So to start my second year of blogging about film I thought I’d reach into the cupboard and pull out the first skeleton that came to hand and for that reason this entry should also be called “to Tweak or not to Tweak” as it is about post processing and the bizarre would of ethics that is especially prevalent in film.
To frame this article I should start by talking about a constant theme I see across blogs, sites, flickr etc that concern themselves with the strict rules of post processing.
The theme seems to be that if you are using film – then you should keep the film as close to the original as possible – so you truely show how the image came out of the camera.
Doing anything else is seen by many (of at least the vocal ones) as being “wrong”.
Whilst I like to see an original image as it came from the camera – I always prefer to see a better, cleaner version of the image and am also not so green as not to know that there are many ways to post process a film that are not easily seen.
Let’s look at some of the stages that can really be considered post processing and then I’ll leave it up to you to decide what is and what isn’t acceptable to you.
For this you have to start with developing (even though you could argue that the use of filters on your camera should come first).
Anyone who has developed themselves will know that there are as many chemical combinations, dilution levels, temperature and time choices as there are stop options, fix timings and rinsing protocols that will give you subtle changes to your negatives – and this is true for B/W and Colour. On top of this you can push or pull your film in developing to give different changes to the highlight density of your image before you even talk about what you can do on your scanner.
Scanners these days have massive options when run in Advanced modes that change the lighting and colour levels of your image. If your negatives come out a little underexposed – then you change this on the scanner.
If your negative is covered in dust and hair – then use your can of compressed air to remove it before you scan (or use photoshop or the like to clone it out afterwards) but please don’t think leaving dirt all over your scan shows anything but laziness.
So, is this acceptable? Is this post processing? Well the feeling seems to be that it isn’t – as you do the majority of this in a darkroom and just like taking a picture, this is almost a visceral process.
Now you have a scanned image on your computer (as I am assuming you are going to post it somewhere) and it is only now that you can be seen to be cheating (or post processing).
But why shouldn’t you change the highlights at this point to bring some definition into the sky, or the shadows to bring some much needed definition into the dark areas?
What about playing with the colour levels to make skin look less blotchy or making that washed out Ektar look a little more vibrant?
Here are a couple of versions of the same image – taken on a Kiev 60 MF SLR with Kodak Ektar 100 on a cloudy day from our flat in HK.
Which one is the original? Which one is the best? Isn’t that about personal preferences and not the ethics that get banded around far too liberally?
Does it matter which one is exactly what I saw that day? Isn’t it better to sometimes look at an image that shows what you would have preferred to see rather than the drab view you are looking at?
Seeing a badly post processed image is as bad as seeing a badly taken photograph and before anyone still reading this thinks that I am taking a moral high ground – then the point of this article is that there shouldn’t be a high ground at all.
And finally, as it now appears we are going to be moving flats in HK in the middle of this year due to a 50% increase in rent by our ever loving and reasonable landlord – here are three more of the view we will be leaving.
All taken on Mamiya MSX with the following combinations of lens and film/processesing;
Helios 44-2 2/58 on Kodak Gold 200 C41 at night.
Mamiya/Sekor SX 1.8/55 on Kodak Elite Chrome 100 Crossed at Dusk.
Mamiya/Sekor SX 1.8/55 on Kodak Ultramax 400 C41 at night.