Monthly Archives January 2010

What Is Photographic Reality?


I’ve just returned from an expedition to Antarctica where the landscapes and wildlife simply blew my mind. Towering snow-covered peaks dropping vertically into tormented, white-capped seas; tens of thousands of penguins crowded onto small islets surrounded by icebergs; and the deepest, richest ultramarine blue you can imagine locked under tons of glacial snow. It was a reality far stronger than anything I have seen before.


The passengers on board had a wide variety of backgrounds, from photographers to artists, naturalists to scientists, doctors to lawyers. On the voyage south, I showed them my photography. The images were taken with a camera, but created in Photoshop. Some passengers loved them. Others did not, concerned that my photographs were not true reflections of reality. Indeed, they asked if they were really ‘photographs’.

Here’s an example of what I showed them

Most readers of this blog will be pretty comfortable with what can be achieved in Photoshop. We think nothing of adding in a new sky or taking out an unwanted lamp post, yet this is probably the exception rather than the rule. Most of my images only had subtle adjustments using curves or hue/saturation, but they were applied in a way that transformed the original capture. The base subject matter was the same, but light and colour were applied to create added drama, atmosphere and impact.

Is this wrong?

It seems that many people who are not photographers are concerned about how easily we can change a camera’s definition of reality. Why this is a concern intrigues me. I mean, photographers have been dropping in better skies and removing unwanted lamp posts for over one hundred years. Frank Hurley is famous for his black and white Antarctica photographs taken in the early 1900s on glass plates, but few know that he was also the master of double exposures and image manipulation far more extensive than the examples of my work shown on board ship.

Frank Hurley created his images in a darkroom, away from prying eyes, and people didn’t know that changes had been made. Few understood the process and most just accepted the images as they were. Today, those same processes when done with Photoshop are being questioned by the masses who now understand how easy it is to manipulate a photograph. To manipulate reality.

In some contexts, it’s important to know this is a straight shot; in an art context whether it is or isn’t doesn’t really come into it.

For a news, documentary or nature photographer, this is an important issue. If we tell people our photographs are true records, then it isn’t right to move things around or change the reality that was recorded because people have an expectation that what they are seeing is real. I could understand the naturalists on board ship worrying that I might exercise digital skulduggery.

But I wasn’t making penguins fly or giving an orca three eyes. All I was doing was recreating what I experienced.

So what is photographic reality? Is the exposure we make in our camera more ‘accurate’ than an image we have worked upon in Photoshop?

The ice is amazing, but the straight capture in flat light struggles to show the texture which can be clearly seen with the naked eye. A little invisible Photoshop helps.

I can remember clearly the aquamarine blues of the icebergs as we cruised around them in our zodiacs, looking for the best angles, yet these same colours were not seen in my raw files using the default settings. My memory of what I saw is different to the electronically captured image recorded by my camera, but by increasing the contrast in my files using Photoshop I was able to better reproduce what I saw. Is this okay? Is it still reality?

Some passengers were doubtful, yet if I changed their cameras to capture a higher contrast JPEG, they felt this would be acceptable because the image came directly from the camera. Does this mean the camera manufacturers are the arbiters of ‘correct reality’?

As photographers, we know the limitations of our cameras. Issues like dynamic range and colour spaces have a huge impact on the camera’s ability to accurately record a scene. We also know that different cameras record tones and colour differently – just compare the high quality captures of the current generation of digital cameras with older cameras and you’ll know what I mean.

And non-photographers are forgetting or don’t know that in the days of film a photo lab carefully adjusted the density and colour balance of their negatives before producing a print.

The deep blues below the surface of the water were wonderful to behold – no colour adjustment needed for this photo, just an increase in contrast to bring out the blues.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and because everyone knows how powerful Photoshop and other editing programs can be, there is a fear that any use of Photoshop in some way affects the reality of the image. The problem is that they don’t really know how much Photoshop manipulation is okay. When do you cross the line between reality and interpretation? Most people can’t answer this question, so they say if the image comes directly out of the camera, then it must be okay.

The mountains in Antarctica are high. Very high, but if you use a wide-angle lens they lose height in the resulting photograph. I find that a little upward stretching in Photoshop can better show exactly how high the mountains appear when you’re standing there, but this would be unacceptable. So what happens if I attach Canon’s 17mm TSE perspective control lens, shift the lens down and point it upwards. Now my mountains are towering over my head and the effect is optical. Is this okay?

