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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Full Disclosure: Foto Fakery

What with all the fauxtography (love that word) in the news, I figured I'd best come clean about the amount of manipulation I do to my Friday photos: a lot.

For example, take the photo of the Swift launch I posted a couple weeks ago. Here's a close-up comparing the original image with the image that actually got posted:

Swift photo, before and after manipulation
Swift photo, before and after manipulation

The image on the left is the original, and shows a bright reflection of the flare to the left of the rocket, and a fainter, upside-down reflection to the right. When I started to post this, I wondered whether I should leave it in, to be "truthful" about the picture, or take it out. I found the reflections very distracting, and decided that since they really didn't add information, they could go.

You can see that the colors are slightly different, too. I fiddled with the levels a bit to brighten up the photo. If you do it right, you can magically perk up a dull photo. Then again, if you don't do it right you can saturate the white or black areas (like I almost did with the right side of the plume there).

I don't do digital photography, so I'm not sure where the line lies in color adjustment. For example, right now I'm looking at two computer screens: a Samsung flat screen, and the display on my laptop. The Samsung has much warmer and richer colors than the laptop. If I adjust the colors so that it looks "right" on the laptop, is that too much manipulation?

The Charlotte Observer fired an award-winning photographer for adjusting the color levels on an image. You can see the published image here, but I don't know if the original is on-line.

It seems a bit harsh to me to fire a guy for adjusting the colors a little in what's meant to be an arty, not a news, photograph. But it turns out he'd done it before, and was suspended. In fact, he had won three awards for altered photographs in that instance, which were afterwards rescinded. So basically he was fired for doing something he'd been told not to do. You can see the three photos, both the original and the award-winning, published versions, here (requires Flash, for no good reason). The second and third pictures seem unobjectionable to me, but the first is really beyond the pale.

Anyway, sometimes the transfer from film to digital (or from film to print) doesn't go quite right, and then some digital fiddling is required. I'll show you that on Friday.