Friday, February 22, 2008

Of Photos and Photoshop

Have you ever looked at a good picture, and upon knowing that it's been photoshopped, said that "Chehh like that hor"?

I had. In particular, I have more than once been disappointed that in real life, travel destinations look blander and less interesting compared to pictures in travel websites. I have always blamed photoshop for that. However, as I learn more about photography, I am starting to see the other side of the coin.

I learnt that every single photo, no matter how original and pure, must have been photoshopped by the time it appears in front of you.

When we took film photographs in the past, we thought that our pictures all turned out bright and colourful. But that doesn't mean that the colour and exposure of our pics must have been right in the first place - the people in photo shops have been "photoshopping" colours, brightness and levels for decades before Adobe Photoshop came along. That's precisely where the software's name came from. All your pictures in the good ol' albums, regardless of its quality and age, had been photoshopped.

How about digital pictures, one might ask. In most digital cameras, the pixels of a picture are recorded with digital sensors, processed by a processor and converted into a jpg file. The quality of the picture coming from the process is largely dependent on the quality of the lens as well as the processor. When I visited St. Kilda beach with my friends last time, when I compared the same picture (e.g. group picture) taken with different cameras, I noticed that my Canon A70 produced much more vibrant colour out of the camera. Colour, contrast, saturation, sharpness etc, they have everything to do with the lens and the processing of the camera.

So my point is, every picture (apart from professional unprocessed RAW files, but that's another story) has already been through some level of processing, sharpening, colour-changing, white balance tuning etc. Some photo-purists take pride with not photoshopping pictures to the extent that they have this holier-than-thou attitude towards the whole practice of photoshopping. I feel that it's a bit ignorant for them to do that. Yes it's a good thing that your pictures are already beautiful straight out of the camera, but that doesn't mean that you are naturally better than people who do more post-processing. Probably unbeknownst to them is the fact that their cameras have already done a fair amount of "photoshopping" in the 'original" version. Unless you are talking about composition (which can't be changed with photoshop except simple cropping), or you are comparing two photographers using the same camera system, it's hard to make any meaningful comparison based on the usage of photoshop alone.

Also, with regards to the "cheating" travel photos - I came to term with it with the realisation that they were never meant to paint the actual picture for us anyway. Photos are now more a form of art than an item of realism.

To finish off, I will show you one of my recent efforts in improving a photo with photoshop. The techniques and results are nothing to rave about, but it's just a concept I am trying to get across.

Mum and Dad (Ori) (by changyang1230)
This is my mum and dad. We were happily shooting some random portrait pictures in Ampang recreational park, Alor Star. We saw this stone structure which is perfect to sit on, and I snapped away with 3 shot-per-second continuous bursts to capture their expressions. This is the original picture that I got (actually already modified a bit of exposure, but not much different from the real original). The colour is not too great, but my dad's glance at my mum is priceless. It's not staged at all, it's one of the pictures chosen from the 20+ shots taken in 10 seconds.

Mum and Dad (Sepia) (by changyang1230)
In my attempt to make this picture stand out more, I changed this picture to sepia at a click of a button. Not too special but looks more nostalgic now.

Mum and Dad (Crop 1) (by changyang1230)
I tried black and white instead. Black and white pictures are good at capturing contrast and is occasionally used to remove unnecessary distraction from colours in the picture. I preserved the original composition, but cropped a little bit and performed channel mixing. Channel mixing is a slightly more complicated way of turning colour pictures into black-and-white, and it's able to manipulate contrast to our desired effect. With the right setting, channel mixer produces better looking picture than the ones you get with one-click change-to-black-and-white function. Learn more here, or google "channel mixer".

Mum and Dad (Crop 2) (by changyang1230)
This is my third, and final attempt at the picture. I cut out the legs and the background trees, leaving the limelight to the two of them. For those who are technically inclined, I also did some extra colour-burning, sharpening and level adjustment. This picture will not win me any award, but I like this picture so much that I am setting it as my wallpaper and planning to get a large printout for them. The full size gives you an even greater impact. Also, do compare this with the original pic above - it's definitely an improvement.

Ahh the joy of photoshop.


crushedguava said...

I believe that the single best tool in photoshop (for a beginner) is Select all -> Edit -> Stroke. For whatever reason, it makes a picture just that much more complete.

And that's what I was going to suggest to you as well, now that there's going to be relatively more photos on your blog, why not try adding borders before putting them up?

changyang1230 said...

Eerm, adding a border... Not sure whether it goes well with my blog. Will try it some time. :) What do you think about the style in this blog?

changyang1230 said...

Actually I meant to link to this post. The same blog but more great photos.

crushedguava said...

His photos are great, but I think the way his blog is arranged is in a bit of a mess. Pictures are too close together, thus its more difficult to appreciate every single one on its own.

changyang1230 said...

Hah probably. Anyway I was referring to the style of the picture border, what do you think?

I lazy want to create all those watermark, border etc. :( The basic exposure stuff already takes me quite a while.

crushedguava said...

Oh his style and watermark ah? Quite good I think.

And a border doesn't take 2 seconds, else I wouldn't be doing it myself. Hahahaha.

Lee Young, 李阳 said...

Hey there,

Actually, only colour negative films get photoshopped by the people in photo shops. Slide film never gets tweaked by those people, that's why most pros shoot with it to get the colour and exposure they wanted int he first place ;)