Extreme Photoshopping

At the risk of being kicked out of Stormtrack and run out of the chaser community, I want to raise a topic that I've been thinking about for awhile - extreme photoshopping of storm photos. These photos are incredibly striking, obviously marketable, and definitely get the WOW factor. But, I would be flunked out of photography school if I turned in one of these shots for an assignment but they would be praised in my former art school. So, my question is, what do others think of extreme photoshopping of storm photos? Is what mother nature produces good enough or do we need to enhance to the point of making it look like something we'd never see in real life? Or, are the extreme photoshop photos to be considered art instead of representations of reality? The recent trend seems to be taking it further and further. I'm interested in hearing what others think.
 
There is a discussion similar to this in the "High Dynamic Range Imaging" thread in Equipment ---> http://www.stormtrack.org/forum/index.php?showtopic=11072. In my opinion, lots of the work that chasers do comes in low light situations and so some amount of processing is necessary to extract fine details from the cloud structures. I can look at some of the old images that I took on my 4 MP camera which I did not do any processing on and compare them to the Photoshop enhanced ones taken with my D50, and the amount of detail that is shown in the newer images is extraordinary. The work done by Mike H, Mike U, Aaron, and many others on this forum requires a subtle blend of a photographer's eye and digital darkroom skill, so in my mind that counts as art just the same.
 
At the risk of being kicked out of Stormtrack and run out of the chaser community, I want to raise a topic that I've been thinking about for awhile - extreme photoshopping of storm photos. These photos are incredibly striking, obviously marketable, and definitely get the WOW factor. But, I would be flunked out of photography school if I turned in one of these shots for an assignment but they would be praised in my former art school. So, my question is, what do others think of extreme photoshopping of storm photos? Is what mother nature produces good enough or do we need to enhance to the point of making it look like something we'd never see in real life? Or, are the extreme photoshop photos to be considered art instead of representations of reality? The recent trend seems to be taking it further and further. I'm interested in hearing what others think.
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FWIW IMHO, material alteration of any image purported to be journalistic, historical, or representational is bad -- material alteration being the distortion of aspects that are central to what the image is conveying.

But that said, every image is art and every photograph whether wet-process or digital is "photoshopped" to some extent. I usually have an 81B (orange warming) filter on for all-around lens protection. The media themselves have less contrast range and different light response from what "nature" produces or the human eye perceives. M/F Nature produced the artist or photographer, too, as an essential part of the whole process of conveying "real life".

I'm more concerned with subtle, undetectable material alterations than "extreme" ones which are obvious. Good question, Ericka! Any particular examples to get worked up about?
 
Intersting comment, Ericka. I think that a lot of people view Photoshop as "cheating". But, in fact, I would counter that it is very much akin to what some of the masters did in the darkroom. For example, Ansel Adams, perhaps the 20th century's most amazing photographer, burned & dodged a lot of his photos and even took multiple exposures that he then "layered" to make his final shots.

The pictures themselves accent storm features which were already there in the photo. I'm not very good at PS (and have really appreciated the links in the HDRI link above to learn more. But, these photos aren't doctored in the "traditional" sense of the word. In other words, most of the pix I see simply bring out the best a photo has to offer.

Since you have a better background in this than I, why would your professors have flunked you for similar dodge/burns (and I mean that sincerely :)). How does what Ansel Adams did differ from the PS enhanced photos people are produing?
 
I agree that some processing is fine, and even required in some cases. Shooting RAW requires you to post-process, and shooting jpg may as well given that many of the "as shot" pictures don't necessarily look like reality initially. Folks have been able to "post-process" in the lab for a long time, and post-processing digital pics doesn't seem to be much different.

That said, some folks overprocess pics to the point that the pictures look quite fake. Now, I admit -- I'm guilty of this too from time to time. I've overprocessed some of my 4-24-06 pictures, and I need to go back and reprocess them. When messing with curves, sharpness, etc, there's a point after which the photo begins to look quite fake. Sometimes you can't really pin-point what's wrong with the picture -- it just looks "off".

In the end, here's my 2 cents -- post-processing is not inherently bad. Sometimes it's required, and it's not a whole lot different than what some folks did in film labs (though more flexibility with digital pics now). However, some pictures definately look overprocessed (again, I'm not calling the kettle black -- some of my own pics, admittently, look too processed).. In the end, I can comment on others' pictures, but I can't really say anything since people can make their pictures look like anything they want. If someone wants to push contrast to the max, then who am I to say anything about it? I may not like it, but that doesn't mean the person shouldn't be allowed to do it.
 
So, my question is, what do others think of extreme photoshopping of storm photos?[/b]

It is just my own personal choice but I absolutely won't do it. There are times when it is tempting but I can't bring myself to do it. Here's an example. Wouldn't it be nice if I could have taken the street pole out. But then if I did that, things go through my mind..."what if the streetpole was interacting with the lightning somehow?" In photojournalism, I can't change a darn thing but that's the way I want it.