South Georgia Island is amazing, but I needed to use the Canon 17mm TSE shift lens to accentuate the height of the peaks.

Of course not! One form of distortion is just as bad as another, yet the very act of taking a photograph distorts reality. Your choice of lens focal length, which direction you point your camera and when you choose to press the shutter button all distort reality because we limit the record to 1/125 of a second.

Photography is not a perfect representation of reality, rather a means of communication or a form of expression.

Today, Photoshop is such an integral part of photography that I can no longer separate the processes. Capture and post-production are two parts of a single process that turns an idea into a photograph. And personally I think post-production is essential because no matter how good cameras become, they can’t create. Someone needs to point the camera and press the shutter, and after capture, that same someone can choose to enhance or modify the result in any way he or she pleases. It is a choice.

I like to think of my post-production technique as being ‘invisible Photoshop’. The trained eye will know the image has been enhanced, but it should not be obvious exactly how or where. It should bear a strong resemblance to reality, strong enough to fool people into believing it is reality.

How much post-production you apply to your images depends on the context in which you wish to show them. For news and nature photography, less Photoshop is allowed, but for art or pictorial photography, why should there be any limits?

Wildlife photographs of these orca are true in all senses, except the colour has been enhanced a little closer to what I remember.

There are always debates in photography and I find it interesting that now it is the non-photographers who are the most conservative. Yet it is far too late to be concerned because photography has never been a true representation of reality anyway!

Peter Eastway is an Australian professional photographer, an AIPP Grand Master of Photography, and the co-publisher of several Australian photography magazines including Better Photography, Better Photoshop Techniques and Better Digital Camera. You can see his portfolio at and more about his Photoshop technique at

Australian photographer, Peter Eastway! We got an email from James, one of our Australian readers, suggesting we give Peter’s work a look.  When I (Brad) did, I was quite impressed and immediately contacted him about doing a guest blog!

Peter is the editor of Better Photography Magazine and is a great teacher and photographer.  Come back tomorrow to see some of his beautiful images from a recent expedition to Antarctica, and hear his intriguing thoughts on post processing landscape images!


> Learn Concert Photography Live at Photoshop World
One of the coolest pre-conference workshops we’ve ever held during the Photoshop World Conference is the Real World Concert Photography workshop, taught by two pro-concert photographers, and kick-butt instructors: Alan Hess and Scott Diussa.

This workshop was a huge hit back in Vegas—-so much so that we’re bringing it back for Orlando (on March 23rd), but it’s limited to just 40 participants (the photo above was taken during  the workshop in Vegas, during the “Live Shoot” portion of the class) where you get to practice shooting with a live band.

For more info, or to sign up, click right here.

> 50 Free Fonts (this is not a scam)
Braddo (my knickname for Brad Moore), turned me on to this site that has links to 50 actually fairly cool fonts. I went there myself and snagged half a dozen or so, and I have to tell you—-there’s some totally great stuff there. Here’s the link.

> My Dallas “Photoshop for Photographers” Seminar will be sold out later today
It actually had sold out last week, but we were able to expand the room so now we can accommodate the nearly 700 photographers who’ll be joining me there on Friday. As of this morning, we have just a handful of seats left, and we’ll be sold out by tonight, so if you’re thinking of going, you can grab one of those remaining seats right here. (If you read this blog, make sure you come up and say “hi.”).

> Have you Entered Adorama’s Ultimate iPhone Photo Contest Yet?
They have so many prizes that if you don’t win something, you’re just not tryin’. Here’s the link with all the details.

> This is just a really cool song
This has nothing to do with Photoshop, and I’m not quite certain how I even came across this song, but it’s really cool. It’s by the band “Porcupine Tree” and the song is called “The Sound of Muzak.” Here’s a link to the song on iTunes, so you can hear a free 30-second preview. Give it a listen and see what you think (by the way—the recording quality is great).

> Apple’s Tablet on Wednesday?
Apple will be announcing something on Wednesday (hopefully, it will be the rumored tablet, or Apple’s stock will drop down to like $3), which is my guest blog day, so I won’t have a post here until Thursday. However, if my head explodes with excitement (which I feel is likely), I’ll be sharing my total freak out over on twitter at

> That’s it for today!
Hey, thanks to everybody who wished me well during my sick-day on Friday. I feel much better now, and I’m back to work (well, back to writing a book, and the occasional stop by the office to tape a show or do a meeting). Hope you guys have a really great Tuesday!


