The Truth Is...
Nikon D850, Sigma 24-70mm, f4.5
Do you edit your photos? This is one of the most common questions I get, and the answer is always yes. Raw images require editing. But, I often wonder if the real question I am being asked is if I manipulate my photos, and in this case the answer is a bit hazier. I say this because it depends on what your definition of image manipulation is.
The Movie Poster
Above is an example of a photo I took of Zin that ended up being the movie poster for Pressure Baby. The photo on the far left is the original shot, the middle image is my edit and the one on the far right is the final movie poster. This image was taken on the front steps of Zin’s home. We had just come back from filming her working in her fields, so she sat in this spot and watched us film b-roll around her house. I asked if I could take some portraits of her, she nodded and smiled. This was our second or third day of filming on this specific trip and Zin is getting really comfortable with us and it comes through in this photo. There is a realness in her expression that I appreciate. Zin is calm as she looks at the camera, her shoes are off after a long day and she’s comfortable enough to gaze right at my lens.
I took the image with a flash situated at a 45-degree angle to Zin’s right side to balance the light (pulling out a flash and a softbox always attracts attention). Comparing my edit to the original, you can see I slightly corrected the angle of the image, cropped the right side in slightly, I toned the image down, added a vignette and adjusted the colour and contrast. I tend to lean towards a yellow tone in my images and that shows through here. From my edit to the movie poster edit, a black gradient was added to the top and the bottom of the image so the text is made more visible, some saturation and sharpness was also added to the image to punch up the colours a bit.
What is the truth of the image?
When I am photographing stories overseas my goal is to capture compelling images that tell a truth. It doesn’t matter if I have 2 hours or 2 days to shoot a story, or 1 hour to get a portrait for a brochure or magazine cover, I want to tell the truth of what I am seeing. I want my images to reflect a moment in time that actually happened, I want a group of images to tell a true story and I want to use my knowledge of my camera and light to do this creatively. I think that is what people expect of this photographic genre, and potentially something that most people assume of all photographs they see. If I do something to an image that misrepresents the truth I am trying to convey and make the viewer think or assume something that is not true about that specific moment – then I think I am shifting towards image manipulation. But, even this is a sliding scale. (Is removing or cropping out distracting element, like a piece of garbage, from an otherwise beautiful image considered manipulation? When taking a photo, is using a flash or a reflector to balance light considered manipulation? Is posing a person in a specific way for a portrait manipulation? Maybe yes, sometimes. Maybe no, sometimes.)
The question I tend to ask myself when editing my images is as follows; what, or where, is the truth of the image I captured and does my edit tell that truth well.
Look for the truth in your photos, it’s always there.