Free Markets, Free People

Dear Looker, photography is dishonest

In the comments of yesterday’s photoblogging thread, Looker asked why, when he takes photos of plain old stuff, it looks like plain old stuff. My answer is that he’s probably looking at the actual photograph he took, not the photo it could be.

For instance this is a crappy photograph:


This is better:


Unlike the photo on top which is a an uncorrected RAW export of the full original image to JPG format, the photo on the bottom crops out all the extraneous stuff possible, uses the rule of thirds to put the barred window on the bottom right, steps the exposure down about half a stop, warms the color temperature about 500°, and alters the color balance.

If I really wanted to spend the extra time to make it dramatic—and, now that I’ve done it, I wish I would have—I could’ve done this:


Or this:


This, by the way, is why you shoot in RAW format. You can fiddle with stuff as much as you want, and fiddling around in RAW is non-destructive. You can always recover the image as it was when it came out of the camera, no matter what you do to it. The only drawback is that the RAW image is about 6 times larger than a JPG, which, at 12.1 megapixel, translates to about 20MB per image.

So, I carry 4 32GB SD cards, and shoot as much as I want. Disk space is cheap.

Here are some more examples of dishonesty, when compared to the photos in the previous post. Here are the originals of two more images from the previous photoblogging post:



Dale Franks
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15 Responses to Dear Looker, photography is dishonest

  • This is all well and good but can you dumb it down to my level and just tell me what Instagram filter to run these things through 😉

  • Heh!  I’m FAMOUS!   I got my own article!
    Thanks Dale – yes, I was silly enough to presume that it WAS pretty much the way it came out of the camera.   I occasionally go back to believing in Santa because, well, it feels good to think that the wizard isn’t hiding behind the curtain there.
    Since the wife got the digital, I’ve learned to take many many shots, which invariably means I get, say, 10 I actually like, pretty much random because as in most things, I wing it.
    NOW however, assuming we don’t end up in the crapper where I’m trying to barter the camera for a couple of rutabagas, I’ll be better prepared for screwing around with photos.  Many many many thanks.
    I’ll swap the apparatus over to RAW.  Cheers!

  • If you’ve got a decent camera at all – low end DSLR, or high-end point and shoot – you’ll get better bang for the buck by spending $130 on Adobe Lightroom than you will by upgrading your equipment.

    Unlike most Adobe products, it’s not that hard to use either.

    As Dale says, take lots of pictures, choose the best, and give them a little processing help. If you learned in the film world, that’s a harder adjustment than you might think. I had my DSLR a month before I got in the mode of taking lots and lots of pictures. It’s hard to mentally adjust and realize that something the size of a postage stamp holds the equivalent of 100 rolls of film – and is reusable.

    • Amazing isn’t it.  If 20 years ago I told you that you could carry around 100 plus gigs of data in your pocket you’d probably think I was crazy.

      • What’s really amazing is that I used to pay $4.50 for a 36-exposure roll of film, and another $4.50 to get it developed. Nine bucks for 36 pictures.

        Seems insane.

  • Now I want a Hires Root Beer…

  • So if a picture is worth a thousand words, is that in RAW or jpg? What actually is the word exchange rate between formats? Can I increase the words worth of a pic with Photoshop? Is a black and white picture less verbose than one in color? Does size matter?