Beautiful tree and lightning with annoying streetpole

Where was my machete when I needed it (distracting bush to the left)

I might be weird about this but my stuff only has meaning to me if it is photojournalistic and depicts the moment exactly as it happened. Believe me, there is a downside to my strict guidelines. I have to wait five years to get a shot like:

American flag with lightning

Plus, there are some stellar shots I have that will never be usable because although there is a fantastic lightning bolt, something distracting (that I won't take out) is in the picture. So it goes in the reject pile. I have more than a handful of those...breaks my heart LOL but it's all about photojournalism to me and if something doesn't make the cut, then it doesn't go out into the world.

Anyhow, good question. Just stating my own personal way of doing it (or not doing it I guess). The storm is natural so I have to be natural too. Like I said though, that is just Susan's way.

I get a lot of questions about color variance too with the desert storms. The difference in the desert is that sometimes there is a sandstorm too. In that case the photos will be pink or wine. During heavy rain the pictures will be blue. That's why the colors change so much. Cabernet color=mucho sand (and I'm wearing silly looking goggles while photographing). Clear rainwashed air = blue range. City lights can give me green tones.
 
I don't have a problem with photoshopping (and it is neccesary for DSLR photos)... but I have noticed a tendancy to really pull out the contrast in many images making them appear better than real life. While that in itself is fine (photography is art), these photos then circulate the net and then people think that's what the sky really looks like. I've had a few non-met friends make comments that certain pictures/storms aren't as impressive as x and y... as I tend to go with a more realistic setting (just my preference). So if anything... perhaps it is doing the public a disservice and misleading them (unless you put some sort of notice at the bottom). The only real harm I can think of is sending severely photoshopped photos to say the NWS for skywarn spotting.

BTW: I don't have any issues with HDR... my goal is to get the output from my camera to mimic what I saw with my own eyes. Often, scenes have too much dynamic range for the camera, so HDR or other adjustments are neccesary.


Aaron
 
It depends on your purpose for the image. If you are submitting the image for news service distribution that they will use in newspapers, then you would be confined by more ethical boundaries than if your purpose is to sell prints as art. This is a personal decision. Newspapers confine their photographers to only a VERY LIMITED degree of PS adjustments. Ask Ryan McGiniss about this. He explained it to me in Lincoln. Pretty interesting stuff.

If your purpose is to sell art to hang on a wall, then make it however you want. If your purpose is to convey storm information for research, news or documentation, then some harder limits would definitely be in order. I can also see the value in what Aaron mentions as this stuff gets passed around the net - with the potential to convey a distorted concept. As for shooting JPG vs. RAW - this is basically just a decision as to whether you want a camera company to decide how your image should be processed, or whether you as the photographer should reserve that right. RAW is the only way to fly. In-camera JPG processing almost never does an image justice ... in other words, I don't want Canon to decide what my contrast and sharpening settings should be before I ever even take a photo.

Also - I agree with Aaron that HDR does not constitute 'extreme PS' work. It's simply a method of opening up more stops in the scene, and if used properly it will convey correct information about the scene. If used improperly, it will distort the image. You can tell the difference between HDR images that have been overprocessed and those that look natural. To me, the definition of extreme PS comes more in what Susan mentioned, in the adding or subtracting of data that does not already - and should not - exist in the photo. (Although I have to say in her example of beautiful tree with annoying street pole - I would have no problem cropping that light out. It's in an easily croppable section of the photo that will not change the documentation of the photo at all, IMO ... and crops are fair game, used in both the darkroom or on the computer.)
 
Interesting thread and thoughts. I think graphic editors are very helpful .I see the important reason for photographing (I now use digital cameras since 2000 and but have been using film before that) to capture what "my mind sees." I use photoshop mostly to crop, sometimes sharpen and use the contrast. But for the most part it is to photoshop should not be used to make your photoshop show what nature did not intend.

Dr. Eric Flescher ([email protected]), Olathe, KS:913-780-5902: (mobile) 913-486-1274: Storm Satori- http://members.aol.com/kcstormguy/stormsat...tormsatori.htm: E.O.A.S. (Earth, Oceans, Atmosphere and Space Blog) -http://www.xanga.com/dreric1kansas
 
I agree on some thought, depends for what will you need photos. Sometimes its good to leave the photo as an original, but once a friend of mine said something like this: "If you're using DSLR, its almost a must to edit photos and a raw photo from a camera is just a 15% of the final photo", I can agree on that and I am editing them too... again depends how I want the pic to turn out at the end.

