“It’s Been Photoshopped” – or, more properly, Issues Affecting Image Appearance on Electronic Devices.

This article is a response to the familiar cry of “it must have been photoshopped” that we see so often on the social media sites.  There are a huge number of factors  affecting the way we see colours and the image editing software – the digital darkroom (see my earlier article here) – the artist uses is pretty far down the queue!

And there are a huge range of high end programs such as like Paintshop Pro, Corel, Photoshop, Iridient Developer, Affinity Photo etc.  Many artists don’t use Photoshop per se.  And in the photography field, any artist worth his salt shoots in RAW format which makes the use of a digital darkroom essential.  I’m sure no photographer ever offered raw, undeveloped film to a viewer and said “look at mu terrific image”!  It had to be processed in a (wet) darkroom first.

No two of us see colours in the same way, and while the extreme end of this is colour blindness, there are far more subtle gradations.  My partner sees green as more blue than I do, he’ll call a colour aqua when to me it is clearly green.  No one knows how much individual vision varies as how do you test objectively for it.  Even a machine has to be programmed to recognise things in order to set a benchmark, so it comes back to the person doing the programming.  There is a free colour test here which tests how subtle your colour vision is and it’s an interesting exercise to do, you get better as you retry.

Factor One is the image type.  The identical image will look very different if you line up a screen version, a printed image on paper, one on canvas, and one on with a metallic finish.

Factor Two is colour temperature – both of the image and of the viewing light.  Sunlight or warm artificial light will make something look much warmer and the colours more intense than cool, wintry light.  Things like the type of paper or material an image is presented on can make vast differences.  The hardness of the photographic paper’s grade was one way photographers made their prints differ in the days before digital darkrooms.

Then there are all the factors that affect Image Quality itself – see this Wiki article where there is a good list.

And a few points are solely effective on electronic images.  How many people have ordered items online only yo be unpleasantly surprised to open the package to discover the item they purchased is a different colour to the one shown on the screen?

Which brings us to Factor Three, monitor type and quality.

We’ve all been to an electronics shop with rows of televisions or computer monitors, all displaying ‘identical’ images.  But as you look down the rows, the colors can be noticeably different, in tone, light/dark and clarity.

Computer monitors will show different colours if hooked up to computers with different video cards.

Screens contain phosphors which cause colours to change as the screen gets older. They also have varying ability to display colours with some showing many more tones. Resolution also affects the color issue because higher resolution means clearer and more accurate images.

The easiest way to fix this problem is to calibrate monitors to display more accurately.  All monitors should be calibrated, BUT – remember the eyesight of the person calibrating will affect the result, along with the light of the room where they are doing it, and screens change over time and they need to be re-calibrated on an occasional basis for the best results.

And Factor Four is the artist’s bugbear –  image compression.  A typical image from a high end digital camera, when processed in a high end program is large, they can easily go 17 to 15 Mb.  That’s far too large to go on the web so the file will be saved in a lossy format file such as jpeg, and made smaller both in size and resolution so it can be posted on the internet.  Then programs like FaceBook do their own compression on the image, over which the artist has NO control whatsoever, and often, this final compression will make an image look very different indeed to the original.

So please don’t be so quick next time with the “it’s been photoshopped” mantra – have a think about the processes involved and ask the original poster what’s been done.


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