Project: Digital Photography and ‘Truth’

Exercise: Correction

Using the two images for this exercise in Key Resources, use the correction tools necessary within your processing software to remove the dust motes in one image and polygonal lens flare in the other.

Comment on how justifiable what you did in this experiment was. 

Original Image

Original Image

Dust Motes Removed

Dust Motes Removed

Original Image

Original Image

Flare Removed

Flare Removed

The hardest part of correcting the first image was in deciding was a dust mote and what an inclusion in the glass was.  Luckily none of the glass items had any bass relief or complicated patterns on them, so using the healing tool in Photoshop 5.2 all I had to do was choose the size of the tool and its density.  The by simply surrounding what I considered a dust mote with the tool circle and clicking, the correction was made.

The second image was far more difficult to correct.  The problem here is that there is a substantial amount of detail in the area where the flare has occurred and the image is very small at this point as it’s at the extreme end of the depth-of-field for the image.  Care also had to be taken with the fact that there are door openings and windows in the area with their attendant obvious verticals and horizontals.

Using the clone tool set at a very small diameter and constantly re-sampling to ensure correct colour gradation, it was possible to make a reasonably good job of removing the flare polygons.  However, as cloning is a destructive process the image in that area was no longer as it would have looked had the flare polygons not been there in the first place.  By using Lightroom 4.3 and localised change to that area, I was able to change the exposure level by -0.29 stops to provide a simulated shadow effect which helped to mask the changes.  Overall I think a reasonable result was obtained.


I’ve met photographers who’ve stated to me that they don’t believe in making any changes to the image they’ve made, and whatever they’ve got isn’t altered in any way, and that’s the way it should be for all images.  I’ve also read a thread where a student suggested that for an exercise where the images HAD to be as they came out of the camera, his interpretation was that because he was able to perform some processing alterations himself within the camera, whatever he produced was as the exercise specification asked for!

I don’t believe that either camp is correct.  It’s impossible to make an image that hasn’t been altered in some way, even before it leaves the camera.  In the days of film, the emulsion chosen for the job at hand was because of the properties of that emulsion with its regard to handling the light.  Every film manufacturer had ranges of film emulsions with different light handling properties and there were hundreds of different emulsions available to the photographer for different purposes.  In which case, it stands to reason, that the image had already been altered before it left the camera.  Digital cameras are no different.  Each manufacturer has a different sensor fitted to their models, and each model has a different algorithm for handling the data, RAW or .jpeg, so once again the image is altered before it even leaves the camera.

I think what a lot of photographers are mixing up is aesthetics with ethics.  Their aesthetic preferences, for the most part, want ‘natural’ images, but they consider it unethical, or in someway cheating, to alter what the camera presents as its version of a true rendition of the scene.  What they fail to take into account is that even by their simple choices of ISO, and picture style they’ve already made changes to what’s there, never mind what the camera itself actually does.

Alterations to images have always taken place, from the very first drawings in a cave where the rendition of a wild animal or human is, in some cases, only just recognisable.  It went much further in the 16th-17th century when portraits were deliberately altered to suit the artists’ preference or their patrons.  The famous cases of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves, and Queen Elizabeth I allegedly beheading an artist unfortunate enough to render her image as it really was.  So is it unethical to change images?  That’s a big can of worms and has to be boiled down to, what degree the individual is prepared to change an image, and to what degree will society at large accept changes to images, unless a full-scale debate on the huge subject of ethics in photography is to entered into, and I don’t have the time, space or in-depth knowledge to go there.

With regard to the images I’ve just processed, I don’t think anyone would comment on the removal of dust motes, but on the changes made to lens flare, it depends on how much of a purist the viewer is about what is acceptable.  Regardless of how skilled the software operator, the image was structurally altered.  The nature of the cloning process destroys whatever it covers and only a similarity of what was there can be left.  If that image is the only one made of that scene then I wouldn’t disagree with changing it as it hasn’t fundamentally changed anything important and I think decisions have to be made on a case by case basis, there is no blanket this is right and this is wrong.  On the other hand if there were other images of the scene without lens flare then there’s a different case for not doing it, …………it takes too b****y long!


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