Author Archives: Shawn Thompson

Is this photoshopped?

Recently, a friend and photographer Ben Jacobsen of Ben Jacobsen Photo got his work into a third gallery.
One of the gallery owners asked him “Is your work photoshopped?”
This is also a popular question often asked at Art Fairs and Photography exhibits.

Why is this question relevant to some viewers? If you are asking this, do you know what photoshopping means?
Better yet, What does that word mean to you, what is it that you are asking?
Are you asking if the photographer added the boulders in the foreground or the clouds in the sky from a different photo?
Or are you asking if the photographer made local contrast, dodging, burning, etc… tweaks/enhancements? (Just like what can be done in a darkroom)
Did you know that the latter is what most photographers use photoshop for?

Some people get excited when they make a nice looking picture with their camera. They rave “This shot is SOOC!! (Straight Out Of Camera)
Congrats! You made a good exposure. This is what you are supposed to do with your camera. Make a good exposure, get as much detail from the scene as possible.
Now you can use photoshop to enhance it, make it pop. Just like the old masters used the darkroom for.
Did you know that a jpg image straight out of the camera is actually a RAW image, processed by your camera?
That’s right, the camera just made contrast, sharpening, saturation, etc.. changes FOR YOU.
What does the camera know about processing an image that represents the scene that you just saw?
It doesn’t. This is why most photographers in the digital age shoot RAW and process the image in photoshop.
Now the photographer can process the image and make it look representative of what they saw when they clicked the shutter.

The truth is, all digital images need some processing. Many film photographers will scan in their negatives and make localized adjustments. Does this make their photos more acceptable or more “real” because they started on film? Perhaps to you they do, but to be honest, that film photo is now a digital photo *GASP* and is being treated as so.
Most people think “untouched, pure” when thinking of film photography.
The great masters of film photography had tricks they used in the darkroom to make their prints really pop. They didn’t go out with their 8×10 cameras, take an image, print it and hang it in a gallery.
Ansel Adams’ negatives weren’t punchy with deep contrasts and bright whites out of the camera. It wasn’t until he manipulated them in the darkroom with techniques he perfected by experimenting over many years that they started to really sing.
Let’s not forget that every style of film gives an image a different look, not representative of the colors you saw with your own eyes.

It’s 2012, there are so many tools available today that weren’t in the hay days of film. You can show much more dynamic range throughout an image, something that wasn’t always easily achievable.
Why would you not want to make your final image look as good as it can? In this day and age, some will embrace these tools and use them to make their photos better. Some will embrace them and make their photos worse.
Some will elect to not use them at all and let the camera have the final say.

So why ask “Is this Photoshopped?” If the photographer explained his/her process to you, would that make you want to buy the print more? Would that make you respect it more? Probably not.
When you sit down to enjoy a meal at a nice restaurant, you probably don’t ask the chef what recipe he/she used or how he/she processed the food. You’d just enjoy the food.

From my perspective, when looking at art, it either speaks to me or it doesn’t. The method used to achieve the final product isn’t important.

In conclusion of this short rant, don’t sweat the ingredients and preparation, just enjoy the meal.

Posted in rants

Fall Color Explosion – Grand Portage, MN

I spent this past Sunday, Monday and Tuesday camping, hiking, fishing and taking some photographs with my girlfriend. She hadn’t been up the North Shore since she was pretty young, so we visited many parks, trails and logging roads between Tofte and Grand Portage. We stopped at the overlook on Mount Josephine just before sunset on Monday. As the sun set behind the hillside, the sky blew up with color. This image was the result.                             Click the image for a larger view.


To Purchase this print, click the “add to cart” button below.

Posted in Lake Superior, Landscape, Travel Tagged , , , |

Free Desktop Calendar – June 2012

Hell everyone,
Here is my free desktop calendar for June.
This image was made on Kingsbury Creek this past week while
the water levels were really high from all the rain we’ve received lately.

Please feel free to use it on your computer and please share this
post with your friends and family.

Click on the small image below to go to the Calendar Page where you may download high resolution versions.

If interested in a print (without the calendar text) click on the Add to Cart button below:

Posted in Free Desktop Calendar Update, Landscape Tagged , , , , , , , , , |

Sorbet Explosion


This week has been pretty incredible for sunsets.
Monday night, the storm broke and big, dramatic, colorful skies unfolded over Lake Superior.