But I am wondering about some pics...for example this one from Ryan McGinnis: http://img208.imageshack.us/img208/474/mg9279web3ni.jpg, is it possible to see that one and an original pic side by side, Ryan? That edited pics looks outstanding, cannot believe it could be like that in reality. Any helpful photoshop tricks would be cool as well. Love Ryan's photos, almost like an art sometimes!
 
"If you're using DSLR, its almost a must to edit photos and a raw photo from a camera is just a 15% of the final photo"[/b]

That's a good way to put it ... to refuse to do ANY processing would be like taking print photos but then refusing to develop any of the negatives. There HAS to be some processing to be able to use the image the way you ultimately want to use it. Getting involved in discussions about how much is too much is pretty subjective territory (which is why it leads to so many arguments ... it's all about personal preference when it comes down to it) - - - the only reason there are so many discussions about it stems from the film generation having a difficult time making the transition into the digital universe. Film purists love to promote the idea that there is more skill involved in making a quality still image from film than there is from digital. Meanwhile they have a set of 50 Cokin filters that they use to manipulate the scene in a countless number of ways, somehow thinking this is different than applying the same effect in PS. The only time I see a real issue is when it comes to news and documentation ... and then the same rules apply to both digital and film. If a person takes a look at Time or National Geographic these days and thinks that all of those photogs are shooting film and none of them are applying processing methods to their photos, then they aren't aware of the current state of the art.
 
It's a fine line how much a photo can be post-processed before looking 'unreal', and whether a photo should ever be pushed anywhere near that point. There can be many goals when doing post processing -- one can be attempting to create an emotive piece of artwork, for example, or they may be aiming for photojournalism.

Photojournalism has a few cardinal sins. The clone tool is one of them -- no photo that has been touched by the clone tool can be considered 'photojournalistic'. That doesn't mean that it can't be run in a newspaper or a magazine, only that it will be used as a piece of art (technically known as a 'photo illustration'), not as a representation of reality. Photojournalists are allowed to post-process their images, and almost all do. In the past this meant hours in the darkroom dodging and burning and masking and the like; these days it means a few minutes with photoshop. The AP usually asks for photos as unmolested as possible; they have a very lighthanded photo toning method, assuming that each publication will need to do different things to the photo to get that photo to reproduce in the many different printing presses and mediums.

One of the big secrets of contemporary photography, I am discovering, is that almost everything you see in every medium has been heavily post-processed at some point or another. Seriously. That photo of the football player you see in the newspaper? Some guy like me went in with a computer and made sure that that football player's skin tones adhered to certain 'known' CMYK color number values. Someone went in and made sure the uniform was the correct color, that the grass renders as green, that the sky renders as blue. Someone totally butchered that photo so that, when printed using cheap ink on cheap paper, it looks something like the original. All the magazines use the same process. All professional photos are processed at one point or another. The other day I went down to Forberg's gallery and asked the lady behind the desk what he shoots with. He shoots slides... and then drum scans them. There's only one reason to drum scan something... to digitally post process them. And I can see what he's doing in his post processing, too, and it's well beyond what would be easily achieveable in a darkroom. If you aren't digitally post processing your digitally shot photos at all, then you're skipping at least 50% of the photographic process.

That said, that still doesn't address the 'how much is too much' question, and it's a really good question. The answer is that there is no answer. If what you're doing is suiting your application, then it's not too much. When I tone, my application is usually to attempt to make the photograph appear as it did to my eye at the time that I was there. (Usually -- sometimes I'm just going for pure art, and at those times the photos look much more dramatic than what I actually saw, though it may reflect the emotions I was feeling when I took it!) It's good to not lie to the people you are trying to show your image to. If you're toning artistically, don't be shy -- tell them!

Storm photography is extremely difficult in that the human eye can usually process detail in ALL of the scene, whereas your camera is going to have a very stunted dynamic latitude. You want the cloud detail, you've gotta blow out the ground. You want the sky detail, your gonna lose your cloud and your ground. You want the ground detail, your sky will be white. Traditionally, this kind of thing was tackled by using gradiated filters and the like. In contemporary times, this can be tackled by other methods as well; either by digital post processing or through something like HDR or multi-exposure composting. I tend to use digital post processing and very rarely multi-shot composting to simulate gradiated filters, though I've been experimenting a bit with HDR. (The reason that I rarely use multi-shot is that at that point the photo usually becomes disqaulified for being photojournalistic, as the photograph is not a temporally whole event.)

Someone asked about this photo:



This photograph was actually, surprisingly, not very post-processed. But it was post-processed. It was shot as a Canon RAW in the Adobe RGB colorspace, then converted to 16 bit TIFFs*, given some LAB mode tweaks (levels, slight s-curve to the clouds and ground, slight colorspace compression in the a & b channels (10 points, either side, as an adjustment layer, then backed off a bit on the opacity), reconverted to RGB, moved to the sRGB colorspace, downsampled to 8 bit, sharpened, and saved.

