Tuesday, 30 December 2008

To Photoshop or not to Photoshop

Allmycke touched on a subject I've been thinking about a whole lot lately, and that's when photoshop is appropriate on your images. I suppose the first thing I should say is I'm not a professional photographer. Like my sib, I only take pictures because I like doing that. So the story is probably not the same if I was a professional photographer, and people were paying me for images.

But I'm not. And because I'm not, I don't care about photoshop. To me, photography is not about technical challenges, filters, gear, expensive cameras and fancy lighting. To me, photography is about showing people what /I/ saw. Let's face it, even the very best camera is nothing compared to the human eye. The human eye is an amazing piece of optics (though squid and eagles have better eyes than we), that is fantastically flexible and adaptive. It can discern tones a Camera would lump together, and it automatically adjusts contrast and brightness levels as it goes. Your best camera in the world pales in comparison.

Since my stated goal is to show people things I saw myself, some photoshopping seems pretty far from `cheating.` I want to illustrate this with two copies of the same picture.
These are both Lance Mackey at the Yukon Quest start last year. Tiger Woods is a wuss, by the way. Screw em! Now, when the original picture was taken, it was -40something, in a poorly lighted hole in the ground, with a thick layer of icefog and haze.

Now, because of the amazing human eye™ is adaptive, when I saw Lance Mackey come out of the chute, my eye had already had the nerves with the blue pigments saturated, and so they weren't firing nearly as often. This allowed other colours to come through. My camera, however, was under no such status.

Second, the camera saw one light level, and proceeded to populate the whole image light levels from that. My eye, however, adjusted the `aperture` as I looked down from the lighted bank to the people in front of it, allowing me to see their detail.

That was an easier fix. A few subtle twists of a few dials improved the quality of my picture, IMO, dramatically. Now, people can see Lance like I saw him: Cool. Composed. Badass.

What about more dramatic alterations?
  • Cropping? What the heck is wrong with cropping? I never got objections to cropping. We do it with real pictures all the time. We do it with our lens all the time.
  • Red Eye? Red eye/Green eye is purely a camera artifact. You're taking out something that isn't there to begin with. Stemming from photographer `my lens is bigger than yours` contests, this one is stupid.
  • Touch Ups? Depends. Sometimes, on high ISO pictures, there's a lot of digital noise. This is highly distracting in an image. I'm okay with cleaning that up. When it comes to people for vanity purposes, I don't get nearly that worked up about some photoshop beautification as others do, but I don't do it myself.
  • Adding stuff? Hey, it would be really cool if King Kong was rampaging down the street behind you, but frankly, that's not what happened captain. If you're doing it for a joke, and everyone knows it's a joke, that's okay. Otherwise, that isn't kosher.

And now I'll get off my soapbox.

Speaking of Photoshop, I took a few image series, and tried to merge a few HDR photos. Nothing I'd show other people just yet. Here's what I've learnt, though:
  • First, take pictures way deep into shorter and longer exposure times (if you're doing it that way) or smaller and larger f-stops than you think you'll need. You can always exclude pictures, but you can't include one you didn't take.
  • Second - put weight on your tripod! Slight triopd movements screw you up big time. You can have photoshop align the images for you, but this is an incredibly slow process.
  • Third - pictures with a small tonal range don't work too well in this application. Or, in human speak, too much snow screws the pooch. You can't get good colour balance with few colours.
It seems a very promising technique, though. It just takes foresight and planning when you're sitting behind the camera. It'd be neat if there was a sort of `HDR` program that automatically took a series of pictures at a given f-stop progression at the push of the button. Sadly, my toy camera isn't programmable. Maybe one of the big girl/boy cameras can be programmed.

Edit to Add: You can read the post that promoted the whole Photoshop discussion over here.