Do we get too obsessed by "real"?

Started 3 months ago | Discussions
thayes15 Regular Member • Posts: 369
Re: Do we get too obsessed by "real"?
1

If we want the image to look as close to the thing itself, no, we cant get too obsessed with real.

If we want to make art, well then anything goes.

Right?

If I look at `art' I just think,  `Do I like the image'? It doesn't matter how it was made

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OP MOD Tom Caldwell Forum Pro • Posts: 43,382
Re: Do we get too obsessed by "real"?

I find that not all photographs can be successfully manipulated into ”Art” and not all styles of art suit every photograph.

For every one that can make an “arty” image there are many failures.

Of course like all representations of an image they are not to everyone’s taste, nor would I expect them to be so.

There is also the representation where photographic realism is such that for a moment it is not obvious that any post processing gas happened.  Over the top often looks just that.

But one might also wonder if little visual clues that the image has been post-processed is a happier result than the heavy processing of a raw file that looks perfect but isn’t truly real.

The side benefit is that photographic art tends to encourage re-seeing the capture composition in the same manner that a true artist might “see”.  Leaving some detail out and highlighting what the artist wishes their audience to see.

I find that you cannot make a poorly composed photograph better by trying to turn it into art. Just as much as a poorly composed painted image might also struggle.

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Tom Caldwell

Lightshow
Lightshow Veteran Member • Posts: 7,648
Re: Do we get too obsessed by "real"?

Tom Caldwell wrote:

I find that not all photographs can be successfully manipulated into ”Art” and not all styles of art suit every photograph.

For every one that can make an “arty” image there are many failures.

Of course like all representations of an image they are not to everyone’s taste, nor would I expect them to be so.

There is also the representation where photographic realism is such that for a moment it is not obvious that any post processing gas happened. Over the top often looks just that.

But one might also wonder if little visual clues that the image has been post-processed is a happier result than the heavy processing of a raw file that looks perfect but isn’t truly real.

The side benefit is that photographic art tends to encourage re-seeing the capture composition in the same manner that a true artist might “see”. Leaving some detail out and highlighting what the artist wishes their audience to see.

I find that you cannot make a poorly composed photograph better by trying to turn it into art. Just as much as a poorly composed painted image might also struggle.

You still have to get the basic composition right or you're just polishing a turd.

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Chris LL New Member • Posts: 15
Re: Do we get too obsessed by "real"?
2

I think the question itself has problems on two related fronts. Firstly, it is not easy to define what 'real' is, especially when it comes to things like colour. And secondly there is such a fundamental difference in the way the camera and the human eye/brain work.

Take a waterfall as an example. A slow shutter speed gives a smooth blurred look to the water while a fast one can freeze every drop. Our eye will generally be somewhere in the middle. Which is real? All? None?

Someone else also raised the issue of B&W. Compared to our eyes, this is clearly not real and yet we would most of us balk at that.

I think the the key is the purpose. If you are taking technical images or passport photos then a level of reality (or at least 'accurate' representation) is important. Beyond that we are making pieces of art so 'reality' is irrelevant. Is the Nightwatch more 'real' than Guernica? Who cares?

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petrochemist Veteran Member • Posts: 3,180
Re: Do we get too obsessed by "real"?

Chris LL wrote:

Take a waterfall as an example. A slow shutter speed gives a smooth blurred look to the water while a fast one can freeze every drop. Our eye will generally be somewhere in the middle. Which is real? All? None?

A great example. I would say all three are real, but only the middle one would look real & would very probably be the most boring version!

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ProfHankD
ProfHankD Veteran Member • Posts: 8,158
I think distinguishing real and fake is important
3

You ask: Do we get too obsessed by "real"?

No. I think we are too unaware of what is or is not real, and it's getting worse.

