Friday, September 4, 2009

Gilding the Lily?

When I first heard of blogging, it was in the context of political campaigns. "Blog" ... what a strange-sounding word! "Web log" it was short for ... and anyone with a computer and an opinion could become a published columnist. That's how I thought of it ... as an opinion column.

Now it seems that everyone is blogging! The variety of topics and interests represented is tremendous, and photographs have become an integral part of the process. Today I think of blog posts as almost the equivalent of magazine articles. Articles with a HUGE difference ...

When we create a blog post and include our own photographs, we are:

writer, art director, prop stylist, and photographer. If the blog involves tablescapes ... and the post includes a meal, we become the food stylist as well. A floral centerpiece? That adds floral designer to the list.

We have to light the scene and, later, edit the text and photographs. Sounds exhausting, doesn't it? On the plus side, the process moves quickly, since every decision is made by a committee of one!

I think we know from experience that it's far better to have the scene correctly lit when photographs are taken than to try to adjust brightness, contrast, and color after the fact. I owe Susan of
Between Naps on the Porch a huge debt of gratitude for the simple suggestion that I try to NEVER use a flash. If you haven't seen her recent tutorial that includes advice on photography, check it out HERE.

The first two pictures are examples of a table I photographed with a flash and then without. The first picture is cold and almost sinister.

Without a flash, the camera's automatic setting allowed the natural lighting to create a warm, inviting look. I used a tripod to make sure the camera didn't move slightly and cause a blurred image (since the shutter has to stay open longer in order to collect enough available light to get a well exposed shot).

So far I haven't felt the need to adjust brightness or color before I've posted images. I might ... if I wanted to achieve a certain look ... or correct a photograph that's slightly "off" from the rest.

Sometimes the perfectionist in me does come out and I'll tweak something that I really find distracting. As others have pointed out, the downside of doing all the jobs listed above is that it's easy for something to slip by. There's no stylist rushing around with pins, a steamer, and a tape measure ... to make sure everything in the shot is just right.

In the picture below, my eye kept going to the curled upper right corner of the placemat. I had already "un-set" the table and couldn't re-shoot ....

So I used PhotoSuite's touch-up brush to clone other areas in the mat and "flattened" the corner. It's not perfect, but it no longer bothers me ... as much.

The next picture was badly marred by the shriveled daisy (upper right). While waiting for darkness to arrive to take a shot lit only by candles, the flower had dried out, and the petals had curled backward. I had either damaged the stem inserting it into the wet floral foam, or it was too short to reach the water.

It was driving me crazy, so I "freshened" it ... again using the cloning feature of PhotoSuite. I'm sure other imaging programs would work as well or better. I've tried Photoshop, and it's an amazing program ... just overkill for most of what I do. It's also FAR more expensive than a program like PhotoSuite.

Anyway, here's the improved version. Now I can see the whole image without my eye being drawn like a magnet to the withered flower.

So what do you think? Is it cheating ... or just making the pictures more appealing to the viewer?

"Photoshopping" has become a hot topic when used (or is it abused?) to idealize images of celebrities on magazine covers. When does it move from a harmless correction to an unethical practice?

I'd love to hear your opinions!


  1. HI, Bill, thanks for the note! Came by to see your beautiful tablescape and it is wonderful. all your finds just shine on that table, you have done a wonderful job with collecting. I like to set a pretty table, but unfortunately we just don't entertain as often as I'd like, so my table setting is on the back burner. I have plenty of nice dishes, that is just not something I do a lot of. They are pretty to look at though & I enjoy seeing what others are doing. I guess I'm too busy with other projects to get into that too much.

    Thanks SO much for your compliments, I'm blushing! :)

    Oh, I see nothing wrong with Photo-shopping pics & fixing things that bother you. I bet most people who read your blog wouldn't notice the little things at all though. I learned awhile into blogging about turning off that flash & it is a great tip. Susan's blog tips were great, glad she shared them. HOpe all new bloggers read that one.

  2. I havn't used any of the Photo editing programs, and in fact I don't know how, but I don't see anything wrong with it if it's for your own pleasure and peace of mind. I have always admired all of your pictures. They all look like perfection to me and I would have never noticed the small things you mentioned. I too am so grateful to Susan for all the blogging suggestions she gives. Enlarging pictures and not using the flash have been really helpful to me. It really does make a huge difference. Hope you have a wonderful day. Hugs, Marty

  3. Many of us wear makeup to enhance our looks. I liken using any photo enhancing program to that. It is taking what is already there and making it look a little better.

