Is It Wrong To “Airbrush” A Model?

Retouching the model with Photoshop

Last week I stumbled upon a website where photographer Vitaly Druchinin demonstrates his (considerable, in my opinion) talent for retouching and manipulating images of models. I was really impressed.

My initial reaction was that the resulting picture was a lie, in as much as it gave a false impression of… well, everything! Once I gave it a little more thought I realized that I was being rather naive (okay, stupid). Of course these pictures give a false impression – why would you want to see the reality anyway? These images are art, not documentary. They exist to create a fantasy. And as art they really work. Without the before and after images I would have been none the wiser and I think this is the key ingredient here; the “artist” has created something which you do not question when the finished image is all the information you have to go on.

However, a couple of days ago, many of the local bus stops were adorned with a poster advertising the opening of a new shop in the town centre. The poster shows the lovely Louise Redknapp in her Triumph underwear, looking fantastic. For a few seconds (I admit it would have been longer, but there was nobody waiting for the bus at this stop) I stared at the poster and admired the lighting, the set and, okay, Mrs Redknapp. Then it hit me! I know I’m looking at at a picture which has almost certainly been completely retouched. I don’t have the before and after pictures to compare, but that’s not clever lighting, it’s Photoshop. Is Mrs Redknapp really that shapely, or has she been digitally enhanced? I’m labouring the point – I know you get it.

What makes this advertising image different is that I’m expected to believe in it, although it’s still about fantasy to some extent, obviously. It’s not supposed to be art. The model is someone recognisible; someone I feel I know, in a way. This makes it feel dishonest.

Of course this has been going on for ever. Even the portraits from the old masters aren’t accurate. Famously, creating a painted portrait was more about showing the sitter in a flattering light than depicting an accurate portrayal. Isn’t this just the same thing but with modern technology?

Where do you draw the line? Is there really any difference between airbrushing away a single wrinkle and completely changing the lighting of a photograph? Is this just part of producing aesthetically great imagery or is it the corruption of something that should be more pure?

Memory Lane: Reciprocity Failure

Reciprocity failure. Copyright: Jake Levin, USA, 2007

As a result of Charlie’s article about his black & white photography course, I found myself thinking about all those weekends I spent hidden away from daylight, processing film and prints. I realized there are all sorts of fancy terms and technical issues which those of you who came to photography in the digital age will know nothing about.

The first one which sprang to mind, was “reciprocity failure”. Reciprocity is the relationship between shutter speed and aperture and the resulting exposure value. When we double the amount of light passing through the lens by opening the aperture one stop, we maintain a constant exposure value by halving the shutter speed.

The difference between film and digital is that reciprocity remains true and constant in digital cameras at all exposure times, whereas film requires adjusting to compensate as exposure time increases. Thus, reciprocity fails beyond “normal” exposure times (I’m not going attempt to define “normal”!).

Possibly not the most useful piece of information in this digitally dominated world, but a nice little stroll down memory lane for me. Now, can I interest anyone in “reticulation”, I wonder?

Back To School – The Wonderful Thing About Film

Photogram 1

Yesterday I attended my first lesson at college for my AS level in photography. The course focuses on black and white photography and requires the students to work with film.

We spent most of our time in the dark room, learning the basic principals of using an enlarger with light sensitive paper. The aim was to make a photogram.

In case you donâ??t know what a photogram is (I know I didnâ??t until yesterday) hereâ??s a quick breakdown of how you make one:

  1. get a piece of light sensitive paper
  2. put stuff on it (the idea here is block light from reaching the paper â?? semi opaque objects and objects that can reflect / scatter light seem to work best)
  3. expose light to it using an enlarger
  4. develop, wash, fix and wash the paper
  5. take a look at what happened

For those that like to know, the photogram at the top of this page was created by using muti-coloured plastic cocktail sticks and exposing for 4 seconds at f8 onto Kentmere VC Select Fine Lustre M.Wt. The paper was then developed for 1minute, washed, fixed for 5minutes and then washed for 5 minutes.

If youâ??ve never made a photogram and have access to a darkroom I strongly recommend you give it a go. If nothing else itâ??s a pretty fun way to spend an afternoon.

