Digital Photography and Editing: Honestly
This article of mine originally appeared in The Costa Rica Star, please stop by and have a look around. Thanks, Solson
Honesty: Webster’s Dictionary defi….no you know me better than that. Google it if you must. We all know the definition, but digital photography and it’s ally, digital editing really start to blur the lines of photographic honesty. Up to what point is it still a photograph…I don’t know. I would say that advertisers have probably taken it too far. If your ad for mascara requires adding digital lashes then I’d say you’re being dishonest with your photography. That being said, for the rest of us mere mortal photographers not working on multi-million dollar campaigns there is still hope for digital darkroom redemption.
Purists argue that if you got it right in the camera you shouldn’t have to fuss with your picture anyway. I defend myself with Ansel Adams, who was famous for spending endless hours in the darkroom fussing over his photographs to get them to look just how he wanted them. His son went so far as to suggest that his father would have found a way to use digital photography had it been available to him. I don’t have a darkroom, at least not a real one. Mine is well lit, stuffy and right now rather messy. I have software with 3.2 trillion sliders, bars and curves where I push, stretch, crop, saturate, de-saturate, correct distortion, add distortion, layer, filter, vignette and do anything else to get a shot to look like what it FELT like. That’s the key to my photography. Emotional honesty.
Often I just have to add a bit of contrast or fill a shadow and very frequently adjust the white balance (that’s the overall color cast of the shot). Sometimes I go big though. I push some of those bars pretty far to get the feel I want. I’ll give you an example a shot that people really like (from Lola’s Restaurant) that wasn’t very interesting until I edited it. I knew what it could look like, and more importantly I knew what the people enjoying the sunset were feeling, even if the original shot didn’t reflect that.
I’ll admit to being a bit more dishonest with my shots of people. Namely portraits (especially of the ladies). I have fancy software that can erase any semblance of wrinkles and imperfections while changing your eye and hair color. It works great when used in moderation or can be a lot of fun if you think of it as a digital Halloween costume. I try to limit myself to the using it right up to the point where a really good make-up job and better lighting might have given similar results. I actually did a completely ridiculous version of a friend of mine with the title ‘Bad Photoshop’ to support her claims that what we see in the media is not a reasonable expectation of beauty. The result: tons of “wow you look great,” and “you look like a model.” Epic fail. I told people I was being dishonest and they didn’t care, maybe it was an emotionally honest picture—people really saw her like that in their mind. I’ll go with that rather than think that all her friends on Facebook are rather dim. I won’t share her picture to protect the innocent as well as the guilty.
I have quite a lot invested in photo editing software and I’ll admit to not knowing what half of those sliders do. If you want to fuss with your shots—and I hope you do, and you are one a budget (like most of us) then just go ahead and download Picasa. by Google. It’s free, and works pretty well as long as you don’t ask too much of it—it ain’t Photoshop. If you want more power, then try Photoshop Elements which is about $100 online and very much worth it. Once you have your weapon of choice I’ll point you towards a few areas that can help you improve your shots quickly: Contrast, Saturation, Color Balance and Fill light (or shadows)
I don’t want to keep you reading forever and I want you to learn on your own as well, but take any shot you have and play with just those aspects one at a time, and you will quickly discover what a difference they can make. Contrast can give you a bit more “punch,” while you need to be careful with saturation which affects color intensity—a little goes a long way. Fill light or shadow adjustments are great to bring out detail in darkened areas, especially faces. Color balance is useful for making skin tones look healthy depending on what kind of light was available or just changing the overall look of a picture–try it with a shot of the sunset.
Whatever you final edit looks like remember the bit about the honesty. I’ll leave you with a shot that is totally emotionally honest and totally unedited…I guess it can be done.