way, but most are found on websites, online galleries and SOME magazines that have the budget, or take the risk with new talent (which are often willing to work for free or little).


I showed this video for one simple reason.
I for one believe that we are story tellers, that our photography should move people, advertising photography should be more than a rendering of a product, it should set a mood and create the need for people to identify themselves with the product and go out and buy it. This can be done in many ways and relying on Photoshop is one of them….. so there is nothing wrong with that, if you earn your money with it ….


However when starting out with photography (and this is were this is aimed at), I think it’s vital, if not the most important thing in the world, to FIRST start studying photography, learn to control your lights, understand what light does and how it can be manipulated, than concentrate on how gear can improve your shooting and help you achieve better results, and then….. and only then…… see what Photoshop can do to take you that extra mile.


And I don’t mean :
9:00 AM – 12:00 AM : Learn light
12:00 AM – 12:30 PM : Lunch
12:30 PM – 14:30 PM : Learn gear
14:30 PM – 17:00 PM : Photoshop


Photography takes years to master, and I won’t say that you can’t touch Photoshop in the first 2-3 years, but I do want to challenge you to use Photoshop the first 2-3 years only to tint an image, work on some skin “problems”, maybe remove some elements you really couldn’t solve on location (often a simple chance of position is enough to remove unwanted items) etc. don’t change the whole image, only enhance (sharpen, saturation, color etc.) Now if you’re able to create images that have a wow factor with just light and slight adjustments in Photoshop I think you will probably use Photoshop a lot less than you thought before.


And now I hear you think… “how can I earn my money with photography, if I’m not allowed to use Photoshop for 2-3 years”. And this hits the nail on the head. I always say in workshops “when people buy a violin they are someone that owns a violin, when someone buys a camera they are a photographer”


Imagine going to the hospital and being operated on by a person that just started their study in medicine, still reading a book while holding the scalpel the wrong way, looking in the book to find the correct balance for the pain medication, or even worse…… dare I say it……… don’t worry about the scars…. we’ll fix it later on in post……Photography like every profession takes time to master, takes time to learn, you can’t expect to quit your day job on Saturday and start as a photographer on Monday, however this is often the opinion, so when I say don’t use Photoshop (too much) for the first 2-3 years and learn lighting first this is actually something that I think is the normal learning process. With digital everything can be much faster, count in talent and some people indeed can start shooting stunning images within a few months (maybe weeks) however working for a client is a different ballgame, now you have to create what they want and that takes some knowledge that you will have to learn/master if you rely only on digital you will get into trouble I’m afraid. And before you start teaching workshops…. well count in a few more years (I’ve seen people starting teaching within a year of picking up the camera themselves)


For example force yourself for a week or two to NOT touch the fill in (shadows) slider. Try to solve it with light.
Very soon (within a few hours) you will find out that when you use extra fill in flash there are so many more things you can create and play with that you will start seeing light in a totally different way, plus your quality will be better (more detail less noise) and your time behind the computer is greatly reduced and you can spend that on shooting.


Again I hope you don’t take this personal, don’t think I hate people that rely on Photoshop. I just wanted to point out with this blogpost that you can probably be a LOT better if you first understand lighting and use Photoshop as a tool to enhance not create (as a Photographer that is).

11 replies
  1. terry
    terry says:

    what a great thing you said here! I would LOVE to be known as a “meter geek”. It’s the light in the camera, the image at the shoot…not the “fix it later”. Until I found your website I thought “glamour” photography was the cover of PEOPLE magazine…whatever. I have argued with people who actually say that the creativity in photography does not begin until you bring the image into Photoshop. I say that the creativity begins when you begin to imagine what the camera has not yet captured. Don’t “hold the scalpel the wrong way”, embrace your relationship with the light on location when you click the shutter.

    • Frank Doorhof
      Frank Doorhof says:

      Yep, Photoshop is cool but it should be used as finishing not making I think.

      Although I sometimes love to composite, but that’s not photography for me. It’s digital art based on photographs.

  2. SymbolPhoto Boston
    SymbolPhoto Boston says:

    Dean was the master, no question. Years later and his stuff is still relevant. Amazing. Between you and Dean, I’ve really learned from some of the best out there.

  3. Raymak
    Raymak says:

    Thanks for sharing Frank! Great piece. I look forward to seeing you teach at photoshop world in September.

    All the best from Brussels!


  4. Matthew Vanecek
    Matthew Vanecek says:

    Nice post, and I agree with most of your points. OK, all. But, when you say to “solve it with light” and use extra fill flash, wouldn’t that be solving the problem with more than 1 flash? 😛

    • Frank Doorhof
      Frank Doorhof says:

      Indeed, but who ever said that only are allowed to use one strobe ?

      It’s a way of thinking, don’t think you need 3-4 from the start 😀

  5. cmlndm
    cmlndm says:

    Very good post indeed. You (the same as Dean) have been an inspiration to truly learn the craft.

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