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Monday, 13 April 2009

Comments

"This article includes three images converted to JPEG using Adobe Camera Raw CS3 on Default setting."

Hmmmm....

Not saying he didn't cook the images but that is about the worst possible way to do a conversion.

I'm not sure what I think of this. I agree that the images as presented look unnatural. But I just made a test with the first one, taking the "unprocessed" file through GIMP (no PS at work) and it only took a levels adjustment and some extreme unsharp mask to get very close to the "unacceptable" image. The other images look like they have some dodging done as well. All these things are acceptable, so, are we just talking about a difference of degree here?

A few years ago I had the rare oportunity to see and handle some prints of photos by Josef Koudelka, made by his master printer, Voya Mitrovic. Looking at the same version of a photograph, one a straight print from the negative, and the other a final exhibition print, one would almost have the same feelings--the final version looks overprocessed. Also, it looks beautifully moving, which I guess cannot be said of the Christensen's photos in this contest.

They had asked us not to take pictures when Mitrovic was showing us those prints. Seems like someone who took the same workshop years later didn't respect that, so here is a photo to illustrate this:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/98499665@N00/870179547/sizes/l/in/photostream/

After seeing the entire group, they look okay to me. Gene Smith would have approved.

If the images were toned this way but in black & white would they have asked for the RAW files?

What would happen if he had shot JPG with the camera settings cranked up to 10, would that be acceptable?

After looking at the second image (dinosaur planet) again I do see where the judges are coming from. The super saturation does seem to change the original expression of the image. Although what 'original expression' is does seem to be open to large amounts of interpretation.

I wonder how long till journalistic competitions start providing RAW presets and guidelines over how much they can be adjusted.

Kodachrome
It gives the nice bright colors
It give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day
Oh yeah!

Paul Simon

Love the title, although I kinda feel for the guy.

But I still don't understand why he did what he did with the Haiti shots. And now his India shots look suspicious, too.

I'm pretty sure that 'Back on Vesterbro, Klavs Bo Christensen Sits and Feels Sorry for Himself' is a literally correct translation, but idiomaticly off base.

Probably 'pauses to reflect' on his situation is closer on reading the rest of the article.

BTW, once I used the phrase "you are off base" in a meeting including computer programmers from India and Belarus. The result was an hour long digression into the rules of cricket and something about drinking in the Russian army.

I color corrected the "before" picture with the woman for my own amusement. I'm biased, but I think my result was far more realistic than his and better looking than the original. I'm pretty sure my correction wouldn't have gotten his pictures disqualified. However, I also wonder if a conservative correction of the pictures would have gotten them noticed.

I originally thought it better to leave his pictures in the competition and ignore them. Usually the best punishment for bad work is to ignore it. With the new facts (that he selectively recolored the images), now I understand the judges' anger and his disqualification.

"RAW is not equal to reality" should be "PHOTOGRAPHY is not equal to reality." (and never was)

Some of you would do well to buy the books recommended by this site and to study the process used in making some of the most famous images, photojournalism included and decided whether even selective coloring is over-the-top (it's not, I don't think - he could have removed the woman all together if that's what created an image that had meaning for the photographer, I could care less).

If winning a contest means you have to use Adobe's default RAW settings then those judges are unqualified to even speak about digital photography.

I do agree that the images look a little over saturated. He may like them that way. He may need to re-calibrate his monitor, etc. Had a client that complained about the same thing--one day I had enough and made a print and said here's what I get on my system. Well it was no where near what they had on their monitor--found out they were cranking the contrast on their system to match printing on the worst cheapest off set paper they could use. No one got fired but boy was there a lot of sweating that day.
This type of photography probably would look better in B&W.
It's tough when your interpreted vision is disqualified.
I'm sure things will settle down in another 10 years or so.

"If winning a contest means you have to use Adobe's default RAW settings"

NO ONE EVER SAID or even suggested that raw settings or default conversions are PREFERABLE. They're just presented for comparison purposes. Processing is still needed, interpretation is still valid; all the judges are saying is that Christensen took it too far.

