How Much Enhancement?

August 23, 2013  •  3 Comments

The subject today is enhancement.

I am in Litchfield Beach, S.C. at the moment, not far from a gallery in Pawleys Island called Lens Work. Lens Work sells the photography of a talented group of Low Country artists. It also offers photography instruction. The stock is almost all wildlife and landscape photography; the folks at Lens Work have been taught by experience that the market in a resort area like Litchfield isn't interested in pictures with people in them.

People are my preferred subjects. Nevertheless, good photography is good photography. So I dropped in and arranged for a lesson for myself and our houseguest, Mike Mitchell, from the co-owner of the gallery, Phil Duwel. Phil is a tall, enthusiastic guy from Lexington, S.C. He loves what he does and he loves teaching what he knows to others. Mike and I had a marvelous half day or so. Phil took us down to Georgetown, S.C. as the sun rose to make pictures around the harbor. We met him again late in the day and went to Huntington Beach State Park to photograph the marsh birds as the tide came in.

In between, Phil took the images we'd made in the morning and showed us what he does with his computer. From my shoot, he selected the picture at the top left. It shows a shrimp boat called Stormy Seas, sitting at the dock. When I shot it, I was reacting to the way the morning sun broke through the clouds and bathed the white hull with light. I was also aware of the boat's reflection in the still water of the harbor.

Phil saw the image and worked it over in Photoshop and a program called Nik, which he absolutely loves. It's a plug-in from Google. It quickly deletes noise, enhances colors and does a lot of other stuff to change and "enhance" the original digital file. Phil's enhanced version of my image is at right.

I have no principled objection to enhancement. Like, I think, nearly every other photographer, I do it all the time. Photographers have been doing this since the medium was invented. If you or I were to be given an opportunity to print one of Ansel Adams' negatives from the collection at the University of Arizona, we'd probably come out with only a dim likeness of the images Adams made with the same negative. That's because he dodged and burned and enhanced the way his image came out on paper.

Obviously, manipulation can become dishonest. I don't advocate cropping key individuals out of news photos, obviously. And I am appalled by the way fashion magazines manipulate the images of their models to make them look impossibly thin. 

But Phil's enhancement effort wasn't about distorting the news, and it wasn't about promoting anorexia among the modeling class. He wanted to bring out the best image that could be made from the information my camera recorded. In the case of my shrimp boat picture, Phil first of all worked over the sky and its reflection in the water. He made the blues deeper and the sky much more dramatic. His changes to the other colors in the image are a little  more subtle. When I looked at his version, the green color of the shrimpers' net jumped out at me. It's become perhaps the focal point in the composition, whereas my original idea had been about the way the sun hit the white hull.

I took the original image and did what I would normally do to it. I added some contrast, upped the color saturation a bit, did a little cropping. This version is at the lower left. I'm curious to learn what readers think. Is Phil's version clearly better? If so, I may have to get Nik and learn how to use it. Or do people prefer an image with less manipulation? Is there anyone who thinks the original, untouched image is best?








While I see merit to both your and Phil's image post processing...I did not note the "washed out" lighting of the boat that was mentioned. I tend to equate his work to texture rather than 'artificial', which indicates a falsity of the overall image. The sky does have the clouds as portrayed and thus reflecting the same. I think if one prefers the soft features, yours wins out. If one wants a tonal contrast then Phil would be the choice. But personal preference is the bottom line. The question becomes if both images were put in a commercial/retail setting, which one would the consumer purchase?
All a matter of taste. I analog darkroom days, we were always trying to enhance images with different contrast papers, dodging and burning in..UV and orange filters will enhance clouds as you have done here. Now it's all easier.
I think Phil's looks artificial. I like his sky, but the sky's reflection on the water is overdone. Also, he has lightened the boat enough that it almost looks washed out. I think your adjustment is better. You cropped out the distracting pole on the right. Your sky and its reflection are far more realistic. But all my taste is in my mouth.
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