That Filtering Thing

Image enhancements - Glendalough as an example ...
Image enhancements - Glendalough as an example ...

Just a few musings on images … prompted by a discussion that ranged from online friends to the real world and back again … images, do we like them “raw” or cooked, spiced, tarted up and finally a little bit surrealistic? I guess it all depends on whether we see ourselves as artists, archivists or happy snappers. And what we want to achieve with an image.

As an example I have taken an image taken at Glendalough (County Wicklow) through the stages … see below:

Image enhancements - Glendalough as an example ...
Image enhancements – Glendalough as an example …

From left to right … the image as my trusty Fuji took it, only resized – then the image forced through automatic White Balance, Colour Enhancement and Sharpening in GIMP (I admit, it looks a little garish) – then a few fiddlings with Layers, Desaturation, Artistic Effects and Opacity. Where we arrive at almost the same image as we had at the start, only sharper and with more contrast plus added highlights and darker shadows.

Better? Depends on your point of view, I guess. And I have been tame. Many photoshopped or gimped images end up looking like a gritty version of “Sin City” or “300”, colours muted to a level not seen since the advent of colour photography, contrasts like monochrome. It is all the rage. And everywhere. And will be old hat some time soon. Then it is back to cheerful bright colours and a slight blur, maybe.

I am astonished by the settings my camera has … even at my price level you get normal colour, bright colour (simulating the difference between print film and transparencies … if you still remember those existed, kids), monochrome (that would be “black and white” to the Luddites) and sepia (that would be monochrome with old developments techniques left to age in a shoebox in the attic). And then GIMP offers to make your image even weirder, by adding stains for instance. Or making it fuzzy. Like the old photos.

Problem being, “old” is relative … a garage nearby has a professionally taken, developed and printed image from the 1960s hanging on the office wall. No sepia. Absolutely crisp details. Better than anything digital I have yet seen.

And then we have those dreaded trends pushed by the magazines, in clubs and via social media. In all fairness … who really liked those Polaroid pictures with their false colours, odd square format and so on? And their tendency to fade faster than anything. And the impossibility to make further reproductions without re-shooting the image itself? Nobody. Polaroids were always a party trick and only really good for producing ID cards on the run (and trust me, while working in the public sector in Germany I produced a few hundred of those … all part of “media work”). Yet we have automatic applications that make your good digital image a poor imitation of a bad Polaroid … and they are trending.

Don’t get me started about long exposure times (me ol’ mucker Andreas will now roll his eyes, I guess) … they have their time and place. And often make sense. And can, if used judiciously, provide a sense of movement. Or a dream-like image. But if I see another image where water has been made into a thick mist by exposing for a few seconds, I think I’ll scream. Overdone. By everyone and their grandmother. Booooooooooooring! And no longer anywhere near “creative”. It is a technique that smacks more of “Zeitgeist” of fashion, than of original thought. It was fresh about a dozen or so years ago. Now it is just “what you do, innit?”

And that is before the additional filtering …

So, where was I … oh, yes … while I like mucking about with GIMP a bit, moist of my images go only through four stages (white balance, colour enhancements, sharpening and the addition of a watermark, as futile as that might be). And display well on the web. If I say so myself. I am more of a “record shot” person. Not as in “setting records”, but as in “keeping a record”. Of how things are, how I saw them.

Which makes a number of images taken by me actually unsuitable for publication … if one applies very strict editorial standards. But funnily enough, some of the images I shot in the 1980s in a quick and dirty way are now rarities, prized by those interested in the subject matter. Because instead of spending half an hour in setting up that special shot of that special thing, I snapped it and used the rest of the time to click away at the common-and-garden things around it. Those overlooked exactly because they were so common. And those sought today because … they were common, but overlooked.

Guess what I am trying to say is … it all is a question of philosophy. I am a happy snapper, and a few of the images taken are actually good enough for even the most discerning editor. Most others are usable in a specialist context. And some are pure crap. But since the advent of digital photography taking and storing thousands of images is virtually free. So I snap and snap.

Your mileage may vary – if you are more the artist that likes to control the shot, more power to you. It is your thing, your time, your image. But once you get too caught up in technical matters and the current trends that dominate the web and the club, you are in a straight-jacket. That may eventually squeeze the artistic spark out of you.

Live and let snap …

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