People really need to try to get this. The images still need to be processed. The default conversions are not perfect as they are, and nobody's saying that they are.

Mike

It's not so much about the saturation per say. It's really about the laws of physics and how they apply to light, reflection of light and refraction of light. It's an inherent knowledge of these inalienable facts; both from a practicle and theory point of view, would inform the judges reaction to these images.

While many people have become used to HDR images or images close to HDR, in many respects these images do not closely resemble many photographers sense of reality; and their sensibility in realising the reality in front of them, with their cameras.

In a days shooting there can be as much freaky light as one likes without resorting to over processing. I do feel for this photographer as he made the effort to go to Haiti in the first place, and all of the images are worthwhile, if he hadn't over processed them in the first place.

If only he'd used a flash and stuck the D700 in Vivid, then he'd have had something approaching what he'd shot.

This is such a hornet's nest of subjectivity.

The very idea of looking at original raw files or film to qualify work seems to me seriously misguided. Where, exactly, do you draw the line? A logical extension of this would be to require eye-witness accounts that the photographer did not alter the reality of the picture in any way by moving an object or asking a subject to stand in a certain place or face the camera, or even to "hold still." Or why not disqualify any image where the mere presence of the photographer might have changed the behavior of persons in the scene. This seems to me a more serious issue (if one is to raise such issues) than merely 'cooking' a color.

And I'll raise again the problem of black and white. Nothing could be less real or true to the way life actually appears than to reduce everything to shades of gray. Yet B&W remains a significant vehicle for both photojournalists and artists. Like Juan Buhler (above) I have been thinking about Joseph Koudelka and his proclivity for heavy contrast and deep, brooding shadows. Klavs Bo Christensen's B&W work sits squarely in this camp. Compare that with Roy DeCarava who often shot in bright sunlight but whose prints are soft and almost without contrast. Both styles are interpretations of a subjective world as recorded on B&W film. And if printing style disqualifies a photographer, what are we to do with the life's work of Sabastiao Salgado?

Wilhelm (above) raises a classic example of over-processing in mentioning Gene Smith. He was famous for making black and white prints unnaturally dark and lightening select highlight areas by hand with a solution of potassium ferricyanide. Few would question his place in the history of photojournalism.

It is this very subjectivity that makes one photographer's work stand apart from any other's. Even setting aside all of the technical parameters of image making, there is no greater manipulation than simply choosing where precisely to stand in relation to the subject being photographed when releasing the shutter on a camera.

It seems to me the judges' task (in this instance) is to take each image at face value, determine if it sufficiently represents the knowable and significant facts of the situation, question its intent and the photographer's success in reaching his/her goal, and finally - evaluate the level at which the image transcends mere illustration.

A comment by the judges in the article leave me wondering how knowledgeable they are in the use of ACR. One is saying that the photog:
"He deliberately selected a chair and made it yellow, and so he selects the wall and makes it blue," says Peter Dejong. "For me it is unacceptable."
In a quick test of the unadjusted image I got that exact same affect with just global adjustments. I agree the conversions are heavy handed and they may exceed the requirement of the contest but I really don't see any ethical PJ breech here. Just my two centavos worth on the story.

Dear Folks,

I think the folks who are (correctly) pointing out that the unmassaged photos are much less interesting than the massaged ones are missing an important consideration:

All news photos aren't interesting, artistically (I'm going to type 'news' instead of 'photojournlistic' because I'm lazy: translate in your heads). If they were, newspapers and magazines and news websites would be LOT more interesting to look at. And the results of news photo competitions would be a lot less impressive, relative to your daily paper.

So, here's the thing-- the idea of a contest like this is to show off the very best (art-wise) of the news photos. Not the best photo you can make-- the best photo that's still a good news photo.

If you have a photo which doesn't look great unless you push it outside the bounds of acceptable news photography, then it's not a good entry for the show! It's not a bit more complicated than that. It does not mean you have an argument for massaging the hell out of it; it means you have to find a better entry.

pax / Ctein

A lot has been made about the original RAW files and how they shouldn't be relied upon as a measure of reality. But I think they do, in a way.

