Improvement or interpretation?

Here I needed to make some adjustments to a photograph I had taken without making it obvious, just ‘improving’ it to make it stand out more from it’s surroundings. The image in question needed to be a portrait taken in the shade. The shade element presumably takes away the high dynamics that appear in portraits taken in direct light which would make the process of subtle improvement quite difficult.

I shall outline the process I used with the images below.


Quick mask

I started by using quick mask in Adobe Photoshop to shade in the subject’s face. I zoomed in so the subject’s face was filling the screen for accuracy). I used a brush that was 50% soft to avoid hard edges on the subjects features when I had finished selecting the head. I then painted in the red area.

inverse selection

After exiting quick mask, I inverted the selection to give me the marching ants around the subject’s face. I then started to apply some contrast, brightness and a little vibrance. I found that unless I was going to alter the rest of the image, if I used too much alteration it would look very abnormal and stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.

Hence (as per the course notes) it is very difficult to see the difference between the original and the edited version. The two are below for comparison.





Looking closely there is slightly more detail in the hair and slightly more contrast on the face once I have finished editing. The eyes are slightly lightened due to the global lightening and puts a little more sparkle in the eyes. In fact, to my mind, his face looks a little orange and unnatural.

I am asked in the course notes to ‘Consider the limits that you would accept for this to remain an innocent, legitimate adjustment.‘ The words ‘innocent‘ and ‘legitimate‘ are very subjective and ultimately require me to have had an aim in the first place. In this case the actions are legitimised by the request of the exercise (although the tabloid editor asking the Photoshopper to perform a change of features on a celebrity would also be legitimate in this case). Innocent is a word which causes me a few problems. There are a few ramifications. At no point are any alterations innocent in my opinion. They are done with the full knowledge of the editor and as such can never be innocent. If, on the other hand the text is suggesting that it doesn’t do anyone any harm, again there could be an argument against it. In the case of the image above, any alterations are done due to a shortcoming in my technical ability in making the image in the first place. However, any photograph taken in RAW must by definition be edited/manipulated to some degree.The same is true of the celluloid negative, whilst no dodging/burning/cropping may take place, the decision has been made as to how long the negative should be exposed to the light, at the very least. A test strip of different exposure times will surely have been made prior to the final print being made. This in turn will drastically affect how the final printed image looks. None of this would be termed as wrong, indeed in the case of film it is absolutely necessary. But it is still intervention and interpretation. Many classic photographs can be seen in many different exposures from one publication to the next. This is all down to the printer and photographer.


One thought on “Improvement or interpretation?

  1. Pingback: Enhancement | BA Blog

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