What should a photographer aim to convey? Should he be as ‘true to life’ as possible, should he manipulate the picture? If so, by how much? What is acceptable and where are the boundaries? These are some of the questions we debated with Joe Cornish on our photography course last weekend on the south coast.
As an example, take the picture below. I’ve done very little to this picture, simply lightened the white in the foam of the sea to draw the eye. Apart from that, nothing. it’s a ‘straight’ picture. (If you want to see a larger version of it just double click on the image.) When you’ve had a look scroll down and see the image after it’s been worked a bit. Which one do you prefer?
The image like this is quite ‘representative’. It was dusk, the light was fading and it was a bit gloomy, almost misty. A lot of blue in the picture, even the whites of the cliffs have a little blue in them – reflecting the sea perhaps. The picture is soft (Joe – no sharpening!) Does this image convey that misty, glooming mood? If so, is this ‘correct’?
Below is the image after some (pretty basic) photoshop work. Tweaking the levels, lightening the cliffs, adding a bit of contrast into the sea, and sharpening the whole image. Joe might argue too much sharpening at this point… Do the cliffs look more dramatic, the sea a bit more invigorating? The far distance seems more 3D, the picture isn’t so flat. Is that fair? The image has not been heavily re-worked, simply the constituent elements have been accentuated. But does it have ‘mood’? feeling?
Frankly, I’m not sure, but then again photographers are notoriously bad judges of their own pictures.
When colour becomes too much of a distraction photographers often fall back on black and white. So here’s a 3rd interpretation. See what you think. This one is rooted in photography’s earliest heritage, before the existence of digital cameras or colour film. But, weirdly, I would say this has undergone the most ‘manipulation’… Desaturated the colour, filtered as if the film had been underexposed by 2 stops, slightly lightening of the cliff and the wave, plus some light shading at the edges to hold the eye in the centre of the picture. Added a filter to suggest film grain (HP5 to be precise). All pretty standard darkroom technique, but done on a computer instead.
So, which one do you like the most? Which one has more feeling, mood? What should the photographer do, just see/record, interpret, manipulate? I’d love to know what you think. Click on the feedback button at the bottom of the page and let me know….