They’d Fire Me For What I’m Doing!

Your eyes can catch the detail in brighter whites and darker darks simultaneously than your digital camera can.

Some day that will surely change. Not yet.

A photographer working in news, whether a still or video photographer, is limited in what he can do to his photo. The finished product should be a documentary representation of what was in front of the lens. The use of Photoshop and its pretenders is limited.

National Geographic got caught moving the pyramids closer together a few years ago. Obviously a no-no.

Other guidelines aren’t quite as easy because cameras and humans see differently! Your eyes can catch the detail in brighter whites and darker darks simultaneously than your digital camera can.

Some day that will surely change. Not yet.

As a practical matter a properly exposed skyline will often have a blown out sky–whiter than its actual color and devoid of detail. If you take outdoor snapshots you’ve probably experienced the same thing where a sunny day is captured as bright gray.

Darks suffer a similar fate. Stands of trees or the detailed steelwork of the Verazzano-Narrows Bridge are lost in a blob of black.

A newspaper shooter is stuck. I am not! I take advantage of science and readily admit my finished photos often look better than real life and always look better than what came directly from the camera.

The Verazzano-Narrows shot (above) is a perfect example. I shot this bridge a bunch of times as our ship approached. No single image exposed everything properly. On top of that, I was on a moving ship so my perspective was constantly changing. I couldn’t use multiple shots differently exposed because each shot would ‘see’ differently.

I needed everything the camera’s sensors saw and got just that by using RAW files. Instead of compressing my image to a jpg (as most cameras do) my RAW file was saved just as it was sensed on the camera’s chip. The file was much larger, but it retained lots of detail–even if that detail couldn’t always be seen.

I brought the file into Photoshop and began selecting sections. I isolated certain shades of blue. I isolated areas where the luminance (brightness) was low. Now I could manipulate those sections without affecting the rest of the shot.

I brought up the bridge’s levels until the intricacy of the girders could be seen. Then I went back and deepened the sky color making it richer and giving the whole picture more contrast.

None of this would ever be done by a news photographer. It’s ethical poison. For my non-news artsy shots it doesn’t matter… at least it doesn’t matter to me!

It does make a difference in the final result. I think the finished shot is more pleasing and more like what I saw as we sailed under the bridge.

If I tried to pass this off in a newspaper or magazine they’d fire me.

5 thoughts on “They’d Fire Me For What I’m Doing!”

  1. I’m of mixed minds on the limitations usually put on news photographers.
    I guess the bottom line is, are you trying to distort reality to create a false impression? That scares me (e.g.; Breitbart/Sherrod). In your bridge pic, we’re actually getting a MORE ‘realistic’ image – something more akin to what our eyes see. If the technology was already built into the camera, that’d be acceptable, apparently. But because it’s currently a 2-step process, it’s not. Odd.

    The fact of the matter is: every image is a creation of the shooter. If you shot this with a fish-eye lens, it’d be ‘acceptable’ to publish in a newspaper. Yet, that’s not what anyone sees. I guess it’s because the distortion is obvious, everyone knows what’s going on. Still…

    The person with the camera chooses the framing, the exposure, often the lighting, all sorts of things that manipulate the image. A small crowd, shot from far away, looks like a small crowd. Framed tightly it’s an angry demonstration.

    All the more reason that we each have to choose our own ‘trusted sources’ with due diligence.

    Being a media consumer didn’t use to be this much work!

  2. Geoff,

    I agree with Bill F. He hit the nail on the head. Good example with the crop. Happens to almost every news photo. Sometimes not even by the photographer, it could be cropped by the layout person to make it “fit”. By the way, news photographers don’t like it when that happens.

    Changing the contrast or brightness of a photo doesn’t change the content, it just brings it out – nothing added, subtracted, or moved.


  3. What is a picture, really? Is it what your eyes see without the camera? Is it the way the light hits your lens and is captured by your camera on film or electronically? Or does it matter what you are trying to represent (context)? The famous picture of JFK hunched, looking out the window, weight of the world on his shoulders… a real picture. But JFK, according to the photog, was just trying to get a better look out the window!

  4. I Remember Mr. Wizard

    When I was a kid in the 1950’s there was a general science show called “Watch Mr. Wizard” featuring Don Herbert. I watched this show and developed a passion for science which led me to a future career in engineering. I recall one show that featured how to make a meter to measure humidity. Herbert described how to wrap a human hair (my sister’s) around a spool and using a milk carton as a case, attach a paper clip as a pointer, and put numbers on a handmade dial to display the relative humidity. The human hair responds by length changes caused by absorbing moisture. By calibrating this toy with daily weather reports it actually worked.
    Fast forward 60 years and I now own a small instrument company that manufactures pressure gauges and flow meters. The process and design is much like the humidistat toy.
    I have often thought of the interesting shows in this series, and how they must have inspired other kids as well.
    Today, the closest person to inspire an interest in science is Geoff Fox, the weather personality for channel 8 WTNH. He often can be found at Connecticut schools showing young people the science in our lives in an easy to understand presentation format. I have taken great comfort in the fact that while Mr. Wizard is no longer with us; Geoff Fox has stepped up to the task as a weather/science icon. Fox also brings a special sense of humor and understanding of his role as both weatherman and our present science advocate that inspires young people.
    I cannot understand the recent decision at channel 8 to discontinue the contract with Fox, as he will be leaving a huge vacuum in the position.
    Joe Gordon
    General Manager
    Differential Pressure Plus, Inc.

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