    Most of us are not professional photographers. We don't back-light, add drapes, or use a light meter. We look, point, and shoot! We see beauty and want to capture it. When the photo doesn't turn out exactly like what we saw in our camera viewer, why NOT use a program to make that photo look as close as possible to what we originally saw through the camera's lens?

    Is it a little bit of a cheat? If it is, then I liken it to the attempt I make every morning to fool (and cheat?) myself and others into thinking I have a flawless complexion and oh-to-die for eyes and lips!!

    :-) Sue

  4. Bill,

    First I want to say I love your blog and hope to come back and really have a good look at it. I have seen one of your tablescapes and have been a fan ever since!

    I think it is fantastic that we have all the tools we need and want to play with our photos. As you pointed out, we become 'a jack of all trades' when we blog and I would no more ignore trying to get the perfect shot than I would neglect using spellcheck.

    Now I think I am going to go check out Susan's tips...thank you for a great post on an interesting subject. I especially enjoyed your opening.


  5. Hi Bill,
    This is sooo facinating to me. I loved seeing what you did with Photosuite. Can you believe I bought Photoshop over a year ago and only recently started "attempting" to use it a little. I mainly use it when I have a pic that is really small and I want to make it a fair amount larger. When I tried enlarging pics in Microsoft Picture Manager, it always blurred it, but in Photoshop, it normally stays clear. I've also just started to use the "clone" feature to hide a lamp cord or to get rid of something really my image reflected in a spoon. :-) I think that pic of your table before (with flash) and after (without a flash) should be the Poster Pic for why you don't want to use a flash...what a great example! I've read/heard that prof. photographers use a separate flash and meter it or direct it toward the ceiling add more light without the ill effects. I think you are brilliant to refresh the daisy...not cheating at all! You're just returning it back to it's prior glory. :-) Awesome post!

  6. Great post on "blogging". I see nothing wrong with the kind of "tweaking" you are talking about. To be honest I would have never noticed what you fixed on the daisy, and may or may not have noticed the placemat. Even if I did - That is real life. So far about the only things I have done is crop to show just the main object, add words, and attempted to lighten some that were just to dark. Just have not taken the time to learn to do more. Hey! I do a little tweaking (really a lot) to myself before I go out in the public. :-)
    I really appreciated Susan's post. She has a beautiful blog and has been a great help to many of us fellow bloggers. Yep - I have ruined many photos because the flash went off, and it was to late to do anything about it.
    Have a happy and safe weekend.

  7. Thank you for this post. I really see nothing wrong in making a few slight adjustments to ones photographs. As long as it's not set out to decieve the public on a grand scale like celebs and fashion magazines, then it becomes fantasy... a down right lie.
    I'm no photographer so I do enjoy blogs with lovely photos :o)
    Have a great weekend.

  8. I agree with what Pauline said "as long as it's not set out to decieve", "a down right lie". I typed something to that effect, but was afraid I was not saying it quiet right, so took it out.

  9. Wonderful information, Bill. I finally figured out how to get the flash turned off on my camera and will play this weekend. Your photos are outstanding. Love the Essex Maroon (of course).

    I look at a lot of this adjusting and editing as learning about the capabilities of today's technology and I am thrilled when I figure something out!

  10. I enjoyed this post so much. I try never to use a flash but I just am not a photographer and my camera is a little Canon Powershot..can't remember the name of the other I use. There's no way in heck I'll ever get photos like yours and Susans. But I sure can enjoy looking!!
    I don't think it's cheating to make things prettier, by any means used.

  11. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this, Bill. I think it is fine if you want to photoshop a picture in this context. I never noticed the corner of your placemat. But I understand about how little things like that can drive you batty. I have a blog post that I really need to photoshop, but I have no idea how to do it. Not sure if I have the program or not. You did an amazing job. I never would have noticed if you hadn't told me. You are GOOD. But we already knew that. :-)



  12. Hi Bill,

    What a great post, I enjoyed reading this.
    Interesting the difference with a flash versus not using one and the picture quality is amazing.
    You really are a perfectionist Bill which is great.
    I have photoshop but have not tried this out myself.
    Occasionally my kids have helped out when I need to do some tweaking. I think it is a neat program to enhance what could be better, but not completely change.

    Enjoy your weekend

  13. Bill:
    This is an amazing post!!! As much as I love doing this, I too find myself taxed by all of the "hats" I wear to pull it all off. Sometimes when I'm really tight on time, I'll have my daughter help me by enlarging the photos, both prior to uploading and after. It all takes time and energy.