Why's the asterisk there above? Because when I did the RAW conversion, I used the Adobe RAW conversion tool to convert it several different times to simulate several different exposures. All of these 'exposures' are of course just different slices of the RAW pie, most of which gets thrown away in the final product. For example, here is the RAW images as shot in the camera:



Nice overall, but the ground is fairly dark and the sky at right is blown out. What to do? Well, use this as a base, and then use several other RAW samples and compost them as neccesary.

For the clouds, use:



For the blown out sky:



For the ground:



This simulates what the eye and brain sees; I sure as heck wasn't getting a blowout in my eyeball when I looked at this scene, and the ground wasn't black, and the sky wasn't washed out. By tapping into all the data the RAW file had, I was able to better render what I actually saw. The end product, again, was:



In actuality, I think the scene as I saw it looked a lot scarier than this, but then I was trying not to get hit by lightning and snap off this shot on a tall metal tripod before the gust front and the hail arrived, so I'm probably just blending in my own emotional impressions. :) Memory is weird like that. Ultimately, I dig the rustic, rural, painterly feel the photo ends up having, so I wouldn't dream of pushing it any closer to what I actually saw.

It's basically a taste thing. Taste and honesty. If your taste runs afoul of what you know a scene looked like to you, then it's a good idea to mention it if you think that people are going to assume that what they're looking at is what you saw. However, if what they're looking at is what you saw, sometimes you'll have to fight them -- as storm chasers, the stuff that we see is so far removed from the realities that most people experience it's easy to forget that things that look normal to us in a print look like The End Of The World -- i.e., unbelieveable -- to most others.
 
At the risk of being kicked out of Stormtrack and run out of the chaser community, I want to raise a topic that I've been thinking about for awhile - extreme photoshopping of storm photos. These photos are incredibly striking, obviously marketable, and definitely get the WOW factor. But, I would be flunked out of photography school if I turned in one of these shots for an assignment but they would be praised in my former art school. So, my question is, what do others think of extreme photoshopping of storm photos? Is what mother nature produces good enough or do we need to enhance to the point of making it look like something we'd never see in real life? Or, are the extreme photoshop photos to be considered art instead of representations of reality? The recent trend seems to be taking it further and further. I'm interested in hearing what others think.
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BTW -- another thing I wanted to mention. When you get out into the actual world of people who desire and use photography products, I can assure you that absoloutely nobody cares what any of those schools think. This is not to say that they aren't very useful, only that they have about as much bearing on reality as a modern-day Samurai school would have on 21st century warfare. When I was in college, I was told that it was photojournalistically unethical to use any digital tool on a photo that didn't have a direct, easy link to a corresponding tool in the darkroom. So I was limited to dodging and burning and simple saturation and constrast and brightness tools. Then I discovered the actual world of photojournalistic pre-production, and realized that almost everything I was ever taught was entirely unapplicable to the reality of the marketplace. In photojournalism, a photo must be honest, and sometimes to keep a photo honest, the photo must be processed in ways that are not directly correlated to anything you can do in a darkroom. Especially when you are transferring a photo to a medium like offset or Flexo printing. In my opinion, it is not the tools that matter, only the intent and how well the final product matches that intent. And if you're aiming for art, then you don't even have the mandate that the photo be honest, anymore. (Though, personally, I dislike deception in photographic art, unless the deception has some terribly clever point.)
 
the only reason there are so many discussions about it stems from the film generation having a difficult time making the transition into the digital universe. Film purists love to promote the idea that there is more skill involved in making a quality still image from film than there is from digital. Meanwhile they have a set of 50 Cokin filters that they use to manipulate the scene in a countless number of ways, somehow thinking this is different than applying the same effect in PS. The only time I see a real issue is when it comes to news and documentation ... and then the same rules apply to both digital and film. If a person takes a look at Time or National Geographic these days and thinks that all of those photogs are shooting film and none of them are applying processing methods to their photos, then they aren't aware of the current state of the art.
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¿Qué?

Strongly disagree over here. There is at least one person (me) who is both a film purist but also has digital equipment (for live stuff, blogs, quick stuff, and ancient ruins/rock art). So I'll use both, but film still is in the driver's seat for most of my stuff. Reasons:

Pretty simple, I do night work. My specialty is low-light photography such as lightning, fires, night scenes, dances around the fire, that kind of stuff. Film still handles that better for right now. Digital is just at the heels for night stuff, and very soon might be just as apt, but film still handles night work just a tad better. The flexibility in the bulb setting, no worries of noise, those are some of the reasons. Digital is almost there though, and when that happens, if I find a digital camera that can handle night work just as elegantly with every nuance of film, I'll consider it.

