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Optimisation enhancement or manipulation?


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#1 Paul Kay

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Posted 04 August 2005 - 01:07 AM

I'm sure that this topic has been thoroughly discussed before but I'd still like to hear other people's views on it.

Digital gives us the ability to post process ad infinitum. Personally I view any adjustment made within the Raw converter or made 'globally' on the image (usually in '16-bit') as OPTIMISATION - that is to say I don't see such actions as manipulating the image content.

The next stage becomes grey quite quickly - ENHANCEMENT may be actions like say the shadow/highlight filter (a 'global' action), or editing out small amounts of backscatter, perhaps adjusting a locally dark area, etc,. None of these I would view as fundamentaaly altering image content.

The last phase is MANIPULATION - editing out unwanted items, or actually changing picture content (grafting eyes or whatever you want to do).

I raise this issue because I have no doubt that the ethics of submitting adjusted material are ones which will interest magazines and competition organisers. This will be especially so with 'natural history' subjects (which of course many underwater images are), and I do wonder where the line will be drawn. For myself I am happy to a optimise and enhance but whilst there are a few pictures where manipulation may just be viable, I don't usually want to go down this road unless I have to - and then the image exif data will be labelled accordingly. I know that the Royal Photographic Society Nature Group has a digital policy about digital integrity - does anyone know of any others?
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#2 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 04 August 2005 - 02:26 AM

I think you sum it up well, Paul.

It is most crucial for natural history photography or photographer rather than image competitions etc.
The widely respected Wildlife Photographer of the Year has it about right for pure photography on digital:
"Supply on media that is PC compatible. Send TIFF or JPEG (quality 12). Minimum size: 5000 pixels along the largest dimension. Interpolate your images using software provided by PhotoShop CS edition or Genuine Fractals. Images should be colour profiled using correctly calibrated WYSIWYG systems and Adobe RGB 98 colour space. RAW files as captured by camera (*.NEF, *.CRZ) need to be supplied along with TIFF or JPEG file. Provide hardware details (ie. name of camera). Provide contact sheet or prints for quick reference. Digital manipulation is only acceptable if limited to cleaning work, levels, curves, colour, saturation and contrast work, applied to the image as a whole. Masking sections of the work, compositing, multiple exposures, layers and the use of multiple channels is not allowed."

They basically allow OPTIMISATION - the key being applied to an image as a whole - although quite what is allowed under "cleaning" I don't know.

I submit/produce images under each of these categories - depending on the application - and this does cause problems. I sometimes get a bit frustrated when people think that all my images have been MANIPULATED - when many are as they appear straight from the camera (people forget that our slides used to win competitions too). I think having a portfolio that contains all three does open you up for such misinterpretation - but I guess in the end I should take it as a complement - rather than find it frustrating!

I think that most photographers show good integrity on this subject. And those that don't will tarnish their reputation in the long run - and that is a photographers most valuable asset.

Alex

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#3 Paul Kay

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Posted 04 August 2005 - 02:55 AM

Hi Alex

Its the enhacement bit that I reckon will cause most problems. I personally see the ability to edit out backscatter as a way of improving my lighting under none ideal conditions (as you know I shoot temperate most of the time so this is a huge asset). But I suspect it would not be acceptable under the competition rules as they stand. It appears to be acceptable under the RPS code as it does not materially detract from nor alter the subject's prime content. The problem of backscatter is fairly unique to underwater photography and is to me a really difficult area to deal with by conventional photographic techniaues as even in the clearest temperate water around Britain and Ireland, there is usually some suspended matter. I prefer to use better lighting and edit backscatter later but this is clearly not 'cleaning'!
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#4 randapex

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Posted 04 August 2005 - 10:45 AM

Always liked reading others views on this question.

If I were running a photo comp. and my goal was to show the skills of the photographer U/W, not their photoshop talent, my rules would be:

Raw adjustment in converter

Adjustments in PS:

Levels-color-contrast-shadow/highlight-unsharp mask to the image as a whole.

