Even garbage has its uses

Digital image processing – you should always keep in mind the programmer’s mantra:  garbage in, garbage out.

I was once the researcher for a professor who had me collecting a variety of data for a project he was running.  As I was in the middle of learning how to use a new statistical analysis software package I started running all the data through the various sub-programs to see what came out.  Surprisingly, much of the data would process and I would get these marvelous printouts showing all sorts of coefficients, correlations, graphs and statistical results.  I showed these off to the statistician in the office and he remarked, “well, the software IS designed to give you an answer – it’s up to you to determine whether it means anything.”

All the novel and cool software we can use on our images is starting to remind me of that statistical tool – put in an image and get a picture.  But is it what we want?  For most of us we’re trying to achieve a particular “look” in an image and since for most processing tools the changes take place in real time so we can see whether we’re getting closer to our desired result or not.  But there are still some software tools out there where you dump in your images, hit GO, and sit while it cranks along processing your work into a resulting image that gets flashed on the screen.  Most of the time we take that as the “right” result and move on.

But sometimes you get surprised.

HDR software is like the latter tools described.  You give it several images and it returns you an amalgam of all of them in a single image.  One of the issues with setting up for HDR images is realizing in nature things move, and most software tools provide you some way to deal with slight motion across several images.  But the software assumes you gave it the right series of images – after all, you the photographer are in charge, right?

I was looking through my array of images from a recent sunset session, one intended to create several HDR images for processing.  My compositions were framed slightly different for each series, some as three-shot images and some as five-shot images.  Glancing on my computer screen I selected five that seemed to be in a series and turned the software loose.

Hmmm.  That’s not the river scene I remembered.  And I don’t recall dropping the camera while hitting the shutter.  What’s the deal with the crazy scene?  I looked back at the images I’d selected and discovered one of them was from a different series, just a little out of alignment with the other four in the series.  The software assumed I knew what I was doing and went ahead and processed them all together, putting elements where it thought they belonged.  Great, I have software with a surrealistic bias.

But as I kept looking at the image I thought it would be something fun to play with later, and certainly not anything I had set out to create (and probably won’t be able to duplicate later) so I kept it and will run it through other software tools later.  Maybe they will surprise me with a Cubist or post-modern image…..

Hey, maybe the software will get so good I just hand over my images and it delivers works of art without any intervention on my part!  All I do is select the genre of art I want and, presto, ready to print.

Moral of the story?  Pay attention to your groups for HDR processing if you want to maintain control over your workflow.  Otherwise, can you really call the result yours?

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