That’s right. Reality may not be the goal when it comes to photos. Of course it depends on what you’re after, but for me I’m generally not interested in a photo being a completely accurate representation of what I photographed.
Opinions on this vary a lot; some people who call themselves “purists” or whatever else can be hardcore stuck on the notion that what landed on their camera sensor is what should be shown. There can be something said for that in some photographic disciplines for sure. I’m thinking photo journalists as an example. Or stock photos for reference manuals, etc. I mean there are people out there that if a single post production slider has been touched in any way they’ll cry foul.
Personally I don’t give that notion much stock; especially if you’re shooting RAW. If you’re not shooting raw and opting to shoot in JPEG, what comes out of camera isn’t untouched. You’ve simply opted to let your camera’s algorithm do it for you. Back in the day when you took your pics and sent them off to the photo lab to get them developed, the lab didn’t simply develop the images without any post processing work. There’s always some post processing work done to some degree or another. For those processing their own film, post production work was the norm. Even Ansel Adams was a master of post production work.
Then there is the other side of the spectrum in which people combine photography and “digital art” to create some pretty astounding works of art that make so called “purists” scream bloody murder. I’m talking artists like Erik Johansson. It’s pretty amazing stuff; absolutely surreal and obviously not straight out of camera. Though not my thing personally there is no denying that it’s truly amazing work which displays huge talent. I mean look at his work. Amazing.
I’m finding that I fall somewhere in between the two extremes with a huge lean to the so called purist approach. What I mean by that is that I’m not interested in creating stark surreal works of digital art with dolphins sporting wings and flying through vast landscapes, but I’m generally not interested in creating exact replicas of a scene or moment. I have the feeling that most photographers fall somewhere in the same place. And, to be honest, I’m all over the place. Sometimes I’ll take a photo with the goal of trying to get as much right in camera as possible with the goal of doing as little post production work as possible. Sometimes, even though I’ve nailed the exposure correctly for what I’m trying to shoot, the result I look at when I get it on my computer is not the same as what I photographed. I’ll make adjustments to bring it to where it more closely resembles what I shot.
Other times I’ll take a photo with the express intention of doing something to it in post production to achieve a specific goal or look.
Either way, it is generally never straight out of camera; whether it’s getting rid of mosquito bites, correcting skin tone, fiddling with contrast, cloning out a light stand or adding texture to clouds because they just look cool. Sometimes it’s just my mood.
And a little ADHD doesn’t help.
As I gain more experience with post production I find myself experimenting with different techniques along the way. For example I’ve really been dipping my feet into the whole concept of color grading. I find it amazing how color grading a photo can alter the mood and ambiance. I get the feeling that many photographers find their post production niche; a look or style that they really like and then they develop that style and learn how to use the tools to replicate it and pretty much stay right there. There’s nothing wrong with that; finding the “style” and then getting it down pat. To do a limited number of things or a single thing very well is not a bad thing.
I’m too damned scattered to do that. I like goofing around with different things at different times.
But, like I said, I’ve been on a color grading kick in an attempt to convey a preconceived idea of how I envision the end result. This led to some photos that I took recently this fall. I wanted to take the autumn palette and bump it up to 10 so to speak. Especially those warm tones that come with a long autumn and what we call an Indian Summer.
The straight out of camera pics look pretty good, but not what I had in mind. Here is an example of the original pic. It’s straight out of camera with the exception of white balance and enabling a camera profile in Lightroom:
This isn’t bad; usual flatness of RAW, the face a little bright, the shirt a bit over saturated. And actually, it looks pretty close to when we were there. I could maybe bump up the clarity a little bit, drop the saturation in the shirt, bring up the vibrancy in the foliage and it would look almost exactly as it was.
But, like I said, I’m not interested in replicating it like it was. I want it to be how I envision it. So, I goofed off and came up with this:
Vastly different. This image is a result of 19 layers in Photoshop. 17 of them are adjustment layers dealing with everything from curves on specific color channels to a color lookup. Two of the layers are specifically to address some skin blemishes and lint on the shirt.
I like how it turned out. It more conveys an emotion rather than simply what was. It’s not reality. No, it’s not so far out as to depict a blue planet with rings being orbited by dogs, or whatever. It conveys a completely different visceral response than the original. It’s not so far removed from reality that most people wouldn’t think it’s “as shot” for the most part, but I know it’s not as it was shot.
Well, so do you now.
At the end of the day, for me, reality is not the goal.