Trey Ratcliff’s Tech Talk at Google Tokyo

TB8_6968In April, Trey Ratcliff gave a tech talk at Google Tokyo, and it was enlightening, and not just because I learned that Trey believes in Hank Rollins’s theory of artist creation.

It was interesting to hear about Trey’s post-processing line. We all have one, some line where something stops being a photograph, and starts being some sort of photoshop-generated art.  He talked about not bringing an element from one photo into another photo – which is interesting, because HDR is his bread and butter. I understood what he meant – that bringing in an object from one scene into a new scene was one step too far for him, while bringing in different features from different photos of the same scene was ok. But that’s a carefully fine line to draw. And it’s his line to draw. I don’t think that my line is really in the same place, and I don’t really think it’s my business to be drawing the line for someone else to follow.

TB8_7138He expressly stated that he has no idea why he got so popular, and why his career has exploded the way it has. Google Plus drove eyeballs to him, and that’s about it. I think that all of us as photographers are hoping for the same thing. Filmmaker Kevin Smith often refers to his success as “winning the lottery,” and I think that’s an apt description for a lot of artists. I’m not taking anything away from Trey or Kevin – they are talented people. But why do certain talented people find success and popularity while others don’t? That’s the lottery.

The core of the talk was that it was a tech talk, and it was really interesting to see Trey’s secret sauce – or rather, his lack thereof. After winding down his theory of art talk, he jumped on the computer and did a quick run-through of his post-processing, which confirmed to me that his methods are not any different than anyone else’s methods – but his style and decision making are his own, and ultimately, that’s what generates his images. If you were hoping for a “How to make photos like Trey” tutorial, this wasn’t it. Or rather, this talk shows you how much we can all work with the same tools, and end up in very different places. Sometimes, you can see Gerda Taro and Robert Capa’s photos of the same subject, and you can see how different they are. Every group of photographers knows how different the photos are when all of them went to the same place. But this talk really showed me that that doesn’t end when you press the shutter. I think that many people post-processing the same photos will end up in very different places.

TB8_6978I think it would be useless for me to ape his style – it isn’t what I want from my photography. But, of course, there was a surprise sunset bursting through the clouds after the talk wrapped up, and we all had a crack at exactly the sort of photo that suits itself to HDR. I ended up not going HDR, but instead with a composite of three bracketed images processed in Lightroom, and put together in Photoshop. I used the high-pass filter to get that inked-lines look, and it ended up making the whole photo look rather HDR-ish in the end, anyway.

Thanks, Trey, for coming to Tokyo. It was a good chance to meet you, and meet the other people who attended the talk.

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