LTP 104: It’s More than OK to Process!

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In this solo show Bart makes the argument that it’s not just OK to process your photos, you probably should!

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  1. Comments on Twitter regarding the previous episode that labeled using apps to edit photos in the Apple Macro competition as ‘cheating’ (I strongly disagree).
  2. Hearing Antonio Rosario describe pushback he gets on the reality of his sunset images on his podcast.
  3. Having my own Mum question the truthfulness of one of my flower photos yesterday morning!

ALL Photos are Processed!

Since the very very first moment of photography’s history it has been a two-step process:

  1. Record light
  2. Convert the recorded light in to an image

The second step used to involve chemistry, now it involves electronics. It has always been an art or a craft more than a science. The dark room was as creative a place as the photo studio!

Modern conveniences like the old 1 hour photo printing services and modern camera apps have hidden the second step from regular folks mind, but it hasn’t gone! Those photo printing machines had to be tuned constantly by technicians, and even the most advanced ones were tuned by very clever engineers to gives OK results most of the time. Different machines would give different prints from the same negatives.

With digital cameras the machine has been replaced with some software, but that software is still written by engineers, and the process is still extremely creative — a lot of work goes into the algorithms that result in nice photos most of the time. Many phones and cameras share the same hardware sensors, but they produce drastically different images because they each have their own software.

We haven’t removed the creativity of the second step, we’ve out-sourced it!

Processing is Simply Taking Back Control!

When you really care about your photographs, machines or code designed to do an OK or good job most of the time is not good enough — we don’t want to make the average photo good, we want to make our photo great!

If you shoot on film that means doing your own darkroom work, and if you shoot digital that means processing your images. By all means let the computer have a first guess, but remember that it’s not some kind of objective true image, it’s the result of the creativity of engineers, and it’s utterly subjective! (E.g. Samsung engineers lean towards more saturated colours)

The Aim Doesn’t Have to be “Realism”!

We like to think there’s a hard-and-fast line, and that photo journalists don’t process their images, but that’s not really true — they do the minimal with the aim if producing the most naturalistic image they can. Photo journalists will often accept the computer’s guess, but not always. It’s perfectly normal and acceptable to tweak the exposure and make a crop, it’s just not OK for the photo to look too different to the original scene. Using photo shop to add or remove people is obviously right out, but there really is no clear line. When is an exposure tweak that darkens or lightens skin accurate or racist?

Thankfully I’m not a photo journalist, I photograph for fun, and what I make is art. Sometimes my aim is to capture a scene realistically, sometimes I want to be hyper-realistic, and draw attention to textures and details by boosting local contrast, and other times I want to romanticise a scene by smoothing the detail and warming the colours. Sometimes I want to capture the feel of a place not the look of it.

An Un-Processed Photo is an Un-Finished Photo!

I’m going to end by sticking my toe out and being a little provocative — I honestly believe that if you don’t process your images but simply accept the computer’s guess you’re simply not finishing the work.

If a great carpenter made you a beautiful chair but then didn’t bother to varnish or paint it, would you consider the chair finished?

Next time someone tells you you’re cheating because you’re finishing your photos, just tell them you want your chairs varnished!

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