May 042011

Grocery shopping is a joint venture with my wife until we reach the frozen food display cabinets. At this point, I relinquish command of the shopping cart and head over to the magazine stand and browse the photography magazines.

Leafing through Popular Photography, I came across an article on how to create a fake reflection. The original photograph showed a lake whose waters were brown and choppy, as a result the clouds overhead were not reflected. Photoshop came to the rescue, although I don’t know if rescue is the right word because the final image was, in my opinion, a gross distortion of the original. In other words, a lie, a complete fabrication.

I am old-fashioned enough to believe that a photograph should present the truth. In these days of Photoshop, the absolute truth is often a rarity. I am guilty as the next photographer in that I sometimes clean an image up — take out a branch of a tree at the edge of the frame or make a cigarette butt in the foreground disappear.

My particular ethos is that it is all right to extract items from an image in the interest of producing a better photograph but to add something to a photograph that was not present when the shot was captured is beyond the pale.

It could be argued that I forfeit any claims to be an artist with that statement. But remember my background is journalism, where accuracy and the truth are supposed to count for something. And my style of photography owes much to the genre of reportage. I photograph what I see and how I find it.

In the case of the example shot in Popular Photography, I would have returned another day when the conditions would produce a reflection of the clouds in the lake. I would never dream of thinking to myself, “Oh I can add a reflection in Photoshop.” That is taking image manipulation too far for my taste.

The most extreme image manipulation I undertake is to convert the RAW colour image to B&W in Silver Efex Pro. It was a review of Silver Efex Pro 2 that made me pick up Popular Photography in the first place. The upgrade is now on my wish list but Nik Software recommends 4 GB of RAM for version 2, although it will work with the 2 GB of RAM I have on my Mac Pro. A few weeks back I checked the RAM usage and it gets perilously close to the limit. More RAM may not be such a bad idea but it will be an additional expense.

Photoshop can also rescue images where the exposure is somewhat awry — blown highlights or an area underexposed. I know we all try to get it right in the camera but none of us is perfect.

Last week, I took a shot of a derelict school building with Spanish moss in the foreground. The combination of the two made for an eerie atmosphere. However there was a small area of sky that was way overexposed. Small sensor cameras such as the Ricoh GRD III struggle to cope with a large dynamic range. Working on the principle of waste not want not, I set about seeing if I could rescue the image.

My normal processing — saturation, shadows & highlights, levels and sharpening — produced an unsatisfactory outcome.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

In my salvage attemtpt, the first port of call in Photoshop was Curves. I selected the Cross Process option and it worked a treat turning that area of sky into a surreal shade of magenta.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Me being me I did a B&W conversion using Silver Efex Pro.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

I then hit on the idea of using the crossed processed image as my starting point for a B&W conversion in Silver Efex Pro. I wasn’t quite sure what I would end up with but much to my surprise it was something that held a certain amount of appeal. In fact, I like it better than the cross processed version.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Now whether I would use this kind of post-processing on a correctly exposed image is another question. I very much doubt it given my ethos on photography. But it was a fun thing to do with this particular shot and gave me something that passes muster.

I would welcome comments not only on the treatment of this shot — does it work and have merit or is it just an over indulgence — but also on the whole business of manipulating images with Photoshop and if people have links to their examples all the better.