Then, Tuesday night the skies were looking really good again. I headed down to Lake Superior around an hour and a half prior to sunset. I looked back toward the West and it looked much better than over the lake. I decided to try my luck at Hartley Nature Center, but when I got up there and hiked around, the skies had cleared out and the clouds moved over Lake Superior. I hiked back to my car and made it to Stoney Point where I was treated to another nice display, albeit very brief, right at sunset. (no complaints)

Here’s how I set my gear up to get this shot. My tripod was as low as it would go, I used an wide-angle lens and set my focus just before the rocks.
I set my aperture to F/11, ISO to 160 (160 seems to be cleaner than 100 on the 5D Mark II)
I then took an exposure. The exposure was 1/4 second. Next, I put my B+W 10 stop ND filter on my wide angle lens and added a 2 stop soft edge grad ND in front of the 10 stop Filter.
I then doubled my exposure 11 times.
Why double it 11 times with a 10 stop filter? In my findings, 11 stops generally works best for me when using the B+W 10 stop filter. Another reason was, the light was fading and extra time on the exposure would help out a bit.
Here is how the math works out with a starting exposure of 1/4 second
1/4s – 1/2s – 1s – 2s – 4s – 8s – 16s – 32s -64s – 128s – 256s – 512s
512 seconds = 8.5 minute exposure.
“Sorbet Explosion”


This image can be purchased below by adding it to the cart.

Posted in Lake Superior, Landscape

Monday, Monday, Monday

Over the course of the past week and a few days Duluth has had it’s share of rain storms.
The stormy weather led to mostly gloomy conditions, but this past Monday the storms broke
and gave way to some intense skies, amazing light and dramatic atmosphere.
I was fortunate to have got out to the shore in time to make a couple images during this light show.

Here are two of the photos from Monday evening.

Prints may be ordered, by adding to cart below:

Posted in Lake Superior, Landscape, Sale

Ragin’ Rivers and Creeks

I spent some time this weekend, exploring some local creeks and rivers.
With the amount of rain we have received over the past week, the streams are
really flowing .
Here are a few images, two from Kingsbury Creek and one from Jay Cooke.

Prints may be purchased here.

Posted in Uncategorized

Film Elitists, Chill Out…

It’s funny how EVERY style of film distorts reality.
Some films add high contrast, some over-saturate, some create subdued colors and some even remove all color, GASP!!.
Every image lies to some degree whether it was shot with an 8×10 field camera or a Digital SLR or even an Iphone with a processing app (OMG, not a camera phone!!!!).
Yet, elitist film shooters feel their medium is best, it’s pure, but I have news, it’s not. Not even close. It may be YOUR preferred medium, but it isn’t the best and it isn’t pure.
You still process it to some degree, whether it’s in the darkroom or by scanning the negative and tweaking it in Photoshop, GimP, or whatever program you choose.
So, get off your high horses and relax a bit when your cousin’s father’s mother’s daughter takes a photo with their camera phone and processes it with an app.

The moral to this is that you should use the medium that suits you best. Maybe that’s film, maybe it’s digital or maybe it’s your phone. Hell, maybe it’s all three and a bread truck that was custom made to shoot Massive wet plates, like Ian Ruhter Photography is doing. (
Whatever you choose, try not to be so snobby about it and open up your eyes to what is happening around you.

Posted in Uncategorized

Latest Photo – Poseidon’s Molar

The weather we have had in Northern MN lately has not been conducive to my winter shooting style. We have had 48 degree days in January and while this makes going from the house to the car to work more tolerable, it makes for boring winter photos. I want cold temperatures, I want arctic steam hovering over the lake at sunrise, I want snow, I want ice buildup on Lake Superior’s shoreline. All of these elements are what make interesting photographs for me.
Luckily the warm snap broke, the overcast skies gave up their stronghold and some interesting clouds appeared over Lake Superior this past Friday. I had to take advantage of this situation as I haven’t shot anything that excited me in over a month, maybe closer to two months and I was getting antsy. I took off from Duluth a couple hours before sunset and drove an hour north to a location I had scouted several months earlier but had yet to take any photographs.
I arrived at the location, got out of my car and one of the first things I was was this interesting rock formation approximately 50 yards off shore. I took my camera, 70-200mm lens and 10 stop ND filter out of my bag and set up on my tripod. I found this composition, set my focus on the rock (used live view to zoom in at 10x on my LCD to ensure that the edges of the rock were razor sharp) then I got my base exposure, screwed on the 10 stop filter, plugged in my cable  release and exposed the photo for 128 seconds. The sky was much brighter than the foreground so I knew I had to reduce the exposure in the sky while taking this photo.
Most of the time I would use a graduated Neutral Density filter for this, but I do not have a Panel Filter Holder and hand holding a Grad ND for 128 seconds would be very difficult without shaking the camera and lens. I resorted back to a tried and true method that I use often when taking photos that are longer than 30 seconds. I used my hand/black glove to block off the upper portion of the lens for part of the exposure. (this is similar to burning in the darkroom) You can also use a black card ( black carboard) and get the same effect. Place your hand or black card in front of the lens and move it up and down over the area that you wish to reduce the exposure (generally the sky).
In this case, I blocked off the top part of the frame for around 30 seconds during the 128 second exposure. The time you block off will depend on the scene and you might have to try several times before you get a feel for this technique. The big thing is to keep your hand/glove/black card as close to the lens element as possible, without touching it. If you bump the lens during the exposure your image will not be sharp.

