Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Can you teach someone to see detail?

This is somewhat in response to Tommy's post and also in response to my conversation with Gil yesterday regarding uneven skin tones.

Tommy mentioned that if you retouch your own images, then you'll know next time not to blow out the highlights on the skin... incidentally something that I'm very careful not to do because I feel the skin tones are the most important part of the frame. But you wouldn't be aware of this unless you're also doing your own retouching.

Gil showed me his retouched picture and I commented that there were still parts of her face with uneven skin tone. This is the image I'm referring to:

Uneven skin tones can best be seen from a low percent zoom on the computer. It's where there are darker patches of the skin next to lighter patches of the skin. That's why it's uneven. When I retouch, I'm trying to even out this disparity in luminosity (and sometimes color!). Around the eyes you'll often see bags and that darkness draws attention and looks ugly. Dark circles around the eyes need to be lightened. Often around the chin there are lots of little patches of darker spots from either acne scarring or just the shape of our chins. These little spots need to be resolved close-up at a higher percent zoom. And of course around the cheekbones there are inevitably lots of spots where the cheekbones introduce shadow right next to a bright highlight, often unevenly because the exact opposite thing is happening several pixels away...

In the below screenshot of Ania, I've resolved a lot of discoloration (redness) that accounts for most of the uneven skin tone. This is a 1:1 (I think) screenshot of that picture.

In the following image of Lyz, you'll see from far away that I've smoothed out the gradients on the skin. This makes it pleasant to the viewer so that the harsh contrasts between light spots and dark spots are not distracting and so apparent.

Most of my processing is for skin tones. The thing is that it takes a trained eye to see these things. I'm not 100% sure that it's that great to see these things though... because once you see it, you can't "unsee" it. You'll be forever looking for these flaws and that makes life hard.

The question I wonder now is, "Can you teach someone to see detail?"

1 comment:

  1. Hello Charles,

    Yep. As the saying goes, "Once you're pickled, there's no going back!" Fortunately for me though, I consider people's imperfections the hallmark of who they are, something that's distinctively them.

    In fashion and beauty, however, this can work either for or against an image, and I suppose you would have to make a value judgment based on the model. (The most famous example is Cindy Crawford's mole. No doubt photographers and editors initially wanted to airbrush it out :)

    As to your question, "Can you teach someone to see detail?" I would say, "Yes". I think you can definitely train someone to see certain details in lighting, bone structure, common places where wrinkles and blemishes occur, etc.

    BUT what you can't really teach someone is what to do with what they see. Sure, you can teach someone various retouching techniques and provide them rules of thumb, but the rest is aesthetics; what the retoucher/photographer likes to see in an image. And again, this involves a value judgment on what one thinks is beautiful, and it can be highly subjective.

    So, "Yes" on seeing details, but I don't think that seeing details can necessarily translate into creating a good image.