digital imaging

shannon hughes

Imagine a world where everyone wears designer clothing and pearly white smiles. It’s a world where Brussels sprouts and liver look so tasty that every five-year-old asks for seconds. In this vibrant utopia, lush rainforests block the sky, closets are beautifully organized, and adorable, stain-free children never, ever cry.

Writers can tell you about this imaginary world. But photographers are the only people who can actually take you there.

The photograph is what takes a magazine reader straight to the streets of Paris, the English moors, and the dressing rooms of the rich and famous. Good photography, from cover images to full-page spreads, draws readers into their articles.

And developments in digital photography are making it easier than ever to create digitally manipulated gateways to beautiful worlds. In the 15 years since Photoshop 1.0 made its appearance in the art world, the art of taking pictures has been transformed.

David James Entwhistle, a portrait photographer in Waterloo, Ont. is from the old school of photography. He learned the trade decades ago in England in the days of black and white, when photographers canvassed the streets and offered portrait specials to interested families. Customers usually ordered a set of three-by-five inch “postcard” images.

When Entwhistle and his fellow photographers developed their pictures, they would blow one up to eight-by-ten inches, cover it in linseed oil and, using oil paints, carefully colour in the image, he recalls.

“Part of our job involved taking note at the time of the shoot of the colour of the eyes, the colour of the hair,” Entwhistle says. “It was our job, then, to sell the eight-by-ten.”

Later, colour photography came along, and images only needed slight retouching with airbrushes, crayons, and oil pencils. But the chemicals used in these processes ate away at the dyes in the original photographs, and airbrushes have no “undo” function. Errors would have to go to press.

Today, mistakes can be erased with a click of a button, and the availability and ease of digital imaging has taken photography to new heights.

Traute Siebert began modeling more than 30 years ago. As the owner of the Toronto-based Eleanor Fulcher International modeling agency, she says digital imaging offers advantages not only to photographers, but to the models they shoot.

“The makeup – there was more of it, and in more places. And pins, pins everywhere.”
“They’re still there,” says Siebert, “but there isn’t as much emphasis on those things.”

This is because tan lines, flyaway hairs, and last-minute blemishes can be shot now, and covered up later in the comfort of the computer lab.

Makeup is still used in photo shoots, but the days of painting over every available body part are gone.

Softward such as Adobe Photoshop and Corel’s Painter have allowed photographers to correct those flyaways and tan lines on their own. These programs have also put the art back in photography, much to the advantage of photographers and magazines.

It has made digital images – those unrealistic but convincing depictions of lightning-charged marathon runners and winged women perched on flower petals – commonplace, because they’re now so easy to create.

However, the onus is back on the photographer to produce great photos, which wasn’t always the case in the pre-digital world.

“We got lazy,” Entwhistle says of the era when photographers needed only to shoot the photos and send them to a lab for development. When corrections were necessary, the lab would even take care of them, delivering back the best possible image.

“Digital photography . . . has made us into better photographers,” he says.

It’s not just the enhancements to eye colour and complexions that earn Photoshop its credit. In the past, photographers would have to carry filters around in their camera bags. There are hundreds of filters in Photoshop.

“You’ve got a whole range of percentage-wise softness you can apply to the image you want to create,” Entwhistle says, which is excellent because “some people need more help than others.”

Not only does the digital world create the possibility of more beautiful images, but in the time-constrained world of publications it helps avoid re-shoots.

Entwhistle saves all his images to three backups as raw files. He says this file type “almost allows you the privilege, if you’ve made a mistake, to go back to the camera, change the settings, and re-shoot the same image.”

At Entwhistle’s place of business, David James portrait studios, there are Macintosh and PC computers. He prefers using both platforms because it’s “easier to keep up to date.”

And forget the notion that digital imaging is a Mac-only pastime. “The PC,” Entwhistle says, “is now equal, if not better, for some programs.”

The ongoing digital revolution has also spurred a decline in the prices of cameras and software, making digital work more possible even for small start-up publications.

“First we were looking at a $35,000 camera and we had to be tethered to the computer . . . now a $3000 to $10,000 camera is producing outstanding work.”

For the general public, the advantages of digital photography are still linked to pleasure. It makes for more beautiful magazine photographs and more intriguing advertising. Unwavering images appear in coffee cups, and beads of water balance unwavering on blemish-free skin in the world that digital imaging has helped create.

And this will continue, for years, to impress magazine readers who are still mostly unaware of the beauty and everyday potential of Photoshop.

“I wish I had a dollar,” Entwhistle says, “for every time I told a client ‘would you like me to get rid of these wrinkles, or make this a bit slimmer?’ and they just go ‘wow!’”

The world of edible Brussels sprouts, and other beautiful untruths, lives on.


Photos and photo illustrations by Shannon Hughes