An 8-Bit Fantasy Come True


As kids in the eighties and nineties we dreamed of being zapped into the worlds our favourite 8-bit creations. Now, thanks to Aled Lewis, we get a glimpse of what our world would look like if the pixelated heroes and villains of classic video games were able to roam in reality.

The pixel-art images were featured on Lewis’ Behance page with the following statement:

“A mash-up of video game characters and photographic scenes. As a kid I would become completely immersed in there crude pixel environments and they would seem very real! I thought it would be fun to try to express how gamers see these worlds. I spent many hours gaming with my siblings and friends when I was growing up and this aesthetic has really come to represent that time.”

What video game character do you want to see come to life?

Video Game

(via Visual News)

Has The Retouching Arms Race Gone Too Far?

retouching example
In this photo I reduced the wrinkles around the eyes, whitened the teeth and smoothed out her skin - Too much?

Has the retouching arms race gone too far? That’s a question a group of scientists are asking and they’ve developed a new metric for rating photos on a scale of 1 to 5, depending on how much retouching the photograph has received.

It’s not enough anymore to have fantastic cameras, a portrait lens that could inspire glass lust, and a high end lighting setup. Today we need even more.

Photoshop plugins like Portraiture and stand alone products like Portrait Professional now make what were once time-consuming alterations to portraits little more than point and click.

Health organizations are increasingly concerned that the photography profession is pushing an unrealistic standard. We could argue at length whether the main driver is the photographer’s drive for perfection or client demands, but I think we have to own up to at least a contributory role.

It all started innocently enough, just using the clone tool to mask the zit here, the small blemish there, and maybe fill in that chipped tooth just a tad. Later that grew into smoothing out the skin tones. Plugins popped up to make it all as easy a few clicks of the mouse. It wasn’t long before we were making the eyes bigger, making the eye color brighter, slimming the jaw line, making the neck longer. We could take inches off a waist or pounds off of hips and customers loved us for it. It was all very gradual and we were praised by clients and peers every step of the way.

Now the question is have we become guilty of creating a Frankenstein’s monster of perfection unattainable by mere mortals?

If you’ve ever worked with real, paid, high-end models, you already know there isn’t a lot of Photoshop required. You’re dealing with the top 1 to 2 percent of people in the entire population; you’re playing in the shallow end of the gene pool. They make their living looking good and with a good makeup artist they are the real deal.

But with software to the rescue we can gain near perfect regardless of the physical form we start with. We don’t need a top model anymore, we can pull any waif off the street, bad skin, bad teeth, bad hair, no makeup and make them look like a supermodel.

So now Professor Hany Farid and Eric Kee, computer scientists at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, are set to rat us out. About to publish a set of tools that analyze how much retouching has gone into a photo. Soon the world will know if her eyes are really that color of if they were punched up post. If her skin really that smooth or if it’s an adjustment layer.

So, what do you think? Do we deserve to be outed? Has the retouching arms race gone too far without a discussion about whether we’re setting unrealistic standards?

I’ve seen portraits worked so much in post they look fake, like a mannequin.  Somewhere in between there has to be a happy medium.

When Does Photo Manipulation Go Too Far?

image manipulation
These retouches are considered minor by today's standards

It all started innocently enough; editing out a pimple here, a blemish there, maybe a chipped tooth. It was easy, it made the client feel better, and it was, for the most part, harmless.

Fast forward to today and digital manipulation has gotten totally out of hand. It’s not just blemishes and pimples anymore. Today we shave years off a face and pounds off a body, lengthen necks and make eyes bigger, lips pouty, and change hair color on a whim. Clickity, clickity done.

Color and lighting are now skills that can be mastered in post. With Photoshop plugins like Color Efex Pro 4 you can change the color scheme, lighting and almost anything else you desire.

All that taken together is bad enough, now comes along a product like LayerCake Elements and now the manipulations to the subject are just the beginning. Now you can add trees, grass and flowers. Don’t like the sky? How about nice sunset sky instead? Add a few clouds for dramatic effect. Put the moon over there, add a few stars because we have to pay attention to details. Need a horse? No problem, drag and drop, resize to fit the scene. Done and done.

Time, date, and place are now meaningless. It reminds me of the sunset scene in the John Wayne movie Green Berets (1968), supposedly set in Vietnam but featuring the sun setting behind the ocean. Those with a 5th grade understanding of geography know that Vietnam doesn’t have a westward facing ocean view. But that didn’t stop the filmmakers and it doesn’t stop the photographer with LayerCake. You can have a sunset anywhere.

So where does all this stop? Or does it? It’s easy to smirk and wonder if grandpa is having trouble adjusting to the new digital reality but keep in mind I was digitally manipulating images when most of you still had training wheels on your bike. At some point do we in the photography community have to say enough and start asserting ourselves in favor of reality? How will we know when we’ve gone too far?

In some fields that question has already been answered. Like photojournalism, where retouching, even adding a little smoke is a non-starter. You’ll not only get fired, you’ll be vilified and humiliated as a value added bonus. Your career will be over.

But what about the rest of us? Do we owe reality a nod, or is reality merely a canvas for us to paint our vision? Are master photo manipulators actual photographers, or something less?

Where it all ends is with H&M’s new lingerie catalog where the faces of the models are real, but the bodies are computer generated.  What do you think is “too far” in digital manipulation?

HDR Made Easy

HDR photo example
High Dynamic Range photography is made easier with helpful software - Photo by Abphoto

HDR, or High Dynamic Range, photography is a technique for combining multiple exposures of the same scene into a single photo that has a higher dynamic color range than your camera would be capable of producing on its own.To capture the HDR bracket photos, you can either do it manually, or some cameras support a function called AEB, or Automatic Exposure Bracketing.  AEB isn’t really made for HDR photos, so most of the time you’ll be better off bracketing manually.

Merging the layers and doing the tonal mapping can be accomplished in any of the major photo editing programs commonly in use today like GIMP and Photoshop.

Another option is to go the easy way and buy a program specifically tailored for the job.  If you’re going to be doing a lot of HDR work, it’s well worth the money.

One option is a program called Photomatix by HDRSoft.  It comes in two flavors: Photomatix Essentials for $39, aimed at users new to HDR and Photomatix Pro for $99 which has a function called Exposure Fusion which makes natural looking HDR photos a breeze and is available for Mac and Windows users.

Mac users have the option of trying HDRtist.  It’s a fairly simple program in terms of operation.  Just drag your bracketed photos into the program and use the slider to adjust the exposure overlap.  The basic version is free and pro version is $29.95.

Another option is HDR EFEX Pro by Nik Software, but at $159.00 it doesn’t seem to offer enough advantages to justify the price difference with Photomatix Pro.