That's it. The burn/dodge tool is too powerful IMHO. Removal of backscatter is a no no. This falls under removing an element from the shot. I shoot a lot of cold water as well. There are ways to minimize or eliminate backscatter with proper strobe placement and use of negative space. (And someday, I hope to learn how)

On the other hand, if you're cleaning up a shot for your own use, as a print or whatever, then I say anything goes. This is the creative side of the hobby that should be enjoyed to it's fullest. Why leave a big blob of crap in the middle of an otherwise beautiful shot. I was impressed with Alex's cloned shots of the flying Pygmy and only wish my skill with PS were as good. I'd frame that shot in a minute and be very proud of it as a work of art.

All IMHO

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#5 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 04 August 2005 - 11:01 AM

I think there is good consensus here.

Whole image stuff is adjustment = optimisation is the best way to assess photographer skill. No masking, no selective area dodging and burning, and no cloning - are best for Photographer competitions.

Alex

p.s. My pygmy shot is pretty simple photoshop. It is a composite of 4 images - I don't think I could make it with cloning. I had completed that image within 30 minutes of surfacing - which included downloading and drying myself - as I shot specifically for it. That is the key - shoot knowing what you want to do. One of the 4 original unadjusted shots is here (this picure has won comps and is currently featured in an advert for a UK diving travel agency). The manipulated shot is currently unpublished! Maybe there is a lesson there!

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#6 Starbuck

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Posted 04 August 2005 - 11:13 AM

I thought dodge and burn were photographic techniques taken from the "old" darkroom days... as well as a lot of other photoshop techniques and tools..

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#7 randapex

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Posted 04 August 2005 - 11:15 AM

I thought dodge and burn were photographic techniques taken from the "old" darkroom days... as well as a lot of other photoshop techniques and tools..

M.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Mike,

The terms are the same, the technique isn't. (the same as darkroom use)

Alex, your quote should be in lights: "Shoot knowing what you want to do"...
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#8 ReefRoamer

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Posted 04 August 2005 - 11:19 AM

Computer hardware and software to today's digital photographers as the darkroom has been to film photographers. I think all images, of ever kind, represent an interpretation.
In competitions, should image cropping be permitted to remove unwanted (and sometimes ugy) portions? How is that terribly different from removing backscatter or other data? What's really the significance of cropping in the darkroom/computer, or cropping with the camera/lens? What's really the difference between creating blur in-camera with panning versus in Photoshop? Does it truly matter? We all use strobes to create "artifical" light at the moment of image capture, so why should we obect to creating "artificial" effects in the final digital image?
These are just thoughts, as I find myself more and more moving becoming of the view that the photographic process, from capture to finished image, is a subjective, artistic one. I used to think photographs were reality, but I believe now they never were, never are and never will be. The finished work is simply the creator's personal vision of a moment, nothing more and nothing less.
Film photo contests may show the work of the photographer (as do digital contests), but these contests have always shown the capabilities of the film and print-maker as well.
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#9 fdog

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Posted 04 August 2005 - 08:01 PM

For me, the line is drawn when the image no longer reflects reality.

Taking objects out - or placing them in - would qualify for me. Removing would include backscatter. Or, changing colors so much that they weren't really like that.

But if someone could look at it and say, "Yep, I was there, and it looked like that", then have at it. Contrast, sharpening, burning and dodging, the whole menu.

Anything else, for me, gets the cutline "Photo Illustration by Whoever".

All the best, James

#10 Paul Kay

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Posted 05 August 2005 - 12:54 AM

"But if someone could look at it and say, "Yep, I was there, and it looked like that", then have at it. Contrast, sharpening, burning and dodging, the whole menu."

Interesting - I don't actually SEE backscatter so from this perspective would it be acceptable to remove it? And colour is both subjective and false underwater - tricky.

About cleaning/manipulation - some years ago I got a small hair stuck in the shutter of my film camera. Of course by the time the film had been processed it had ruined a lot of photos. Under the definition of "cleaning" this sould have been removed if it had been a digital image - although in reality it was so significant that this would have required extensive work - which I would honestly consider to be manipulation! The slides were of course, useless.

