It is not often that an image maker will be brave enough to show you the ‘before and afters’ together on a shoot but I wanted to simply chat about a subject that vexes me at the moment, particularly in the heat of the raging debates that go on about ‘Wedding PJ’ or ‘Reportage’. In another article I will chat more about what has been recently described to me as ‘Documentary Wedding Photography’. What a superb description that aptly fits the bill!
But today, my burning subject is one of enhancement and retouching in Wedding and Portrait Photography, primarily for Competitions and ‘Qualifications’. For a while now I have listened to quite a number of people wittering on about ‘purism’, that is the craft of capturing images in camera only and outputting in whatever form without any ‘treatment’ whatsoever. This is often put as the heart, soul and marrow of being a ‘real’ photographer but I simply cannot and will not subscribe to that belief. And why? Well its simply because in my 35 ‘brief’ years in photography starting in the depths of darkrooms surrounded by a myriad of chemistries, I don’t think I have seen any images that have not been improved with a little help from a skilful printer, tranny dabber (retoucher of transparencies and not something else!), neg retoucher armed with dyes and graphite or latterly the acknowledged digital retouching expert.
From the dawn of imaging photographers have sought to get the best out of their ‘negatives’, the only difference now is we deal with ‘digital negatives’ rather than their celluloid cousins. Even the decision as to the mode of capture affects the end result. Be it the ‘lossy’ method of JPEG to the powerful ‘RAW’ file, each has its own particular attributes. I will certainly do dwell on the RAW vs JPEG debate here but leave that for another rainy day when I’m sat in yet another airport lounge and bored out of my tiny mind. As for the ‘truths’ of Histograms, well, I think I’ll leave that one too. In fact why not have a good chat with my dear friend and colleague Lorenzo Gasperini of Sekonic and Pocket Wizard fame and I’m sure he’ll give you his opinions on that one!
There are some disciplines where only the most minimal form of manipulation is permissible and one in particular is the world of wildlife photography. Levels and curves, dust removal and that is about it! But even that constitutes some level of intervention by the author. The subject rages deepest in the area of social photography but is this area truly about maintaining a degree of truth? After all without the maxim that our sole mission as image makers of people in both Portraiture and Weddings that there is an endless quest for ‘flattery of the subject’, surely we are dead in the water? Do people really want to see themselves as they truly are? How many times have we heard, even in jest, “I don’t suppose you could slim me down a bit and lose some of those lines?”. Well all I can say is thank God for Photoshop, the liquefy tool and ‘Dynamic Skin Softener’ in Nik Color Efex 4.0!!!
Of course ‘enhancement’ need not be drastic and in some instances a simply tidying of the image will suffice. The more inexperienced photographers will often miss those distractions that at time of capture are thrown into the background of perception as there is a natural tendency to be overtaken by the aesthetics of the subject in the foreground. Only when we have time to review our captures do we say, “Oh my! I wish I had seen that carrier bag in the background!” or even worse, “I cannot believe I didn’t move that candlestick! It looks like it is growing out of her head!”. But miss these things we do and just a little simple cloning and patching can easily restore the image with a minimum of fuss. For if we don’t, you can be sure the client will notice it sooner or later. So much for purism then!