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Thread: A Short Treatise on Image Enhancement vs. Retouching

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    Default A Short Treatise on Image Enhancement vs. Retouching


    Background:
    Image enhancement and retouching used to be something of a black art. Requiring either extensive darkroom experience or the skills of an artist - or both - it was not within the reach of the average person.

    With the advent of computers and complex image processing software, that has all changed.

    This article attempts to explain the difference between enhancement and retouching, why you might want to do either one, how you might do it if you wanted to, and the sorts of enhancements and retouches that are considered acceptable by the community at large. I will also graze the surface of how it is possible for you to get caught doing it.

    Though there is a place for images that have been heavily edited, when presenting images that are to be taken as factual we must walk a fine line with the "adjustments" we make. Everyone knows about Adnan Hajj, the Reuters photographer that edited numerous shots, the most famous of which was to add more smoke to a shot of the Beirut skyline.

    Scientific journals have also had their problems. People have submitted papers containing heavily edited images. People have faked DNA smears, pictures of cell cultures, just about everything you can think of. And we all have a much bigger problem than the Beirut skyline when medical journals are printing papers based on fake science.

    Enhancement vs. Retouching:
    Image enhancement is any process that you might use to improve (or degrade) the appearance of an image. Adjustments such as colour balance, brightness and contrast, gamma and so on can all drastically change the overall feel of an image.

    As well, it should also be considered that all digital cameras (and scanners) are not created equal. Even top-end cameras can have problems with colour balance, exposure and - perhaps most importantly - gamut. (The gamut of a device is the range of colours that it can actually reproduce. Even the finest film* cannot capture all the colours that you or I can see...especially if you're a tetrachromat**.)

    Because of the limitations of our photographic equipment, it is quite often desirable to be able to change the parameters of an image we have captured just to bring it back to something like what our eyes actually see. If you've ever tried to print a photo from your computer and gotten something that looked nothing like what was on the screen, welcome to the world of colour calibration.

    In the case of scientific journals, these changes are all acceptable - as long as they are applied evenly to the entire image presented. Enhancement of only a certain region of the photo, or of a certain range of colours, is not acceptable.



    Retouching is changing the image. It could be as simple as removing a blemish from someone's face (or other body part ), or as complex as putting someone or something into a picture that was not actually there when the picture was taken.

    This sort of stuff is done every day. It's so common in some areas that we pretty much expect it now. For example, the image of beauty that women are expected to hold themselves up to is quite likely more a product of the editing suite than anything else. All the hair, make-up and genes in the world can't do what you can do on your computer.

    Advertising is one thing, and supermarket magazines are another. But when you're expected to put forth a realistic representation of something, retouching is unacceptable.

    Here's one of my fish, Chuck. I bought him about 6 months ago from a crap LFS I won't name, and I've given him a good life. But he's looking a bit rough lately, so I thought he'd be a good subject for this. It's a bit over the top on the tail, but I couldn't resist. Notice the plants are fixed as well:



    So, to try to sum all that up, "enhancement" refers to those processes that do not change what is actually presented in the image. It may change the overall look, but no more. "Retouching" involves the addition or removal of information from an image.



    Yeah, sure, but can I get caught?
    Oh yes. I don't really want to start pointing things out, but there are certain principles upon which digital cameras function that can be brought to bear. One of them is the method used to interpolate most of the pixels your camera actually captures through its colour filter array. This works in a certain pattern that can be mathematically computed in reverse. There's also chromatic abberation, which you can use to determine if things in a photograph have been moved, or weren't originally in that photo at all.

    You can even tell if pictures from two different cameras (or the same camera shooting with different settings) have been combined. The ability to tell what kind of camera was used has also been demonstrated.

    Discussion is invited....


    For full disclosure, it should be known that I work for Adobe Systems. Adobe Systems produces, among its many products, Photoshop*** and After Effects - the two most widely used tools for the manipulation of still and full-motion images.
    (We also have software in development that will make it much easier to spot fakes.)

    Footnotes:
    * In the opinion of myself and many others, the best colour reproduction, widest gamut and finest sharpness in any film currently available to the public is still Kodachrome film from Kodak. It can take forever to get the stuff processed and it's not cheap, but it's still the best. And it still can't do what your eyes can do.

