As noted a couple of days ago, I’ve been reading the excellent Photoshop Elements for Digital Photographers by Scott Kelby. This provokes two meditations today; this on integrity and another on the Planet of the Photoshoppers, which is far, far from ours.
I think we can take it as given that Mr. Belkin represents the values and norms of photo pros (among things he edits Photoshop User magazine). And it is crystal-clear that fidelity to what the camera saw does not feature in his belief system.
It’s not subtle; he states explicitly that each and every photograph should first be colour-corrected and then sharpened (and recommends a lot of intermediate steps along the way).
Personal Improvement · In particular, Belkin walks through an astounding list of techniques for improving portraits, and I quote: removing blemishes, removing dark circles under the eyes, lessening freckles or facial acne, removing or lessening wrinkles, colorizing hair, whitening the eyes, making eyes that sparkle, enhancing eyebrows and eyelashes, glamour skin softening, transforming a frown into a smile, doing a digital nose job, slimming and trimming, removing love handles, and finally slimming buttocks, arms and thighs.
Integrity? · Screw it, integrity is history. The image is no longer the capture of a instant’s light and colour, it’s, well... whatever you and Photoshop make of it.
And the citadel of my own integrity promptly crumbled. While I was in the middle of reading all this, Sun asked me to send a JPEG of myself to put in my employee badge, so I set up the tripod and used the timer and snapped myself. The picture was OK, but I looked kind of pale and there was a spot on my head where I’d whacked it crawling around under a piece of furniture.
Blasting the spot was the work of a moment, and “correcting” the colour didn’t take much longer. The picture looked perfectly sharp to me, but I followed Kelby’s advice and ran it through the Unsharp Mask and damn if it didn’t look a lot better. So at the end of a long day I may not look too hot, but the guy on my Sun badge will be glowing with health and heartiness.
Is There Balance? · I can see the lure of a cult of photographic puritanism and minimalism; take the bits the camera gives you and push ’em out on the Web. Because once you’ve decided not to colour-correct and sharpen, shouldn’t you also give up on cropping? If I took that vow there’d be a lot fewer pictures here, but each would, I think, somehow mean more, because you’d know that nobody, however well-intentioned, had pissed in the pipeline from the camera to your screen.
Or is such an ethic inherently foolish given the vast amount of software that runs in the camera when you push the little silver button? Probably; so what I’m going to do is strive to balance Truth and Beauty. In practical terms, this means the goal is make the picture look as much as possible like what I saw, as opposed to as good as possible. Mr. Kelby might not approve, but I can live with that.