I have no problem at all with obviously "fake" things; for example, I have this very fake image as one of my standard desktop backgrounds:

An older low-res photo I shot that looks better in high res with fake texturing

My problem is with undetectable, but very significant, changes being made to images without indication that the image has been altered. For example, I understand why people want to replace a blown-out white sky with their all-time-favorite sky... but I want to know that's not a literal interpretation of the scene. Cell phones can automatically recognize a person's face and apply all sorts of transformations to it, to the extent that the person appearing in the photo doesn't actually exist, but is a constructed ideal.

Adjustments attempting to more accurately recover the scene appearance are qualitatively different. I'm fine with healing dust spots, color correction, tone mapping, etc. I'm sometimes even ok with removing a stray element from a photo and replacing it with synthesized content -- e.g., removing that pesky tourist discovered later unfortunately positioned in the background of a photo -- although removing elements in general quickly crosses my comfort line where I feel it is necessary to mark the image as modified.

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Chris LL New Member • Posts: 15
Re: I think distinguishing real and fake is important
4

I see your point but I think you're setting yourself (and the rest of us) to fail.

ALL photographs are fake, in that they are merely images; reflections of reality rather than reality itself. Even simple cropping or exposure adjustments can profoundly affect the image.

I think 'real' is an unhelpful term though. I do agree that it can be a problem if people think a photo is an accurate representation when it is not - a big problem in the fashion and beauty industry. But the genie is out of the bottle. Deep. But I think the answer lies with the viewer. If we start thinking of photos in the same way as we do paintings, the problem goes away - partially at least.

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OP MOD Tom Caldwell Forum Pro • Posts: 43,382
Re: Do we get too obsessed by "real"?

petrochemist wrote:

Chris LL wrote:

Take a waterfall as an example. A slow shutter speed gives a smooth blurred look to the water while a fast one can freeze every drop. Our eye will generally be somewhere in the middle. Which is real? All? None?

A great example. I would say all three are real, but only the middle one would look real & would very probably be the most boring version!

Perhaps we are talking more about the “impact”of an image to our senses as much as much as perfect rendition is so highly sought after.

I agree that perfect realistic rendition can have impact but argue that perfection of rendition is not necessary for some illustrations posing as based on photography to have impact also.

On this forum we often talk about one of our cherished lenses that whilst having some issues has redeeming “character”.

And yet much discussion centres around lens faults and whether one lens reproduces better than another.  There is no doubt that some lens faults make an image look ugly and some focal lengths are better for certain subject matter than others.  Yet other such as circular fish-eye will distort any image in various levels of not-real.

But to my way of thinking the best gear is not necessary to make all images have impact.

But with good composition a fish eye image can look quite pleasing even though some would, and do, de-fish a fish eye to try and make the capture look real without distortion.  Just like cliche images of frozen water it is almost expected that the water looks unrealistically-frozen.

Therefore in the Broad Church surely there is room for photographic art taken to the point where it channels painted art as long as it has its own impact. No one should even pretend that this represents painted art. Photography is at its most fundamental a simpler process than painted art but still requires at least two out of three skills: good equipment, learned or native skills (compositional?) and the photographic opportunity. Having all three and we are blessed or have just made a lucky shot

“Phart” can access all artistic genres (to a point)  whereas painted art will devolve into a personal style - often by necessity in order to sell enough paintings to pay for the hobby and if blessed actually make some money from it.  Here we are talking where photography and art are in the same church.  Professional photographers work for their employer or their market just as much as successful artists.  Amateurs can do their own thing.

I admit that Phart is not normally a subject for this forum except in the narrow sense of an extension of the use of Adapted Lenses but more a separate discipline of all photographic output.

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Tom Caldwell

OP MOD Tom Caldwell Forum Pro • Posts: 43,382
Re: I think distinguishing real and fake is important
1

Well put ProfHank. Notably fashion photographers have been “fixing” blemishes for magazine ads in particular since way back in the days of film. Only the naive might believe that the smooth unblemished features are naturally there.

We might also try and tell those that wear makeup that they should make its application obvious But those that care to think about know and easily accept that human society wishes this to happen and would actually complain if it stopped happening.