    ** Human sight uses rods and cones in your retinas to pick out shapes and colours. The cones pick out the colours, and normal people have three kinds of cones, one each for red, green and blue. In Tetrachromacy, a mutation in the X chromosome adds an extra cone. In a true tetrachromat, this extra cone is tuned to an orange wavelength - meaning that she can see millions more colours than the average person. I say she because as the condition requires one normal and one mutant X chromosome it is not possible for a man to have the ability. (Men only have one X chromosome.) There are varying degrees of tetrachromacy, as the mutation is not always perfect, but mothers of colourblind sons are - ironically - the most likely to posess this ability. (Because the mutation in the single X chromosome goes to the son and he then can't see red.)

    *** Though I don't use anything other than Photoshop myself, those of you without it might want to look at these online image manipulation applications: http://www.picnik.com/ and http://www.fauxto.com/. There are also a very wide range of programs available from Corel, Microsoft and others - as well as the free GiMP - that can perform most anything an amateur photographer might require.

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    Excellent article! It does deserve a sticky.

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    Wow wish i could do stuff like that! reminds me of that dove add off youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_aDp...elated&search= the only one i really tell is fakish without looking at the above photo would be chuck's the tail looks a bit smudged pretty impressive with the bottom apisto shot.

    I try and fix my photos in photoshop sometimes but unless the resolution is really high i have trouble, like trying to remove reflections. The main tool i use is colour balance as my camera tends to be a little yellow or i darken the photo when its over exposed. Certainly begs the question of what photos are ad aren't photoshoped, ADA is coming up

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    Very good article Funk. Also good link Solomon. It's amazing what can be done now.
    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]

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    Thumbs up Very well done

    Great article there Funkmotor.

    Very well done.
    I especially like that apisto.........

    Seriuosly I think it will help us all understand photo editting a little more.
    And will tie in wonderfully with the new photo comp rules.

    Thanks for taking the time to do it.

    Graeme
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    Great article Funk. Thanks for posting it.
    ... Cheers,
    Dylan.

    [sigpic][/sigpic]

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    Hey Graeme,

    Your fish are looking better all the time, lol

    The last "photo" is better than the fish looks in real life.

    Cheers

    Brett

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    Hey

    Great thread!

    Love the progress pics

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    Quote Originally Posted by SOLOMON View Post
    the only one i really tell is fakish without looking at the above photo would be chuck's the tail looks a bit smudged
    Yeah, I went too far with the tail, but when I first got him I swear the tail wasn't that different from the retouch. The main thing with that shot is my grubby plants and how they look so much better - and that I moved the fish.

    Quote Originally Posted by Graeme View Post
    I especially like that apisto.........
    I knew you would.

    And thanks to everyone for the compliments. If there's anything else you'd like to know...

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    Hi, friends!

    Sounds interesting, but there is a one big BUT in this matter.
    There were similar discussion in other place and there I spoke out my personal point of view.
    Well, first of all I asked a friend of mine for professional opinion.
    He works in advertising company and use Photoshop and much similar software from a very long time.
    He told me that this "magic" (retouching, color enhancements, etc) is possible from '94.
    There was another software before Photoshop – Photo Styler, which was developed from company Aldus.
    But as a Adobe member, Funkmotor must know better than me that story –
    Adobe absorbed Aldus and Photo Styler become Photoshop (Page Maker was also Aldus product).
    Sorry for the little deviation.
    So my point is that retouching, enhancing and all that matter is nothing new under the sky.
    But from DSLR era this software became very popular.
    Most people, except photographers, make big, essential mistake: They buy improper equipment!
    Proper equipment for specific job is essential for nice results!!
    I learned that important lesson from professional Photographers.
    Because of that I'm little disagree whit opinion that there is no good enough equipment to provide good results.
    There is improper one!
    I use to think like most people and I was very disappointed when buy not that cheep Canon 350D
    and try to shoot fishes with "kit" lens and using build in flash. That happened almost two years ago.
    Then I spend much time for searching and consulting with professional photographers,
    and finally I buy special dedicated macro lens - the smallest of Canon macro gang – 50mm f/2.5
    and two external flashes!
    Well, it's not cheep and not madly expensive, but if I want good results I must buy good stuff!
    Most fellows think, "Well, I'll buy a nice 8 MP camera with whatever lens and the good body will compensate bad lens"
    or "...Photoshop will handle with those bad shots"...
    NO WAY!
    Lenses are much more important than the body!
    Nonetheless, no matter how much experienced with Photoshop I am,
    if the picture is bad(blurry, noisy, without focus, no color or soft colors...)
    there is no way, magic or software to fabricate information/pixels that don't exist on that picture.
    It cannot be add focus or replace pixels that are noised!!!
    It is pretty much like, try to remove the fish from some shot and expect to appear the background behind it...!?
    Sorry, I have to say that, but all the examples, demonstrate from Funkmotor above,
    is more to show how the Photoshop is helpless to make a middling picture the Great one…
    because the “colorfully painting” and laborious “make up” only enhance pic’s defects!
    That because, I prefer to make hundreds of shots in many sleepless nights and finally to choose only few of them,
    than to make desperate attempts to heavili software’s editing some of them!
    After having a perfect shot, it’s really pleasure just to polish it nice and quickly with any photo-program about!
    And this is an old truth. Photographers of many famous magazines do that since many years
    and I'm about to understand why they do that. Simply this is the way to have perfect pictures!

