Enhanced Reality Exploring the Boundaries of Photo Editing

Paul Hansen/ AP

By Matthias Krug and Stefan Niggemeier

Part 2: 'There Is Much More Competition Today'

The work done by the staff at 10b takes place in an astonishingly tense environment. On the one hand, it is seen as a taboo. There are photographers who are so embarrassed by their relationship with the company that they prefer not to discuss it. On the other hand, some of the world's most famous photographers place their images in the hands of the Rome experts.

James Nachtwey, for example, has been working with 10b for two years. Working with the legendary war photographer is especially time-consuming. Palmisano says that he can spend up to 12 hours on a Nachtwey photo. By the end of the process, he and Nachtwey may have exchanged up to 100 emails, addressing the most painstakingly detailed changes.

Pressure to Make Photos More Dramatic

The award-winning Russian photographer Yuri Kozyrev, who has reported from war zones for important magazines for 25 years, used to send his film directly to clients, like Time. Now the images pass through the hands of the people at 10b, who know what he wants, so that he can exert more influence on the aesthetics of the printed picture. He is no longer willing to submit raw files to his clients. "The photos look totally flat in their original state," says Kozyrev. SPIEGEL, too, has printed photos that were processed by 10b.

Critics see an "Italian look" in the way 10b enhances images, something that is fashionable in the way bell-bottoms once were. On the other hand, the subsequent dramatization of photos is also a reaction to the growing flood of images, especially on the Internet. "There is much more competition among photos today," says Klaus Honnef, a professor of the theory of photography. "They have to outdo each other. This is also achieved with tools like image enhancement."

Palmisano gears his work to the particular style a photographer wants, but also to the preferences of the magazine in question. And if he is familiar with a jury, he says, he can optimize a picture to boost its chances of winning an award.

Of course, this isn't something jurors like to hear, which explains the somewhat fraught relationship between 10b and the World Press Photo Award. But ruling out photos because they seem too perfect isn't helpful either, which explains why part of 10b's repertoire is to "enhance" photos to reduce their quality from an objective standpoint. To do this, the company adds typical image errors and simulates graininess. All you have to do is reproduce the effect that a scratch on the lens would have created in a photo, and purist jurors will praise the photographer for not having gone too far with enhancement, Palmisano says with a chuckle.

Ironically, the magic of Photoshop makes it possible to edit photos to look as if they had not been edited with Photoshop. Palmisano believes that in the future photographers will increasingly emphasize authenticity by using post-processing to make their images look less perfect than if they had been taken with a digital camera. The worse a spectacular photo looks, the more genuine it feels.

When Paul Hansen took his picture in the Gaza Strip, another photographer was nearby. His photo must have been taken in almost the same location and at almost the same time, but it is an ordinary-looking news photo. It lacks the perfect cropping, the magical light and the debate over authenticity, but it also lacks the resonance and sympathy of Hansen's image.

Hansen says that he wants to achieve good things with his work. Perhaps an ordinary news photo wouldn't have been enough for that.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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zozazumi 05/08/2013
1. This is a matter of doing versus overdoing
Since most photographers work digitally now, a lot has been forgotten about how we used to work with film. In the image gallery accompanying this article, I see nothing that couldn't, or wasn't done before digital cameras and digital photo processing became common. The cameras are better and the processing more efficient, but aside from chicanery, which was also common before digital, the tools available in cameras and programs such as Photoshop are digital equivalents of what came before. In fact, the terminology is much the same, i.e., dodge, burn, contrast, enhance, perspective, etc. Just as in the days of film, each camera type and lens takes a picture differently. Some cameras tend to blue, others to red. Image distortion varies with different lenses and cameras. Some lenses are sharper, some softer. In the past, darkroom technicians manually and chemically manipulated photos to enhance them and make corrections. What I see in these photos is the application of these same techniques, but done more quickly and efficiently. Sometimes though, the manipulations are too obvious, too hyper real or surreal. It's knowing when to stop that counts.
scarletpimpernel 06/05/2013
2. Cheating
The photograph is the result of the skill of the photographer, not Photoshop. When you start down the slippery slope there is no stopping the slide into total propaganda. Reading a newspaper, news magazine or any other magazine that depends on photographs for supporting evidence to its accusations will never be trusted. As an attorney, I have seen judge after judge refuse to admit any picture produced in any manner other than by a film photograph. I continuously object to the introduction of such evidence and to support my objection, I use an example I learned long ago from a very skillful attorney. I simply take a picture from the most recent golf Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia and on the scoreboard, I insert my name and leading by at least 4 shots. I have never had a judge admit an electronic photograph because of that. Either you produce the negative or you don't get your picture into evidence. The same is true in the public's mind about news photography. This tampering with the picture leads to getting the picture to say whatever it is that you want it to say. This is a bad idea and the sooner it is stamped out, the better.
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