Upon seeing the files that Christensen entered in the contest, the judges were suspicious because these pictures did not look like anything they had seen in their natural world. But they had no way of knowing just how much of that strange color and incredible contrast came from nature and how much came from processing. They didn't know what steps the photograph had gone through to get there.

So they asked for the original RAW files and applied some standard processing that everyone is familiar with. Everybody knows how ACR handles color. They know that if something in front of your eyes is bluish green in the daylight, and you take a picture of it, then the default conversion will also give you something bluish green in the photograph. So by using the RAW file as a standard, you actually can get a pretty good idea of what the real world scene actually looked like because it's a known process.

And it doesn't matter whether he used crazy tone mapping in Photomatix or the autofix button in iPhoto. And the judges weren't suggesting that default conversions of RAW files are the only acceptable photographs. They were just using the RAW files to better assess the original scene. So the photos weren't rejected because they didn't look like the RAW files. They were rejected because they "didn't look like earth".

A long time ago, when I was in college, we had a photo professor who delighted in revealing manipulated film photos. Supposedly there was on guy from a Mississippi River paper, I believe in Iowa, who had a reputation for terrific sunrise and sunset shots over the river valley. The prof got suspicious, and ordered a glossy print of one of the guy's photos (a service many newspapers then provided, at a price.) Seems the rising sun had a serrated edge, much like a dime's...

In the days of film, it was possible to cheat, with burning, dodging, posing, reshooting, etc. There were no hard rules of about what was cheating and wasn't, but everybody in the photo culture had a good idea of where the lines were. Sometimes people cheated and got caught, which usually ended their newspaper careers. Therefore, photographers tended to be a wee bit conservative, or at least consulted with editors before pushing things too far. That's really all it takes...because it's impossible to draw up a set of rules that covers everything.

The basic rule is, "Do not misrepresent." That leaves room for adjustments, but not manipulations in the negative sense.

This rules covered situations that were quite ambiguous -- and sometimes you'd see photos in the newspaper that seemed to demonstrate contradictory positions, but didn't -- but because the photo understanding was very sophisticated, there wasn't all that much argument about it.

JC

Forget the photographs. What latitude would people give a writer with describing these scenes? If the writer was given "artistic" license? What if the writer was a journalist writing an article for a news wire?

Would the journalist have the leeway to describe things as they saw fit? Can the journalist alter the events/scenes he/she witnesses because it fits the flow of their story better?

Writers have been dealing with this issue since long before computers and image editing software. How do they deal with varied interpretations of a set of events/scenes? Why can't a similar solution be placed on photojournalism?

To me, it really feels like this issue is an argument between those who want to preserve the perception of photojournalism as "the truth" versus those who never really bought into this view.

Seems to me photojournalism has two sins:
1.putting in things that were'nt there
2. taking out things that were there.
The rest is technique.

Is that contest about photojournalism or technique?

Eolake I think "Tilbage på Vesterbro sidder Klavs Bo Christensen og aergrer sig" means "oh shit"

bd

It's kind of like seasoning food, isn't it? It's got to be done, and different people have different tastes, but most people can tell when it's been overdone. When all you can taste is the seasoning (or all you can see is the processing), someone's gone too far.

I can understand if the judges decided not to select any of Christensen's photos for awards.

What I don't understand is, why were they disqualified? It seems to me that his editing was to emphasize the squalor of Haiti. I can look at the raw images (especially of the woman, and of the chair/sunset) after looking at his images and still recognize the squalor, although there's no doubt his images really bring out the clutter and chaos, the massive amount of trash strewn liberally throughout the scenes. Having seen the post-processed images, my eye knows what to look for... because a lot of this is not as noticeable in the raw/JPEG images.

Perhaps the more important question is, would the squalor be as noticeable in real life? I think it would be; there are the smells, the details, the things that being there gets you. I see Christensen's post-processing as an attempt to bring the impressions of being there to the viewer.

If I had been the photographer/submitter, I would have toned down my post-processing to match my aesthetic tastes. However, as a judge, I would have let his images stay in... and voted against most of them. I would have voted for the woman photo, though.