    That's my modest opinion. Please, no offence and Cheers!

    Hristo
    Last edited by AQUASAUR; 12-04-07 at 04:25 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by AQUASAUR View Post
    Well, first of all I asked a friend of mine for professional opinion.
    He works in advertising company and use Photoshop and much similar software from a very long time.
    He told me that this "magic" (retouching, color enhancements, etc) is possible from '94.
    Actually, Photoshop was first released in 1987 if my memory serves. Before that, there was a package called "Pixelpaint" from SuperMac. It's gone now, as when Photoshop came out it pretty much killed it.

    When I say "years ago", I mean before computers entirely. Even so, in 1994 you needed a pretty good Macintosh computer, a scanner and other gear to be able to digitally retouch photos. It was not on everyone's desk like it is today.

    Quote Originally Posted by AQUASAUR View Post
    But as a Adobe member, Funkmotor must know better than me that story – Adobe absorbed Aldus and Photo Styler become Photoshop (Page Maker was also Aldus product).
    Photostyler was a completely different product. When Adobe acquired Aldus, Photostyler was dropped. It could be true that ideas and features were used in subsequent releases of Photoshop, but Photoshop isn't the same product and never was.

    Quote Originally Posted by AQUASAUR View Post
    Most people, except photographers, make big, essential mistake: They buy improper equipment! Proper equipment for specific job is essential for nice results!!
    This is absolutely correct. Using only this website as an example, most pictures you see on here are taken with consumer-level point and shoot cameras or (certainly in my case) camera phones. If there's a flash, it's the built-in one. I'm sure most people on here wouldn't know what a slave was.

    Quote Originally Posted by AQUASAUR View Post
    Because of that I'm little disagree whit opinion that there is no good enough equipment to provide good results. There is improper one!
    Years ago (from 1987 to 1990 or thereabouts), I worked in a professional photo lab. No lab in Eastern Canada could produce better work.

    I have witnessed the printing of 4x5" negatives onto A0 and larger paper sizes (yes, you hang the paper on the wall and it takes forever to expose) and it's amazing that even a professional who has been doing that stuff for years might take 2 or 3 tries at it before getting the colour just right.

    And that's when the shot was done with proper lighting on large format film using a conventional camera wielded by a professional with years of experience. All digital cameras are imperfect - they all interpolate. It's in our perception of the result that it either works or falls apart, and they make so many decisions for us it's not funny. The real pros (and likely yourself) shoot and use the RAW format straight form the camera. It gives you much more control if you want it, but more than 95% of people will never need it.

    Pulling a digital photo into any editing app and tweaking the colour balance is so easy that just about everyone does it. And there's nothing wrong with that because our tools are imperfect.

    Quote Originally Posted by AQUASAUR View Post
    and finally I buy special dedicated macro lens - the smallest of Canon macro gang – 50mm f/2.5 and two external flashes!
    And right there you put yourself head and shoulders above everyone else here. And I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but you've probably crossed over from amateur to pro yourself along the way.

    Quote Originally Posted by AQUASAUR View Post
    Sorry, I have to say that, but all the examples, demonstrate from Funkmotor above, is more to show how the Photoshop is helpless to make a middling picture the Great one…because the “colorfully painting” and laborious “make up” only enhance pic’s defects!
    Well, it all depends on how much you squint when you're looking at them.
    I could edit some of your pictures if you like, but I don't think you'd appreciate that...and I don't think they need it. And the guppy one is over the top, as the original post says. The other edits are much more reasonable, and the final results much more plausible.

