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Author Topic: The Man on Digital  (Read 19301 times)

torger

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Re: The Man on Digital
« Reply #60 on: January 21, 2016, 03:56:17 am »

In various kinds of documentary photography it's of course important that the image is not manipulated to show some other event. The largest "manipulation" is usually in what you leave outside the frame though, and you can always arrange the scene.

Today when film is scanned and post-processed digitally it's so easy to clone out stuff that I wouldn't trust it more than any digital image.

What can be boring with digital is the "digital look" which is due to popular poor tastes in pushing saturation and clarity and tonemap (you can indeed do that with scanned film too, but few do it). It doesn't have to be that way though.

In landscape photography "manipulation" is much about manipulating colors, and if we look at film like Fuji Velvia they where not exactly designed to make a realistic image, but to make something look more spectacular than the real scene through high contrast and saturated tinted colors. With digital it's much easier to make a realistic representation if you want to. Few want that though, and apply various kinds of post-processing. In the best cases the post-processing is about strengthening the message of the image, in the worst cases it's just mindless "reality improvement" to get more likes on the social networks.

I don't think it's necessarily better to use a fixed post-processing recipe like film represents compared to being able to design it more precisely according to your own ideas.

I shoot my landscapes digital, and my method is to never use manufacturers default color but to make my own camera profile designed for as realistic colors as possible (which for many light conditions is not 100% possible of course), and then with that as a baseline I modify the colors to taste to create atmosphere much like cinema grading, but trying to keep it "within reason".

If the documentary aspect is important or not in your landscape photography depends on what you want to convey. In my own photography the documentary aspect has some importance as one of my messages to the audience is to have their eyes open and "see what's around you" there are hidden gems, and if I pull colors too much I show something that couldn't be seen and then I break that message.

I've attached one of my own as an example. The first shot is the plain "out of camera" (ie my own color profile and flat-field corrected), and the other is how it looks after my post-processing. The "manipulations" I've done is cropping from 4:3 to 4:5, increased luminance contrast (which has a desaturation look as side effect), applied a small vignette, added a color grade with a tiny amount of cyan via RGB curves. I try to have a reason for the changes I do and by having a finely tuned digital original with good realism rather than some poppy film I feel more confident that I'm in control from start to end.
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AreBee

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Re: The Man on Digital
« Reply #61 on: January 21, 2016, 08:47:07 am »

torger,

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I try to have a reason for the changes I do...

What was the reason(s) for the changes you made to the example image you posted?
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torger

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Re: The Man on Digital
« Reply #62 on: January 21, 2016, 09:47:39 am »

torger,

What was the reason(s) for the changes you made to the example image you posted?

There's always that lazy top level reason "make things look nicer", and well, that is what I eventually fall back on, but the definition what "nice looking" is certainly not some absolute truth. Here it's important to me to not bring things too far away from realism, and that's why I like to have an a good realistic starting point (with the usual photographic limitations). The reason for that is as described I want to show the audience than an inconspicuous place or object can be turned interesting just through viewpoint and framing. So that explains why I don't make pictures to "pop" as much as possible.

I know a thing or two about color science and I'm totally aware that there is no such thing as a 100% realistic original, so I see no point in not making any post-processing at all. The overall reason to make post-processing for me is to create atmosphere, tie together images in a series and make a personal look, and it must connect back to the documentary aspect meaning that it cannot be too extreme.

I'm generally not turning too intellectual about about every post-processing modification, I do think a lot about art and there's all sorts of loose reasons flying around that shapes an aesthetic and then I do things to the image that "feels right". Especially when it comes to possible color grading, why did I add cyan rather than say yellow? I typically test through a few and pick what I like the most, and trust my intuition that if I follow that it will be good in the end. I do make the color gradings subtle, typically less than a film stock affects color. Sometimes there may be a reason to think about "warm"/"cool" tints for creating a feel/atmosphere in a more cinematic way but this image was neutral in that regard. In general my subjects are quite neutral and it's a deliberate stylistic choice I've made, my images are not so much about dramatic clearing storms or morning fog coming in and that type of stuff it's not where I've chosen to put my focus, at least not now.

Then I also have to factor in keeping a consistent style, and certainly when I present a series of images they must be processed in a similar fashion. If I present two images side by side, the grading may also be slightly affected by that to make them match better.

Changing from 4:3 to 4:5 in this particular image I think gave a clearer structure of the pine background. This is from a series I'm currently doing called "geometric chaos" (working name), and the pine background is the key "geometric" element. The vignette of 0.3 stop is a default thing in my reference look which adds depth to an image, and I always include it unless there's some particular reason not to, some images may become more graphic without a vignette, this was not one of them. In a very messy image I sometimes strengthen the vignette to make it look less messy if I think that is closer to my desired aesthetic.