"The basic rule is, 'Do not misrepresent.' That leaves room for adjustments, but not manipulations in the negative sense."

Exactly. It's very simple, really. It's like a statement. A statement can be biased, personal, misinformed, ill phrased--or wise, objective, eloquent. In all cases we bring a whole welter of faculties to bear on evaluating a statement's basic believability...who's saying it, what we've heard from that person before, what the person's qualifications are, what we know of the same subject, on and on. And naturally there's no ultimate test--no absolute standard we can use to exactly peg the statement's truth-value on a numeric scale. But that doesn't mean we give up trying to figure out if statements are believable. Quite the contrary...it makes it *more* important to bring subtler or more intuitive methods of judgement to bear. Ultimately we're trying to figure out: "does this statement tell me anything true about the world? What can I get out of it that will help me understand? What can I get out of it that I can depend on to be reliable?"

An evolutionary psychologist once said that all language grew out of the need for one human to say to another, "Don't eat that! Zorg died when he ate one of those." We often *need* to know if statements have reliable connections to the real world. Not always, but enough so that we've both evolved to, and also learned throughout our lives to, be constantly evaluating, weighing, judging, making up our minds as to what degree statements are reliable. It's something we do constantly. We can *never* be absolutely certain. (The old fact-checker's motto, if I remember correctly, was "Verify everything. If your mother tells you she loves you, verify it.")

All the judges are saying here is, "look, we think maybe you've gotten into the habit of shading the truth a bit too much." Can they quantify it? No. Can they provide an absolute standard? No. Can they even *prove* that the scene absolutely didn't look that way? Well, not really, no--not even that. But that doesn't mean they're wrong. They're still able to say, "look, all things considered, we don't quite believe your pictures."

And they're quite right to say so, in my opinion.

Mike

Good to read it in English. I'm still of the opinion that the pictures are fine and that we need to sort out what fruits we put in the judging bowl.

The last picture could have been taken with film and some well-placed light sources. Nobody would have complained. Or, you can use no external lights and a digital camera. That's the beauty of digital, and it's strength in this case. Of course the original RAW file doesn't look like the end result...that's the whole point!

Hello,

I am amused and shocked, to see so many people judging a photographer whom they do not know. I will not be a judge to Klavs's work here. I will simply come in this forum as a friend. I was there, with him, as he photographed Les Gonaives last october. I had been there a few days before, and was shooting with Médecins Sans Frontières, and as soon as he arrived,we started photographing the situation together. Klavs is a very professional photographer, and honestly, a very sensitive one too. He cared for the people, as much as anyone who was there to witness the reality of things.

I do not know the history of the contest, but the idea behind rejecting the work of a photographer because he processed his images too much, letting people think he might not have really cared about the situation or that he would have wanted to manipulate the viewers'eyes, is to me very strange. If one does not like the photographs, then one does not have to vote for it. But if you openly reject a photographers work because you feel, though you weren't there, that the photographs do not represent the truth, or reality, then you discredit him as a photographer.

Klavs is to me, a very passionnate photographer who has his own personnal view on "processing" his images. Because mainly, he knows what people should be seeing in the photographs. He was there and what you see in his images is what struck him as important. You cannot "work" an image and give it a certain feeling if you were not there to witness and compose and talk with the people.

Again, I believe the reality check behind this story is not wether we like the photographs or not personnally, but wether we find it normal for judges to reject a work because they do not feel it represents the moment, the decisive moment. And that, to me, is quite subjective.

With respect to Klavs, who thaught me a lot during those days in Haiti, I cannot agree with such a way.


JBG

A lot of eloquent analysis, but at the end of the day, this photographer fell down the slippery slope of taste/ambition. His taste was inferior to his ambition. A little more of one and less of the other and there would have been no discussion.

Ctien brings up an interesting distinction which he fudges, between news and photojournalism. With newspapers going the way of the dodo, we will probably see more photojournalism and less news photography. Better or worse I am not sure.

Hello, JBG

[...] wether we find it normal for judges to reject a work because they do not feel it represents the moment, the decisive moment. And that, to me, is quite subjective.

