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Image Enhancement ? Still Seen As 'Cheating'?


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Image Enhancement – Still Seen As 'Cheating'?

28 Jul 2021 9:46PM   Views : 476 Unique : 271

It's a long held belief that using software to enhance an image is the devil's own work. I'm not talking about creating misleading, fake or fraudulent imagery but using simple basic adjustments that many images benefit from.

The idea for this blog came from reading a description of post-capture processing on an image uploaded for critique. It's welcome to see someone detail their processing steps, so that we know what has been done to the image. It must be noted that these were bread and butter adjustments such as contrast, levels, and so on. It's a pity the original unprocessed image wasn't included so that a comparison and assessment of the changes could be made. Were the steps taken enough or did they go too far? That's what's needed in order to provide the most useful feedback. While different people will have different ideas, further small adjustments did improve matters.


Straight from the camera

That last sentence is the caveat. Ten different photographers will produce ten different results from the same image. I don't mean because they use different gear (hough that could be the case), but give them a RAW file to work on and the same software to use you won't get ten identical results. True, some will be quite close to one another, but some won't. Indeed, a single photographer can easily create several versions all of which they like.

While it's hard, if not impossible, to dial out personal choice and style, and I don't advise anyone to go that route (unless they're) there are good practices to observe. We all want our images to look as good as we want. It can be that we're too close to our own work. Coming back a day later and evaluating what's been done can be helpful. Sometimes a small comment is enough to make us see what needs to be changed. For example, on one of my images, quite a number of years ago now, reference was made to a slight magenta cast. It was there, and using the white balance picker on the white background made the image so much more viewable.


Colour Balance warmed, Shadows lifted, Curves adjustment

I'm talking about basic adjustments required in order to bring out the best in an image. Good colour, contrast, shadow and highlight detail retrieval, a crop maybe, and so forth. Nothing that creates a fraudulent result (for example removing or adding people from a street scene for political ends or creating artificial looking skin in a portrait, though those types of manipulation have ben done decades before digital appeared).


Straight from the camera

Years ago, photographers would choose a particular film for its characteristics. Velvia to a boost insipid tons in a drab northern European winter landscape, Astia for more natural skin tones. Filters would be used to control colour, polarisers to boost saturation. Not to mention the renditions of different black and white films together with contrast enhancing filters and control over the print using different contrast grades of paper. All of which are choices you have using the basic adjustments of which I described above. You're just replicating what has always been done, albeit with a greater degree of control.


Levels and Curves adjustments and further Curves adjustment on the sky

The allegation of 'cheating' is misplaced and comes from a lack of understanding, mainly from non photographers who don't understand either analogue or digital methods and would have had negative film processed at a low cost (that must mean good value and thus a good job) minilab and accepting the results as given. Even some dyed in the wool photographers at the start of digital photography regarded the greater control with scepticism, and I think, apart from the fact it was a change, considered it cheating because they didn't understand computers and software not realising the potential and freedom to actually produce the style of images they always wished for. Yes there would be a steep learning curve, and that doesn't suit everyone. There is also the fact that so much more responsibility was put on the photographer to come up with the goods. No more blaming it on the local photo processing lab.

There are still purists who don't like post capture processing, preferring to accept the jpegs straight out of camera (or other device), not necessarily realising that a whole lot of processing has already been done defined by algorithms with no creative appreciation. That's their choice of course. In the end they're missing out on getting the best from their efforts.

So, for the rest of us, let's continue with our adjustments.


Too far?

All text and images © Keith Rowley 2021


saltireblue Plus
12 13.2k 83 Norway
29 Jul 2021 3:31PM

Quote:It's a long held belief that using software to enhance an image is the devil's own work.

