Photo case study: Location portrait.

I’ve written before on the subject of Photoshop, the pitfalls, dangers and terrors, but “meh”, nobody listened so I thought I’d show a recent example of where I have used some photo manipulation to benefit the final photo.

You see when I shoot for corporate clients, I prefer to get things pretty much spot-on in the camera, rather than taking any old muzzy smudge and hoping I can sort it all out later on the ‘puter. I have heard tales of “professional” photographers who work this way, and it tends to end in tears and a lot of wasted CEO/staff time, not to mention the wasted marketing budget, because by the time somebody has spotted that the Emperor’s new clothes are in fact a figment of the imagination, the cheeky little monkey with the winning smile and the expensive looking camera has caught the next plane to Rio with the company cheque already safely banked.

I digress; back to Photoshop, or to use the verb form, “photoshopping”. Not to be confused with the act of shopping for photos.

In the case where I was asked to get a website cover shot for Clucas Communications the brief was to get a double portrait of Peter and Sibylle Clucas against a white background so the designer could either leave the subjects against white or undertake a cutout more easily. In the event the final shot is used as a cutout against a white page, which works well.

That would seem easy enough, except that the shooting conditions were tricky (to get enough space we ended up setting up the shot outdoors with portable background and lights), so these were not perfect studio conditions. My one compromise then was that I knew I could get the background white-ish, but it wouldn’t be fully white as if we were in the studio with perfect lighting.

Below are the results, and the sharp-eyed among (amongst? amo amas amat?) you will notice that pretty much all I’ve done is go at the background with the dodge tool to lighten the highlights (only affecting those areas which are already almost white) to achieve a perfect whiteness any soap manufacturer would be proud of.


before and after photoshop examples of corporate portraits

Spot the difference. Can't see it? Oh well...

And despite the fact that most weeks I’ll have to listen to some smart Alec or Alice telling me what I can fix in Photoshop, I still stick to the principle that for my work, Photoshop is great for removing the dust spots that are the curse of the digital SLR and correcting the odd colour cast and generally preparing an image so that it is technically viable for either print or web. I’m not going to make a rainy day sunny, or drop the Taj Mahal into the background to make the view from your office window look more interesting. If that’s what you’re after, you’ll be wanting a different breed of photographer. One that will probably be in Brazil by the time you realise those “interesting” photos are in fact junk.

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  • tom November 3, 2010   Reply →

    I agree completely Tim.

    I was always taught to get it as right as possible in camera to avoid spending ages in a darkroom or in front of a computer afterwards.

    Makes me smile when I see the young guns on twitter boasting that they’re still doing “POST” on the 500 images that they shot a couple of days ago….

    • Glass Eye November 3, 2010   Reply →

      Hi Tom, and thanks for your support!

      Yes, I’m not sure how fundamentally bad one’s photos have to be to require days and days of post production. It can take me a couple of hours on a day’s shoot, and longer if I’ve been unlucky and had an especially vindictive visit from the dust bunny, but what we see on photo sharing sites is more of a train-wreck of rushed photography colliding with the Filters toolbox of Photoshop.

  • Ken November 3, 2010   Reply →

    Tim, as ever I think you observe a fundamental point of photography which seems to be disappearing in the “modern” era.

    Edit in the camera – if I had that said to me once I had it said to me a million times, however I learnt my trade in the days where shots counted as an expense.

    I have had a few discussions on pro forums outlining that photoshop is a final art tool, always was and always will be, photographers just hijacked it along the way for their own needs.

    I also find modern illustrative photography to be quite boring, it all tries so hard to be different that it all ends up looking the same. All a bit dull if you ask me.

    Anyway if no one else, I enjoy your musings

    • Glass Eye November 3, 2010   Reply →

      Ah Ken, my loyal reader 🙂 you’re so right. I still have the same voices in my head telling me to get it right in the camera. It’s getting worrying.

      And I bet those forums love to argue that what happens in photoshop is merely the “realisation of the original vision of intent.” In other words, they took a dull photo and tried to make it interesting by machine-gunning it with Photoshop filters.

      I was watching a programme on Bill Egglestone the other day. Facinating, but very much of his time. He takes pictures of dull things, but in such a way as to make them incredibly arresting. And he only takes one frame, because (in his own words) “if I took more I’d get confused about which is the best frame.” We can all learn from that!

      I’m glad to say, I think others might enjoy my musings too. Even if they disagree.

  • Robert Day November 3, 2010   Reply →

    Agree completely – we are photographers, not digital artists.

    I’ve dabbled in Photoshopping (the Other Half dislikes that word, but we all know what it means), and yes, it can be fun to create something original by manipulating the picture. But life’s too short and spending a day on one image won’t buy the baby a new bonnet.

    I mainly use Photoshop to make the image usable (I have a heavy right hand so a lot of my hand-held pictures need 1.5 – 2.5% rotation to make them square!) or to remove odd things that spoil the picture I want (mainly streetlights sticking up above trees). But if it takes too long, I merely tag the image to go back to it later – whenever “later” is.

    Tom talks about “young guns boasting about having 500 pictures in post”. I bet they’re trying to do post on each and every image in the shoot. The trick is to learn how to select the best images from your shoot and work on those only. Funny how that makes the workflow far slicker…

    • Glass Eye November 4, 2010   Reply →

      Without wishing to be too harsh, my ethos is not to remove solid objects from a scene (street lamps etc) for anything which is, or might be used for, editorial. The trick there is to choose the position that will not give you the problem in the first place. There is of course a whole different debate to be had on that, but it’s a point worth keeping in mind when you’re out shooting.

      I’ve had to work hard on my angles since I noticed I tended to list slightly to starboard. It’s another thing to check before releasing the shutter, but again saves P-shop time.

      It is feasible for me to end up with 500 images from a day’s shoot that I have to perform post production on. This might be edited down from 700+ images, but often where I’m shooting lots of different people in different scenarios it all soon adds up, and if I over-edit the designer will end up asking me if there are other views that I’ve binned. I have to accept that what I might think is the best shot, isn’t necessarily going to fit the designer’s brief, so I leave lots of choice in. The trick is though to make sure the pictures need minimal tweaking and de-spotting so that the workflow is much quicker.

      Back when I was shooting all press work, of course I had to pick just 2-3 images from most assignments so my editing skills are pretty sharp, but I now have to take my clients’ needs into account.

      • Robert Day November 4, 2010   Reply →

        All good points, Tim. It depends on the client or use you’re shooting for – one publication I regularly submit to has a policy of “no digital manipulation”, and I have to observe that, obviously.

        I learnt at my father’s knee about moving six inches right or left to improve the content of a shot, to either include or exclude elements as desired. But sometimes it just isn’t possible, and you have to settle for the best compromise shot.

        Editorial, of course, has different requirements; you start by editing out ugly streetlights and who’s to say that’s not the top of the slippery slope leading to the composed picture of the politician, the courgette and the sheep? More and more people are now realising that the falsehood of “the camera never lies” has never been truer.

        Naturally, I have an unedited version of everything I’ve practised Photoshop on saved, so I can always go back to the original image if required. Thank goodness for terabyte hard drives!

  • Peter Clucas November 7, 2010   Reply →

    And you can now see your excellent and thorough work, Tim, at
    You did have excellent models to work with, I would say, but I agree that a backdrop in the garden was not ideal. All the more pleasing when you see the results!
    Thank you Tim

    • Glass Eye November 8, 2010   Reply →

      Excellent models indeed! Well, one of them anyway 😉 I’ll soon update my piece to reflect the live status of the site.

      All the best with the new site.

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