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Vision & Voice: Refining Your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom — A Vision-Driven Workflow

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David duChemin introduces the concept of a vision-driven workflow, a holistic approach to image creation that is determined by your destination and driven by your vision.
This chapter is from the book

There’s a scene in the movie Planes, Trains & Automobiles where John Candy and Steve Martin accidentally drive down the highway heading the wrong way, against traffic. Oncoming traffic swerves out of the way. Other drivers yell at them, “You’re going the wrong way! You’re going the wrong way!” Candy’s character shrugs it off. “How do they know where we’re going?”

Indeed.

Many of the books out there that teach digital processing allow you to learn some skills you can use to address the question “How do I make my image look better?” But this is essentially an act of putting the proverbial cart before the horse. Until you define what it means for the image to “look better,” you have only learned how to read a map without having learned how to choose a destination. You’re driving toward, well, who knows? And if you don’t know where you’re driving, how do you know whether turning left or right is the correct decision? I don’t at all mean to imply that those other books aren’t needed—they are. In fact, the more technique you pull from those books, the more you can pull from this one. This is a contribution to a larger discussion, but I think an important one—or one that’s been conspicuously absent.

Enter a workflow that is determined by your destination, driven by your vision.

What Is Vision-Driven Workflow?

First, a caveat. Calling this whole thing a vision-driven workflow (VDW) makes it sounds like a system or a program. It isn’t. It’s just the handle I’ve put onto what is essentially a holistic approach to image creation. Second, it encompasses the whole process, from conception to capture to development to output, but this book covers only development. When I speak of workflow here, I’m referring only to the steps of refining an image in Lightroom’s Develop module, not the broader sense of the word that includes importing images, backing them up, rating them, and so on.

I used to spend hours in the darkroom. Mr. Harris, my high school photography teacher, knew full well that I was taking his class only for the free darkroom access it gave me. I would spend hours in that room, playing, waiting for images to appear in the red light. Smelling the chemicals, listening to the tick and buzz of the timer, completely unconscious of the hours slipping away. Ruining hundreds of pieces of otherwise perfectly good Ilford paper as I learned my craft. And craft it was. I miss those days. Spend hours now in front of a Wacom tablet and a cinema display and you’re more likely to be accused of geekery, not craftsmanship. I don’t mind telling you that really chafes me. But there could be a reason for this. Could it be we’ve developed a reputation for doing things because we can—because the technology allows us to—rather than because our vision demands it?

It’s time our geekery became craft, and we do that by assigning it its rightful place—in service of our vision. So let’s get to it. Let’s consider the foundation laid. I’ll stop bellowing into the microphone, take down the revivalist tent, and stop looking for converts. But just to make sure we’re more or less on the same page as our starting point, I’ll say the following.

A vision-driven workflow is a process of creating images, specifically in the digital darkroom, that begins at the point of conception and ends upon output of the image. VDW is guided by the intent of the photographer, and it is the means by which we bring the image conceived, the image captured, and the image developed into one photograph. More simply, VDW is a series of decisions about the aesthetics of an image that are made based on 1) your vision, or intention, for that image, and 2) your voice, the tools at your disposal.

Of course we know there is no perfect world and the realms of craft and art are messy, full of ambiguities, failed experiments, and works in progress. Sometimes the camera imperfectly captures what the eye sees; that may be a failure or limitation of the technology, or it may be a failure or limitation of the one who wields it. As you grow in your craft, if you need to occasionally use more paint to cover a flaw in the canvas, then do so. You’ll learn more about your own process, and your ability to capture better images will grow as you become tired of repeatedly fixing problems you might have avoided in the first place with a more intentional capture.

I’m pretty sure that digital photography hasn’t been around long enough for the so-called purists to be speaking with much authority yet. So go ahead, play and experiment. What’s the worst that can happen? You mess up a digital file; it’s a canvas that’s easily wiped cleaned and you can start over again.

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