The luminance contrast curve is my "clarity" tool to take down some of the fogginess originals often have. It's also a part of my consistent look, I generally use this first before I would try local contrast enhancements or clarity tricks.

Having "a reason" is in the end as fuzzy as "the message" (or rather "messages") you try to convey, it's after all art and it's supposed to be a bit fuzzy, so perhaps I was using the wrong word. Perhaps I should have instead said that I try to not post-process for "the wrong reasons", where the wrong reason is for example to make the image as likely as possible to get to 500px.com/popular (which my images really aren't suitable for anyway).
« Last Edit: January 21, 2016, 10:12:25 am by torger »
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torger

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Re: The Man on Digital
« Reply #63 on: January 21, 2016, 10:24:55 am »

Well, got babbling away there, but I guess the point is "it's not that it's digital, it's how you choose to handle it".
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Slobodan Blagojevic

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Re: The Man on Digital
« Reply #64 on: January 21, 2016, 12:52:30 pm »

... I've attached one of my own as an example...

For what it's worth, I prefer your original. The more contrasty one could work in b&w though.

Petrus

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Re: The Man on Digital
« Reply #65 on: January 21, 2016, 02:19:57 pm »

In various kinds of documentary photography it's of course important that the image is not manipulated to show some other event. The largest "manipulation" is usually in what you leave outside the frame though, and you can always arrange the scene.

If you are documenting a political riot, for example, taking architectural pictures of the buildings around the square instead is not "manipulation", it is incompetence. Any idiot with WA lens and spirit level can take architectural photos, but documenting something requires reflexes and guts and fast eye.

"You can always arrange a scene"? You wish… Many "documentarists" have done that, sure (W. Eugene Smith for one), but thinking that you can stop a riot or war to arrange things for a more pleasing composition is quite far fetched.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2016, 02:39:06 pm by Petrus »
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torger

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Re: The Man on Digital
« Reply #66 on: January 21, 2016, 02:26:34 pm »

For what it's worth, I prefer your original. The more contrasty one could work in b&w though.

I generally don't ask for opinions (there's a reason I don't post images in user critiques) as most, even experienced highly skilled photographers like you, typically just convey their personal taste and style without even trying to understand my personal goals and style. What people actually say is basically "if you shoot/process more like me it would be better", which actually could be true, but it would not be me. If someone shares style similar to mine and share their opinions I'm more likely to listen.

My processing often ends up with lower saturation and higher contrast than the out-of-camera. The in-fashion style (at least in America) today ends up with higher saturation and higher contrast, and then some clarity on top and perhaps some serious shadow pushing. So I'm not in fashion. Fortunately, as only being "enthusiast amateur artist" I don't need to make money from my images so I'm free to do it the way I like, and believe me I have searched quite while and tried many ways before coming to what my current method of post-processing is.

The interesting part of my method in the context of this thread is not really what end look I prefer, but that I start with a calibrated starting point which is more realistic than film ever could be.
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torger

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Re: The Man on Digital
« Reply #67 on: January 21, 2016, 02:40:00 pm »

If you are documenting a political riot, for example, taking architectural pictures of the buildings around the square instead is not "manipulation", it is incompetence. Any idiot with WA lens and spirit level can take architectural photos, but documenting something requires reflexes and guts and fast eye.

"You can always arrange a scene"??? You wish… Many "documentarists" have done that, sure (W. Eugene Smith for one), but thinking that you can stop a riot or war to arrange things for a more pleasing composition is quite far fetched.

I'm not thinking so much about the political riot, but say shooting "wildlife" in the zoo, or as a landscape photographer you can sometimes give the impression of untouched nature while you're standing on a parking lot on the highway. In war photography there are examples of arranged scenes, not all photos are of ongoing chaos. It can also be as simple as pressing the shutter when a person happen to smile or not, there's an incredible power in changing story only in the way you select images and how you choose to point the camera and when you press the shutter.

That the photographer can affect the story I'm not seeing this as something negative, but it is a big responsibility just as when you're a journalist writing about an event.
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Slobodan Blagojevic

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Re: The Man on Digital
« Reply #68 on: January 21, 2016, 03:09:48 pm »

... What people actually say is basically "if you shoot/process more like me it would be better"..

No, that is not what I was trying to say. I was trying to say that for me, as a viewer/consumer/potential buyer (even if your intention is not to sell), I would go for the first one, but not for the second one.

In addition, if your goal is, as you stated;

Quote
I want to show the audience than an inconspicuous place or object can be turned interesting just through viewpoint and framing. So that explains why I don't make pictures to "pop" as much as possible.

then the first one is closer to that goal (imho, of course).

Quote
The interesting part of my method in the context of this thread is not really what end look I prefer, but that I start with a calibrated starting point which is more realistic than film ever could be.

