Updated: Jul 2, 2019
Picture this, fifty years from now your children's children going through albums of photos of their grandparents (you!) wanting to catch a glimpse of who they were, what their life was like back when pens existed and computers were seperate from our bodies.. just kidding. But in all seriousness, who has looked back at old photos, only to feel that twang of disappointment when the photo, as beautiful as it is, is in black and white and you can't quite make out the colour of you late grandfather's eyes. When you can't see the colours of their hair, or skin, or even clothes because the film just didn't allow it. When my second daughter was born, I loved looking at the professional newborn photographs of my eldest and comparing their hair, eye and skin colour. I am so grateful to have these images, with perfect skin tones and true-to-life in colour.
These days, we are not constrained with colour as we were in the past. As a photographer, we have so much control over our images; we have the ability to enhance a photo post production to portray a certain vibe. This is not a new practice. Photographers have had the ability to do this by creating different chemical reactions in the darkroom. Since the introduction of digital photography though, it has become easier, and we have much more freedom. So how can the luxury of choice influence editing styles? Well, to look at it from a very simplistic point of view, there are two distinct paths a photographer can follow.
A few years back, the vintage look was huge. Lately, everywhere we scroll we see desaturated greens, very warm skin tones, man-made golden hour and faded shadows. Will we look back on these photos and wonder if our skin really was that orange? Unless we are talking about high school circa 2005 it likely wasn't.
So what do trends in editing mean for us and our memories? Consider this. Just the other day, I was editing a photo of my daughter, who is three and a half. She was holding a Buzz Lightyear toy up in the air above her head. The sky was a beautiful, clear blue and the clouds had formed a spectacular pattern in the sky behind the toy and her hand. The photo was of the toy clutched in her hand, and very the top of her head - only a messy crop of hair visible. As I was busy adjusting sliders and curves, almost happy with my edit, she came up to me and looked at the screen. "My arm is not that colour". I look up at her. "My arm looks different to that, mum. It's a bit lighter". I had given the image an artistic 'look' that I was happy with, but it wasn't close enough to reality for my daughter to feel connected to that image. It really stopped me in my tracks. Are our artistic editing styles enhancing or altering? Are we happy to have moments captured and documented, only to have the colour just not so true to life? Of course this will largely depend on your client or the purpose of the photographs.
A style where greens are green, images are less posed and more of a curation of the real life, and the sunsets and sun flares aren't created from three different flashes and an umbrella. Almost like a type of photojournalism, only the people and places we are documenting are ourselves, or our clients.
Personally, I do like to edit with a more realistic-looking end result. I admit, in some situations skin tones can be hard to perfect - as with any art form. Sometimes, I really like to enhance the soft glow of the afternoon sun. Sometimes a cooler, or crisper, or warmer style may just be more suitable for a certain image, depending on the client. Slowly, I am coming to understand the way I want my style to develop. To be a slightly enhanced, yet an accurate depiction. Somewhere in between. For colours to be as true as possible, whilst still having the ability to take our eye, and hearts on a journey back into time.