ReBlogging: Photoshop CS5 concerns

From my lovely friend Cai, some thoughts on a new  feature in Photoshop CS5:

Today I watched a video preview for a new feature of photoshop CS5 ( which, wow; I remember still using version seven not all that long ago ); it was a sneak peek at the new Content Aware tool in photoshop and… I’m definitely of two minds about this. Before I get into it, I will say that I actually wrote this before I realised that the capacity of the Content Aware tool as shown is a hypothetical; I watched the video embedded on someone’s blog, and took everything as fact until I clicked through to youtube and read the disclaimer attached there. The sad thing is, even if it turns out that this won’t be something CS5 is actually capable of doing, it’s likely that it’s still not all that far off. Anyway.

(more after the jump!)


Firstly, I have to say, this is very, very cool –  this I cannot deny. Having spent countless hours cleaning photos, retouching shots for just… stupid things, dead leaves ( live leaves! small children stripping bushes! aughhh ), bits of trash, grass divots ( oh, golf courses, I do not love you ), a golf cart ( at one point. again. golf courses. augh ), manufacturing trees even, at one point, to cover a building that detracted from an otherwise lovely and organic shot ( and that, that was with the crazy-making, let me tell you ), I cannot deny that a tool that automatically and intelligently creates new content to replace undesirable blemishes on your photos is incredible and will indeed have a thousand uses; I will use it, I can say that now, with complete confidence, at least in the capacity demonstrated in the beginning of the video.

But to go from using tools such as clone stamp or the spot healing tool, both of which only source content from the photo you’ve already shot, to having a tool available that actually creates completely new content based on an analysis of the rest of the photo… that gets dangerously close to… something. You’re no longer simply retouching a photo; you’re getting the computer to generate the rest of the image you want. This is hedging further and further away from photography and dangerously close to… human-assisted CGI. Is it still your photo if the software you once used just for a bit of polish can now realistically render enormous chunks of visual real estate to replace the bits of your image you’d just rather not keep? I don’t feel that it is. What it does feel like is a glaring side effect of human laziness; it feels like doing half of a crossword, then getting bored and telling the computer to do the rest, and I don’t know how to feel about that, beyond “… this is wrong”. The question is, when does it stop being photography and simply start being human-assisted CGI, and it’s very worrying, at least, for me. It’s definitely a tricky place to be in, a fine line that blurring more and more, and it’s even a little scary; I’ve already seen comments speculating on the looming debate on what really constitutes a photo anymore, and what falls squarely under the heading of photo-manipulation ( for the record, in my opinion what this new tool can do goes far beyond photo-manipulation – at least in photo manipulation you’re taking something you already had, and changing it. This, that is not ).

To my mind, this tool does not encourage better photography, but rather the reverse; what’s the point of going to great pains to take a superb image, when you can just take a mediocre one and have your computer make it brilliant? I’m reminded of a piece of software that was around some years ago, where you plugged in a number of different variables, hit go, and it would render, based on the parameters you gave it, skies. Or skies over ocean. Or landscapes of mountains, or islands, cloudy sky or clear and bright, anyway, what it did was render landscapes for you, and at the time, I thought it was a pretty nifty bit of software. I remember looking at the renders and thinking “well, what’s the point of putting hours into painting a background that might not even turn out to be as good when you can just… have the computer do it for you, and have it be so much better?” Apparently, a lot of other struggling young artists thought the same, because I saw a lot of pictures pop up with a hand-drawn or -painted subject imposed over one of these backgrounds, either still purely CGI, or run through a few filters in photoshop to soften the CGI edge. Basically, rather than doing it yourself, just have the computer do it for you! And this is the exact same thing. What’s the point in going out and taking a beautiful photo that might need a little retouching, little bit of colour correction, flare removal, whatever, when you can suddenly have your computer do it for you.

What we’re seeing now is the next step forward in death of photography, commercially and perhaps even artistically, and I feel like I ought to mourn it ( some people will tell you that going digital was the first step; I disagree ). I know I’m nothing particularly special as a photographer; I love it, and I’m a decent shot, but I’ll likely never win any rewards or garner any particular level of recognition for my work, mostly because I’ve made no effort to go further, learn more, push the envelope. I’ve never flown out to the middle of nowhere on a rented, doorless helicopter, kept inside by only a harness that’s hooked to the ceiling of the aircraft, so  I can shoot a mob of kangaroos on the move, nor have I trekked through some of the roughest terrain my country has to offer so I can be in a frigid pool at the bottom of a waterfall come sunrise to capture the perfect frame just as the sun hits the water. These are things that I would someday like to do, if only so I can one day say “look at this photo I took. This was worth everything”, but at the rate technology is progressing, I won’t have to. Because in five years or less, I’ll be able to wake up at ten in the morning, go to sit at my computer, wrapped in a fluffy dressing gown with a steaming mug of coffee in one hand, and press a single button to generate images that used to be worth a thousand words. This feels very similar to what’s been happening to traditional art/digital painting for the past few years, and I can’t help but feel that I’ve been born into a time where original artforms are dying, being replaced by shortcuts constructed by the talented on the commission of the talentless, and the lazy, so everyone can try their hand at… whatever. Taking the photo that defines a generation, painting the next Mona Lisa. And that makes me sadder than I can express.

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~ by Delgado on March 27, 2010.

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