Monday, 4 October 2010

Digital Photographic Practice 1: Exercise 21 – Enhancement

Another photo of my daughter for this exercise. She agreed to  the portrait session in return for a copy for her Facebook avatar – which seemed like a fair deal. Anyhow – here is the original. Lighting is natural overcast daylight with a standard umbrella as a backdrop – so totally diffused! Frankly I was delighted with this as it stood – almost seems a shame to play with it. All mods completed in Lightroom 3 – using the adjustment brush for selections.

First up a slight increase in brightness and contrast – it’s quite subtle but I didn’t want to go too far as it looked un-natural.

This certainly draws attention to the face, and the ‘back’ eye appears brighter and attracts attention. I think the slight hotspots at the top of her cheek and above her necklace are slightly distracting.
I interpreted this exercise as asking us to look at each change individually, so the next shot is the original exposure, but with the eyes brightened and extra saturation

Quite a subtle difference I think, but overall I prefer the effect – the skin hotspots are less distracting and the blue of the eyes is quite a powerful draw on the attention.
Next up is again the original exposure, but changing the colour of the eyes – my daughter liked purple, but I preferred this green. I didn’t want to go too intense – this level feels natural to me.

At this stage I thought I would take the exercise to a logical conclusion by adding a couple more tweaks not required by the text. Back to the original exposure and eye colour, but this time I brightened her smile slightly (as if it wasn’t cheerful enough already)

Finally – LR offers a skin glow adjustment which reduces the clarity slider and results in a pronounced softening of the skin. I tried that together with the eye and teeth adjustments. As the overall effect was to brighten the image along the lines of the first adjustment, I also toned down the hotspots to produce the following:

This is a little too plastic for my tastes – perhaps because I’ve overdone the effect - but is far from uncommon as a treatment for females celebs and on the cover pages of magazines. In truth I moved the clarity slider backwards and forwards a dozen times, but could never seem to find the right balance between smoothed and plastic – this version was the best compromise. I suspect that part of the problem is that I’m too familiar with my daughters face!
This was certainly a fun exercise – I feel I am beginning to get to grips properly with the degree of control afforded by Lightroom.  But of course the underlying theme is – is this acceptable?
Personally I see no issue with the versions that have simply lightened or highlighted key features to make the face more attention-grabbing. Nothing has been fundamentally altered as a result. The green eyes could be considered less acceptable as they are altering reality, but it is unlikely the same objection would be raised if the effect had been achieved with coloured contact lenses.
I also struggle to find anything unacceptable about the skin smoothing effect – other than it looking a bit un-natural in this case. Again, good make-up might well achieve a similar (and similarly un-natural) effect and few would object to that approach.
The caveats from previous exercises about photojournalism and forensic photography still apply, but without these techniques I suspect the advertising and fashion businesses would struggle. It is possible to argue that the use of such techniques in these industries is deception and therefore un-ethical, but such industries have always sold an ideal, and in many senses digital enhancement draws on the aspirational imagery of the idealized families and household products which have always been a feature of these industries.
A common use of enhancement techniques is to thin down a limb or reduce a waist size. Done clumsily such actions can have unfortunate, but hilarious results, as featured in this website – Photoshop Disasters.

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