A lot of photo editors are still pretty stubborn about accepting digital submissions, this is starting to change but with a transparency submission, they can see it, feel it, break out the 14x loupe and know the thing is real. Although they will look at .jpgs for a preliminary review, when they really want to see your stuff, they want that slide in front of them. So far, most of the photo editors I have worked with, particularly the ones with strict guidelines, have gone that route (except for TV, they seem to like the hi-rez scans, but then, the journalistic aspect comes into play so again, it has to be real.)

I refuse filters or color alterations. Actually, there is no need to augment colors in a storm or especially a desert landscape, out here you'd end up with a supersaturated cartoonish image that would obviously look like make-believe. "There are two windows of good photo light - 20 minutes at dawn and 20 minutes at sunset" - Richard Maack, Photo Editor, Arizona Highways. When composing with landscape elements especially, which is unavoidable around here, filters are not necessary because spectacular light is available during those times. Sand in the air makes colors even more bizarre. But if you try to shoot good landscapes at high noon on a clear boring day, well, best of luck. I'll chase the light for the good colors, get up at 4:30am, use beautylight in the evenings. That's part of the craft too, and I know in my heart the scene was real and happened that way and that is important to me...and again that is personal preference. Nothing against those who artistically change things, after all, Ansel Adams did.

Photography is both technical aptitude + a good eye for composition. Digital photography doesn't diminish that art, you still need both. The only difference is the tool in your hand, which makes the first part different, but not the second. What goes in is what comes out. A camera just doesn't spit out a good image on it's own. In both cases, the photographer has to chase the shot and capture it. Film photographers don't think there's more skill in film work; it is just a different tool for the same craft. It's like arguing which is better in target shooting, a gun or bow. They're just different tools, and both require the shooter's skill behind it.
 
Oh I agree with much of what you say here Susan ... my point is just that in photography schools when I've talked to friends who are students, the instructors generally still seem to retain pro-film attitudes for the most part, and they're still trying to ingrain this thinking into their students, rather than simply seeing different tools for different jobs, as you mention.

A friend of mine attending local photography courses in college told me that she would never go digital because of things her instructor told her class ... he implied that digital does not allow the same versatility that film allows, using the old arguments that slide and film is inherently better because of higher resolutions, and therefore that professionals will only choose slides and print films. By claiming that if you want to be considered a pro you have to abandon digital, he's been denying them a lot of latitude in developing their own individual styles.

I actually believe that now the majority of photojournalism is shifting into the route of high-end digital, particularly that which deals with foreign journalism. I think it's actually starting to become the preferred medium in many cases, because it allows journalists to send their work immediately around the world to publishers, even from the most remote corners of the world. Here's an example from National Geographic.

I have a lot of respect for your desire for clean images with little or no manipulation, and see this as having merit from a photojournalism and creative standpoint - - it makes you who you are and flavors your work. At the same time I have equal respect for those who find other creative means for conveying the emotive qualities of a storm through whatever means at their disposal - whether through use of filters, PS work, or whatever. It makes each person special for developing their own unique style and gives us the opportunity to see a storm through different eyes.

Ryan - thanks for those great posts - I love that photo too.
 
I've always used film and still do, but if I could afford a nice DSLR I would go that way.

I was able to play/take some shots on my friend's Cannon DSLR shooting RAW on April 16th, 2006 during a small tornado outbreak in Illinois: I saw no problems with the images taken. None of the images needed to go to P.S.
The images on my site from that particular day are vid stills, but I would like to post those DSLR images if I get the chance.

I believe there is a problem with P.S. if it is not used for artistic or personal purposes. I don't really enjoy looking at images near dark with 'glowing' green grass, 'glowing' blue skies, and yet a very bright light source coming from the horizon. Images like that portray a scene with multiple light sources that is completely unreal and unnatural.

Just my opinion...
 
I actually believe that now the majority of photojournalism is shifting into the route of high-end digital, particularly that which deals with foreign journalism. I think it's actually starting to become the preferred medium in many cases, because it allows journalists to send their work immediately around the world to publishers, even from the most remote corners of the world. Here's an example from National Geographic.[/b]

I can confirm this. Nearly all metropolitan newspapers have now shifted to digital cameras. New York Times, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, etc etc etc -- all digital now. The folks the AP hire to fly around and cover national news also use digital. I'm guessing that film still gets used from time to time in large publications, but even the film ends up digital in the end, as the prepress at almost all large newspapers and magazines now requires that everything be converted to digital files. No longer does some composer 'shoot' a negative of the news page for the press; all this is now done digitally by large machines known as "imagesetters" that use digital PDF or EPS files to burn a negative or a plate with a laser. Time, Newsweek, all the large news mags are the same way. Digital rules all in the prepress world and has for a few years now. Even holdouts like National Geographic are transitioning to digital (from what I've heard, the Canon 1D MKII was the first 35 SLR that they considered 'good enough' to use in their publication.) I'm not saying that mags and newspapers won't take negs or slides, only that since those things are all going to be scanned into digital before going to print it helps their workflow quite a bit if they get everything digital to begin with. For the most part, newspapers don't need anywhere near the resolution that comes out of a 1D MKII, let alone what comes out of a Provia slide -- there is no good reason to keep film around at such places.

