Monday, March 28, 2011

The ‘Wow’ Factor

Digital technology has brought revolutionary changes in photography, but the basic concept of this form of expression and art has remained unchanged. This revolution has come so fast and with such a manifestation that as compared to the days of conventional film cameras, today more people have a camera to aim and shoot images. This can be a camera in a cell phone or a compact pocket camera or the DSLR. And to add to it, photoshop or similar software offer a large number of tools to either enhance or alter images.
Globally, there are prescribed categories of images and each has rules whether to make alterations in photoshop or darkroom or not or only do cropping, straightening and sharpening that should look natural and no other alteration. Those who are not aware of such categories or those who do not enter images in exhibitions conducted by prominent photographic organisations, ignore these rules, knowingly or unknowingly. Perhaps they are unaware of these basic categories and rules and are following their own course.

The social networking sites that offer photo uploading facility provide ample opportunities and adequate space to upload images and share them with others. Once these images are uploaded, many enthusiasts wait for comments like “Wow”, “Superb”, “You are great….” and so on. Going by the images uploaded on such sites and a glimpse of comments made would reveal that most of the comments on such images make false appreciation or criticism. There is no doubt that digital technology and social networking sites are making a significant contribution in motivating the people to make images, but at the same time such a class of photo enthusiasts is being produced that has no knowledge of basic principles of photography. Perhaps they contend themselves by feeling that rules are made to be broken, but making that a habit would adversely affect their interest in photography.

This reminds me of a journalist of a local daily who interviewed me about a year ago, had got a bit annoyed with me when I told her that in social networking sites the “Wow” factor seems to be so much overpowering that most people are getting false appreciation. She was of the view that with cameras becoming easily accessible, people are atleast doing photography and one should not think of their skill being good or bad. Interestingly,a few days later I found that piece of our conversation reported separately from the main interview, but in a separate section.

I strongly feel that the photo-enthusiasts should apprise themselves about basics of composition and categories of photographs. Random and meaningless clicking would not lead them anywhere. And they should not be swayed by the “Wow” comments.

I have seen images of travel category altered by so called “professionals” to the extent that they would uproot a tree and replant it at the place of their choice and even shift boats to a different location in a water body and even change colours as per their choice to enhance a travel image. They are, in fact, not only misleading the viewers about a travel destination, but also reflecting their ignorance about basic principles of travel photography. The other day I happened to see a blog of a “professional” photographer who had tried to guide others by inserting images as examples. One of the images made with panning technique was also displayed emphatically, but at no point the subject had sharpness. Similar is the case with images of nature category.

Such instances make one to ponder over the manner in which most of the photo-enthusiasts are being swayed away in the realm of digital technology and either they do not want to understand the basic concepts of photography or they do not have time for that. Or the “wow” factor has overpowered them.

I am reminded that when once I was invited by an educational institute to deliver a talk on photography, they had themselves chosen its topic as “How to appreciate a photograph”. This sounds a very simple question but to me, it’s reply appeared to be lengthy, especially when one has to interact with beginners. With a view to substantiate my reply with images as examples, I prepared a power point presentation of about 50 slides. I tried to educate the students that basically there are two categories of images, the one in which the reality cannot be altered or should not be altered. The other category is of altered reality. These two broad categories have sub categories. Unless we do not know of which category the image is and what are the basic principles, we cannot do justice with the image in appreciating it. An image can also be classified in more than one sub category.

To be precise, alterations are not allowed in images of three categories including photojournalism, travel and nature. This rule is followed all over the world.

The images of photojournalism should have informative content and emotional impact, including human interest, documentary, sports and spot news. In the interest of credibility, PJ images must not misrepresent the truth. No situation should be set up for the purpose of photography and no alteration of the subject matter is allowed, including any techniques that add, combine, relocate, replace or remove any element of the original image. No unnatural sharpening or special effect filters should be applied. Only cropping, resizing, lightening or darkening and restoration of original colour are permitted. However, color images can be converted to monochrome.

Human Interest is defined as an image depicting a person or persons in an interactive, emotional or unusual situation, excluding sports action.

Photo travel images have no geographical limitations. A photo travel image should express the feeling of a time and place and portray a land, its people, or a culture in its natural state. Ultra close-ups, which lose their identity and studio-type model shots do not fall in this category. Techniques that add to, relocate, replace or remove any element of the original image, except by cropping, are not permitted. Techniques that enhance the presentation of the image without changing the photo travel content are permitted. However, all adjustments must appear natural.

Nature photography depicts living, untamed animals and uncultivated plants in a natural habitat, geology and the wide diversity of natural phenomena ranging from insects to icebergs.

Photographs of animals which are domesticated, caged or under any form of restraint, and photographs of cultivated plants are ineligible. Minimal evidence of humans is acceptable for nature subjects.Any manipulation or modification to the original image is limited to minor retouching of blemishes and must not alter the content of the original scene. No techniques that add to, relocate, replace, or remove pictorial elements except by cropping are permitted.

Nature photography is restricted to the use of the photographic process to depict observations from all branches of natural history, except anthropology and archaeology, in such a fashion that a well informed person will be able to identify the subject material and to certify as to its honest presentation. The presence of scientific bands, scientific tags or radio collars on wild animals is permissible. Photographs of artificially produced hybrid plants or animals, mounted specimens, or obviously set arrangements are ineligible, as is any form of manipulation that alters the truth of the photographic statement. Techniques that enhance the presentation of the photograph without changing the nature story or the pictorial content are permitted. However, all adjustments must appear natural. These prescribed rules are followed all over the world and should not be broken.

We also have categories like pictorial photography where reality is altered to enhance the overall impact of an image. One is free to experiment with his skill of ‘photoshopography’. As compared to the dark room, photoshop has made it easy for photo-enthusiasts to make alterations in images and people spend hours sitting with computers and playing with various elements to get desired result. There are others, who still believe that photoshop should be used to the minimum possible.