We all know that media lies to us. There is no such thing as an honest photograph, and the smarter of us realize that. Sure, you’ll get some (often loud) people who think that a shot straight out of the camera (SOOC) is as close to truth as you can have, and any form of processing otherwise is evil. But, perhaps someone forgot to tell them that your camera merely collects the number of photons at a certain site. It then makes its own decisions on what gamma curve, exposure, white balance, saturation, contrast, sharpness, and noise reduction to interpret that data with. Hell, you can even tell it to change several of those to different values yourself. And, before digital, in the darkroom you had dodge, burn, contrast filters, film choice, color packs, paper choice, and even the aperture you set the enlarger to. In short, there has never in the history of photography been an honest photo.
And, very often, the difference between an OK photo and a great photo is in exactly what lies the photographer chooses when developing the photo. Contrast, exposure, dodging, burning, and crop make huge differences without ever bringing things like direct manipulation into matters. The sooner people realize that this is the case, and has always been the case, the sooner we can drop all this useless hullabaloo about the dangerous world of digital manipulation.
But, as a consumer (and, if you see a picture ever, you are a consumer), it helps if you know exactly how you are being lied to, and not just some vague understanding that you are. Lucky for you I maintain this handy behind-the-scenes how art is made blog, then. Here’s an example from my recent gig with EclecticPond Theatre Co, for their upcoming production of “Dracula: The Panto.” From left to right, you have the photo as Lightroom interpreted the data with all sliders set to 0, the photo as developed using digital darkroom techniques (crop, exposure, curves, burn, saturation, contrast, clarity, sharpening, white balance), and the final comp for the poster with all the real manipulation applied. Do notice how much better the middle one looks, compared to what I started with. That’s why you learn how to handle post-processing, kids. The camera rarely makes the best decisions. You do.
Also, if you’re in the Indy area, or are going to be so this month, do make sure to get out and see ETC’s production of this. They’re excellent people, and I love them to itty-bitty pieces with all of my caffeine-addled heart. They have yet to put on a bad show. They’ll be performing this as part of Indy Fringe, and that’s where you’ll find all the relevant info.