    I LOVE your photography suggestions. I too have been playing with the non-flash photos. I'm looking to take a photography course as I think it could make a huge difference. I'm also thinking of a photography umbrella. I'm told they bounce the light off the umbrella.

    The cloning is amazing and I don't think you're cheating at all! This was a terrific post. Thank you!!!
    - The Tablescaper

  14. Hello Bill,
    You are the only "Bill" I look forward to hearing from or seeing all week lol!!
    I love what you did with the pictures. It gave them just the right touch!! You are very talented and have wonderful taste. Yes, you are the Bill I reference in my blog!!
    Your Ardant fan!

  15. Okay tell the truth. What have you done to the photo of yourself at the top of the blog? Are you really 85 years old? Do you have a third eye that you have photo shopped out? Gray hair? No hair?

    I have to admit I didn't see either of the problems you had. Not the place mat or the daisy. You did a great job of fixing them up.

  16. Bill, I am not a user of Photoshop, but think I will go there and check it out. I don't touch up my photos, because I don't know much about it. I see a difference in yours and I copied down Susan's suggestions, so I will try to improve my photos. Thanks for the tip and I think you can use what ever you to like to enhance your photos, they are yours.

    Great Tablescape...

  17. Wow! Amazing -- I don't think I would have noticed the things you pointed out in your pictures -- but I would have in mine (isn't that the way we all are) -- We do enjoy your perfectionism - because it certainly creates the lovliness you photograph so well. Thanks!

  18. It's amazing what can be done with photo editing, isn't it? I do a lot just with cropping, but have no problem adjusting the color etc. to make a photo look better. I've even been known to color in a few leaves in a bright green for contrast. Having a beautiful photo adds so much to our blogs!

  19. I think the ability to edit pictures is wonderful. And I know what you mean about seeing something that you don't like after you've "unset" the table. That always drives me nuts. Sometimes I've forgotten the flatware or glasses!

    I've been taking cues from you and Susan on not using the flash as much. It really does make a difference. I've really became interested in photography since I started bloggin, and am even thinking of taking some classes eventually.

    Hope you have a great weekend!

  20. Hi Bill,

    I have not yet used anything of photoshop or whatever.
    But the tip of not using the flash is great!
    Indeed there is a big difference between the 2 pics you showed here (with and without flash).
    I red it this week on Susan's blog. And by seeing these pictures of you , I'm convinced!

    Have a nice weekend,

  21. Hey Bill... thanks for stopping by...and Yes...ditching the flash is huge in photography on our blogs...amazing the difference in just that one little adjustment, enjoyed my visit this evening, have a great long weekend, still nursing that*&^%$#@e%)(*&^%....STONE!!!! xoxo~Kathy @ Sweet Up-North Mornings...

  22. I have to admit I sometimes still use a flash--I usually pay for it with a glare or reflection...but sometimes my camera just can't handle some of the darkness. But you surely did a great demo on the difference it can make!WOWEE!
    As far as touch ups--I do like the flaws...but it is nice to have a more perfect picture. I sometimes do such huge flaws that they can't be corrected. I was taking some photos tonight in a hurry (as usual) and left the candle lighter in the front and center of the photo!! Ahh well...I am still going to post these later when I get around to it ;-).

    I think blogging is making a dent in magazine sales!

  23. Hi Bill,
    I hope your having a great week-end. This is a very interesting post. Thanks for the great tips! I was so busy looking at your gorgeous china that I would have never noticed the placemat or flower. I do understand how we see the flaws others may not notice and I see nothing wrong with making our photos a bit prettier. If you have a chance come see my post, I think you will like it! Cindy

  24. I've missed you on Outdoor Wednesday.
    Being a 'viewer', I would never have noticed the things you pointed out. I could tell that you had corrected them in the after picture but my eye wasn't drawn to such a small thing.
    I liked the analogy you described about blogging in the opening paragraphs.
    Mama Bear

  25. I agree, Blog is such a funny word. ;) Thank you for posting that link on photography! This is the thing I struggle most with on my blog! This post it very helpful too. Your photos look like they're from magazines. I need to read up and learn!

  26. I don't think that 'tweaking' your pictures is cheating at all. And I can see that you are really a perfectionist!
    It's funny with my quirky eye, I actually liked the curled up lace of the place mat and the dying daisy too! To me they have that 'perfectly imperfect' quality that I so love! Either way would have been perfection in my opinion, Bill, but you have to be comfortable with what you post.
    Thanks for sharing all your knowledge! Very generous heart!
    All the best,