Here is the image – I originally called it King’s Crown, but my friend Jeff Swanson suggested Poseidon’s Molar. I thought that sounded much better and I took his suggestion.

Here is a terrible video I made (should have held the iPhone horizontally) while taking this photo that shows how the black glove technique works. This should give you an idea as to what I am talking about.
Notice that my hand never goes down to the bottom of the lens, it only stays toward the very top (the sky portion of the image).
The other trick is to keep your hand moving or else it will show up in the image if it sits still in front of the lens for too long.


Posted in How To, Lake Superior, Landscape, tutorial, Winter

How This Shot Was Made – Mixing City Lights With Ambient

There is a brief window, just before sunrise and just after sunset where city lights and ambient light mix together to make colorful and interesting images.
In the case of this image, I wanted to shoot it after sunset when the huge Bentleyville Christmas display was completely lit up in front of the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge.
I arrived right around sunset and waited for the park lights to turn on. I wanted them to turn on while there was still a little bit of ambient light left so I would still see some definition in the clouds. Luckily on this night, there was a near full moon directly overhead which added an awesome spotlight effect.

Just after sunset and you can see the light was pretty flat and boring. This is where you might pack it up and head home. But, sometimes it pays to wait.

5-10 minutes later and the color is getting a little better. The city lights are starting to come on and are adding some
interesting elements, but the overall scene is still fairly boring.

5 minutes more and the color is getting better and more city lights are coming on.

Another 5 minutes passes and everything is starting to jive, the city lights are looking great and mixing well
with the ambient light.

Another few minutes pass and everything is getting dialed in, the city lights are looking pretty awesome with the
glow of the remaining ambient light. You can still see some detail in the sky. Now  if only they would they would light
up the park before the last bit of ambient light is gone…

Then a couple minutes later, the park lights up, there is still a bit of ambient light allowing a faint view of the clouds
on the horizon and the 3/4 full moon shines down like a spotlight on the Aerial Lift Bridge Bridge and Lake Superior
adding a bit of drama to the scene.

If I had packed it up and went home just after sunset I would have missed the best light of the day. Something to
think about next time you are out shooting. Even if you aren’t anywhere near city lights, the afterglow can leave you
with some amazing light to shoot with. When you see other photographers packing it up after seeing a nice sunset,
stick around for another 30 minutes, you might be surprised at what you see.

A Tripod, Cable Release and a 70-200mm Lens were used to make this shot.
Tech details are embedded for all images.
The last image was captured with the following settings – F/11 – 13 seconds – ISO160

Posted in How To, Lake Superior, Landscape, tutorial, Uncategorized, Winter

2011 – A Photographic Year in Review

2011 was an amazing year for me. I had three trip opportunities arise and rather than worry that I didn’t have the money or that I could use the money for other things, like paying off bills sooner, I seized the opportunities. This year “tomorrow isn’t promised” really hit home when several people I knew passed away and my father had a heart attack (he is doing great now). I decided that I wasn’t going to make excuses anymore and I was going to make the effort to actually go on a trip when the opportunity comes up in the future.
In March, I traveled to The Southwest with fellow outdoor photographers Jeff Swanson and Lonnie Shull. We visited Zion national Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Upper Antelope Slot Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.
Several months later, Jeff Swanson invited me along on an epic trip he had planned. I packed my suitcase with some clothes, a sleeping bag, a tent and I caught a plane to Oakland, CA. We drove from Oakland to as far north as Mt. St. Helens in Washington. We spent the majority of our time in the Columbia River Gorge, but also made overnight stops at Crater Lake, Sparks Lake, Proxy Falls, and a few others. All in all we put on approximately 2400 miles.
My last trip brought me to Rhode Island in the fall for‘s NSOPgiving annual party. I spend a fair amount of time on NSOP’s online photo forum and have come to know many of the people on that site pretty well. I stayed with Ben Jacobsen (the owner of NSOP) and his family. I got an awesome tour of Rhode Island, was able to photograph a couple sunrises on the Atlantic ocean with Ben Jacobsen, Jeff Swanson, David Simms, Will Strauss, and Josh Sweeney. I ate amazing food and drank some terrific beers while meeting and talking to a lot of talented photographers and Ken Gilbert (he’s a real hack…  😉
All in all, this year was pretty epic photographically for me. I managed to get photos all over the U.S. and I even captured some of my best work on lake Superior.
Here are a bunch of my favorite photos from this past year.

I hope you all have a wonderful year in 2012, take lots of photos and seize the moment whenever you get a chance.

Thanks for reading this post, looking at my photos and your overall support,
– Shawn


Posted in Uncategorized