All photographers know and experience the fixed “photo-face” where their subject adopts this at first wave of the camera and refuse to look natural. Then complain that your image does not flatter them.

Those taught to “smile for the camera” from their childhood can retain this silly photo-grin until later in life.

I prefer to try and capture such people with candid photographs where their features are relaxed and normal. Much harder in photography where a subject is a wonderful animated person and no frozen image can replicate the inherent joie of that person. I am still working on that technique. It would be easier with video but as I have no interest in video I will have to work harder with my images as for some people their still images are more like frozen-waterfalls.

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Tom Caldwell

spiffariffic
spiffariffic Forum Member • Posts: 63
Re: I think distinguishing real and fake is important
1

Chris LL wrote:

ALL photographs are fake, in that they are merely images; reflections of reality rather than reality itself. Even simple cropping or exposure adjustments can profoundly affect the image.

"The map is not the territory" is the phrase that comes to mind.

OP MOD Tom Caldwell Forum Pro • Posts: 43,382
Re: I think distinguishing real and fake is important

Chris LL wrote:

I see your point but I think you're setting yourself (and the rest of us) to fail.

ALL photographs are fake, in that they are merely images; reflections of reality rather than reality itself. Even simple cropping or exposure adjustments can profoundly affect the image.

I think 'real' is an unhelpful term though. I do agree that it can be a problem if people think a photo is an accurate representation when it is not - a big problem in the fashion and beauty industry. But the genie is out of the bottle. Deep. But I think the answer lies with the viewer. If we start thinking of photos in the same way as we do paintings, the problem goes away - partially at least.

Chris, I agree with your sentiments but my thrust was about the incessant seeming need by at least those who contribute to photographic fora for better and ever better sensors and lens reality. This is the gear-head level and I would argue that even the greatest camera kit could not make a worthwhile image in certain hands.  Nor could the greatest automation (AF and fastest capture) do so either.  Some have natural talent, others have to work at it, and still others will never attain it.

I was merely pointing out that even the very basic digital camera gear of ten, maybe fifteen, years ago is capable of having great composition and producing photographic art which by virtue (hopefully) of half decent composition alone can make such extreme visual reconstructions still worth viewing.

Lens faults disappear and lack of megapixels immaterial as the who image it re-arranged by fake brush-stokes which by definition are “broad pixels”.

Only the most talented  (paint) artists can bring about (faux?) art as a photograph. But those who have not painting skills can possibly mimic art.  But such “art” first needs to be a worthwhile photographic image.

Perhaps where I am coming from - are any of our photographic compositions strong enough to withstand trashing by faking art with them?

Note that the process can allow various degrees of reality to shine through.  This is not “just a filter applied” but can often involve quite a lot of work and presentation choices by the “photographic artist”.

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Tom Caldwell

Rod McD Veteran Member • Posts: 7,684
Re: Do we get too obsessed by "real"?

Hi Tom,

Thanks for posting.  I've come to the thread late, and there has been a bit of philosophy bandied about in the preceding threads.  However, FWIW, I would like to say that I like your images.

It's always good to see others' interests and work.  Yours are utterly different from what I do (realist landscape and nature) and that makes them interesting.  Surrealist?  Painterly?  A graphic quality?  I don't know, but I for one like them.  I think the shop and the ship appeal most.

Cheers, Rod

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OP MOD Tom Caldwell Forum Pro • Posts: 43,382
Re: Do we get too obsessed by "real"?

Rod McD wrote:

Hi Tom,

Thanks for posting. I've come to the thread late, and there has been a bit of philosophy bandied about in the preceding threads. However, FWIW, I would like to say that I like your images.

It's always good to see others' interests and work. Yours are utterly different from what I do (realist landscape and nature) and that makes them interesting. Surrealist? Painterly? A graphic quality? I don't know, but I for one like them. I think the shop and the ship appeal most.

Cheers, Rod

Thanks Rod,  I will have to find some portraits - these can vary from realistic to surreal.

