Darkroom has been replaced by photo-editing on computers. Sadly, a lot of newcomers are now replacing photography with photo-editing. I’ll refer to this habit as photo-shopping since that is what people have come to call it. In fact that is another achievement of the Adobe Photoshop software, to be able to penetrate to such an extent and get known to the masses. My sincere advice to all budding photographers is to start photographing and reduce photoshopping.
Since the time photography became popular, there have been trends that appear and end up killing many good photographs. There was a trend of deep blue skies with extensive use of polarizers and burning. Skies appeared dark as in late evenings rather than in the day time. Many of them got printed on picture post-cards but how many of those picture post-cards exist today? Similarly there was yet another trend of going retro and using Sepia tones. Tonnes of photographs got printed with ghastly color tones varying from light yellow to dark browns and all of them were the trendy sepia toned photographs. Yet another trend of selective coloring appeared for a few years. Greeting cards and Calendar companies printed loads of mushy looking photographs of children with selective coloring of one or two objects like flowers of something in their dresses. Many beautiful photographs got lost in these selectively colored stationary. There have been trends of over-saturated photographs and lately under-saturated with predominance of grey tones.
(An example of a photo modified using Snapseed with the Drama filter. Notice the overall low saturation and bright glow around the dark objects – around the boats in the foreground and above the distant trees, just below the clouds. The noise is due to the cropping done to highlight the effect. Another of the recent trends! Be wary of these.)
Trends come and go. Try to search and then observe the iconic photographs of last many decades. There is one common factor in them. They did not follow the trends which came and went like seasons. These iconic photographs are based on what the photographer actually captured. Darkroom techniques have been used but in a subtle way. The aim is to improve their impact and not to actually change them.
Photography and Photoshopping
As the common quote goes, darkroom is a third of photography. Yes, it is important. However it is not more important than photography itself. Enjoy your photography but do not get lost in editing. A rule of thumb is that if you have to spend more than double the photography time with your computer then there is something seriously wrong somewhere. It is time to sit back and understand what is going on.
When photographers say that click raw and keep them as a backup, the reason is that with the speed at which the development in improvements are happening in photo-editing, with every passing year, the post-processing and photo-editing capabilities are improving. The photographs that are created today on the computer can be created in a better way after a few years from now.
Social networking and its impact
Everyone wants to be one up and showcase the best of what they have been up to. This includes photography too. Be it Instagram or Facebook, users have been trying to show case the better part of their life. There are various ready to use filters (not to be confused with actual glass filters) in hundreds of photo-editing apps and programs now. What this has led to are photographs with excessive use of these effects which tend to take the charm away from the photograph. The photographs do look good superficially but they are unable to hold a viewer’s attention for long. Skills of good photography are getting lost.
The other day, I saw a photograph of a popular park on my friend’s mobile. The initial impact was good. The photograph had some filters and minor tweaks applied to it to make the sky darker and colors more saturated. After just a second of looking at the photograph, the impact was gone and I could see the halos around tall structures where the sky darkening filter had not been applied. This was very distracting. The clothes of the people in the foreground were over saturated and again with the glow around showing the poor application of the so called filters. The person who had captured the photograph had gone overboard and spoilt the image. (Top 10 Photo-editing Traps)
Yesterday, I saw a photograph of distant mountains with a lady running on a road in the foreground. The subject and the composition was wonderful. The person who had clicked the photograph had applied a graduated colored filter to it, tilted at about forty five degrees. The result – half of the sky had grey clouds and the other half had bluish clouds. The photograph which could have been a masterpiece, was now a another piece of digital junk.
When I see such photographs, on the face of it, I always comment on how good the photograph looks. I do not want to hurt the feelings of my friends and colleagues. However the truth is that I cringe when I see such photographs. Drama should be created by the photograph and not by adding a ‘drama’ filter. The interplay of various elements, the composition, the story that the photograph tells… these are the ones that should create the impact and not some clumsily applied filters.
Compositing or combining of two different photographs is another terrible trend of today that gets to my nerves. Two beautiful photographs get spoilt by the photoshopping addicts when they end up combining the two entirely different images to create one. This may appeal to the masses but it makes the photographer in me, sad. How well can people murder beautiful photographs!
If you want to be a good photographer, visualize your image and then capture it. Do not play around with photo-editing apps or programs, just to get something interesting. Use these programs as an accomplished photographer of yesteryear would have used the darkroom. Just to enhance what is already there. I am not discouraging the use of photo-editing. What I am saying is to avoid going overboard with it.
(Image from the camera. The foreground is too dark)
(The same image developed on a mobile phone app and resized on Nikon software. The filters reduced the colors and added a pastel touch to the image. The image is bright but the original impact is lost. Though I have to agree, the photograph looks good for an instant)
(Post processed to enhance the original drama, without going overboard. The colors are almost untouched, but with some information visible in the foreground)