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"Improving Reality"

The issue of how much to 'play around' with a photo after clicking the shutter button is a long-running issue in modern photography.

The purists would say that the authenticity and 'art' of photography has been irrevocably damaged by the advent of digital technology. The pixel bods don't understand what they're on about.

And those, like myself, who have crossed over from the old methods by happily incorporating the new enjoy the best of both worlds: enhancing the essential techniques for taking a great shot before snapping with some of the marvellous new possibilities available after the event.

If you work hard to make sure the original picture has merit, then the bewildering gamut of special effects or just ways of correcting unfortunate restrictions or mistakes such as poor lighting conditions or camera shake are all perfectly acceptable tools in the modern creative photographer's box of tricks.

Key points
This is the second enigmatic, otherworldly according-squeezing chick I've seen haunting the slopes of Montmartre over the last year. I wonder if there's some sort of training course for enigmatic, otherworldly according-squeezing young ladies who are then deployed at strategic tourist traps scattered around the city to keep the punters (and photo tour guides) happy.
Whatever the truth, I can't help being captivated when I see a scene such as this. However, often there are, unsurprisingly, horrible hoards of gaudily-dressed tourists traipsing past, getting in the way, and generally messing up the shot in one way or another. In addition, this day, the lighting was flat, and the backdrop (the wall) resolutely grey.
So how do you deal with this? It's actually very simple. To solve the problem of the tourists you just stand in the same place, or several places in view of the subject, and snap many many shots.
To deal with the poor lighting conditions, you decide what sort of atmosphere you want to create and play around afterwards in your favourite image processing package!
I decided I wanted to increase the saturation of the colours whilst adding a slight level of haze or dispersedness of lighting to enhance the ethereal quality of the subject.


This wasn't done with a single operation, but a combination of about five different effects, and I honestly can't tell you anything else than play around yourselves with all those amazing creative possibilities and see what happens. There are no rules to originality!

One word of warning, though. As ever, make sure the effects complement the subject and make sure the picture has merit before applying weird special effects indiscriminately.
Perhaps most important of all, be aware of the point of no return, where the effects have taken over the image, and the first thing someone looking at the picture thinks is 'Photoshop'!
In this image I even retraced my steps a bit, reducing certain effects, to make sure the modifications enhanced the original image rather than taking over. But in the end it's for the viewer to be the final judge.
As I mentioned above, I took a lot of shots, and this one had two merits. First of all, there were no tourists in the way. And secondly, the expression on the girl's face particularly pleased me.

In fact, it's not really an expression - her features remain strangely impassive RIGHT WORD?.

But the sideways glance as she plays is marvellous. She's looking out of the photo, which allows us to imagine either prosaically that someone has just attracted her attention, or much more poetically that she is elsewhere in her mind, perhaps carried away by the music she is playing so lyrically.


The picture itself is split perfectly down the middle by the change in shade of the grey wall, the girl occupying one side and her case and the parasol the other. The diagonal of the parasol creeping into the other half of the picture links the two sides and offers the girl her own internal frame.

In fact, the girl is entirely alone, completely surrounded by the grey which contrasts well with the saturated unusual colours of her according and the warm tones of her skin.

This isolation adds a certain poignancy to the image, linked to her enigmatic expression and elsewhere gaze. Her only friends seem to be her travelling case containing her wares and her colourful parasol, and it makes you wonder who she really is and what her life is like as a street singer in the winding alleys of Montmartre.

And I've only just noticed myself the beautifully pleasing symmetry of the two near vertical lines leaning out just slightly on each side of the picture: the joint in the wall on the left and the parasol support on the right. I honestly wasn't conscious of them until finishing this section but I guess subconsciously I must have cropped the photo thus and I've just given myself a pat on the back for doing so!

Photo Ideas
  • In your favourite tourist area look for street musicians and other performers such as mime artists or jugglers. Take loads of shots from different angles and watch the background.
  • Wait for significant moments such as when a juggler is looking up to catch a high-thrown ball with a concentrated expression and open mouth, or the reactions of performer and observer as a child drops a coin into a 'living statue's' hat
  • Try to 'enhance reality' in some of your shots which at first seem rather disappointing or 'flat'. As long as the composition and subject are good, you can perform wonders these days with a mid-priced image processing program
Then comment on this lesson in the Photo Blog with a link to your best result - we all want to see them!

  • atmosphere - your choice of post-processing should always complement the original subject. Make sure the picture is worthy of treatment in the first place and above all, don't indulge in a blatant sales demonstration of a given special effect by slamming all the options up to maximum - this will almost always be to the detriment of the original image, and in particular the effect it has on your audience
  • expression - it's vital. What more can I say? Take 200 shots if necessary, but if you don't have an expression which says something about the person or the situation then you ain't got nothin'!
  • composition - the compositional elements will vary with every shot, and there are no absolute rules. Be aware of what you have to work with as you study the pictures afterwards, and develop your judgement to see which picture has most successfully combined various elements which could be used, especially with intelligent cropping, to make your image stronger

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