Landscapes - I have some of them as well.   But landscapes are not my main interest.

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Tom Caldwell

OP MOD Tom Caldwell Forum Pro • Posts: 43,382
GXR-M blast from past
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Ricoh GXR-M unknown lens

This was taken in Djakarta in the middle a sudden huge thunderstorm from a moving vehicle. No post processing.  Hardly sharp, but I think the image is worthwhile for the moment it has captured.

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Tom Caldwell

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gardenersassistant Veteran Member • Posts: 9,027
Re: I think distinguishing real and fake is important
1

ProfHankD wrote:

You ask: Do we get too obsessed by "real"?

No. I think we are too unaware of what is or is not real, and it's getting worse.

I have no problem at all with obviously "fake" things; for example, I have this very fake image as one of my standard desktop backgrounds:

An older low-res photo I shot that looks better in high res with fake texturing

My problem is with undetectable, but very significant, changes being made to images without indication that the image has been altered. For example, I understand why people want to replace a blown-out white sky with their all-time-favorite sky... but I want to know that's not a literal interpretation of the scene. Cell phones can automatically recognize a person's face and apply all sorts of transformations to it, to the extent that the person appearing in the photo doesn't actually exist, but is a constructed ideal.

Adjustments attempting to more accurately recover the scene appearance are qualitatively different. I'm fine with healing dust spots, color correction, tone mapping, etc. I'm sometimes even ok with removing a stray element from a photo and replacing it with synthesized content -- e.g., removing that pesky tourist discovered later unfortunately positioned in the background of a photo -- although removing elements in general quickly crosses my comfort line where I feel it is necessary to mark the image as modified.

I have for a while now been thinking of my close-up/macro stuff as "images based on photographs". I refer to them as images, never as photographs. My aim is generally to go for credibility rather than veracity, and produce something that is (to my eye at least) nice looking.

I might clone to remove distractions, stretch/contract edges to balance compositions, change lightness/darkness globally or locally, locally sharpen, soften or enhance or subdue textures or colours. What you see is not what I saw (or what I would have seen had I been looking directly, which I don't because I'm looking through the camera, and with subjects as small as 1mm long I wouldn't have been able to see what they looked like even if I did look directly at them).

I try to not mislead anyone into thinking my images are anything like "out of the camera". That could be highly demotivating for beginners who may think think that I have some sort of "magic touch" that they don't have, and give up. It is not magic captures; it is mundane processing, carefully applied. I generally mention the several pieces of editing software used to produce the images so as to encourage the thought that the images are the result of manipulation. From time to time I describe the workflow in detail when someone asks.

I'm not sure a "real or fake" dichotomy quite captures what I'm doing, nor even thinking of real and fake as being at either end of a spectrum. It is a bit more multi-faceted than that. I think the same is probably true for many of us.

I have very, very occasionally (a handful of times in 10 years) done transformations like those in the top post. They are obviously not real in the photographic sense, so I don't think there is any danger of misleading anyone as to what nature of thing they are. So in terms of photographic image making I don't think they are fake. In terms of looking like paintings, drawings or whatever, I can imagine circumstances in which they could be misleading/fake. Here too mentioning, at least in the very broadest terms, the technique used to create them might be a good idea (e.g. one word such as "filtered" would be enough I think).

Just as a bit of fun, given that this is Adapted Lens forum, this one was filtered using Jixipix' Moku Hanga method on an image created using PhotoLab, Lightroom and Denoise AI on a raw file captured with an EF mount Laowa 100mm macro lens and two EF mount 2X Kenko teleconverters adapted to an A7sii using a Sigma MC-11.

OP MOD Tom Caldwell Forum Pro • Posts: 43,382
Re: I think distinguishing real and fake is important

Nick,

I agree,  some photographic post processing is made to try and make the image more realistic to life. However much of it is to try and make the image look better. Good PP software can indeed  make an image more attractive and repair faults.

At some point the post processing can actually take over and change reality.

The point where camera made image becomes “improved” to something else must involved a photographic ethics issue.

