I’ve had a running conversation with my photographer friend Craig for some weeks about processing digital images. For whatever reason, I’d come to think that “real” photographers produce great images straight out of the camera, and that retouching them in Photoshop is cheating.
But Craig took a different view. And through his gentle persistence — plus several articles like this one — he has slowly managed to convince me that not only is it OK to touch up digital images, it’s actually necessary.
My acceptance of this brave new world felt like a revelation at first: I no longer had to be ashamed of toning my images! But soon my sense of liberation was replaced by a new feeling of obligation: I would now have to re-tone all of my previous images!
The idea filled me with dread. You see, there’s no single “right” way to dodge and burn an image (Ansel Adams sometimes made two dozen different prints of a single frame). Some of it is dictated by your artistic vision … some of it by your mood or skill on a particular day.
Here’s an example. My original image isn’t terrible — a little low-contrast, perhaps, and it’s tough to know what the subject is, because the brightest spot is (unfortunately) the woman’s butt:
So I can even out the tone curve and bring out some of the midtone details:
… and then I can slightly burn everything around the couple, to make them the center of attention. But is the resulting image actually better than the original? Or have I gone too far? (I’d be curious to hear which version you like best.)
Then there’s the question of cropping. Here’s my original shot of the Palais du Luxembourg, framed by the plane trees in the adjacent park …
… and here’s a slightly cropped version.
Is it too tight? Does it diminish the slightly claustrophobic feeling of being under that squared-off canopy? Isn’t there some merit in leaving the image as I shot it, if only to more faithfully reflect the scene as I saw it at that particular moment?
I don’t know. But I do look forward to sharing some of my newly retouched photos of Paris in the next few days.