The Reason

Hotel window.
Hotel window.

The reason. The reason why.

If you like the way my images look, why is probably more important than how I come up with my ideas. Remember ideas are pretty personal.

The most important thing to know is that I don’t do things just to do them. I may experiment, but I do it with intent. All those filters on apps like Instagram are meaningless to me. They just add a layer of something that is passingly cool. If anything, they may hurt the original image.

That’s just me.

Most of you already know this, but as a starting point, I’ve been doing this seriously and professionally for a long, long time. Since 1973. That means I started working with film — not digital capture. I worked mostly with black and white film. I developed my film in a darkroom. I made my own prints in a wet lab. About 11 years later I made the move to color slide film. Shooting slides is another world. I learned to make the picture I wanted in the camera. No cropping way into the frame to get to the heart of the picture.  Fill the frame with your subject. Exposure had to be dead on. Later I moved to agency work and big book production. I learned why accurate exposures were so important. Making color separations and printing plates is another art wrapped in the heading of craft. But, as they say in the digital world, “GIGO.” Garbage in. Garbage out.

Every picture I made was intended to be printed on a piece of paper. That process may have stopped when I made a print. Or, it might have continued on through the reprographic stages to put dots on a piece of paper when the image was published.

Along came the digital world.

To be sure, there are different approaches to expose a digital file in the camera. And, they are somewhat different from exposing a piece of film. There is a lot of freedom when you make a RAW file. It’s like making a negative. RAW also means much more control since the camera is not processing the picture according to its own software and making a jpg file. A jpg file is finished. That’s fine if you don’t want or need the control. It is also compressed. Data has been removed. I photograph everything in RAW.

That said, my past is prologue to my future. I think in terms of making the best possible image that I can from a technical standpoint. That means a good contrast range. Rich, but open blacks. Clean highlights. Good sharpness. But, not overly sharp. I know the making an image for the screen is not the same as making one for print. A LCD is translucent. A piece of paper is opaque. And picture that looks good on the screen maybe too dark and lack the proper contrast to be printed.

One of you asked about my processing software. I used to think it doesn’t matter. Once again, I was wrong.

It does.

Of course, the big giant processors are made by Adobe. Photoshop. Lightroom. Photoshop has become so ubiquitous that people ask if a picture was “photoshopped” when they really mean was it enhanced or manipulated in any way.

I don’t use either of them. Except for my Leica film bodies. And, one other thing. Text.

I use PhaseOne for my basic processing. It’s finer. It’s more accurate. It’s the difference between an axe and a sword. And it is creamy. That’s a term used by older photographers for something that is rich and full rather than overly contrasty and bright. That’s important because most digital anything — pictures, scanned paintings, music — is too clean. Has too much contrast. It can be almost brassy feeling.

Generally, when I’m working for clients I stop after developing my pictures. Most of them want pictures that look like photographs, not some cross-pollination of art and photography. This software is very expensive. It was originally made for guys who use large format cameras and shoot tethered to a laptop. I wouldn’t use it, except I work with Sony mirrorless cameras for most things. Sony and PhaseOne did a business deal. Fully functioning software for only Sony RAW files is free.

For finishing my work, for what you usually see on Storyteller, I use On1. The software was originally developed for a wedding and portrait side of the industry. Other photographers discovered it and they were off to the races. They are currently finishing a very new version of their software. Among other things, it now uses their own RAW processing software. This is much more affordable.

For me this software is easy to use and very fast. I’ve been using Adobe products since they were Aldus. I used them to make color separations prior to making printing plates. I used them to make all the layers and actions needed to do the kind of finishing I do today. It’s very time-consuming. If I were a digital retoucher like a couple of my friends, I wouldn’t  leave Adobe. But, I don’t need the firepower that they do…

So. That’s it.

I work the way that I do with the intent of making every picture good enough for reproduction on some kind of piece of paper. I don’t make prints in my studio. I use a professional printer. I give him files either in person using a thumb drive. Or, I send them to him via Dropbox or something like that. He rarely ever has to make more than one print to get the image right. There are times that he might make a tiny change. But, I’m consistent. We’ve worked together for so long that he knows my moves.

When I send digital files to a client for a specific project, I make the files according to their specs. That kind of granular fine tuning is available in On1.

This picture. Hotel window during a storm. I got bored. That’s when stuff happens. I used a macro lens at f2.8 with a shutter speed of anywhere from 125th of a second to 500th of second depending on how the light moved. The leaf was blown onto the window and stuck to its wet surface. It was a windy, hard raining storm.



  1. Thanks Ray! I really appreciate the detailed description of the various processes you’ve gone through as time has progressed. I processed and printed B+W as a hobby in senior high school. And it so true about shooting slides – you have to get the crop, composition, exposure dead on. Plus it cost me about 50 cents a shot for a 36 exposure roll of Kodachrome.


  2. Thank you for the personal insight. What a career. I think it was your shots of New Orleans which originally caught my attention. I was a wanna be photographer at one point in my life. It is interesting to read this piece and see how photography has changed in our lifetimes alone. Keep up the good work. John Keenan

    Liked by 1 person

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