Project: Digital Photography and ‘Truth’ – Addition

The course notes suggest that I take two images of the same scene and recommends a cloudy sky. It just so happens that we are in the middle of a prolonged spell of sunny weather!

So as not to wait I chose this image that I took a few weeks ago. As I shot it in RAW I would be enable to manipulate the exposure in the RAW editor to obtain two images, one exposed for the land, the other for the sky.

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I overexposed by about one stop to get the foreground and the island looking correct:

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and darkened by about ¾ stop for the sky:

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Following the instructions in the course notes I overlaid the two images and used the magic wand to select the sky and deleted it:

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This looks unnatural for two reasons:

1. The colour of the sea is a reflection of the sky, so darkening the sky should result in a darkening of the sea. This is most obvious at the light band of sea at the horizon.

2. There are light patches of sky appearing through the trees where they were not deleted from the top layer.

To correct these I made another selection to delete more from the top layer, including the sea:

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This looks more natural. There are still some small bits of white sky appearing through the trees, confirming the advice given in the notes to select a scene with a well-defined horizon line. The sea looks a lot better though.

The next part of the exercise is a bit more blatant intervention, to add a blue sky from another photograph. I used the last version with the darkened sea and found a nice picture of a blue sky. I placed this on a layer behind the picture I was working on and deleted the sky from that image:

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The sky here looks “too big”. In fact, there is not enough gradient as it recedes to the distance. The sky filled the image so I moved it up so that the bottom (the lightest part) lined up with the horizon and then I applied a gradient mask adjustment layer:

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The island and foreground look a bit dull for the sky so I increased contrast and brightness:

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As mentioned earlier, the sea reflects the colour of the sky so a bluer sky required a bluer sea. The final image has had the sea made more blue using hue and saturation.

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This is quite a radical change. It needed a lot of adjustments to get there and is still not perfect but it is far removed from the dull, muddy original.

Whether this degree of manipulation is acceptable depends on the context and whether the person presenting the image is deliberately trying to mislead his audience. In the case study in the course notes, the photographer (and his client) obviously considered the intervention not only acceptable, but necessary. A likely client for the picture that was the subject of this exercise might be a tour operator. They would want a blue sky to promote the holiday destination so would accept the heavily photoshopped version. Between us, would we be misleading a gullible holiday-maker? If the weather in the final picture is typical of the region and I was just unlucky when I was there, the answer is probably no, but if the weather conditions I encountered were typical, it could be argued that the public is being misled.

It is difficult to draw any hard and fast conclusions, it depends so much on the context, but it is clear that the photographer and anyone using the image has to be careful when photoshopping that the intentions are clear and there is no deliberate attempt to mislead.

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