Of Cakes and Plugins

White Sands Black & White

I recently published a short essay about the photograph above on Luminous-Landscape.com  (you can read the essay at this link). This essay brought a question about which plugin I used to convert this photograph to black and white.

Fact is, I don’t use any ‘creative’ plugins. When it comes to the expressive aspects of my work, I do everything from scratch.

All my work is done in Photoshop using layers. I tried plugins a long time ago and what happened is my style became the plugin style. No more of that for me. I’m only interested in my own style!

For me art is about freedom and I found that I have the most freedom when I use layers that I create myself. I want to be guided by my inspiration, not by software designers.

Of course, you don’t have to use plugins with presets. While that is an option, you can also modify the presets and make your own settings.

Eventually, this thing with using plugins with presets, or using plugins and making your own settings, or not using plugins at all (like I do) is comparable to baking a cake. You can buy a ready made cake, or you can buy a cake mix and add butter, milk and a few other ingredients, or you can make your own cake 100% from scratch.

Only option three is entirely your work and that’s my favorite. It takes longer, requires more knowledge, and necessitates more efforts, but it is the only one that results in the most personal and unique creations.

Certainly, doing everything from scratch does take more time and  since ‘time is money’ this requires more financial resources as well.   While this is certainly accurate, that is not how I see things.  For me, creating fine art is not about saving time.  It is about creating the finest image possible.  This means getting out of my way and spending more time than most would when necessary.

My goal is to create the finest quality images possible, not the largest quantity possible. In any given year, I produce somewhere between 10 and 25 images that I consider to be fine art.  I do take thousands of captures, if not tens of thousands, but those numbers are attempts, not final images. The number of final images I create is in the 2 digits.  So far this number has been between 10 and 25 yearly.

The case can also be made that it is inevitable to use some plugins such as sharpening, CS5 Photomerge, noise removal, and the like.  This is a valid point.  However, to me using these plugins does not affect style.  They are more ‘practical’ in their functions than ‘artistic’.  Their use is not an end in itself. They are means to an end rather than a personal style ‘crutch.’  They are used for practical reasons, not for inspirational reasons.

The plugins I stay away from are those that affect the three parts of color: hue, saturation and luminosity.  I also avoid filters that impose a texture, or other visual effect, onto the image. In short, I avoid ‘creative’ plugins, those that change my style.  However I do use ‘practical’ plugins because they make my life easier.  My goal is not to make this any more difficult than it is.  My goal is to make this as creative as possible.

Art is not about saving time.  Art is about saving emotions.  Art is about preserving what we experienced and sharing it with our audience in in a work of art, a photograph in this instance.

Alain Briot
April 2011

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4 thoughts on “Of Cakes and Plugins

  1. Hi Alain,

    I think you’ve really hit the spot with this post. For what it’s worth I’m in total agreement and follow much the same practice, although I do use Lightroom as a significant part of my workflow. Personally I enjoy the Lightroom interface and that fact underpins my reasoning as much as the final quality achieved.

    I’m (also??) somewhat of an old-timer and enjoy the control and artistic licence a non-plug approach brings. And I love working in HSL.

    Congratulations on your success and your ability to live a life of artistic investigation. In fact you are living your life through your art.

    All the best,


  2. I am not a professional photographer and never had my photographs published; however, I am tremendously inspired just looking at other photographers’ landscape works. I agree with Mr. Briot that quality and not quantity is what brings out the title Photographer” on a person. As Adam Ansel’s said, “Photographs are not taken, they are created.” Making my black and white digital images “pop” is something I am working on at the moment and any suggestions through articles I try. Eventually, I will be able to see that image “pop” just I did when I used to develop my prints in the darkroom.

  3. Alain, you’ve given us a lot to think about here. Thank you. I must say I’ve sometimes wondered whether I’m a photographic Luddite by not plunking down lots of $$ for all these plug-ins, but I’ve resisted it without consciously knowing why, and now you’ve expressed it so well. Your concept of creative plug-ins vs. practical plug-ins is exceedingly helpful. I abhor these oversaturated “eye candy” images, people thinking they can improve on God’s creation with their confectionery photographs. I’m glad I’m not alone.

  4. I do agree with you… Better to go for your intuition and what you want than to try a whole bunch of presets to sit back and see what happens. I rarely use auto correct either for the same reasons.

    The ten to twenty five images per year thing really stands out and rings a bell for me too… Less is always more, particularly when it comes to fine art….

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