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Photography, Photoshop, and the Freedom of Expression

This is a guest post by Harold Rail, a photography instructor for Harper College teaching Continuing Education classes. For 25 years he owned Afterglow Creative Services, an independent video production and still photography company. He was an Army photographer stationed at Fort Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska. He majored in photography with a minor in film production and writing at Columbia College, Chicago. Presently, along with his teaching work, he mostly freelances with journalist Jacqueline Runice photographing travel and events stories. His primary work is making original creative photographs.

Harold’s upcoming courses include:

LEI0026 – 005 – Small Town Street Photography LEI0027 – 004 – NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY LEI0027 – 006 – Night Photography LEI0043 – 002 – CREATING ART THROUGH UNCONVENTIONAL PHOTOGRAPHS LEI0043 – 003 – CREATING ART THROUGH UNCONVENTIONAL PHOTOGRAPHS LEI0043 – 004 – Creating Art through Unconventional Photography LEI0044 – 002 – ADVANCED PHOTOGRAPHY LEI0065 – 001 – Practical Photoshop

I have been teaching non credit photography at Harper for many years. I especially enjoy the classes; every student I’ve encountered has been unique and creative.

For practical photography classes, I specifically request classrooms with Photoshop because I believe post-production work on images is essential to the photographic process. I first taught for Harper in the late 70’s when I was still at student at Columbia College Chicago (yes, I’m that old). Integral to those classes was the use of a darkroom. Photoshop is simply today’s version of that finishing process.

After college I worked for several years in a pro lab, printing and finishing professional photographers’ work. In the process, I developed skills in techniques to produce exceptional images.

For most of my students, Photoshop always seems to be the most formidable challenge. At first approach, PS appears to be very complicated and extremely difficult, and that is true, it is. After years of using the program I still learn new techniques.

My teaching viewpoint about photography is to first have the students come to believe that photographic rules are overly restricting to real creativity and should be broken if an image calls for it. I view the camera image much as we did a processed negative which requires finishing. The image can also be likened to a painter’s canvas that has an outline sketched on it. From that point forward, the photograph can come to a life of its own.

As with any initial canvas, the work forward is completely open to the imagination of the photographer. Certainly she can correct the color and contrast, but what if there is more? What if the imagination, when let free, creates its own world, its own interpretation of what she wants to show. Rules restrict that creativity. Allowed to be free the photographer can create anything the mind can imagine.

This approach requires time and commitment. The photographer sits with one image (or more) for long periods at times, playing, creating, revising until it all comes together. The secret is to let it be yours, never think about if anyone will like it or not. It helps to repeat the mantra “don’t do the obvious”.

It’s easy to make pretty pictures. But it’s creativity and an unleashed imagination that make unique images. I always ask my students to show us something we’ve never seen before, something that only existed in your imagination. That for me is the real heart of art photography. More than teaching the rules and fundamentals, I love to teach the possibilities when the imagination is set free.


Visit our Photography and Videogrpahy page to learn more.

Develop your creativity! Explore our Art, Music and Writing classes at harpercollege.edu/cmac.


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