Treat it like a photo

Pho­tog­ra­phy has a rich enough tra­di­tion that a photo doesn’t need to look like any­thing else

NPhoto - - Nik Pedia -

The ‘pro­cessed’ look of a pho­to­graph is a new phenomenon that’s the di­rect re­sult of new dig­i­tal ways of han­dling bright­ness and con­trast on a lo­cal scale. In film-based pho­tog­ra­phy it had no mean­ing, be­cause all film and pho­to­graphic pa­per re­sponded in much the same way to ex­po­sure and pro­cess­ing. Dig­i­tal al­go­rith­mic pro­cess­ing of RAW files has changed this. In Adobe Cam­era Raw, three slid­ers in par­tic­u­lar work on the en­tire im­age but in a lo­cal way: High­lights, Shad­ows and Clar­ity. They use TMOs (Tone Map­ping Op­er­a­tors) that al­ter bright­ness by means of very lo­calised con­trast, mak­ing ad­just­ments based on neigh­bour­ing pix­els. The re­sults are pow­er­ful in that they can ‘open up’ shadow ar­eas with in­creased lo­calised con­trast and crisp­ness. This nat­u­rally ap­peals to us in much the same way that we gen­er­ally re­spond pos­i­tively to brighter and more colour­ful im­ages.

A ‘pho­to­graphic’ look cen­tres on smooth tonal gra­da­tion with a full range from black to white. It has no sharp dis­con­ti­nu­ities, it’s well rounded, and it’s a nat­u­ral re­sult of the S-curve re­sponse of film. Its op­po­site is hy­per-de­tailed im­ages, with tonal breaks, that look more like hy­per-re­al­is­tic paint­ings. As a style of paint­ing, this is ef­fec­tive and pop­u­lar, but do you want a painterly ef­fect from pho­tog­ra­phy? The world of pho­tog­ra­phy passed through that phase about a cen­tury ago.

The pictures above il­lus­trate the dif­fer­ence. Few would disagree that the top im­age looks more like a tra­di­tional photo. You could ar­gue that look­ing like a photo is no special ad­van­tage and that the modern way of look­ing ac­cepts height­ened clar­ity and crisp­ness. Most pho­tog­ra­phers disagree, even though our ac­cep­tance of the pho­to­graphic look comes from a cen­tury and a half of look­ing at it.

The same shot, pro­cessed to make the most of the high-con­trast light­ing (top), and us­ing the newer tone-map­ping con­trols (bot­tom). The re­sults con­trast a tra­di­tional pho­to­graphic look with a flat­ter yet more de­tailed ‘il­lus­tra­tive’ look Il­lus­tra­tive

Tra­di­tional

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