Texture

Which photo do you prefer, like more, or think more interesting; this one —

Kiki (Snapseed)

— or this one:

Kiki The first photo was processed in Snapseed and given some texture, while the second photo was processed “normally” in Adobe Lightroom. Neither photo is a grabber, I admit. But I think that helps clarify the contribution of the texture in the first treatment.

The digitally-added texture definitely does something to the photo, although I find it difficult to put my finger on exactly what it does. It enhances the photo, that’s easy to say. Perhaps by making it less realistic, it makes it more “artistic,” at least superficially. It may make the photo look old. 

What it doesn’t do is make the photo look timeless. Actually, the first photo is totally dated: It belongs to the Instagram era, circa 2012–2013. You thought it belonged to, oh, the 1950s? I’ve never seen an old photo from the 1950s that looked like that.

That’s why I don’t process photos this way, at least not regularly. Black and white photos are (often) less time-bound than color photos, and I love black and white. Wish my clients liked it more. But filter-processed, highly textured photos? They’re popular now, thanks to Instagram. But will their popularity last? Or will these photos look dated in five, ten years?

20120623-02207-snapseed

20120623-02207

I like the first photo a lot more. I find it difficult to say why, but I do. But I’m troubled, not because I can’t say why I like the first one, but because I’m not sure if I’ll continue to like the first one. And I’m not sure I’d like to look at an album that contains 500 otherwise ordinary photos given the same treatment.

Should I worry about it?

Another thing that troubles me about “filter processed” images is that they are so intractably digital, that is, they’re designed for viewing on screen and do not print well. I like prints. A print made on very good art paper has its own special texture that a digital image can’t imitate.

But we live in a digital world. Sometimes I feel like I’m one of the last people on the planet who cares about prints. I practically force ’em on my clients. My last bride had a discount coupon for prints that she never used. That’s normal these days.

Best tattoo parlor in my part of town.
Best tattoo parlor in my part of town.

And aside from the digital-ness of these filters, there’s another issue that I’m troubled about. They enhance the photo in one sense (well, “texturally”) but in another sense, they seem destructive, or at least leveling. Does it make any sense at all to take a photo like the one above with a Sony A99 full-frame camera and an excellent prime lens — and then do that to it? Isn’t that a bit like taking a rib-eye steak from Rudolph’s (perhaps Dallas’s best butcher) and then breading it and deep-fat frying it? Sure, it might taste great. But is it a sin?

I’d been thinking about this subject for a long time before I ran across Richard Hernandez’s article on CNN.com, “Photographers, Embrace Instagram.” It’s a wonderful piece, enthusiastic, inspirational if not visionary. His message is carpe diem, photographically speaking. I don’t know if he’s right, but the message certainly has a ring to it.

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