Thursday, 28 November 2013

Altering an Image to the Extreme

In this last exercise I attempted to completely remove a key component of an image; namely a person, who was occupying roughly 1/6 to 1/8 of the frame. This, I anticipated would test both my skills in Adobe Photoshop but also my sense of ethics in questioning whether it was acceptable, to both me and my prospective viewer, for me to alter an image so radically.

   I carefully chose a scene featuring objects that I could cut and paste and so duplicate after the image had been taken. Also I was looking for patterns in foreground/background surfaces, with my intention being I could continue the pattern into where the person had been.

Photograph 1 - Before the Removal of the Person
   I finally decided on a setting of a kitchen with the person sitting on a chair with his upper body taking up roughly 1/6 to 1/8 of the frame. The kitchen table had a pattern on its surface where the hexagons tessellated, which I felt offered the opportunity to carry on over where the person's hands had been resting. Similarly, the tiles behind his head in the form of squares could usefully be continued on after I removed him from the shot.

   Lastly, a side note for this shot, was the subtle inclusion of some objects lying around in the foreground. These featured a laptop, a smartphone, a magazine and a newspaper. While these might not have seemed the most remarkable of objects to purposefully include in a scene, they added a bit of interest to the foreground when the person was removed and would play a much more prominent role in a planned upcoming photograph.

   I decided to perform the larger tasks first, which included copying and pasting large elements such as an adjacent chair onto a new layer inside Adobe Photoshop, over where the person had been so there were now two chairs, rather than a chair and a person sitting in a chair. I chose to carry out these tasks first because I thought they would be tougher to get right, while the smaller replacements and tweaks would be simpler.

   Contrary to my assertions, I found the smaller tasks more problematic than the larger, copying and pasting tasks. With the large tasks I simply cut and pasted objects and then repositioned and or resized them (the chair for example) until I felt they looked realistic and suitably hid the layer where the person had been. Then I completed the medium-sized tasks mostly using the clone stamp tool, which I found invaluable in extending patterns like the tessellating hexagons on the table and the tiles in the background.

   It was when I started to try to make smaller amendments like getting colour consistencies right or adjusting small areas of the image that I ran into a bit of trouble. This primarily consisted of not being able to find the right tool inside Adobe Photoshop to rectify these problems and so make the removal appear seamless. Eventually, after much trial and error I found using the 'Healing Brush' tool in either 'Normal', 'Replace' or 'Luminosity' modes usually solved my more minor alterations and if they didn’t using the clone stamp tool was a good alternative.

Photograph 1 - After the Removal of the Person
   Also I found it very useful to zoom in to make critical adjustments and then zoom out again to better observe whether these adjustments looked seamless. The idea of 'seamlessness' was quite key to me in this process of removal. I did question at times the validity of going out of the way to make the removal seem seamless - wasn't I trying to 'lie' to the viewer by using such techniques to produce this seamless removal? In the end, looking at the image with the removal of the person such that I myself was satisfied with this 'lie', I decided that it was indeed too dishonest for my tastes. This was dependent on how I would intend for the image to be seen but in most circumstances I could imagine, it would be infringing on the 'truth' that viewers of photographs generally take for granted when looking at one.

   In conclusion, I’ve found digital processing from the innocuous to the extreme can sneak up on you without you realising. From editing a few pixels to a sixth/eighth of an entire photograph, I’ve learnt seemingly minor changes can combine together to change an image completely. Therefore it is important to be wary of when you as the photographer feel you are bordering on the limits of what you and your prospective viewers find acceptable. I would try to bring what I'd learnt from these thought-provoking exercises into my assignment for 'Reality and intervention'.

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