I started getting into photography properly about the same time that digital was becoming a decent way to take photos. I made a conscious decision that I would embrace the new technology and shunned the â??old wayâ?. Until now my only experience of using film involved waiting in line at boots wondering how many of my photos would come out pink or even worse would have that â??Sorry. You really messed this one upâ?, sticker plastered across them.

This was the first time Iâ??ve used darkroom equipment and although it was by no means a total experience it really opened my eyes to something. I think I finally understand what is so appealing about working with film. Itâ??s not the fumes from the reasonably hazardous chemicals or the constantly thumping my leg on things while moving about the incredibly dimly lit room. Itâ??s not even the losing the white photographic paper on the enlargerâ??s white baseboard (who decided that was a good idea?). Itâ??s the excitement of seeing what youâ??ve got – that short delay between exposure and sluicing the paper in the developer until the image literally fades into view. If youâ??re working efficiently weâ??re only talking about a minute but in that minute you get to experience something that you just donâ??t get with digital – anticipation.

Spotlight On: Anthony Denton

Leopard Cub in Carcass. Copyright Anthony Denton, UK, 2007

An old friend of mine visited TDM yesterday and imparted some of his experience regarding my wedding photography fears. I gave him a call to find out what he had been up to lately and he told me a little bit about the safaris he has been organizing. As you can see from the picture of the leopard cub inside a carcass, it has been a fruitful exercise!

In spite of being incredibly busy at the moment, Tony has agreed to set aside a little time to write a couple of articles for us, including his experiences as a wedding photographer, his journey from amateur to professional photographer and his trips to exotic locations to photograph the wildlife.

For those of us who like to know such things, the technical info of the leopard shot looks like this:

  • Location: Samburu, Kenya
  • Camera: Canon 20D
  • Lens: 70-200 F2.8 with a Canon 1.4x converter
  • Exposure: 1/125s @ f6.3
  • Raw file processed with CS2

Does having the best of the best kit really make a difference to the quality of your photography?

Is it the kit, or is it me?

This is one of those topics that we could talk about for ever and a day. There probably isnâ??t a right or wrong answer, but hereâ??s my take on it.

The better the kit the easier it is to take great photos.

The truth is, if you gave me the top of the range canon and the best lenses in the world and then gave Mr Bailey the bottom of the range canon and the bottom of the range lenses, heâ??d still probably take a better portrait than me. But â?? and this is an interesting but â?? providing I could use the kit at least as well as I can use the mid range kit that I use everyday, I bet I could take a better photo than I can now. This troubles me a little. Where do you draw the line between photographer and camera?

I canâ??t tell you how many times Iâ??ve shown someone my work and the first thing to pop out of their blessed mouths is, â??Wow. You must have a really good camera.â? Thank you. Thatâ??s exactly why itâ??s a good picture. The camera did it. I was just the monkey that pushed the shutter release. Iâ??m so glad I went to the trouble of buying that tremendous camera. Iâ??m sure this has happened to you too. Frustrating isnâ??t it?

You see hereâ??s the problem. I want to take credit for the photo, but if the kit I use was less capable would the photo be as good? To a certain extent I think it would have been, but Iâ??m certain I would have had a harder job achieving the same results.

Iâ??m a fairly decent photographer. Iâ??m certainly no David Bailey, but Iâ??m pretty capable. If I was a better photographer would my ability surpass that of the camera or is the camera doing the driving here? Would the best photographers from 50 years ago be better photographers now because they could use more advanced kit, or are their photographs as good because of the way they were taken and not what they were taken with?

I expect this issue as always been around, but Iâ??m sure it has been amplified by the relatively recent arrival of digital and all the clever software that the cameras use.

The best of the best lenses can produce sharper images than the bottom of the range lenses. This we know is true. Cameras with larger CCDs can capture more information that the ones with smaller CCDs. This too we know is true. But we also know that clarity and size of data doesnâ??t guarantee a good photo. Composition, use of light and frankly, opportunity surely must be bigger factors than what kit was used. I think the kit can sometimes help us but at the end of the day a good photo depends upon some sort of creativity.

There. Thatâ??s my take on it. What do you think?

