Amazing, hyper-real photos from Ukrainian protests

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I’m really struck by the photos I’ve seen today of the violence erupting from the protests in the Ukraine.

The pictures have a dreamlike, end-of-the-world quality. But when I say “dreamlike,” I don’t mean hazy or gauzy or indistinct. They are on the contrary hyper-real. They don’t look like photographs. They look like acrylic paintings made to look like photographs, in which the color saturation and intensity of the images exceed real life. Look at the blue, and the folds, in the jeans worn by the figure on the left. There’s a quality there that must be much like the way colors and folds look while under the influence of hallucinogens.

It must be something about the quality of the light filtering through the smoke from the fires; I don’t know.

The one in which this effect is most pronounced is this one, which both The Washington Post and The New York Times used prominently this morning.

Then there’s this one, which is harder to take, showing two shocked faces staring out of masks of blood. This one has a kick to it like a Hieronymus Bosch.

I’m being careful here to point y’all to these images at publications that paid for them. I wouldn’t dream of violating the copyrights. The photogs who shot these deserve to be paid in full.

I urge you to view the entire slideshow at the NYT. And this one at the WashPost.

9 thoughts on “Amazing, hyper-real photos from Ukrainian protests

  1. Phillip

    I smell some digital color manipulation going on here. You know what the one on the Post’s cover (at the top of this link) reminds me of? Images from these super-realistic video war games, the ones you sometimes see advertised on TV when you think for a moment you might be seeing an ad for a war movie, then realize it’s a game.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I know what you mean. My first thought was, “It looks like a movie poster.” But video game sort of says it, too.

      It looks more like Art than Journalism. But I don’t know to what extent that’s because of anything the photographer did after he shot the frame.

      And if it’s PhotoShop, at what point these days has a photojournalist gone too far? You might say, “As soon as he changes the image,” but that’s too strict a test.

      I use PhotoShop to adjust almost every image I put on the blog. Sometimes, it’s no more than cropping and changing the image size. But I typically fiddle with brightness and contrast as well. My goal is to make sure you can see the image clearly.

      To explain what I mean, here’s an example… Look at the dim, dark, cramped image of this escaped mental patient that was on a sheriff’s department site recently. Before publishing it, I dug into the site and pulled out the original image file, and ran it bigger, but most importantly brightened it up. I didn’t CHANGE anything about the image beyond letting you see the guy more clearly. The difference was like the difference between seeing a guy in a dark room, and in one with the lights on. Here’s my “after” version. All of the information was in the original file; I just brought it out to where you could see it better.

      Personally, I consider that kind of manipulation to be not only permissible, but a positive service to the reader.

      And what I’m talking about here is something that photographers did in the era of film as well. Every print you made was a result of choices you make in the darkroom such as which aperture to use, how long to expose the paper, how long to develop, the temperature of the developer, etc. I can still do all that stuff, but digital is SO much easier.

      My PhotoShop skills aren’t good enough to produce something like the Ukraine photos above, unless that’s what they really looked like. But people who know how can do all sorts of things with color now, from the greenish, grainy cast of “Saving Private Ryan” to super-blue jeans.

      Of course, there’s also the possibility that this is an untouched file, but a lens filter or virtual filter the photog used made it look like this. I don’t know.

      1. Norm Ivey

        If I recall, Time doctored their cover photo of OJ Simpson to make him appear “more menacing” after he was arrested for the murder of his ex-wife. That’s going too far., even for a cover photo that’s designed to sell magazines rather than inform.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        This description of HDR sounds like a description of those photos:

        Dynamic range is the spectrum of light to dark that an eye, or a camera sensor, can read. Apple’s HDR setting takes three images at different exposures (underexposed, overexposed, in the middle) and combines them for an image with increased dynamic range. The resulting iPhone photos are closer to what the human eye really sees, with more details in the shadows and highlights than a standard image would have.

        Looking at them with an eye trained on old manual SLR film cameras, it’s hard for me to imagine how both the background, and the dark jeans in the foreground, can yield up such detail and sharpness. Back in the day, a painting could do that, but a photo could not.

        Back when photographers had to think about their settings on each photo, you would have had to choose between a narrow depth of field (which means you can focus on one thing, but not anything closer or farther away) or less light getting to the film, and hence a darker (or no) image. That’s because to get a lot of depth of field, you had to close down the aperture.

        Apparently, HDR means never having to choose…

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