Favourite photo of all time - welcome to altered reality!

JohnAbercrombie

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Dec 7, 2011
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It's hard to find a photo that hasn't been distorted by 'extreme Photoshopping' these days. I think a lot of (younger?) people will be disappointed by how dull the real outdoors seems, compared to photos online.
From https://paddlingmag.com/stories/columns/off-the-tongue/outdoor-adventure-marketing/
This photograph of canoeist Martin Trahan on a 2,000-mile Yukon River expedition is a Paddling Magazine fan favorite. We’ve posted it on Instagram several times since it originally appeared in the 2018 Summer issue. Each time it has received a record number of likes and more shares than almost any other post. But why?
Favourite photo.JPG
 

AlphaEcho

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Jan 24, 2010
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Quadra Island, BC
My love of photography started well before my love of paddling. I learned early on that there are limits to what you can capture in photos. By the time I picked up my first paddle, I already knew that photos at best merely hint at the raw wonder, beauty, and misery to be found in the world. At worst, they mislead or promote wishful thinking.

There are times to put the camera down and just be.
 

JohnAbercrombie

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Perhaps it's just my old bleary eyes reducing the wonder of the natural world....but I don't believe that.

Here's a challenge for you: Check out these images and see if you can find any that haven't been 'punched up' in intensity with image processing (aka Photoshop or similar). I use a Chromecast 'dongle' on the TV so I see these often.
https://chromecastbg.alexmeub.com/
 

AlphaEcho

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No challenge there.

Over the years I have scanned (and rescanned) just about all of my archives of film negatives, slides, and prints. The difference is stark to the trained eye. Digital sensors have steadily improved over the years. The quality of high resolution digital images is indisputable. They are however not the same thing as film. This is fundamental and any complaints about post-processing stand aside from this.

Post-processing has been a part of the photographic process from nearly the beginning. The quality of the retouching has varied from subtle to butchery. The kinds of alterations went through all kinds of fads and changes in taste for decades.

What is going with digital follows the same patterns, because people are people. Digital tools are merely more facile.

I need more than 2 hands to count all the different kinds of display devices and screens within my field of view. All the ones I can configure to show photos I put my own photos on instead of those available from public galleries. Is it because I think my photos are better? Well yeah, but mostly because I took the photo, I was there, and I know what I saw versus what the image is. That experience of "developing the image" hasn't changed for me between film and digital. The final image is a validation of my memory, my taste.

I am keenly aware of the avalanche of 'shopped' imagery around. I pay it the same attention as I do the changing fashions .. and the marketing minded blather of paddling magazines.
 

CPS

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I'm definitely guilty of editing my photos, but try to keep a fairly light hand when I do it.
But is a photo supposed to convey a realistic image, or a representation of the scene. E.i. is a photo informational or artistic.

Here's a photo I took last year, and the edited one I put out on social media.
PXL_20201128_215919149.jpg

IMG_20201130_152006_029.jpg


The first one I liked, but it lacked a bit of punch that the clouds had in person. So I fiddled a bit with contrast. This I would say is a realistic representation of what I saw when I was on that trip.

Here's another example.
PXL_20210513_034242068.jpg
IMG_20210516_083507_901.jpg


Here I'm definitely going heavy on the edits. Much more 'artistic' than realistic.

Both of the edited versions of these ended up on Instagram. Which got more 'likes'? The heavily edited sunset.
I'll admit that could be due to whatever algorithm is showing it to more people, or a whole host of other things. I don't really take Instagram very seriously; it's not a business for me and my 'likes' are an irrelevant number.

I believe it shows, however, that for those to whom photography (and the accompanying marketing of the photos) IS a business, there's incentive to play to the audience. The audience, I believe, is generally quite receptive of heavily edited images.
I'm fact many phones, which I would say are the medium for most photography these days, will automatically 'touch up' colours, in an attempt to make you a better photographer. My wife, for instance, has a Samsung and everytime she takes a picture of plants the greens look great! Much more vibrant than real life.

All this overlooks composition and other photography essentials (much like I do when taking hundreds of shots that later have me scratching my head and thinking "what was I trying to show here?) and focuses on the editing. The original photo John posted does look nice, compositionally, though too heavily edited for my taste.

Anyways, no one goes outside these days so how would they know something's been edited? ;)
 

AlphaEcho

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So we can all agree that the primary issue for John is with taste and specifically 'realism'. That's fine. We all get to some point where we are THAT guy, standing on the lawn, grumping at the kids. I've been guilty of it and I only just received my Geezer card.

All kidding aside, I will highlight one aspect of this issue I touched on only lightly. There are many, many, many screens out there now and all of varying size, pixel density, and resolution quality. This has an effect on the editing styles, whether understood or not. Punchy (not to say oversaturated), high contrast images come across these different screens consistently better more appealing than subtle, realistic ones.

