The idea for this exercise was quite straight forward. Photograph a landscape with a wide dynamic range (2-3 stops) and make two images. One that has been exposed for the landscape, which will be quite dark. One that has been exposed for the sky, which will be quite bright. Then, by way of a photo manipulation package, Photoshop in this case, combine the two to give a balanced looking exposure of both the land and the sky.
Singapore is not given to nice flat landscapes except on the coast. Unfortunately this doesn’t give a wide enough dynamic range for the exercise to work. Finally I found a suitable location with a flat landscape (this making it easier to cut out the sky in Photoshop) which also had a river. This meant I had three areas of dynamic range that I would need to cover. The sky, river and land all being quite different exposure values. I took readings for each using the spot meter on my camera and noted the results. Then on manual mode I made the photograph at three different exposures.
The results are below, the exposure details are annotated;
As you can see there is 2 1/3 stops difference between the sky and the land (f5.6 to f/13) with the river in the middle of the exposure. Once I had made these shots I transferred them in to Photoshop to start the manipulation. Firstly I cut out the sky making sure I took account of the trees and other pointed objects. I copied this with some ‘feather’ to my base layer (in this case I used the land as my base layer) and lined it up as seamlessly as possible. I repeated this with the river.
The result is below;
I have to say that the result is not entirely pleasing as there is very little detail in the sky (as the sky was fairly overcast). However, there is more detail than if I had just exposed for the land (as can be seen in the first image of the land exposure).
Part two of the exercise was slightly different. Here I needed to take a sky from one image and transfer it to another image (a landscape) as seamlessly as possible. So whereas in the first part of the exercise I had merely taken different exposures of the same scene, here I was going to actively deceive the viewer. by composting two different (geographically) images.
I started with two images take at a similar time of day making the lighting easier to match. The direction of the sun was also similar. This would help make the final image look more ‘authentic’.
My first image was a landscape with good blue sky and clouds;
From here I ‘borrowed’ the sky by simply copying and pasting the area that I needed to my base layer (below).
After this I used the ‘magnetic tool’ (good for geometric shapes) in Photoshop to trace the skyscrapers and buildings. This would be the area I would need to cut out of my sky to make it look like I had placed it behind the buildings. I could also have cut out the original sky and put the new sky on the layer underneath. The same result would have applied. After I had done this I ended up with the following composite image which I think looks pretty convincing and actually adds to the interest of the overall image by making the sky more dynamic than in the original.
As I have said before, the real challenge of this exercise is more than just the technical aspect which with practise I could make absolutely seamless, undetectable changes to my work.
The question is of ethics and through this two part exercise it is demonstrated very well. The first part takes three images of the (almost) same time and place and combines them to show what the eye may very well be able to see. Indeed, with a very little work on the image I exposed for the land, it is also what my camera saw, such is the cameras ability to capture the dynamic range in a RAW format. here I have just applied global manipulation. There is a little less contrast but with a little more time on local adjustment it could very easily be more presentable.
So here, ethically and physically, I am not really distorting the ‘truth’ of the image. What has been adjusted was already in the image I took. I just made an artistic judgement to make sure I had the whole dynamic range accounted for by taking more than one photograph to combine together in the final edit. This, I think, is intent. All photographers need intent in their image making and being able to spot what will need to be done in post-production is part of that.
Part 2 throws up different questions. Here I am wilfully deceiving the viewer. Two images combined from two different places and times (days apart in this case). Is this wrong? I think it actually adds to the aesthetic vale of the photograph.
However, if we are looking for a ‘true’ representation then of course it is downright lie. However, in these terms then part one is also a lie. The photograph was made in the same place, but not at the same time, how could it be? So, discounting location, what is the difference ethically between a couple of seconds and a couple of days (months, years)?
Partially it comes down to intent again. My intent in the first image was not to deceive the viewer. My intent in the second was to palpably do so. However, it was just my intent. Someone else would see this approach as wholly justifiable. They just wanted to make a nicer image for someone to look at. I use the word ‘image’ advisedly in this case as I believe this is what it is. I has changed fundamentally from a ‘photograph’ to an ‘image’, a composite of numerous photographs. History shows us this has been happening since the beginning of photography. In ‘Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop’ (2012 – p.11) the author discusses how, during the 1860s, landscape photographers used negative ‘banks’ of clouds to give detail in their skies when they could only expose for the landscape. They would take their own negative of the landscape and add their chosen sky on top and expose both at the same time thereby producing a perfectly exposed scene. This may also seem underhanded but, of course, the advent of being able to do this digitally has democratised the previously elitist practice. As Photoshop turns 25 this year, the general public become more skeptical and at the same time more drawn in to digital manipulation, whether knowingly or in the case of my previous post, sometimes unknowingly.