Raw and Cooked

There is a link on the Lensculture blog  in a post Too much digital enhancement in news photographs? to an article on Speigel Online International, Enhanced Reality: Exploring the Boundaries of Photo Editing, a two part feature with an accompanying gallery of images that I think makes interesting reading. I don’t have anything to add to what I’ve already written on Paul Hansen‘s World Press Photo prize-winning image, which I think takes what was a great image and cheapens it by turning it into a film poster, but perhaps I might comment briefly on the picture by Yuri Kozyrev of Noor, taken in Tahrir Square in Cairo during the celebration of autocrat Hosni Mubarak’s resignation in 2011.

It’s easier to view the ‘before’ and ‘after’ versions on Lensculture, and the first thing I’d say is that I find this image treatment totally acceptable. To me, the final image looks very much a photograph, and probably a better representation of what the photographer saw when he made the exposure than the initial version.

I do have a problem with the caption ‘The raw image, before PhotoShop enhancement’ on several levels. First the pedant in me objects to PhotoShop – if Photoshop is good enough for Adobe it should be good enough for the rest of us, and I’m not a fan of capital letters in the middle of words (not a great fan of them anywhere come to that, though they sometimes serve a purpose.)

But more importantly, raw files (or RAW or Raw files if you prefer) are not images, and how they look depends on algorithms and settings in the software used to convert them to images. The upper image of the pair looks at least in part a consequence of using an inappropriate colour temperature in the conversion of the file to the image.

Of course the idea of colour temperature may not really be appropriate in any case, as often at night the lighting in public spaces is provided by very spectrally deficient sources. Possibly in this case the near-monochromatic orange of sodium vapour lighting.

For whatever reason, what appears clear to me is that the upper image, which they call the raw image, is quite simply the wrong colour. It does not represent how the human viewer would see the scene, which I think would be in a far more neutral rendering. I’d probably have made it slightly closer to neutral than the final version here.

As well as what I think is really correction, there is also a certain amount of interpretation in the lower image, with a touch of brightness and contrast being added to part of the face and the chest of the main figure. The kind of thing I might have done in the darkroom on a black and white print with dodging a little extra local development with the warmth of a fingertip or cotton bud of high contrast dev, or a little touch of ferri – or later on by some fiddling with coloured filters and dodging and burning on a Multigrade paper. Though both methods were tricky and a little imprecise, and Lightroom makes it a real doddle.

And just a little second thought, that looking through the images on Speigel there are some where I prefer the ‘unimproved’ version, and others where although the original needed correction, I think the improved version is in some respects lacking.

Finally, its also – as always – worth taking a look at Lensculture itself. On it at the moment among other things is a selection of 47 images from last month’s Paris Photo Los Angeles. In a way I was pleased to find I already knew all the best work in it, nice though something really fresh would have been. But it made me think I had been right not to contribute to global warming by travelling there.

2 Responses to “Raw and Cooked”

  1. Also worth reading, published after I wrote the above is a feature in the British Journal of Photography:

    I particularly like the comments in it from Magnum’s Christopher Anderson, in short that what matters is integrity, and that “as a general rule, heavy handed retouching makes me doubt the photograph’s intention towards truth.” It I think gets to the heart of the issue – and is something I’ve said many times, though Anderson puts in better. Worth reading in full.

  2. […] we can abuse this – and plenty do, as I think some of the images mentioned in my recent post Raw and Cooked do, but the same is true in the darkroom, and I can think of at least one photographer whose work […]

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