Also, not everyone has a DSLR. Image sensors have gotten better, but the past 20 years have seen as big an explosion in image editing applications that have let people doctor the crappy images from their phones. That is as big a part of this situation as anything else.
 
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JohnAbercrombie

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So we can all agree that the primary issue for John is with taste and specifically 'realism'.
Not all of us! Include me out! :)
A matter of taste? Not my point at all.

Or perhaps you mean: "This reality doesn't suit my taste. I prefer something different, like I might experience on a different planet."

I knew I was being 'manipulated' by the artist when I had the chance to look at Dutch landscape paintings from the 1600s or a Turner watercolour, but in every case I could look at the sky in those images and think: "That's the way it really is.." or "I need to appreciate more the beauty I'm seeing every day."

Who enjoys those Day-Glo distortions of reality that are so common now?
 

chodups

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Nov 2, 2005
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I'm OK with editing within reason. My Pentax is a little weak in capturing color and most of my shots need to be leveled. With the color I find that that a pinch of contrast will usually get me close. The weird stuff where mountains are stretched vertically, color goosed to resemble a bad acid trip and a woman added wearing yoga pants and wide brimmed hat facing away from the camera doing a "V" for victory pose makes me gag.
 

JKA

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Jul 25, 2016
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Banks Peninsula, New Zealand
If it takes me back to the emotion of the original moment, then the editing is good.
To me, this is the key point.

Cameras are not human eyes, and the storage media is not the human brain.

Cameras record light reflected from objects, capturing brightness and colour. Focus point, depth of field, viewpoint and lens choice influence how we 'read' the resulting image, but that depends on us having an emotional response.

With our Eyeball, Mark 1, we can see detail in the deepest shadows and the brightest highlights of a scene in one glance, and we're drawn to what interests us.

35 years ago, when just starting out in my new career as a professional photographer, I was on a bus and overheard a group of woman going gaga over a photo - a paper print, not on a 'device', remember those days? - of a new baby. "Oh, he's got his father's eyes" etc. Curiosity got the better of me and I managed to sneak a peek.

What I saw has stuck with me since. The photo was completely out of focus, completely over-exposed and showed, I think, part of a human face. It was kind of hard to tell without resorting to LSD!

However, to the audience, it had quite some impact. This experience immediately made me rather a cynical photographer, and not too precious about my craft.

Regarding 'post production', it's been part of photography since the earliest days. Ansel Adams developed his famed Ten Zone System to take advantage of matching exposure with film processing and printing manipulation. In the darkroom I quickly became skilled at dodging, burning and later, changing contrast in a B&W print using multigrade paper.

When Photoshop came on the scene, as photojournalists we were horrified! Suddenly images could be altered in ways that couldn't be detected, and the whole validity of what we did was in question. National Geographic, the pinnacle of our craft, moved pyramids and altered portraits to suit their cover layout, and we were aghast.

Fortunately the industry rebelled, and standards of what was acceptable were drawn up. My publication's code of ethics states :

Journalists must not tamper with photographs or videos to distort and/or misrepresent the image – except for purely cosmetic reasons – without informing the reader what has occurred and why.

This statement can be challenged as too open: what exactly does – except for purely cosmetic reasons – mean? But the key element is about distortion and/or misrepresentation.

This means I have very little knowledge of how to actually manipulate images using Photoshop, and a low threshold for 'tweaked' images.

I dislike 'over cooked' images and one of my pets hates is the photo showing the golden tones of sunrise/sunset when the sun is actually high in the sky.

So, when I look at the OP's photo offering, I ask myself if I have a negative response on a technical level to the post-production.

In this case I don't. It's not so obvious as to detract me from the content. It's not trying to distort the situation.

On an emotional-response level, to me it works. It looks hard, cold and wet: I know that feeling and I feel like I'm there so to me that works.

I guess for me it comes down to intent.

Is the post-production done in an attempt to distort/manipulate, to add drama to a dull photo, or to channel the viewer's response?

In this case, to me, it's the latter.

Good discussion.
 
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sofstu

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Jun 14, 2021
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Kootenays BC
I'm OK with editing within reason. My Pentax is a little weak in capturing color and most of my shots need to be leveled. With the color I find that that a pinch of contrast will usually get me close.
I was once a Pentax person,
I would have agreed with you until I got a Vivitar Series One 28 x 2.8 lens for it.
I swear that woke the camera up and gave me some of the most amazing photos.

I also tried some Zeiss and other top quality lenses but nothing compared to that tiny Vivitar.

The last time I looked those lenses were still out there in both K and M42 mount at very affordable prices.
 
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