Lies, damned lies and photoshop

PSThis series of images has been making its way through the blogosphere recently,  I thought it was rather clever actually (setting aside the moral issues of vandalism/graffiti).  In case it isn’t obviously what it is – some clever soul took decals made to look like various Photoshop panels/tools and pasted them over public posters of celebrities/starlets… Presumably to critique the “phony” image that these (presumably Photoshopped) images portray.

and it got me thinking about one of the endless debates that rages eternally in the photo world – right up there with Canon v. Nikon, film v. digital, etc…

The ethics of Photoshop.

The question of photoshop is really the old philosophical question of “truth in photography”.   Must an image be “true” to be a photograph?   If so, how much can it be manipulated/changed/edited before it ceases to become a “photograph” an becomes something else altogether.   This is a debate that has raged from the first time a enterprising photographer dodged/burned/cropped a photograph in the darkroom to bring it more in line with his (or her) artistic vision.   On the one hand if we trust a photograph to be a direct representation of reality, then manipulating that image to any degree violates that truth by distorting the portrayal of reality.  On the other hand, we can argue that a photograph is never a “true” representation of reality by it’s very essence – it is inherently subjective and thus up to the photographer to use whatever tools are available to bring the image as close to their “vision” of reality as possible.   Quite the conundrum!

In short here’s how I see it It depends on what the purpose of your photography is. For something like photojournalism, which is generally trusted as a direct, non-editorialized portrayal of reality, the “Truth” of the image is paramount, Hence the stringent regulations against *any* level of image manipulation in the journalistic world, and the severe penalties issues to those who violate said regulations.    Of course the counter argument to that is the fact that any photograph is inherently subjective – simply by choosing what to include or not include in the photo, the photographer editorialized and “manipulates” the truth to some degree.   In the end we must simply come to a point where we say “close enough”.

However, outside of the realm of journalism, I believe that photography is art and, like any other form of art, is an expression of the artist’s unique vision.  To that end, I believe that manipulation is not only acceptable, it is desirable – the more tools available to the artist, the more fully his or her vision can be realized.    Fundamentally I consider myself an artist, and as such I love the freedom of expression that digital manipulation brings to my work.   I am able to conceptualize an image, create the groundwork for it with a camera and then manipulate it to fully realize my vision.   It is merely another step in the process of  concept->product.

Now on the other hand, when dealing with the type of glamor and fashion images portrayed in the above ads, there is a whole ‘nother ethical issue to consider, namely the image that said advertisements are portraying to their clientele.   Of course answering this begins to delve into the realm of personal politics, which is strictly off limits for this blog 🙂

In the end, as with many philisophical questions there is really no “right” answer – so what do y’all think of said ads and their critique on image editing/manipulation?

post processing…

I have a confession: I’m not a post processor.  I guess coming from a B&W film/wet printing background, to me the concept of “post process” means: “adjust exposure/contrast and dodge&burn”.

and it’s funny that even now when I shoot 99% digital, in my head post processing still means “adjust exposure/contrast and dodge&burn” 🙂  Oh, I do the plenty of b/w conversions, and skin touchups/etc… when shooting a model, but I really havent explored too far into the territory of *creative* post processing – using photoshop and lightroom to actually alter the picture to realize a specific creative vision.  Even my “sunshine in the rain” series (which generally evokes the reaction “wow was that photoshopped?”) was done 99% in camera.  The only adjustments were, you guessed it: exposure/contrast adjustment and some selective dodging and burning!

However, I’m going to change this.  Frankly I’m not one of those grumbly “it’s only real photography if it’s 100% in camera” purists.  In my book, any tool that helps you realize a creative/artistic vision is fine by me.  so to that end, I’ve resolved to work on my “creative post processing skills”.  I’ve started building a texture library, and plan on playing with incorporating textures into some of my work.  I’m also experimenting with cross-process and split tone effects in lightroom, as I have always loved that aesthetic.  (for some really cool cross process work, check Brian Auer’s blog, particularly this: 10 reasons to love cross-process film) Here’s a new split tone preset I have been playing with in lightroom.  I like it’s aesthetic, particularly in this shot:

Aperture 2.1 dodge and burn module – a quick tutorial and review.

Aperture 2.1.

“brush” based Dodge and Burn based tools.

The verdict?  Awesome.

After a weekend of playing with aperture’s new burn and dodge plugin, I remain as impressed with it as I was at first.  Quite frankly with this module and 1 or two more plugins, I may well never open photoshop again! (hyperbole, I’m sure).  So without further ado, a quick summary of how the tools work, and my experiences working with them.

First off – there has been some complaints that aperture creates a .tiff copy of your image when opening in dodge&burn (D&B) rather than working on the actual raw image.  The way I see it is that you would be doing that *anyway* if you were round-tripping to photoshop, so you are not losing anything – and you are gaining the ability to edit “in house”.

As a quick demo I took some screenshots from a shot I did for a local food magazine’s article about cheese.  Not the worlds greatest picture, but it illustrates the dodge/burn functionality well. Here’s the original image, straight out of camera (raw)

Note the heavy shadow on the grapes.  Yeah, I should have used another light for fill – sue me.

Now on to the plugin.  Unlike the standard image adjustments, the dodge and burn tool (the name is slightly misleading as it actually does more than just dodge and burn – it also allows saturation, sharpening and contrast brushes. Cool!) is invoked by selecting an image and going to image -> edit with->dodge and burn.  This opens the image in a popup window with the dodge and burn controls. If you’ve used photoshop, these controls will be immediately familiar – there is brush size, hardness and strength right up top.  By default, scrolling the mouse wheel increases/decreases the brush size, and pen pressure controls the effect strength.