I am coming to the conclusion that the whole concept of changing images is fraught with grey areas! I personally suspect that the problem is that digital photography is so fundamentally different from film photography that they are in many ways incomparable and that digital photography requires a change in attitude rather than anything else. Having just spent a lot of time 'cleaning' up some images, I have had time to ponder on precisely what I was doing as I did it! Apart from sensor dust, the main problem that I have is backscatter - regardless of lighting, in less than ideal temperate conditions there is almost always the odd reflecting particulate. If it is at all acceptable to remove even one or two such specs (dust or backscatter) then I don't see how removing more is any different.
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#11 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 07 August 2005 - 02:36 AM

I think that your final point comes up regularly with stock submissions. Libraries usually want images cleaned of backscatter - which then will go on to be used in all sorts of publications where the photographer has no control.
Alex

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#12 Kelpfish

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Posted 07 August 2005 - 08:27 AM

"I shoot a lot of cold water as well. There are ways to minimize or eliminate backscatter with proper strobe placement and use of negative space."

I totally agree with Rand's quote above. When I went digital I started using diffusers to experiment with backscatter reduction. As a whole I no longer point my strobes directly at the animal. In fact someone once told me that I am not watching what I do with my strobes when I trip the shutter. I grinned. The fact is that I am using the edge of the beam, and a diffuser allows me to angle the strobes farther away from the subject, thus minimizing backscatter. My California wide angle shots are getting better because, like Alex said, they are clean to begin with.


As far as backscatter goes these days, prior to PS, competition winning entries mostly had hints of backscatter while today you rarely see backscatter. In fact, I have said this before, most negative spaces on many images are perfectly black without a hint of any type of flaw. So to explain the rules of integrity, that's a tough one. I would go out on a limb and say that at least 75% of competition entries could be "anything goes" entries, meaning more than the PS basic tools are used, and negative space is manipulated to make the primary subject pop. It's the way it is. I know of a competition incident (I will not name names or competition, so please don't ask) where the entry was from a person who owned a digital lab. This person submitted a picture that was selected as a winner, but some on the judging committee thought it was a clear manipulation so they asked for the original file. The person forgot how to speak english and dial a phone to return calls. His picture was ultimately yanked. Probably an isolated incident? I bet there is more of this "type of thing" going on that we think, maybe not to the extent this person took, but to some degree. Let's face it, relative to competitions, the quality of submissions has skyrocketed over the last 10 years for two reasons, and only two reasons:

1. Instant feedback via LCD (digital)
2. Photoshop

There has been no magic seminar to turn underwater photographers into quality shooters. Merely points 1 and 2 above. If someone happens to be a wiz at PS and a decent U/W photographer, he has the ability to have some kick ass pictures. I know only a little about PS, the basics. I have no clue how to put a fish in a different picture, I don't know jack about working with layers or what the advantage really is, and I have no idea what 75 percent of the tools are used for. So until I get off my duff and take some PS courses (I assume they exist), I am forced to shoot the best image I can in the water (as Alex stated). It is really nice to come home and dump my pics on the PC and not have to do much to them. Here is a RAW image with ZERO manipulation. I just opened it up and resized it. That's the way I like it.

Just my opinion on the subject but one I happen to believe in.

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#13 mrbubbles

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Posted 07 August 2005 - 11:31 AM

As a former film guy i remember talking to jim church about 5 years ago. He told me he didnt judge photo contests anymore because he "didnt know what he was looking at" in reference to cheeting, even before digital was so prevalent. Personally now that i have gone digital, i am amazed at the wonderful things i can do. To be able to remove backscatter, or whatever, i take great joy in getting my vision just right. I do it for the pleasure. I have placed in many contests over the years and recently so. I take great pleasure in knowing i submit what i would consider minimally adjusted by the standards discussed above, not manipulated photos, which may have bested a cheeter. I think any standards we make have to be fair, enforcable, and things that reward artistic vision, However these are dificult to define and ultimately we will always have to deal with "cheeters". But the pleasure of knowing you bested them, priceless.

#14 Paul Kay

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Posted 08 August 2005 - 01:12 AM

Two further comments for response:

Firstly, I dived on some gloopy mud a week or so back - visibility was attrcious at ~2-3m (max - often less) and it was impossible to negate backscatter using lighting technique. Also the images were very, very flat as the mud was dark and the lighting was diffused by the murky water. A few adjustments in PS and a bit of backscatter removal and I have fairly decent shots of rarely photographed creatures. Intriguingly, these images fascinate none divers and so have immediate value in terms of introducing natural history and conservation concepts to people. Simliar shots on film show all the degredations due to the conditions. Whether the adjusted images are 'cheating' or not is immaterial in this context but they would certainly breach competition rules.

