It’s almost a given these days that most photos you see will have something done in Photoshop before you ever see it. For the majority of people, I’m sure that it’s not a big issue.
But for some, myself included, I have always felt as though I was somehow deceiving people by using the program to edit photos. (This may seem weird considering my portfolio!)
Just before I started this blog/site, I had an epiphany that kickstarted my appreciation of post-production and made me absolutely LOVE working with the program and altering images, which I would argue, look MORE REAL in the end.
I was working on an image today and had the same revelation with the finished product, so I thought I’d write my brief spiel on my epiphany. This is as much an argument with myself as it is a debate I’ve had with other people. I constantly struggle with finding the balance between expressing an image and taking it too far since I don’t want to extend into major composite works.
Anyway, without further ado…
Post-production as art
Imagine you were a painter. In the early days, people paid you to do portraits that looked super lifelike and were incredibly detailed. The closer to reality it was, the better you were regarded. Until that is, you realised that the fidelity of painting sometimes took certain blemishes away. Or the person asked you to make them look more regal than they actually were. This may not be entirely true, but I don’t think its inconceivable that all the gorgeous paintings I’d ever seen were of people that looked ‘royal’ all the time.
Now, is that not the same changing the image? Is that not art?
Even if you disagree with the above statement, I’d argue that Van Gogh is one of the most famous painters in the world. Can you remember seeing any of this earlier more ‘realistic’ works? He surely was skilled in painting life like paintings, but it was through manipulation that he made you see what he saw; what drew him to the scene. At the end of the day, isn’t that what art is all about?
The other thing I’ve realised about post-production is that it’s a tool. People seem to think you can just about Photoshop anything and to a degree that is true. But to do that is HARD. Photoshop doesn’t just make things out of thin air, it’s essentially a paintbrush for the digital age.
For a long time I ignored learning advanced post-production because I didn’t want to be the guy that ‘photoshopped’ his way to a good image. Now I realise that even if you nail everything in camera, part of the challenge is to express what you saw and that’s close to impossible without the skill of post-production.
The camera simply captures light
The purists will argue that photography is all about images straight out of the camera (SOOC) as if that is a badge of honour. Now, if you are a photographer, what camera do you own? Why do you own it? Do you think that the Canon vs Sony vs Olympus captures the light in the same way?
I use that as an example because I have cameras from all three companies and in a second I’ll show how differently they capture the light. The sensors are different, the algorithms are different and the way the lenses bend the light is different. While I used to espouse the virtues of the purist camp, I think I failed to appreciate just how much the simple choice of camera is an act of modifying the scene. This is BEFORE you even consider the sharpening and contrast the camera will add to just about any JPG image.
Here are some photos from Antarctica captured on the same day, in what was essentially the same moment (or close enough to it). The reason I had images from 3 different bodies was that this was likely to be the only sunset I’d see in the Antarctic Circle and I didn’t want to miss anything changing lenses. I also had my iPhone and Huawei P7 out for good measure! Now remember, these images are literally minutes, if not seconds apart at different focal lengths.
I’d say that was a pretty convincing argument to show just how different scenes can look. And from memory, everything was shooting RAW (obviously not the phones).
In the end, I decided to edit the Olympus image from the one you see above to the one you see below. It looks totally different from the image from the camera, but I’d argue that it, in fact, looks the most real of them all.