Fantastic if you work with a tablet (and you should be!)  The control scheme is very natural and took no getting used to whatsoever.  You can hit “Z” to zoom to full size just as in the normal viewer, and holding spacebar “grabs” the image allowing you to scroll around it quickly in fullsize view, just like photoshop.  

With regards to the actual tools, they are divided into separate sections, selected from the dropdown menu on the left.

As a photoshop user, you might think of each tool as a separate layer with it’s own quickmask.  Click any tool to select it and start “painting on that layer”   I have selected dodge, to lighten up the shadows on the underside of the grapes, to make them “pop”  I select a large, soft brush and start with a relatively low effect strentgh (repeated passes will build up the strength of the effect so it’s good to start low to begin with).   I quickly paint over the grapes, and there is a noticable lightening of the shadows (amaizingly without bringing up much noise!) Now what’s really cool is that as you work, you can instantly swith between the normal image view where you can see the effect of the tool, and what apple calls “overlay” mode which actually shows you where you have paintined on the effect and the strength (kind of like quickmask in photoshop).  Clicking “O” toggles between the two modes.   I found this to be absolutely critical and gave a very fast and accurate tool to fine tune the area and strength of effect, allowing very precise control.   Note that you can still brush on the effect in overlay mode.  You can also switch back and forth between tools, each get’s it’s own “layer” to paint on, with it’s own overlay mode.  As you select each tool, you can turn the effect on and off to see the results by pressing “S” I found myself quickly going back and forth between tools, dodge/burn/saturation to tweak the images in various points.  And if you ever find that you’ve painted too much or in the wrong area, simply select the eraser tool, and erase the effect back.  The eraser works much the same way as the brushes, meaning it can have varying hardness and strength so that you can simply lighten an effect that was painted on too strong, or completely erase a mis-stroke.

Another tool worth mentioning is the “feather” brush.  This allows you to quickly blend the edge of an effect to make it more subtle.  I found this to work *very* well, and really allowed for some sophisticated effect blending to look totally natural.  To illustrate the feathering, I have brushed on an effect with a brush at 0% softness  and 100% effect strength, to give a completely hard-edged, stand out effect.  Now, I go over the edges with the feather brush, and they soften and smooth out, giving a much more natural transition.  Now that was just a dramatic example – when you feather a more normally applied effect, it works even better.  The results are subtle, but it really adds an edge to the image.



I found it quick and easy to switch between different effects, painting them on and erasing them, and quickly toggling overlay to view the progress.  Though not used in this image the sharpen and blur brushes can be used in much the same way in portrait/glamour retouching (although photoshop may still be required for some of the more sophisticated retouches of that sort!) And that’s about it! it’s rather simple, but I found it to be one of those “does exactly what it is supposed to do without a lot of extraneous junk” kind of things, which I really like.  Basic dodge and burn +brush based adjustment functionality, basic yet powerful controls. The image after a quick D&B: Now if you are a photoshop user, none of these features may seem like a big deal – “So what” you might say, I can already do all that in Photoshop”.  And you are right – none of the tools themselves are revolutionary, but the fact that you can now do it *not* in photoshop is quite intriguing.

The image after a quick D&B (no other adjustments)

Dodge and Burn functionality was something that I was honest surprised was *not* included with aperture or lightroom to begin with, as it is pretty fundamental to a lot of photograhic processing (at least for me coming from a wet printing background!)  It’s addition really takes the processing capabilites of aperture to the next level.  The fact that it is based on an open plugin architecture further leaves the door open for other modules and even more powerful processing capabilities.  It will certainly be exciting to see what comes down the pipeline in the next year or so!

Did Apple just kill Photoshop?

I know, I know… it’s a sensationalist headline, but that was my initial reaction after about 10 minutes of playing with the new Aperture 2.1

In case you hadn’t already read, apple just introduced editing plugins for aperture, including true photoshop-style brush based controls such as burn/dodge etc… Noiseninja and others coming soon!

In what seems to be a largely (as of yet) unpublicized announcement, Apple has just dropped a bomb!

It may just be a .1 release, but I think this is a bigger shakeup than aperture 2 itself.  Software like aperture and Lightroom have been great for DAM (Digital Asset Management) and great for doing quick adjustments to exposure/tone/etc… but true “editing” remained the province of Photoshop until now.  The addition of brush based tools (particularly burn and dodge) is *huge*.  Many photographers have lamented that they’d love to use Aperture/Lightroom exclusively, but can’t because of the need for Photoshop to do targeted adjustments.  Not anymore – do all that in aperture itself.  With plugins coming from NoiseNinja (the other main use of Photoshop for me) and many others sure to follow,  aperture 2.1 may just make Photoshop a “non-necessity” for a number of photographers.

Of course time will tell 🙂

Photoshop Express – not really photoshop but cool nonetheless

So apparently I’ve been living under a rock as the new announcement of Adobe’s “Photoshop Express” took me by complete surprise. There is an awful lot of buzz going on around it, some rather dismissive… To this I say, I will reserve judgement but one thing to keep in mind is:

This is not photoshop – to me, the defining characteristic of photoshop is layers and masks – these are really the foundation on which all the advanced capabilities of PS are built. Without that, this really isn’t “Photoshop” per-se. However, it is a very intriguing product nonetheless – really this strikes me as more of a social network-photosharing stite, with some basic web-based editing capabilities. If you think of it in those terms, it’s actually quite a neat offering. I will definitely be playing with it a bit in the next few weeks.

Edit 3/28: Apparently uploading pictures to essentially gives Adobe unlimited rights to do whatever they want with them.  Uncool.  I guess it’s fine for the myspace crowd (who this app seems to be targetings) but that is bad mojo for any serious/professional photographer.  Guess I won’t be signing up after all.