gallery, cafe & apartment

Gestation of an image

I’m not giving away any trade secrets when I say that process of producing photographs has changed dramatically since the advent of affordable digital cameras.  And if we are honest, the internet has pretty much killed the concept of a ‘trade secret’ anyway, if you can sort the wheat from the chaff*.

Any digital image you see has been manipulated in some way, whether in ‘post-processing’ at home on a computer, or in camera.  Yes, your camera manipulates your images, whatever you tell it to do or not to do.  It must, as it has to convert the signal from the sensor into a readable file.  Even so-called ‘RAW’ files are manipulated according to the manufacturer’s needs (there being no real industry standard) often auto-correcting geometric distortion from the lens – it’s cheaper than producing top-notch glass…

The level of digital manipulation that people think is acceptable varies greatly.  The purists think that anything other than a straight file conversion is wrong, but as I pointed out above, there is no ‘straight’ conversion.  Are optical filters on the camera lens wrong?  I still use graduated filters and polarizers .  Were ‘wet’ darkroom tricks wrong?  As long as it’s clear what you are doing there’s no real problem, but as a landscape photographer I draw the line as adding or removing major elements of an image.  There were a couple of essays by an award-winning photographer on a well-respected online landscape photography site last year demonstrating how he had, among other things, added trees to one side of a road up to a ruined castle to create an avenue.  The finished result might look visually impressive, but in my book is totally dishonest, and relies on the viewer being unfamiliar with the subject.  Would he have dared to do the same with an iconic view of, say, the Taj Mahal, or the Eiffel Tower?  I think not…

The image awaiting birth is the one I used for the Season’s Greetings, taken on 2 December and initially edited the same day.  It was produced by taking a series of images taken by a regular  digital SLR mounted on a tripod and rotated between shots and merging them in Photoshop Elements.  In this case they were standard horizontal images, although if possible I prefer to merge a larger number of vertical shots as this gives greater potential for enlargement or cropping.  It also takes longer and it was getting very dark, so the series of vertical shots wasn’t sharp enough for what I wanted.

Cullin panorama, version 1

In the beginning…

As edited for the season’s greetings it works nicely, but the exaggerated blue tones in the sky are OTT for a large print and cause some poor gradations.  None of this is helped by my ‘standard’ panoramic print size being wider than this, thus including more sky†.  There were also some artifacts in the sky, caused by the merge and subsequent editing, (and dust on the sensor) that needed attention.  So, I went back to the original.

Although this is a series of merged JPEGs it’s still very blue.   Once the sun is down the light is blue, and I’m not that bothered about tweaking the white balance in the camera that much as I always post-process anyway, and usually use RAW files.   [In film days I would have used a pale orange filter on the camera to warm the tones.] There are other things that are less apparent.  When you enlarge the image and drop a reference grid on it, you see that it is slightly crooked. [You have to look at the edges of the houses – the telegraph poles on Skye do lean every which way.  As long as they are leaning in the same direction in the evening as they were in the morning we don’t worry…].  Some editing is in Elements, some in Adobe Lightroom, which is a specialist RAW editor.

Crooked image

Look at the houses, not the telegraph poles!

I also wanted to crop it to my ‘standard’ ratio.  This means losing the right hand side [Ardtreck Point on Minginish, since you ask], and on the left, the peaks of Glamaig, which is a Corbett.  [Look it up, I can’t explain everything!].  This puts the village of Portnalong nicely off centre, one-third of the way across [look up ‘the rule of thirds’ as well], with Loch Harport and the wooded cliffs around Fernilea giving a nice diagonal path into the picture.  Of course, the main feature are the snow-capped Black Cuillin, which sit majestically in the background.  Hence the title “White on Black”.

Still not completed.  Although the blue cast had been removed, the image was flat, so the sky was darkened with a digital graduation – the original shots were made with a 1.5 stop soft graduated filter to hold the detail in the sky.  Similarly, the foreground needed a little brightening.  Being an irregular shape this needed the selection brush.  So that’s where we are.  I’ll probably play about with it a bit more, especially when I start printing.  I don’t hold this up as an exemplary image or claim to be the world’s greatest image editor, and there are some steps I’ve missed out, as I’m already over 1000 words (!), but it’s a brief insight for the non-photographers of what goes into producing what will hopefully be a saleable print.

Snow on the Black Cuillin

White on Black

Oh, and Happy New Year!

*This latter point is a bugbear of mine.  Never mind teaching children to use computers (they can do it better than you and I can straight out of the womb), what we need to be doing is ensuring that young people develop the critical faculties to be able to differentiate what is genuine, properly researched and sourced information from what is personal opinion, invective, prejudice and ‘urban myth’ – the information age’s version of Chinese whispers.  And no, Wikipedia, for all it’s glories, is NOT a primary source.

† The length/width ratio of my printed panoramas is derived from the maximum width of paper roll that my printer will take, coupled with the first panorama of Skye that I wanted to print.  Curiously, the ratio of the images is within a whisker of that produced by my old  6×17 cm panoramic film camera…

Currently listening to: Aleyn– June Tabor [Di nakht nor aleyn iz mit mir –The night alone is with me…]


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One thought on “Gestation of an image

  1. Adrian Hough on said:

    I totally agree about digital manipulation. Adjusting what in digital terms is referred to as the lighting histogram which corresponds to varying the exposure when printing is a tool of the trade. Colour corrections are also fine as is the removal of marks and minor artifacts. A small amount of edge sharpening also never hurt anyone. However, major colour changes or the insertion of additional content is unacceptable (fraud) unless it is completly obvious that this is what has been done at which point it becomes an art form in its own right.

    Its interesting that at a recent assessment one of my images was criticised for poor use and overuse of cloning. In fact the image had never been cloned in its life which is why overmanipulation is not only dishonest but also results in critics finding it when it is not actually present

    Adrian (in Exeter)

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