BIG NEWS: Adobe Photoshop is celebrating its 20th anniversary on Thursday, February 18th, and NAPP and Adobe are throwing an amazing party/celebration/Photoshop tip-fest and you are invited!

Here’s the scoop:

When: February 18th, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Where: In San Francisco, at the Palace of the Fine Art theater

Who: This special evening is hosted by “The Photoshop Guys” (We’ll all be there in person—Me, Matt Kloskowski, Dave  Cross, RC Concepcion and Corey Barker, each sharing some amazing Photoshop tips and techniques).

Special Guests: Adobe’s own Russel Preston Brown, Terry White and Julieanne Kost

Ultra Special Guest: Adobe’s VP of rock: Johnny L, who’ll be giving you an exclusive, this-night-only, look at the future of Photoshop

What: A history-making night of amazing Photoshop techniques, at look at where Photoshop’s been (and where it’s going), along with lots of laughs, music, and fun.

Plus Cool Free Stuff: Everybody who attends gets a special exclusive 20th anniversary commemorative t-shirt, and poster, for being a part of the coolest celebration/Photoshop love fest ever!

TICKETS: The tickets are free, but as you might guess, seating is very, very limited. That’s why I reserved 100 tickets just for the readers of my blog, but they go on a first-come, first served basis, so if you want to hang out with the Photoshop Guys, and the gang from Adobe (and snag lots of free swag), for the Photoshop Party of the year, sign up right here, right now (before it’s too late!).

It’s the hottest ticket of the year, and I hope I get to see you there!!!!

Hey gang, Brad here.  I just got a message from Scott asking me to let you all know that he’s taking a sick day from the blog today.  He’s got a cold, along with all the coughy, sniffly, wheezy, blechy stuff that comes with it.  Nothing serious, just enough to need a day off from the blog :)

He did ask me to pass along his thanks to John Keatley for a great guest blog on Wednesday.  He told me that he really enjoyed the heartfelt story that John shared about one of the people who helped him pursue his photography career.  If you missed it for some reason, I highly recommend going back and giving it a read.  As one of the commenters said, it feels like a short read, but it’s not… It’s just an engrossing story! Plus, how intimidating must it have been to photograph Annie Leibovitz?? Again, thanks John for being part of the guest blog series!

Since it’s Friday, I thought I would share some fun links with you all…

  • If you need a good laugh, and especially if you’re a graphic designer, you’ve gotta check out the Clients from Hell blog. Careful though… You’ll spend an hour reading through those before you know it!
    If you’re into concert photography, I’m just getting started trying my hand at it.  I’ve posted some shots from a show I shot last weekend on my Flickr, so take a look and let me know what you think. Thankfully I’ve been getting lots of great pointers and help from my buddies Alan Hess and Drew Gurian so a huge thanks to them :) . I should have a real website up and running soon (thanks to the super talented RC), but Flickr will have to suffice for now.
  • And lastly, the second episode of new season of DTown TV is up! This is our first “tech review gear guide” episode where Scott and Matt (and even NAPP Director Larry Becker) talk about nothing but photography gear. We’ll be doing one of these every other week, so let us know if there’s anything you’d like us to cover!

On a serious note, Wednesday’s guest blog has had me thinking about the people who have helped me pursue my photography career.  Over the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of not only meeting but becoming friends with many well-known people in the photo industry.  There are days I wish I could go back and tell 18 year-old me about all the crazy adventures that lie ahead.  But none of this would even be remotely possible if it weren’t for one person who was an influence early on, and continues to be today.

Jim Veneman was my photo professor at Union University.  But he was and is so much more than that to me, many of my friends, and the students he continues teaching today.  He is teacher, mentor, friend, and advisor.  He cares.  He is passionate not just about photography, but about students’ lives.  When he teaches, he doesn’t just show pretty pictures and talk about equivalent exposure… He teaches you about life, and the difference a photograph can make in your life and other people’s lives.

Jim – Thank you for being the person that you are and caring as much as you do.  The world could use more teachers like you.

If you’d like to meet Jim in person, check out the Southwestern Photojournalism Conference coming up in March :)

Alright, that’s it from me today guys and gals!  Have a great weekend!