It can be a trap of the photographer to think that his or her best pictures were the ones that were hardest to get. – Timothy Allen
I want to spend this week looking at variations in photo manipulation. We are starting today with a very simple low contrast colorization. By the end of the week, however, we will totally transform the images into something completely different. With each one, I will place the original, untouched photo at the end of the post for comparison. This will, hopefully, give one a sense of just how dramatic a simple change can be and how extreme we can manipulate an image when necessary. Half of these variations were possible with film though they were perhaps a bit more difficult. Others, though, are only possible with digital tools and a great deal of patience.
Anytime we embark upon a project like this we get challenges and questions regarding our methods and motives. Let me go ahead and address those now so that we can keep the answers in mind the rest of the week.
Always the first question is why we manipulate images at all. The full answer is a couple of hours long, but the short answer is this: because we want to do more than what the camera can capture. Cameras themselves, even the fanciest modern boxes, are mere tools and as such they have limits. The extent of manipulation is a different issue.
Why we choose a specific form of manipulation to go with a specific photograph generally falls into two categories: to change the emotional tone of the image, or to fit a specific artistic vision. Commercial and editorial images more often require changes in emotional tone to go along with a specific message. A photo may be too bright for a serious message or not quite enough for a lighter concept. Those are usually more simple edits (though not always). Matching a specific artistic vision is where variations tend to get tricky and complicated, especially if the concept didn’t originate with the photographer or person doing the manipulation. Endless possibilities often mean an endless debate over minute details.
Yes, there are enough variations to make anything possible. That does not mean the end result will be believable or appropriate and in matters of parody it is sometimes best to not make the end result too believable. Not everyone has the ability to distinguish real from fake and a narwhal horn too carefully attached to a horse could have some folks out looking for a unicorn.
I look at photo manipulation the same way I look at musical variations on a theme: start with a strong melody or image, even one that’s familiar, and explore. See what can be done, plum the depths of different emotional ranges, and test your own skill. There’s no “higher purpose” in what we’re presenting this week. Let’s indulge in the pleasure of variations.