Quite often the result is the corollary where we often excuse our lack of PP effort by the code “sooc” which is of course “straight out of the camera” to which we usually add “jpg” so that we can perhaps blame the jpg engine of the camera for any lack of quality.

I could not say that PP from raw is actually cheating.  If the raw processor is so set that it knows to fix casual white balance errors by default then many might think that the camera engine is at fault and post processing the same image involves some wonder tricks by brilliant software design.   But this does not solve intentional “errors” where we might deliberately over or under expose or even decide to use an incorrect white balance simply for effect.

I prefer that my raw processing software first replicates my actual camera settings from the metadata (so that the camera engine and PP software should come to much the same conclusion - warts and all) and I can then tell it to correct (for example) my slack white balance.  Make it cooler or more vibrant.  After all more saturated colours always look better ….  Grey skies are dreary, drought affected greenery is often very drab looking.

I also agree that images which I call photographic-art (Phart) are so obviously processed and not painted that there is no need to tell the audience that they are not real. Sometimes they can look like photographic reproductions of painted art, sometimes they can be so nuanced that it is hard to tell whether it is art or photograph.

But as we all like to present or best work then the one that somehow looks better is the one that is shared.

Future historians are sure to wonder why families were always happy and smiling in portraits.  Also when young friends went out they always sat huddled up with arms around shoulders and whatever made them so merry turned their eyes red.  Reality is a mixed bag.

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Tom Caldwell

thayes15 Regular Member • Posts: 369
Re: GXR-M blast from past

Tom Caldwell wrote:

Ricoh GXR-M unknown lens

This was taken in Djakarta in the middle a sudden huge thunderstorm from a moving vehicle. No post processing. Hardly sharp, but I think the image is worthwhile for the moment it has captured.

Completely beautiful. Well done.

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OP MOD Tom Caldwell Forum Pro • Posts: 43,382
Re: GXR-M blast from past

thayes15 wrote:

Tom Caldwell wrote:

Ricoh GXR-M unknown lens

This was taken in Djakarta in the middle a sudden huge thunderstorm from a moving vehicle. No post processing. Hardly sharp, but I think the image is worthwhile for the moment it has captured.

Completely beautiful. Well done.

Thanks, it was both sudden and very wet.

I have just a few others taken at the same time as  much softness from inside a moving  vehicle as by the intensity of the rain.  I think its lack of sharpness might convey the actual situation as I doubt even the best eyesight might have been much sharper.

So this takes  the philosphy of images one step further - do we demand lens capability to actually improve on reality?  Do we require that humans struggling in heavy rain under strorm darkened skies look precise and real under these circumstances?

I think that it might have been possible to do better, but the moment and the empathy might have been lost by the precision of the replication.

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Tom Caldwell

thayes15 Regular Member • Posts: 369
Re: GXR-M blast from past

Tom Caldwell wrote:

thayes15 wrote:

Tom Caldwell wrote:

Ricoh GXR-M unknown lens

This was taken in Djakarta in the middle a sudden huge thunderstorm from a moving vehicle. No post processing. Hardly sharp, but I think the image is worthwhile for the moment it has captured.

Completely beautiful. Well done.

Thanks, it was both sudden and very wet.

I have just a few others taken at the same time as much softness from inside a moving vehicle as by the intensity of the rain. I think its lack of sharpness might convey the actual situation as I doubt even the best eyesight might have been much sharper.

So this takes the philosphy of images one step further - do we demand lens capability to actually improve on reality? Do we require that humans struggling in heavy rain under strorm darkened skies look precise and real under these circumstances?

I think that it might have been possible to do better, but the moment and the empathy might have been lost by the precision of the replication.

Yes it sounds strange but this image looks more ethereal than reality and therefore somehow more romantic even though there's a struggle going on. A sharp image would simply kill this emotion when viewing this image. It would also kill its beauty. It's the case for all images and technical precision is required most of the time but this is an impressionist painting, not a facsimile

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