Sunday, February 28, 2010

Photoshop and Photography

Image 1: Straight Out of Camera.
Image 2: Basic contrast and color adjustments.
Image 3: A bit of halo/softening using a filter.
Image 4: Simple brush strokes filter with some masking around the face.

Image 5: Some texture and masking.
This week, the New York Times' David Pogue published this bit on imagery, asking the question, "Photoshop and Photography: When it is Real?" He was responding to an editorial in Popular Photography by Miriam Leuchter entitled "What is a Photograph?"

The discussion centered around the winning entry of the recent Popular Photography contest, which was a digital composite of two separate images.
Both of these delve into the question regarding image editing. At what point does it stop being a photograph and instead become digital art?

I think the answer depends on the use. Obviously in areas like forensics and journalistic photography, there are pretty strict guidelines around post-capture editing. Other areas such as advertising, the rule book is pretty much open.

I know of many photographers who take each and every image they select to display or sell through Photoshop. I must confess that I review nearly every image and often at least pump the contrast or saturation a bit. 99% of my images are of people. I tend to keep them in their original setting and only enhance the image. Occasionally I create collages but I admit that I'm a bit weak in that areas.

My image editing choices are more a function of my editing comfort zone than an ethical decision.
I don't have the skills to turn an image into a fantasy painting, so I generally stop at optimizing color and contrast and maybe a bit of filtration.

Other photographers go much farther. I see some incredible work out there. My friend Solitaire Miles is an expert at digital editing, and creates amazing images of visual fantasy.
You can see some of her works here. I think it's a natural evolution to create images using digital tools, just as early photographers created images that looked different from reality using film and early cameras.

So what's my point? Very few published images are untouched. In fact I have seen some personal portraits of my friends and colleagues taken by other professional photographers that just screamed for a bit of post processing. I don't have any issues around image editing. With all of the wizards, plug-ins and widgets available on cameras and phones now, people almost expect a heavily processed image.

I believe that professional photographers who cannot use an image editor to manipulate an image will end up with portfolios that may limit their business opportunities. I'm not recommending that you do bad work in camera and "fix it in post", but you will need to be able to enhance images. The digital editor is another tool in expressing yourself as an artist.

So get comfortable with your favorite image editor and decide how far you want to take your images.

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