And what about enhancements carried out in darkrooms, long before a digital camera and accompanying software were even a dream, let alone a concrete reality...
If software is the devil's work, then so are the enhancements which used to go on in the darkroom...
dark_lord Plus
18 3.0k 826 England
29 Jul 2021 4:13PM
That's true Malc ad may be something I'll explore later.
I wasn't averse to darkroom manipulation myself (not that I was able to spend as much time as I might have liked) but I prefer the ease, control and comfort that digital manipulation gives even if I only emulate those traditional techniques.
And I think it's those aspects which gave digital manipulation the impression that it required a 'lower level of skill' than traditional methods that
That said, expert darkroom workers were also 'accused' of practising dark arts.
You only ned to take a quick look at my portfolio to see how I like playing around with mono Smile
JJGEE 17 8.0k 18 England
29 Jul 2021 11:03PM

Quote: but give them a RAW file to work on and the same software to use you won't get ten identical results

A few, perhaps many, many years ago epz had a weekly RAW challenge where one could download an image, make some adjustments and then upload your effort.
I guess that after a while people lost interest and like several other features on this site quietly got dropped.

Do I " cheat " by using the healing brush to remove small black marks in the sky, which are in fact birds or on one occasion that mark was an helicopter that I did not see with the naked eye !

I am OK with compositing for creative effect, there was once an epz member, her name was Angela Barnett ( arwensgrace ) who was the master of it but am against replacing skies, for example, which some software even has a gallery to pick from and automatically blends it in with the click of a button !
dark_lord Plus
18 3.0k 826 England
31 Jul 2021 1:27PM
I remember those RAW challenges.
They were interesting to see how different people saw a scene.

What I consider 'enhancement' is getting the best form the original capture, using RAW or jpg is neither here nor there in that sense as often one or two tweaks are useful.

I'm not a fan of sky replacement. For surreal or graphic art type applications there is a place (or indeed a need).
Current software may well make it easy and seamless but in many examples the results are let down by inconsistent angles (and sometimes colour) of light on the sky and foreground.
Robert51 13 11 129 United Kingdom
1 Aug 2021 9:02AM
First may I say that I'm one for people to do whatever makes them happy. I also feel that so much is made out of the use of anything auto. People talk about only using manual and have auto white balance and ISO switch on. Much the same can be said about processing. They say it's ok to remove dust spots but you shouldn't remove a bird that looks much the same. What we all have to remember everyone is at different stages both in shooting and post processing. All they want to do is produce the best image they can and at the end of the day that's all that matters.

Here's a thought in years to come we will all have self drive cars which will trust with our lives, but we don't trust the camera or software for our images...

May they should bring back the RAW challenges.
dark_lord Plus
18 3.0k 826 England
1 Aug 2021 11:42AM

Quote:everyone is at different stages both in shooting and post processing

Such is the learning curve.
And it's good sometimes to revisit old images and reprocess them.
2 Aug 2021 6:12AM
Excellent blog Keith. Interesting how post processing with digital tools has resulted in the defining styles that modern photographers become known for . As much can be said for any number of old school darkroom masters like Ansel Adams and his contemporaries Different eras …yet striving for the same result.
Cheers Walt
pink Plus
19 7.1k 9 England
5 Aug 2021 8:07AM
Some interesting thoughts...........................for my sins I lecture at photographic societies and other organisations, I use prints as I can communicate (see) with the audience better,
I often use a before and after, a RAW file straight from the memory card and a processed image where I have done fairly basic adjustments (Exposure/contrast/levels/sharpening/cropping etc)
The reactions are interesting, in respect that a lot of fairly enthusiastic photographers still use jpegs straight out of the camera, not realising that they are then letting the camera do the processing, with many it is a lightbulb moment.
Some more heavily worked images also provoke interesting comments, with most accepting that what has been done has improved the image considerably, I find the most 'acceptable' processing being cropping to achieve more impact, or to remove distractions around the edges etc.I use a sports image of a rugby match, show a wide scene of the whole image and then cut a window mount showing what I have cropped down to and then that image enlarged and processed, in this instance the noise helps give the image a gritty feel which suits the subject very well.
Most audiences leave with very positive views, and I'm sure they then revisit images accordingly.
I really enjoy this interaction and I encourage questions and discussions throughout as you cannot always remember at the end, so rather than a lecture it becomes an interactive discusssion, and I also learn a lot as well.
Great article Keith
dark_lord Plus
18 3.0k 826 England
10 Aug 2021 8:23PM
Very good to hear your experiences Ian, and nice to see you get positive results from your talks.

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