Are images even real any more? Are they a true depiction of what a camera is capable of? The answer is, in most instances, probably not. The amount of people and companies that now add enhancements to their pictures is at an all time high. The percentage, estimated at around 70%, is staggering. Given the fact that most cameras (and up-to-date Smartphones) these days have a good selection of effects and filters built in, this is completely understandable.
So why not take full advantage of what’s on offer. Add to that all the photo editing software that is available in the form of both downloadable programs or photo editing enabled websites, with a lot of them being free to use online or offline for basic but effective editing, and you can see why I ask the question of – Are images even real any more. Technically, yes they are. But the large majority of them on the Internet have been, in one way or another, manipulated to some degree.
Is this a bad thing?
No, I don’t think it is. On the one hand it does take some of the skill of photography away, because now, even a mediocre image can be edited to look great. But on the other hand it gives people who don’t own high-end DSLRs, or have much shooting experience the opportunity to enhance an image so that it looks close to professional. Or at least much better than it originally was. And if, like most average picture takers, those images are only going to be used somewhere on the Internet, like a website, blog, or on social media, why not make them look amazing with the free tools you have at your disposal. it’s a free for all, and due to this image standards have become much higher.
With someone who has an average point and shoot camera, and is not using any type of enhancements, it makes it much harder for them to compete with someone who has the same camera but is applying different effects and filters to their images. This has made it difficult for the person not taking advantage of this free-for-all enhancement boom to compete.
Is it an unfair advantage for the people who use effects. Well, given the fact that, like mentioned above, with so much of the editing software actually being free to use online, or built into the device the person is taking a picture on, the advantage isn’t unfair at all, because everyone the enhancement tools available to them in some form or another. If they choose not to use them, then its to their own disadvantage. When it comes to adding enhancements to images, it’s now so widespread, that you have to adapt and roll with the times.
The (Mostly) Fake Selfie
Image enhancement goes hand in hand with another boom that has taken the Internet by storm. That is, of course, selfies. With selfies in mind, if we combine picture editing to the degree it is used today, it begs the question.. Are people even real any more? When I say this I really mean, do they look as white teethed and blemish free as they appear to be the image. Couple that with how its just natural for people to want to look at their best and most flawless when on display (posted somewhere online , e.g. on social media), especially in a world where looks / appearance is so important, and I think you know the answer to this question. Let’s be realistic, how many people do you know who you can honestly say are not going to use a blemish free or beauty mode (that removes imperfections) which is present on many cameras, and available to be used for free online, if its quick and easily available for them to do so.
Take Instagram for instance, the selfie capital of the Internet. This website has an excellent built in editor that can add some serious “pop” to an image. It’s quite a transformation. And today I want to show you a quick example of just what using a few very simple enhancements / effects can do to an image. I won’t be using selfie pictures. For the test I will be using some pictures that have already been posted on this website.
Enhancement Picture Examples
I’ll explain. Not long ago I wrote a post called The Samsung WB500 Revisited. This was basically a brief review about the camera because I had been using it for a few months and was fairly impressed with how versatile it was considering the price. For that post, because it was a mini review of the camera, and people want and deserve to see the images that the camera can produce with absolutely zero enhancements added, I left the images in that post completely original.
But now I want to show you a comparison between the original images and the same images that have had just a few of the most simplistic enhancements applied. Also, I should point out that I have quite a big interest in Graffiti / Street Art and Urban Photography, and that these niches are some of the many where you will find a lot of image enhancement taking place. So unless you have some top-end camera equipment, chances are you will need to make use of the effects available to stand any chance of competing. For years I was against using any effects on images, as I seen it as cheating in some way. But that changed last year some time.
I have several websites and blogs that specialise in Graffiti / Urban Photography (it’s just a hobby really), and over the last few months I have experimented by comparing how many likes, retweets and re-shares my images get that are not enhanced in any way, in comparison to how many the same image gets when effects are added. For me this type of work its fairly random (what I can grab from my travels), and most of the time I don’t set out to purposely discover Graffiti locations, so I travel light and only use point and shoot cameras most the time.
So as you can imagine, enhancements are a very welcomed and much needed addition. Can you guess which pictures get the most shares and likes. Hands down, it’s the enhanced images that get so much more engagement on social media. The non-edited pictures get on average a quarter of the shares and likes. But when you consider the engagement of an enhanced image, which was taken with an average point and shoot, to some degree, for photography like Graffiti and Street Art (and many other different types), where its only going to be displayed on a website or shared on social media, do you even need a top-end DSLR for this type of imagery. To be honest, while its always great to have top-end equipment, I don’t think you do.
Anyway, enough about all that. See below for the first example. An unedited picture that was used in a previous post to a sample of what the Samsung WB500 (HZ10W) is capable of.
Below: The edited version. Here is the same image, but this time using just 3 simple enhancements, Contrast, Saturation and Sharpness. Which one do you think looks better and will get more engagement.
And again below. Another original, unedited image below that was used in a previous post.
Edited below using the same three enhancements as the one above. Adjustment of the contrast, saturation and sharpness. The difference in this one is amazing. And just bear in mind that these 3 simple adjustments are the absolute basics of image enhancement. Literally everything, and I mean everything, can be changed / adjusted.
These are just a few quick examples, but they certainly show how easy it is to make a picture taken with a little point and shoot look much better than what the camera is really capable of producing. Of course, under different conditions, such as lighting, etc, results will vary. But that’s why this test / example is even more impressive in terms of what simple editing can do. These pictures were taken under hazy, misty conditions with quite a lot of sun glare, and still the editing can make them show virtually no signs of this and really brings the pictures to life.