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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Keeping It Real, Or Calling It Art

What are your personal guidelines on HDR use in your photos?

The travel industry also uses lots of manipulated photography. In its defense, it's not in the business of deceiving viewers, just enhancing the images of locations it's selling. Sometimes it takes things too far. A billboard ad that recently caught my eye in the International Terminal at LAX was an "artful" depiction of Antelope Canyon by Brand USA, America's new national tourism department established by Congress in 2010. Here's a link to the photo I saw: www.discoveramerica.com/usa/experiences/a/arizona/antelope-canyon.aspx.

The photo is a spectacular scene in Antelope Canyon that doesn't actually exist. It appears to be a composite of numerous images to make the canyon even more grand. I would forgive this overprocessing if the image was selling computer monitors or hiking boots, but it seems questionable for a tourism ad. My photo here is from an assignment I did for National Geographic in 1996. Yes, the photo isn't perfect, with dirty snow, midday contrasty light, etc. I wouldn't want to "improve" on these inherent faults with digital processing (maybe I'd scrub the glacier until it's white, clean up the hillside, use some warming, etc.) because that also would change the authenticity of the moment. This is one of thousands of photos I made on a seven-week, 775-mile bike expedition traversing the length of the Alaska Range. This particular image is from an amazing location on the Black Rapids Glacier on the ride up toward the Susitna Glacier. The original photo, shot on 35mm film, has been drum-scanned and noted with time, date and location when the photo was made and is stored in the digital photo archives in the National Geographic Image Collection (www.NGSimages.com). At the time I took this photo, it was to illustrate an expedition story, but 15 years later, the same image can be repurposed to illustrate the effects of weather change on glaciers in the Alaska Range. It's anyone's guess where this photo will find itself in the future.

Outside of shooting images for the news media, there's no right or wrong with manipulating your photography. Here are a few things I do to avoid overprocessing raw files when using Photoshop, Lightroom and other photo programs.

• The saying "less is more" has a lot of relevance with photo editing.
• Only make changes on a duplicate photo so you always can go back to the original if your creation goes nuclear.
• Don't let the image on the computer monitor be your only guide; if possible, compare your edited version side by side with the original.
• Watch the numbers as you change editing effects. In Photoshop, for example, saturation ranges from—100 to +100. When I edit for saturation, I may add +4, but avoid going beyond +10. Sharpening is kept between 25-50, etc.
• Be clear about your objective: Is the photo to be documentation, or is it a creative art project?

To see more of Bill Hatcher's photography, visit www.billhatcher.com.


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