    The point is to give a taste of what is possible. I am not a professional retoucher, but there are people who spend their entire day making all manner of modifications to pictures. You can see their work in magazines every day.

    Quote Originally Posted by AQUASAUR View Post
    After having a perfect shot, it’s really pleasure just to polish it nice and quickly with any photo-program about! And this is an old truth. Photographers of many famous magazines do that since many years
    and I'm about to understand why they do that. Simply this is the way to have perfect pictures!
    You do produce great shots. I've said it before in other threads and you definitely have a knack for the lighting and shot setup. The colour intensity produced by the flashes is really something, and your skill is to be applauded.

    You also must have amazing patience in most cases to sit there while the fish moves about and you wait for a "pose" to come to you. I'd print some out and hang them up if they were higher res.

    I have to say that most people don't have the equipment, expertise or experience to do any of that. And that includes me and my camera phone.

    Quote Originally Posted by AQUASAUR View Post
    That's my modest opinion. Please, no offence and Cheers!
    None taken.

    I guess the real crux of it all here is the photo competition. I don't think anyone would say that retouching a picture to make it look better is a bad thing, but if people are making contest entries that have been retouched then it's not fair. And how much editing should be allowed and that sort of thing is all a very hot topic...and not just here, but everywhere.

    The prizes offered here have real monetary value - in a hobby where every dollar counts and we often find ourselves short of cash. I'm not a mod and I don't speak for Aquariumlife, but I wouldn't want the contest to turn into an editing battle just because people feel they need that extra edge to win.

    Like the final edits above to Graeme's entry in the latest contest. If you did not have access to the original shot, you would never know what I had done to it. Brett said that it looks better than the fish does in real life, but I did not know that as I have not seen the fish myself.

    Anyway, that's enough from me for now.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Funkmotor View Post

    Like the final edits above to Graeme's entry in the latest contest. If you did not have access to the original shot, you would never know what I had done to it. Brett said that it looks better than the fish does in real life, but I did not know that as I have not seen the fish myself.

    Brett tells lies!!! :-}
    It does look that good in real life!!!!

    I do agree with what Hristo says and its very relevant to this post.
    That must have taken ages for you Hristo, to read and post.

    And watch out because im after a 60 nikkor macro lens and a nikon sb 600 flash unit ( maybe 2)

    Take care
    I will close this sticky in a few days to keep it tidy.
    Graeme
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    I was just pulling Graeme's leg

    His fish look great, it's his photography that needs work

    Just like mine.

    Cheers
    Brett

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    Well to my way of thinking you really need to sit the right kind of camera on a tripod and wait for a friendly fish to come your way and most of the ones i have had a few years come running when i whistle them up or open the fridge door.

    I sent them ( the fish) to rufus because they ate too much and now they will probably get him out of bed with all the splashing when they want a feed.

    If you know what your doing with photoshop it wouldn't take too long to brighten a picture up and so far I just post pictures for display purposes not on a competition basis so no picture i have posted has even gone through a imaging suite i just change the size and photobucket it maybe if i learnt to use everything thats on the camera i could get a fair picture out of it but i spend my money on aquariums not cameras at the moment.

    Keep the good pictures coming aquasaur I am still learning.

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    It seems that a lot of people with only a casual interest are automatically turning to such programs to enhance their photos and, as a result, they are conditioned to give each a little tweak, regardless of whether it needs it or not. It is hard to blame them as those who do not have a background or understanding of photography are encouraged to use automatic correction settings in many image processing software, such as those required to download or view images on digital cameras.

    To me, cropping and making basic changes to correct for camera deficiencies is one thing, but fixing up perceived faults, while seemingly innocent enough, does a disservice to those who wish to use the image as reference. Over saturation and excessive sharpening are prime examples seen in much amateur work. I have to say that the most satisfying photos I have taken are those that require the least post-processing work. Of course this is all purely subjective and everyone has different tastes.

    When it comes to photography (as opposed to imagery), to me there is a very big difference between "this is a photo of the subject as it was" and "this is a photo that has been fixed up". If you are presenting a photo of a fish that you expect people to use for reference, then it should be of the fish as it was, warts and all. However in the context of art (or perhaps even on-line photo competitions?), anything goes and, more often than not, does.

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