Ryan - thanks for those great posts - I love that photo too.
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Thanks, Mike! :)
 
For the most part, newspapers don't need anywhere near the resolution that comes out of a 1D MKII, let alone what comes out of a Provia slide -- [/b]

Believe it or not I actually had a vid cap published on the front page of large distribution local paper this year. During the Fillmore tornado, video was the only thing I could get (in the middle of the dark, with an F3 tornado screaming toward me at 60 mph ... go figure). Anyway, I submitted the video capture thinking that the paper wouldn't accept it, and the next day it was on the front page.
 
Photoshop would be cheating in the eyes of the purist; but in a storm environment, the photoshop option may be the only way to make the slight corrections that can turn a crappy or too dark shot into one that is more definitive or eyecatching. I am not a big fan of some of these cheesy"add a tornado" to stratocu shots, but if a tornado is captured in very low light, there is nothing wrong with trying to treat the image by way of a photo editor/photoshop. In my opinion this is a benefit and not a cheater's tool.
 
Great discussion and great points all a around. I'd add just a couple of minor points:

I think part of what makes some shots look unreal/surreal to the eye is not the photoshopping at all, but the wide angle lens. The eye sees in wide angle, but the peripheral parts of the scene are not in focus. When we see a wide angle shot on screen (or on paper) our eye can take in the entirety of it in a way that does appear "unreal". When the wide angle adds distortion into the equation, you have another "unreal/surreal" element for the brain to deal with. Some people like it and some people don't. (I do, personally). In Ryan's farm scene, for example, the barn appears to be falling away from us. It wasn't (in real life) so that is a shift from our normal perspective. It has nothing to do with Photoshop (or digital vs film), however — it's lens selection and you could do the same thing with either sort of SLR.

The other point that I will make is that people who act like film is "pure" and digital is "dirty" are forgetting that there is no One True Film that defines reality. Some films give you more vibrant colors, are more "contrasty", etc. There also used to be films available with different "white balance". Kids today know little about buying a film balanced for tungsten lighting, as opposed to being balanced for "daylight". ("GET OFF MY LAWN, YOU WHIPPER-SNAPPERS") Some "daylight" films would be "warmer" than others (which people might like because caucasian skin tones would look less corpse-like than the "cooler" ones.)

All of this also ignores the fact that taking the film into your processor was a leap of faith. Take the same negative to several different photofinishers and you could get radically different results. This is because your negative was exposed on paper with colored light (that color being determined by the intensities of Cyan, Magenta, and Blue filters). A color analyzer was normally used to try to make things look similar. When I did color darkroom for a portrait photographer (many moons ago) the analyzer was set up to analyze skin tones and make them all look the same. We'd run sample prints and adjust the "color pack" of the enlarger to get it warmer or cooler, as needed. Photographic paper had different color sensitivities (by batch) so if we were in the middle of printing a wedding and ran out of one batch, we'd have to calibrate all over again or the white dress might not be the same white when we switched to the new box of photographic paper.

If I take your picture in a room illuminated with fluorescent lights, you probably aren't going to think you look "real" unless I warm that picture up (with film I could either do that in-camera with a fluorescent filter, or in printing by compensating with the color filtration in the enlarger). With digital, you could probably use a filter too (but why limit the amount of light you are letting in?) so do it with post-processing.

My point is that there is a wide range of "reality" and always has been. There has always been "postprocessing" (unless you were shooting slides and not making prints or scans from them).

As Ryan said, that doesn't address the question of "how much is too much", but let's get off the idea that film was somehow unencumbered by many of the same issues. Even when it comes to lightning photography, film is used because it allows us to "cheat" with the "B" setting. How many lightning shots have you seen that were actually a composite of strikes that happened over the course of a several-second exposure? The single film exposure makes you think they all happened at the same instant. If that isn't distorting reality, nothing is.

Finally, I think that any tool can be misused and that comes down to the individual tool-wielder. Ryan, coming from his newspaper perspective, is pretty conservative in this regard (and seems to abide by Truth in Labeling Laws, as well) :) I can tell you, from being there, that his gust front pictures really capture what I was seeing with my eyes. If anything, his mammatus pictures are UNDERdone. (Part of that may be that the wide angle perspective make them look somehow smaller and more distant than they did in real life).