How To… Succeed In Selling Stock Photography Online

Pounds and Photography

Gaz wrote a smashing article the other day about Online Photo Libraries and how they have clearly ruined the stock photography market and crushed the soles of small time professional photographers (actually thatâ??s not really what he said I just wanted to spice things up a little. You should go ahead and read it by the way. It was very thought provoking.). For the most part I agree with what Gaz had to say, however I have been a member of a few of these libraries for a while and without putting any real effort into it Iâ??ve managed to make a reasonable amount of money from them. I thought Iâ??d do a quick guide to some of the online stock libraries and share with you some of my tips on how to become successful through them.

Before I get started I really aught to say that if you have an issue with earning very little for each sale you make donâ??t do this. Find another way to sell your photos. I promise you that if you canâ??t accept this one simple fact you will find selling images through these libraries entirely sole destroying.

Getting Started

The very first thing you need to do is go through your collection of photos and pick out the ones you think are best. Generally you need to be looking for images that are high quality, the equivalent of 3 megapixels or larger in size and that have something reasonably unique about them. By reasonably unique I mean things like a fresh viewpoint on a subject or a rare subject (e.g. an owl catching its prey). Reasonable uniqueness isnâ??t essential, but it will greatly improve your chances of making a sale. Most of the heavy users of these libraries are people like web developers, commercial blog writers, and people who need images for newsletters and press releases. With this in mind the images that sell the best are conceptual images – images that can convey a message.

When you have your images sorted itâ??s time to hit the libraries. I have tried about a million of these and the ones I have found to be most successful for me are the following:

I particularly like these libraries because the images I upload donâ??t have to be exclusive to each site and the payouts are some of the fairest out there. Thatâ??s not to say that the payouts are good. They really arenâ??t. For each sale I only get between 20c and $1.50. Depending on the volume of sales I make these royalties can go up, but theyâ??re never going to be impressive.

You need to register with each library and youâ??ll have to pass a submission test before you can start selling. This involves uploading a few of your photos for them to assess. If you fail assessment you will be told why and then you can apply again. If you pass you can start uploading the images you want to sell. Youâ??ll need to give each photo a title, a description, select a number of suitable categories for it to sit in and create a list of keywords that pertain to the image. This helps place the image appropriately when a buyer does a search.

Every image you upload will go through the approval process again and wonâ??t be available for sale until it passes. Providing you follow the sitesâ?? guidelines for submitting photos you should have no problems. Once a photo is approved itâ??s up and available to buy until you decide you want to stop selling it.

Another reason I particularly like the libraries in the list above is that they all offer buyers the ability to buy different licences for your images. Now unless you are pretty lucky, itâ??s not incredibly likely that you will sell any images for full exclusive rights, but it you do you could be looking at a few thousand for your trouble. It hasnâ??t happened to me yet, but I live in hope.

How to Really Succeed

The key to being successful in these libraries is to create large conceptual images and lots of them. The larger the image is the more media it can be used for. If you can produce thousands of images that cover as many categories as possible you will maximise your exposure and therefore your chance to make a sale. Obviously the higher the quality the better and the more you think about your keywords and image titles the better too.

Categories that will always sell well are:

  • Images of people. These are the hardest to produce because firstly you need willing models and secondly youâ??ll need to upload a signed model release with each photo.
  • Images that convey business messages.
  • Business orientated conceptual images.
  • Warm and fuzzy conceptual images.
  • Money conceptual images.
  • Seasonal images when they are in season. You wonâ??t sell Christmas images during Easter.

Images that donâ??t sell very well are:

  • Pet portraits.
  • Landscapes (unless theyâ??re exceptional).
  • Pictures of fruit and other very accessible still life.

Make sure you keep tabs on which images are selling best from other photographers. Donâ??t just flat out copy what they have done though. Take pictures that are similar but with your own unique twist to them. If a buyer is presented with 30 pictures that are all basically the same theyâ??ll just pick the first one. Or even worse theyâ??ll decide that they wanted something more unique and go elsewhere.

If a genre is flooded with thousands of photos, donâ??t bother trying to compete. Find another genre where you could really make an impact.

Lastly, be patient. It may take a while before you see any real results. Keep plugging away, use your head and youâ??ll soon get there. Most of all have fun. You wonâ??t make a living from these libraries any time soon, so if youâ??re not enjoying it why do it?