And my comments are not meant to demonstrate what end look I prefer either, or to criticize your approach, but to indicate why film (or, in your case, something even "more realistic") is often valued higher by the public (hint: precisely because it is more realistic, more believable, more authentic, than those that "pop" digitally).

Just to make sure: none of what I said is meant to be critical of your style or methods. It was simply a feedback from the audience you are trying to show something.

torger

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Re: The Man on Digital
« Reply #69 on: January 21, 2016, 03:45:13 pm »

Thanks for clarifying. You're making a perfectly fair and interesting point.

I have indeed identified this tension/conflict between documentary realism and the desire to make an appealing/personal look. I have considered trying to as a part of the artistic concept do it so close to realistic reproduction I could. As I do know a bit color science and write own processing software I'm probably better off than most to pull it off, but it would be quite a bit of guesswork still as there's not enough tools or information in the raw image to do this well.

I ended up with that it's lot of work, won't be entirely reliable, and not really any big point with that, so I settled with a "reasonable" amount of post-processing (which I also happen to like in terms of look), plus that I will in this series show the "out of camera" version (in the image info view in the web presentation). The thing is noone is going to thank me for making an image as realistic as possible, and I think throwing away the ability for subtle personalization of the look is not worth it.

You can see post-processing as a part of the art, and I tend to do that. That's also interesting to relate to film where you get a finished recipe decided by someone else. With digital you are in control, perhaps we get more control than many of us can handle which is the scary part. But anyway, depending of what you want to achieve you can do strong effects, or keep it more subtle. I try to find a balance, and what you say is that for the documentary aspect goal I have pushed it too far.

I don't think I have, my post-processing is much less than you would get from a slide film, and color is more neutral than most negative films, but it's of course a matter of taste. If the goal is maximum realism the original is closer to the target than my version, and I know that. The thing is that it's not too far off. What's too far? I try to think like this: would a layman that was together with me at the scene when shooting and then see my finished image consider it to be "reality improvement" or not?

I see "reality improvement" as something different from "personalization" of the look. When you do reality improvement you make changes to make the illusion that the original scene was more conspicuous than it actually was. If you personalize the look you may change the look so it's less realistic and more personal, but not really changing the connection to the real scene. Tonemapping and saturation pushing easily gets into the reality improvement category, while color grading/tinting is more about personalization. That's at least how I see it.

Another aspect of this particular image to defend the contrast difference is that my "memory/feel" of the scene is that it should be a bit more contrasty than the "standardized" out-of-camera version. In a low contrast light condition the eye/brain tends to adapt a bit at the scene and not see the scene as low contrast as when we see it in the image afterwards. So the maximum realistic version would have a tad bit more contrast than the original, although still less than my finished version. It's a mess and unreliable to try to do such things by memory though so I've chosen to have the fixed reference and live with its limitations.

(Note that I'm not suggesting that my way is the only rightful thing to do, not at all, it's just one way to see it of many and it's suiting the type of work I do. If I do other type of work later on I may change the method.)
« Last Edit: January 21, 2016, 04:23:28 pm by torger »
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Zorki5

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Re: The Man on Digital
« Reply #70 on: January 27, 2016, 07:15:50 am »

There's always that lazy top level reason "make things look nicer", and well, that is what I eventually fall back on, but the definition what "nice looking" is certainly not some absolute truth.

I find this example very interesting.

It seems like the reason for your post processing was to make the image prettier, but I'd argue that the first image, straight out of the camera, is more aesthetically pleasing, and it looks like I'm not the only one who thinks so.

On the other hand, the tree you photographed is a dead one, and the mods you applied made it look much more, unmistakenly dead, esp. because of whitening of the branches. So it is, in a way, better as a "documentary" image.
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torger

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Re: The Man on Digital
« Reply #71 on: January 29, 2016, 02:36:35 am »

To make the image prettier sounds all too trivial. I'd say the reasons are to create atmosphere and adapt a personal look, and also to unify a series of images. In lack of experience discussing these aspects I did the mistake to use "make things look nicer" when I was referring to the parts in look design that's not intellectually decided but based on your intuition and taste. There's a coarse set of ideas in the background (which I indeed think is important to have, at least for me) but I certainly don't intellectualize every post-processing detail.

Discussing what's more aesthetically pleasing I don't find particularly meaningful. I shouldn't have used "look nicer" because it's not that my intuition works, "look right" would have been a better choice of word. It should feel right for the context, subject and personal style. My intention is not to maximize pretty, but to make all those pieces in the puzzle just align as a whole and that is to a large extent an esoteric process.

The tree is actually not dead, it's only the branches that are. When the tree grows (a pine) the lower branches dries and dies. In forestry you cut off those branches as the quality of the trunk becomes better then. This is shot in an untouched forest though so the dry branches are left sitting.
« Last Edit: January 29, 2016, 02:57:47 am by torger »
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