From comments that Ryan got on his blog (and on Fark) there seems to be an inability of people to grasp that stuff this cool actually happens in nature. They've grown up with the CGI worlds of video games and movies and so when they see this sort of thing they think it must be faked or artificially enhanced in some way. Experiencing it firsthand is a mindblowing and humbling experience that many will never get. Our photography should be an attempt at communicating that reality. If you see something in your Photoshop window that you didn't see in real life, then you've gone too far.

Darren Addy
Kearney, NE
 
Maybe I'm crazy but what I see as more of a problem than "extreme photoshopping" is the complete lack of any post-processing in most cases(if there has to be some "problem" in the first place). But, what exactly even is extreme photoshopping anyway? Is it something that creates something fake or too strong? Is it something that creates something amazingly realistic? I imagine it is both equally in many minds out there.

Let's face it, most folks don't take the time, or just haven't yet learned how to really use photoshop to create something extremely life-like. So, you don't get to see much of it out there. People are used to seeing late evening skies with pure black foregrounds. Then someone sees something different and thinks, that is fake, when in fact maybe someone just put a LOT more effort into their photos than some "purists" choose to. The "purist" can stare at something like a completely black foreground and be happy and at the same time be complaining about someone photoshopping at all. To me I wonder if some are just not happy they don't have the ability of others in post-processing. Rather than take the time to learn or open their mind to it, or even just be happy with how theirs are without it, they start threads putting those that do it down in some fashion(maybe not here but in general). Meanwhile how often do you see a photoshop person bothering to start threads about those folks and their being happy with black foregrounds?

Creating reality in a photo is certainly no easy feat. It is fun when you realize you can now at least come a lot closer. I think some of the "extremely shopped" photos you see aren't done on purpose. I think a lot of it is just the fact it is really hard to do it all very well. It is very hard to learn to control all the aspects as you work on an image. When getting the contrast into the photo the whites and blacks love to go too white or black. This will obviously stand out as not reality. But, at the same time, those other areas like the grass infront of you or whatever will be much closer. Ryan's image below I think might be a good example, though I wasn't there! I'd love to see a purist with their purist ways get that close on that setting. His is very close to what I imagine it looked like(which isn't what you'd expect most images to show on that setting). The only thing I see that might be a smidge off is how dark the black is in the upper cloud. I wouldn't even think it is that far off. I think that little bit combined with a high dynamic shot you aren't used to seeing displayed right would make people jump all over the, "that is extremely photoshopped" bandwagon. And like has been mentioned you can also toss in the fact most folks aren't out there seeing storms as often or at as long of periods of their lives.

As far as lightning photography and night photography is concerned I would hope you don't need to do much of anything to the image. Those have to be the easiest settings there are, both shooting and processing.

What I would love to see are the examples of extreme photoshopping that started the thread. I'm sure I have some that qualify. Oh well.
 
Erica, how do you define "extreme PS?"

LOL!
Hide the children! Mike, that...that....(gasp!) Photoshoper is here! :eek:

Strongly agree with Darren. The notion that film somehow records the 'real' scene is absurd. Film's luminance vs density repsonse is extremely non-linear (this can be a good thing for lightning), with the toe and head being greatly compressed. On top of that, you've got 3 color layers, each with its own unique response to light, exposure time, and color; each going in a different direction. During long exposures, color and response curve shifts will occur, and there is little one can do to accurately correct the 'error,' even if you wanted to. Films vary - a lot. Shooting the same night time lightning scene with two different slide films will get you vastly differing colors. Add print film and the colors will be almost unrecognizable. You're going to tell me that one is "real" and the other(s) aren't?? Throw in exposure varience, film grain (or sensor noise), lens distortions, flare, water drops and squashed bugs on the lens, etc. etc. etc.

Agree with Mike. If I'm going to stand around in a thunderstorm, trying to get struck, I'm sure as heck not going to throw out a cool lightnng shot just because it is somewhat under or over exposed. Shooting film (without digital's 'insta-chimp' feedback), catching a good lightning discharge (properly exposed!) over a properly exposed scene is actually damned difficult! I have a cheapo digicam that I use to test a given exposure value, but that only gets me in the ballpark. If I get it close, within a stop, I feel I've done well. If a 'bad' image is thin, or dark, I reserve the right to tweak the curves to recover as much of the scene as possible. Why should I penalize myself for estimating the wrong exposure??? Likewise, city lights ("They didn't look all that bright...") can fog an an image's low end in minutes. Is it somehow a crime to set a new blackpoint? OTOH, I think excess curve/contrast tweaking can 'overcook' an image. In my humble (and completely irrelevent!) opinion, Mike's stuff is just a short throw over my current 'limit.' His pics seem just a bit unreal, although they are superb art, emphasizing the power and menace of severe weather. Likewise, Susan's material might, IMO, benefit from some small contrast and curve 'enhancements.' As in the chemical days, each photographer will eventually develop their own style, each with a unique approach to contrast and tonality adjustments. (Puppies are cute! Diversity is good!! Time for a group hug!!!)

