Is That For Real?

“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?

* * * * *

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 Before Yosemite Before
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?

   * * * * *

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?”

31 thoughts on “Is That For Real?

  1. Sticking to the photography, I don’t use Photoshop – I don’t need it. My own personal rules allow me to crop an image, boost or lower the saturation, or switch to Black and White. Anything else, and it becomes something it was not before (I’m sure that could be debated all day, of course!).

    And it’s a shame that similar strictures can’t be applied to politics.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m willing to go a bit further than that, primarily in tonal range and sometimes contrast. I rarely touch saturation after that as it tends to be a byproduct. I’ll enhance, but try to avoid that fakey or highly stylized look. Maybe a bit like a worldview; buff it up a bit, but try and keep it real.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the analogy between photography and our world view! And I completely agree with it, and feel that it explains why we argue so relentlessly about our differences in politics and religion. I believe the world exists exactly the way I see it, which is different from the way anyone else sees it, and so we are all arguing from a base that we believe to be absolute truth and aren’t going to let anyone else’s annoying little facts get in our way. The downside of technology is that “seeing is believing” no longer holds true in these days of photo-shop, and when we talk of “fake news”, we are always talking about the news that doesn’t support our own view.

    On the other hand, I think that there’s always a need to tone down the harshness of reality, and that’s it actually one of our coping mechanisms. If we spend every single day being fully aware of all the violence and suffering that is going on in the world, right this very minute, we’d go mad… And so we learn to use filters and to adjust things to a more pleasing and peaceful setting.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, that’s kind of the problem – folks don’t allows appreciate the difference between facts and opinions and think their opinions are facts, no matter how outlandish. Of course I don’t know if people would fight any less hard even if they admitted something is just an opinion, if they weren’t willing to let others have a different one.

      It would be a dull world without opinions, and we’d evolve more slowly without that freedom of thought, be it progressive or conservative. It would just be nice if folks at least tried to see both sides in order to keep it real.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is all so true! I remember my son (at the age of about 9!) taking a photo of us at a waterfall in Costa Rica, and then photoshopping out all the people so it looked like we were there alone! You really couldn’t tell. Always question everything you read and see… but don’t let that skepticism ruin your enjoyment of a darned inspiring image. Time to share some of your masterpieces, Dave!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You mean this post wasn’t a masterpiece? 😉 Yeah, I suppose I should dig into the archives to see what’s there. Trouble is, they’re mostly slides and the projector died years ago, so reviewing them isn’t that easy.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It is a very clear and apt analogy, Dave. These days, it increasingly seems that what we see is not so much an image that has been slightly tinkered with as one that has been entirely generated by a computer somewhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Another great post Dave. I have so many filters, both internal and external, reality gets lost long before I process it.

    Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m still always right. But sometimes, I have a hard time seeing exactly how I’m right.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Julie. It’s hard to be too shrill or sanctimonious as these practices are so pervasive on both sides of the coin, and we all do it just as a part of being human. It just seems more topical these days due to the extremes it’s being taken to.


  6. Another thought provoking post, Dave. Photography and reality can be two sides of the same coin. Do we capture what we see, or want to see, or are shown? And, what’s real and what’s imaginary? These days, Photoshop can blur the lines and create an alternate reality. I guess, it’s fine as long as the viewer wants to be taken on such a journey. 🙂 I resist and try to use Photoshop to get the lighting right or the tone for the post. And sometimes, I give in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I guess that’s the challenge – where to draw the line between finding beauty and comfort and being aware of where reality doesn’t match up. Filters can be useful, like sunglasses on a bright day, but wearing blinders is not a responsible way to look at the world.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. So how do you feel about alternative facts? Sorry, I meant HDR. Hahaha! I enjoyed the commentary here and the insights offered by some of your readers, Dave. I believe I’m pretty conservative when it comes to editing my images but I make no claims to aesthetic purity. I shoot RAW so there’s most certainly a more challenging balance struck between attaining something “truer” or a bit more interpretative- it’s more rewarding for me having things set up that way than having Nikon’s algorithms decide things for me. Hope you’re having a good Wednesday.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jason. I guess I must not be too anti-HDR, as the sample pics in this post used some single picture HDR resolution techniques. I’ve tried to stay away from getting too unnatural. Historically I’ve shot jpg fine and added RAW on a per case basis if there’s a lot of dynamic range – I’m too lazy to convert everything from RAW and that doesn’t use up the memory chip as quick. That might start to change with the new camera having a second chip. I may start playing with the more stylized stuff too but I can’t see myself getting too crazy – things like split tones and grunge don’t really appeal to me.


  8. I have been in situations when about 90% of the audience were wrong 🙂 Just go to a local charity concert. Most of the audience begins their applause way before the musical piece has ended, often in the middle of it 🙂 Why? Because they have no clue, bless their heart 🙂
    I wish we changed our mentality and let others be creative in the way they want to be creative. I wish we let others make their little human mistakes without judging them too hard. These two little changes in our mentality would change the world dramatically.
    Great post, thank you for the food for thoughts 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I guess it’s a question where you draw the line. Honest mistakes are one thing, deliberate subversion of the facts for personal gain are another. People who get “creative” with their ethics is a bit of a hot button for me. (Sorry for the soapbox).

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Absolutely loved this comparison. Politics, like photography, is continually treading that line between reality and fantasy. Your post started me wondering whether our love-affair with filters and nostalgia photos is also affecting our ability to see the difference between opinion, illusion, fact, and truth in our lives.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I doubt that these new filters affect our ability to see reality, people have been fooling themselves forever. But if pointing out these filters makes folks a bit more cognisant of the difference between opinion, illusion, fact, and truth in our lives, all the better. Use the filters if you must, but be honest with yourself and others that you use them. I enjoy reading fiction, but I know it’s fiction and don’t pretend it’s fact. Of course, we might need to be comfortable living without absolute certainty.


  10. “Likewise, there are folks who will insist the tools they use to get through life are the gold standard…”

    This hit me where I live, because I see it so very often (even in myself, I admit).

    I try to remind myself that there isn’t one specific right way to live.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s an attitude that’s not hard to find, and a certain amount may be needed to give our lives and worldview stability. It’s probably harder to find the “there isn’t one specific right way to live” attitude, especially among conservatives. In either case, we need to settle on a worldview for ourselves, but willing are we to question it?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I find the questioning to be the most difficult part, but it is rather crucial. Without questioning, we can’t really learn, only reinforce what we already know (or think we know). It’s the questions that lead to the real growth, but man oh man can those questions lead uncomfortable places.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: New Toys – Plying Through Life

  12. In a previous blog on my site I had expressed the opinion that without
    digital editing software digital photography would have never gotten
    off the ground – a symbiotic relationship born of necessity that lends
    itself to photography becoming an art form more that at any previous time
    in it’s history
    If that is the way of it then digital editing is no less a medium than a
    canvas, brush, and tubes of oil paint.
    I have an external drive with thousands of photos stored on it, some
    “pristine” in the sense that little if any editing was done to them, others
    with multiple layers – ultimately it’s about what the person whose finger
    is on the shutter button wants see and to say – I don’t believe a one size fits
    all nor should a person be constrained by “rules”, pixel peeping, or by what
    may be in vogue at the moment.
    You’ve got a nice site and portfolio…….you must be doing something right.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d have to agree, digital editing gives more opportunities for artistic impression than the darkroom ever did, not to mention it’s easier, faster, and less expensive. But like any art form, different strokes for different folks.


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