Monday, March 11, 2013

How Much is Too Much?

      I've been wanting this shot for a long time and finally the conditions were perfect. Because of a rare weather phenomena I was able to capture amazing cloud formations over the Canadian Rockies that when combined with unique light bouncing off the snow, creates a gritty textured look to the photograph. These unique clouds called the "cumulo barbed wire nimbus" only form once every hundred years or so. So for many hours I waited until the barbed wire looking clouds formed a nice frame for the old barn and then took the shot. The clouds dissipated moments later. By the way, this image is SOOC- ( straight out of camera ) and the only post processing done to the image was to remove a couple of dust spots. Finally years of patience paid off!

 Believe me? Of course not! Obviously this is a combination of two images. Many photographers use this technique to produce fine art images and in fact I sold a framed print of this image to someone looking for wall art. But I told this goofy story and posted this obviously unrealistic image to illustrate an interesting debate in some photography circles.
      I find it interesting reading and hearing the dogmatic opinions of some photographers regarding the subject of 'post-processing'.  Many pride themselves on adding the letters SOOC to the descriptions of their photographs somehow trying to give the impression that it is more pure or it makes them a better photographer. Little do they realize, the image the camera produced does not truly represent what was seen by the eye. The camera is limited when it comes to picking up detail in the shadows and brighter areas of a scene. Too combat this deficiency, some will turn to HDR photography and combine a number of images of a single scene taken at different exposures to increase the dynamic range. This is a type of processing. Dodging and Burning are techniques that have been around forever and enable one to darken or brighten certain areas of a photograph. Increase or decrease of color saturation, contrast levels, white balance adjustments, clarity controls, even noise removal and sharpening are all types of post processing. Computer programs that process digital images is a huge industry and pretty much everyone with a DSLR camera uses them. But how much is too much? It depends on the purpose of the photograph.
      For example, a photograph of a crime scene or a news story should have very little processing done  because reality and accuracy are very important. A photograph intended to be viewed as art is an entirely different matter. To me, it doesn't really matter how much processing has been done after the shot was taken as long as the viewer is not being deceived. I recently saw an amazing shot of a night scene. The foreground was clear and bright and the exposure was perfect with no noise. The sky had the Milky Way galaxy and a perfect crescent moon. This is impossible to do with one shot. The photographer had to take one shot of the foreground when there was some daylight. Later he took a 20 second exposure for the galaxy. And afterward he took one of the moon. He did not move the tripod. Three shots of the same 'scene' but taken at different times, exposed for different elements. He later combined the 3 images in a post processing program and created an amazing image. Is this wrong or impure in the photography world? Only if his claims don't match the image. If he insists he captured a moment in time (as I did earlier) then it would be unfair. If his goal was to produce an excellent image of a beautiful scene worthy of hanging in a gallery to be enjoyed by others and viewed as art, then he should be proud. So is your photo for National Geographic or for a movie poster? Are you a photo journalist or an artist? These questions should help one to determine 'how much is too much'?


  1. Nice humour. At our meeting Tues. several of the new members were surprised to hear that in most cases SOOC does not give great images. They did not realize that digital can always use a little "tweaking".

  2. Great write up Andrew. Love reading your insights into photography related issues and also how your perspective sometimes shows up the tendency for some *serious* photographers to be, let's say, a little snobby! lol
    Have a super day,

  3. Awesome info Andrew! I thoroughly agree with BABS.
    Thanks for sharing!