How real are my pictures? - Enrico Villa Photography
  • Enrico
  • How real are my pictures?

It is arguably the hottest controversy in photography and, if you are at least a little serious at taking pictures, there is no way you can stay out of it.
- Is your photograph real or you "photoshopped" it? Did you retouch it? How does the original file look like? -

These questions come so often that one day you will realise  you could have mastered another form of art, along with photography, had you devoted to it the huge amount of time you spent instead answering these very questions.

Having realised that myself at a very early stage, I decided to address the issue here in my website, so that all I have to do now is provide a link to this page.

I tell my camera to use the so called RAW format (rather than JPEG), so that its sensor will collect a maximum amount of data from the scene I am shooting.
Now comes the shocking truth. What is shown on the LCD screen of your camera (or on the screen of your computer) is just a subset of the data that were gathered by its sensor. Moreover, what subset of data is going to be displayed on the back of your camera is nothing but an arbitrary choice that was made by the camera manufacturer.
Therefore, I feel entitled to overrule such choice in post-production to make my own instead.

The default settings for RAW files are well known to be very neutral and they often produce pretty dull photographs straight out of the camera. In fact, my RAW files are particularly neutral and dull, as I try to stay away from both ends of the light histogram when I shoot. In other words, I try not to get anything so under or overexposed that it will not be possible to recover its details (texture, tones) in post-production.
Remember: there are no details or shades of whatever colour in pure black and pure white!

What is captured by your camera seldom coincides with what your eyes see. Think of long exposures, for instance (with or without using neutral density filters). They make water and clouds appear silky, which is not at all how human eyes see them. The same holds true for a nice bokeh, that pleasing, blurry background from which your subject stands out so nicely. Such effect is achieved by using a fast lens at a wide aperture. Nobody would call it cheating, right? Yet it is definitely not what your eyes saw when you took the picture.
One more example comes from photographers who use colour or polarising filters. They end up with images whose colors and/or glare differ from how human eyes see them.

Why should hardware tricks be considered fair and software tricks unfair? it sounds like a nonsense to me.

It is impossible to draw a line and set a threshold to the amount of post-processing in a way that it would be universally considered fair.
Therefore, I have drawn my own, personal line:

1) I do not add elements to my pictures that were not really there (no pictures in this website are composite. If I ever decide to create one in the future, I will indicate in the description that the image is a composite).
2) I never alter form and shape (but camera lenses do that sometimes!).
3) I never introduce colours that either my eyes could not see while shooting or were not there in the unprocessed raw file. As an exception, I do convert some of my photographs to black & white (yet the colours were there!).
4) When the dynamic range of a scene is very high, I bracket my exposures and blend them in post-production, using techniques such as exposure blending or HDR (High Dynamic Range) software. Human eyes can capture a higher range of tones than cameras can record in a single exposure. Therefore, I use several exposures so that my final image will reflect what my eyes saw when I took the shot.

In conclusion, taking into account that pictures are made by cameras and not by human eyes, I consider my photographs real and I hope you will now feel comfortable enough to look at them as such.


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