And secondly, its all very well removing spots etc., due to dust, but I for one cannot always tell what was dust on the sensor and what is dark suspended particulate matter against a light ground.

Tricky huh?
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#15 gobiodon

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Posted 08 August 2005 - 02:48 AM

Manipulation existed before the Photoshop era. And some recent manipulation scandal was done by traditional methods.
Few years ago National Geography published a cover picture about a dead stuffed bird.
Some details here:
http://www.naturepho.../index_eng.html
It’s not UW-photography, but I have some idea how easy to adapt this “technique” underwater.
With Photoshop, manipulations became easier and it’s very difficult to draw a line between optimisation and manipulation.
I remove backscatter without hesitation for my website presentation. However, I’ve never entered such manipulated picture for competition, but I would do, if the rules don’t forbid it.

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#16 Paul Kay

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Posted 09 August 2005 - 03:06 AM

Just for comparison - two images from the same shot - one is the in-camera jpeg (which is as a film camera may see the image), the other is after raw conversion but with very little else done - a substantial change. Vis was ~2m on a very dull day indeed with the flash being very diffused by the murky water.

My point being that the raw conversion changes the image so substantially that I personally don't see minor blemish adjustments (dirt/bacscatter) being significant in terms of their effect on the image. Any views?

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#17 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 09 August 2005 - 03:35 AM

I think that the thing to remember about image 1 is that DSLR jpgs are designed to produce flat images - ideal for contrast and sat boosts. I think slide would probably be about half way between the two.

But the change is very impressive. And apparently there are still people out there shooting film! :lol:

RAW conversion for me is very much optimisation. It is really equivalent to having highly variable film stock. If you really knew your processing you could manipulate E6 to be more contrasty etc. Removing backscatter is then going on to level - enhancement - and I think is unnaceptable for a wildlife photography competition/publication (although many publications may choose to clean the image themselves - but that is another can of worms).

Also RAW is actually taking decisions away from the machine and givng them back to the photographer. So you could argue that image 1 is more Canon's and image 2 is more Paul Kay's!

---

I think that it is not the degree of change that matters in the O-E-M classification, but what you do. Some O may be more dramatic than M. For example a composite is a highly manipulated image - but some of my composites aren't actually enhanced in any other way and in every other way look like they do straight from the camera, such as this example here:

Posted Image

Alex

p.s. Thanks for starting this good discussion, Paul.

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#18 Paul Kay

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Posted 09 August 2005 - 04:09 AM

Hi Alex

Just to let you know, my wife dived in the same location at the same time (though not with me) and her slides are very flat, although perhaps as you correctly point out, not quite as flat as the in-camera jpeg. As records they are ok but I doubt that many publishers would consider such images as they simply look too dull. I shot some pix off Criccieth in North Wales yesterday (fine muddy sand seabed) which show equally dramatic changes after RAW conversion.

I only wish water clarity such as that shown in your levely split shot was available in the more temperate conditions around here roather more often than once in a blue moon.
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#19 MikeVeitch

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Posted 09 August 2005 - 04:24 AM

I am a bit late in getting into this discussion, been away on a deserted tropical island for 5 days...alas, no tropical island jokes to be entered here as the only females were Green Turtles (actually i guess that opens up more jokes doesn't it? the tropical version of a Welsh/Kiwi sheep?) :lol::):blink:

Never mind that....

Anyhoo, interesting discussion but i won't be dragged into it! Is interesting to read others points of view. The only thing i will say is that yes optimization is key in digital as things do come out flat and a few tweaks must be made here and there to give it the same sheen as film (same thing when digitizing slides, needs optimization to get that shiny sheen back)

For competitions, which i don't really enter very often (unless they are free!) i agree with the BBC rules added early in the thread. I would also add that cropping not be allowed either (it might be in there but am too lazy to go back and check that...)

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#20 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 09 August 2005 - 04:41 AM

I'm with Mike on cropping. But actually the BBC Wildlife allow it as you were always allowed to crop slides for that competition (with smaller mounts). Digital cropping is limited to some extent as images have to be 5000 pixels (and if they don't look OK at 100% then they aren't going to win).
I guess that gives people with high megapixel cameras more flexibility to crop - unfortunately I didn't have any suitable pix from my D2X by this years closing date. Maybe next year...

Alex

p.s. Hope you got some good reptile pix, Mike.

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