Cloning is where the issue gets messy. I'm not pretending to be a journalist, I just want to make aesthetic images that reflect the essence of the scene before me. To date, I've never needed to clone anthing more than film dust, scratches, and scanner artifacts. If and when an uninvited airplane flys through my once-in-a-season 5 minute lightning shot, I'll have a short think about nuking it, and will most probably wind up doing so. Ditto for distant car lights, or other issues out of my immediate control. Zapping an ill-placed streetlight is still off limits for me, but as more and more of Az. is developed, it will become more difficult to find pristine landscapes to shoot. (The same is true for all those #$%@#% telephone poles in your Kansas tornado shots.) Given half a chance, I'd gladly move to another location, but what if that perfect spot no longer exists???

Needless to say, cutting and pasting (multiple) lightning bolts / tornadoes onto an image is flat out lying. It cheapens the grandeur of severe weather and is deeply insulting to me and, I assume, anyone who has taken the time and invested the effort into finding, catching, and photographing the real thing.

FWIW

-Greg
 
I just want to say (gently) that we should probably be careful about appearing to jump all over Ericka for posting the question. Before we start imputing her motives for asking the question we should probably let her speak for herself. I think she raises a valid question and one that has made all of us do a little reflection on the subject, which is probably a Good Thing. Of course, if our responses have made Ericka do a little reflection on why she is asking the question, that may be a Good Thing too!

I too would love to see an example of what she perceives as a picture that is Extremely Photoshopped, but that becomes problematic if people are going to jump all over her, or somebody is going to get defensive or get their feelings hurt over the resulting dissection of the image or the process used to get it to that point. Much of this ground was covered in the HDR Imaging thread.

Mike H.'s example of the black foreground sunset pictures is a very good one. The mistake that many people are going to make is to assume that just because a photo looks different than most that they have seen before that it is somehow "wrong". This is a flawed methodology of evaluation. The baseline should be, not how does it compare to other images that I have seen, but how does it compare to the REALITY of the scene that was being captured.

An argument could be made that you can even leave reality behind if you are making ART as opposed to recording a scene in a more photojournalistic way. But I think that most of us are hoping to inspire the "wow, it must have been something to be there and actually SEE/EXPERIENCE that" rather than the "No, it didn't REALLY look like that" feelings when people look at our storm photos.

Darren Addy
Kearney, NE
 
Hi everyone. Let me clarify a few things. First, I haven't been in photo or art school for a long time.(I absolutely refuse to admit how long it's been) I am in the real world and exhibit and sell storm and other photos. My motivation for the question is simply to try to get an understanding of the issue of how much is too much? I struggle with this issue myself. Purists, including my former instructors, would kill me for photoshopping out a power line or doing hue saturation to enhance something that the camera just can't capture the way I would like to see it shown. However, I'm not a purist and I do post-process everything because DSLR's can't capture the magic of storms in a way that satisfies my eye. That said, however, I'm amazed at some of the photos I see that go beyond what I see in reality (I'm heading back to Boston from my chase vacation today). In some photos, I see a foreground that is a color that never existed in nature or a sky that has so much contrast that, if I saw that, I would be running screaming. If it's meant as art, fine. If it's meant to be a representation of reality, that's where I begin to have my questions. My friends constantly send all the latest photos going around the internet and ask, "is this what you chase? I'd be so scared if I saw that!" I generally have to explain that the photos have been enhanced and, yes, the storms are amazingly awesome and beautiful but.... So, do I go for the WOW factor and enhance, enhance, enhance.....and, believe me, some of my exhibited photos are quite enhanced for that reason and I consider them art....or, do I capture them more as a photojournalist would. This is an interested and informative discussion and I have no ulterior motives here, just an observation that there are more photos being enhanced to a point of being on the edge of being representational and being impressionist art. Sorry it took me a while to rejoin the thread - my laptop started doing weird things and wifi hasn't been totally accessible. When I'm home and have my desktop to play with, I'll post some examples to get your opinions.



P.S. I do get some of Mike H's shots sent to me, as does everyone, but there are more and more other storm shots getting sent around. Interesting how the public is getting these and paying some attention. I've recently been getting some Katrina shots that were heavily photoshopped.
 
Basically, this thread is attempting to define reality. Judgment on visual reality depends on the person, so this thread is virtually pointless, but it's surprising to see how people can become so defensive. I don’t think people who have posted on this thread particularly like being told that they don’t like post processing due to their inability to use Photoshop just because another person has become defensive, because I imagine many of them do know how to post process images, but choose not to post process for personal reasons.

If I were to rely on post processing to produce spectacular images I would have to ask myself this question, “Am I a good photographer or a good post processor?â€￾ Post processing and not post processing is merely a preference not an argument.
 
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