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Rubbish photos – a response

Brother Steve was very right when he said that my edit of one of the photos was not as nice as the 'original'. It was a photo of an interesting pile of junk in a junkyard, surrounded by more junk. My idea when I processed it was to emphasise the 'interesting pile' and de-emphasise the surrounding lesser junk (some of which I cropped away) to avoid distracting the eye.

I have thought about this and agree that the way I set about this was wrong. However, I still think the task was correctly conceived.

Also, note that I refer above to Steve preferring the original – with the word 'original' in inverted commas – since the picture with which he was comparing the edit in my post was itself extensively edited.

The true 'original' is the pile of junk out at the port and it, itself, looks different every day depending on the light of the moment etc etc. It will look different when shot, even at the same time, by different cameras, with different lenses (see video from which this is a screen-grab), with different films (or electronic sensors).

In the days of films, photographers had favourite cameras and films. Some preferred Kodak Tri-X, some preferred Ilford, some Fujicolour or Kodacolour, or.... The choice was endless.


It's the same with digital. The sensor produces a stream of numbers and different cameras interpret them in different ways. One camera's jpegs will differ from another's because their algorithms differ, depending on their marketing departments' tastes and estimations of the taste of their customer base.

If one is taking RAW (i.e using the numbers straight from the sensor without letting the camera process them into a jpeg), which is what I do, then the photo processing software on one's computer will generate the image and the same RAW file opened in Lightroom will NOT look the same as the very same stream of digits interpreted by CaptureOne (which is what I use).

I was fascinated to learn the other day that the great photographers, like say Henri Cartier-Bresson worked with equally great, but unsung, photo printers. These people did by hand what we do in our photo-processing software: they improved the images that the photographers brought in straight-out of camera. For example:

This example is from here, where the writer says "The comparison images above show photographer Dennis Stock’s iconic portrait of James Dean in Times Square. The test print on the left shows all the work Inirio put into making the final photo look the way it does. The lines and circles you see reveal Inirio’s strategies for dodging and burning the image under the enlarger, with numbers scattered throughout the image to note different exposure times."

There is a good article about the work of the man who was Cartier Bresson's long time printer – here (part II here).

So yes, I now realise that my processing of this photo was too crude. Here it is again:

It seems to me I concentrated too much on just reducing the impact of the surrounding small rubbish and leading the eye towards the centre.

On the other hand, this is the 'original' that Steve said he preferred. Only it's not 'original' because here I have already adjusted exposure, dynamic range, and colour levels:

To me this looks like a modern picture of old junk. What I now done, therefore, is some more work on it, this time thinking harder about what the picture might want. As a picture of old stuff, this time I have processed the colours to look more like an old Kodak print, fading them while applying a vignette to darken the edges about ½ a stop so that it is brightness that guides the eye to the subject of the photo

I have also used a reflector effect, like this

to cast more light into the shadows. Here the photographer does not want the left side of the model's face to be insufficiently lit.


Finally (and just for completeness), this is what came straight out of the camera (though of course that's only partially true since CaptureOne had to read the digital information and render it as an image).




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