No, not as subjective as it may seem.

There's an obvious parallel. In writing, a journalist should use as neutral words as possible. Bringing an emotion-laden vocabulary into an article skews it. It's not straight reporting anymore.

And yet, we can see emotion-laden articles everywhere. We can like them or not. We can agree with the emotions or not. Whatever the case, I repeat, it's not straight reporting anymore. It's editorialising.

I believe that's what happened with the contest. The judges wanted straight reporting and they got editorialising.

Artistic vision and "what people should see in photographs" doesn't enter into journalism, either written or photo. Journalists are not artists and are not free to interprete what they see.

In comparison, I offer this

www.newpaltz.edu/museum/exhibitions/danielmorel.pdf

The same matter and a quite different way of looking at it. A way that's much more neutral on the part of photographer and still shows the squalor and tragedy of Haiti. Even in the low-res images in the PDF.

Subjectivity is part of the equation, and there is no way around it. It is impossible to produce a photo without some choices having been made, and it is up to the judges to apply their own subjective criteria to what is best and what even qualifies to be judged.

I use a Nikon and know that the raw files are usually far from perceived reality. They are typically flat and often washed out compared to the way we see reality, or how we are used to reality being represented in print. For me they are the digital equivalent of a negative.

But, I do think that Christensen has taken the processing too far and overworked his photos. Some, or all of them, might have been stronger in the end with less intervention, as more credible presentations of the reality he witnessed. I agree with John Camp, 'The basic rule is, "Do not misrepresent." That leaves room for adjustments...'.

There is a place for looking at creative images, where aesthetics and emotional content are the main criteria. There is also a place, and need, for fairly interpreted representations of reality that tell us about the world in a reliable way.

Apparently, there is more than one way to achieve success with a contest entry.

I wonder if the wining photograph will receive the same level of notoriety.

...and I'm not suggesting that Mr. Bo Christensen entered the contest with this result in mind.

Cheers! Jay

Dear John Sartin,

I caught the same thing you did; that the judges had mistaken hypersaturation for colorization. That makes a telling point. That it looks like hand-coloring (which it does) says it's been pushed way too far. Further, when I was looking at the shantytown photo, I didn't realize that the clothing in the foreground was muddy-brown/faded; I thought it was fairly bright red. And it looked to me like the shanty in the rear had been painted blue (or at least assembled out of sheets that had been painted blue).

That's important stuff, if you're trying to portray the human condition and state of mind of living in squalor. There's a big difference between having the energy and wherewithall to maintain nice-looking (using that phrase VERY loosely) clothes or home and not.

Doesn't matter if the photographer got to it by an inappropriate use of a global adjustment, or colorized it by hand-- it still presented materially false information. Intent doesn't really matter, unless you're accusing someone of fraud. Misrepresentation, as JC said, does.

And, at the other end of the saturation scale... No, Joe, B&W doesn't matter in this discussion, because no one thinks the world is actually B&W. It is immediately recognized by our brains as an abstraction. Sure, there's a whole dimension of information absent, but it doesn't inherently misrepresent; our brains do not normally confuse absence of that evidence with evidence of absence. Though it's easy to think of scenes and situations where one would-- B&W can certainly be used to misrepresent. But it is not innately deceptive, because we don't think it's real to begin with.

pax / Ctein
==========================================
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com
==========================================

It may be worth a thought that the winning pictures in the contest are in black & white.

Maybe the photographer thought that the represented the situation better in b/w - just as Klavs thought that he represented the situation better by making his shots a more contrast and saturated than the RAW file in ACR default?

And the judges really show no understanding of how colors work. Peter de Jongs remarks hinting that Klavs masked the chair and chenged it and the concrete is at best ignorant.

"Photos submitted to Picture of The Year must be a truthful representation of whatever happened in front of the camera during exposure."

They lost me right there.

Good photos, like good fiction, may convey truth but are not the truth, themselves. Sometimes colorful language conveys more truth. Sometimes a levels adjustment layer does the trick. In either case the representation is still fiction.

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