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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

To change or not to change

This photo is a great example of the slippery slope photographers can sometimes find themselves on. The digital darkroom makes things really easy. We can add things, take things out. Put a smile on Aunt Sally's frowning face! You name it and if you've got the skill you can do it.

Many of us wouldn't even think about doing something like that and still call it a photograph. For all documentary work there's an unwritten code of ethics which prohibits us from adding stuff that wasn't there when we pushed the shutter.

But what about colour. This photo of a giraffe was taken very early in the morning in the Maasai Mara National Park in Kenya. It's a nice enough silhouette but it sure would look a lot more spectacular with a bright orange sky behind. A quick slide of the white balance slider in a raw converter or a bit of fiddling in Photoshop and we could have a fantastically orange sky.

I have a friend who is a great Photoshop artist and proponent of digital manipulation. I remember one conversation where he tried to convince me that I should get in and enhance some of my travel images to make them really saleable. Now I really admire what he does but I honestly don't consider it photography. It's art but not photography as far as I'm concerned. And I'd rather be a photographer.

So I have chosen to leave this picture as it is for personal reasons. When you're creating art for yourself though there's no particular reason to do this. You can play to your heart's content and I would definitely encourage you to do so. It's a new, fun part of what we do. But should you call your final product a photo? Most magazines call it a Photo Illustration if there's been any manipulation done and I think this is a great alternative.

If you've done some fancy work in the darkroom to create your masterpiece then be proud of that. Don't try to pass it off as something you actually saw but call it a Photo Illustration and stand up and be proud of the new skills you've achieved in the digital darkroom.

Now in keeping with yesterday's post let's reverse engineer this picture. Firstly let's think about the focal length of the lens. Do the clouds look big and close or small and far away? Big and close which means that it was a telephoto lens. What focal length? Doesn't matter. It was a telephoto, that's enough information.

How about aperture? Do those clouds look blurry or clear? They're not really either. They're not pin-sharp but they're not so blurry that you can't tell the shape of them. That tells you that it was a middle-of-the-road aperture - say around f5.6 or so. Which in itself gives you a bit of a hint of the lens used. In such a low light situation you want to open up the aperture as much as possible. So why didn't I open up to f2.8? Because when I took this photo I only had a standard zoom on me and it's maximum aperture was f5.6!

How about shutter speed then? Well that giraffe is pretty still so that tells you that it's a fast enough shutter speed to stop any movement - both of the giraffe and camera shake. So that tells you that it was probably reasonably fast. Either that or the camera was on some kind of a support and the giraffe was a statue! :)

Another thing you can guess at is where I took the exposure from. A silhouette is caused when the exposure lock has been taken from a really bright part of the frame, causing everything not so bright to go black. So looking at this picture you can see that I've taken an exposure reading from somewhere in that bright, not very orange sky.

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