“Oh come on, that picture can’t be real. It must be Photoshopped!”
You’ve probably heard that before from someone, or bouncing around between your ears. Some pictures seem too good to be true. But what if they come from a source you trust, and is it possible to change things around that much?
And what is this post really about?
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One reason I haven’t been posting much of late is rather than thinking about new stories to tell is I’ve been studying other areas of interest. Many are related to photography; how to take better pictures, how to do videos, how to edit the results.
Most recently, I’ve studied a workflow for editing pictures. There are several questions to ask and techniques to address them:
- What is the tone of the image being presented? Is it flat and boring or is it dynamic? Folks seem to like things with darker and lighter extremes, along with the mid-tone and gray areas that make up most of reality. Tools allow you to shift those lighter tones to pure white and the darker tones to pure dark. You can even adjust the remaining tones so darker things can seem lighter and lighter things seem darker.
- How much contrast and detail is there? Does it need more clarity? Depending on the picture and context you might want more or less – you can tweak that too.
- Are there sections of the picture you like better than others? Using masks, you can isolate sections of the big picture and adjust just those sections, or replace them completely with images from another picture. You can also completely erase objects if the area surrounding them isn’t too complex.
- Along with the masks, changes can be applied in layers. This is considered a best practice as it leaves the original untouched, and you can peel back changes if you’ve gone too far.
- How is it colored? Is the image muted and understated or saturated and overdone? Pure colors muted to the extreme become gray. For folks who like things in black and white, it’s the amount of lightness or darkness in the colors that affect the translation. It is possible to use a map to modify that translation; to tell pure blue and pure yellow to be different shades of black and white rather than simply middle gray.
- Does the color seem a little off, affected by the quality of the light that illuminates it? Do you like the effect if there’s a tinge to it? Tools allow you shift the colors around the color wheel to extremes – blue can become yellow, green can become magenta. For folks who enjoy things in black and white, if they spin things to extremes and use that translation map, white can become black and black become white.
|Yosemite images and editing technique – Blake Rudis
Click for larger images
Sounds rather like politics, doesn’t it?
Or advertising. Or any number of other presentations that are trying to win our hearts, minds, and pocketbooks. How can we tell if what we see is the straight scoop, or if it has been altered?
It might be useful to revisit the questions and techniques I mentioned for photo editing and consider them in terms of what people tell us – have they used these techniques?
Have they made their message more dynamic by shifting the gray areas towards more black and white?
Have they strongly emphasized the good things or deemphasized the bad ones?
Do they go into details and show the issues with clarity, or do they blur them with empty emotional rhetoric or overlay them with other textures?
Have they altered the real picture by adjusting sections of it to something more palatable but maybe not quite true to life, or erasing sections outright, or replacing sections with something from a completely different picture?
Are their perspectives colored in a particular light? Do those perspectives stand up if that light is shifted to a confirmable standard? Are they trying to convince you of their argument by saturating you with it rather than letting it stand up to independent scrutiny?
Are they trying to tell you black is white when 98% of the world accepts that it is black?
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Have I Photoshopped the images I’m spinning for you in this piece?
We can talk about how things presented to us can be altered, but how about the tools we use to alter our own worldview and present it to others?
I can truthfully say I didn’t use Photoshop to tweak the images above. It’s a more elaborate and expensive tool than I need to make my changes. But I do use other tools. Some might suggest this is heresy, that Photoshop is the gold standard and only losers use anything else.
Likewise, there are folks who will insist the tools they use to get through life are the gold standard; their political party, their religion, even their favorite sports team. Many will insist any other tool is not even worth consideration – they will not bother to look into the alternatives or even give them the benefit of the doubt. This colors their perspective.
Colored perspectives control how we detect if the images others spin are realistic, heavily edited, or outright misleading. People tend to believe what they want to believe and are unwilling to subject those beliefs to uncomfortable realities – particularly if it takes work and threatens that belief system. Confirmation bias reinforces this behavior.
Having said that, is it okay to add a little toning or color to make your own world a more beautiful place to live in? Within limits, why not? But, anytime you make those changes your facts become your opinions – it’s important to understand the difference. If the “facts” were spun before they got to you, you get opinion layered on opinion. When those layers remove the real from reality, it’s gone too far.
So when you hear a new story, and the source is likely to have “enhanced” it, remember these editing questions and techniques and ask “how did they spin this?” and “have my perspectives colored the real truth?”