An interesting note on post-production weirdness

In Migrate, The Creative Process by Chris FoleyLeave a Comment


A day after I had posted my Martin Parr Rome story into the Ambulant Photography Community, one of our members reached out to ask about a weird visual artifact that appears on one of Parr's images. Check it out:


Note the dark line outlining the edge of the man's hand. "What's up with this?" David asked. I had a few theories, but in truth, I'm not entirely sure.

What we do know is that this image was taking with flash, and that the image was shot in 2003, the location is obviously Vatican City. My first thought was that we're seeing the results of a darkroom dodge/burn and that black line is the mask edge. I didn't like that answer very much because if it were the case, well.. first that would be a pretty sloppy masking job, and second that mask would have to also cover the roofs in the background. The purpose of such as mask would be to protect the bright areas from becoming too bright when lifting the background and sky out of darkness.

Then I realized that this image was shot in 2003, and I know that Parr was an early adopter of digital. In fact, the subject himself is shooting with a little Sony point and shoot digital camera, so we are in the digital domain here.

Okay, we're approaching a solution now.

My next thought is that this is a digital shot, made with flash, and his ambient light was likely underexposed by several stops. In lifting the background exposure (such as with a curves or levels adjustment) we're likely seeing pixels that an early version of Photoshop couldn't isolate. Why is the line so thick? We're likely looking at an image shot with an 8 megapixel digital camera, Or maybe it's a close crop on a wider image. I was almost ready to declare this as my solution and write this very article about it.....

And then THIS happened.

I went out to run some errands yesterday and suddenly and unexpectedly found myself at the front of the Women's Day March here in Santa Barbara. I dropped what I was doing, ran up to where the light was best (of course I had a camera with me!) and started capturing this one scene.
Much to my surprise, I had faithfully reproduced the exact same sort of visual artifact that I'd been puzzling over that morning. You can see it in these two photos:
Image Image
Look at the policeman's legs. While I was not using flash, the sunlight was hitting him on his legs and back and then falling off really quickly into the shadow just in front of him. That shadow is being cast by a building to our left. The sun is coming through an open plaza. Note the dark lines around his legs. You can see it better in this zoom.

Wow. How's about that?

I've been shooting for a long time and have really never seen this before. I think that the lighting situation has to be unique in order for the camera sensor to behave in this way. Also notice that while he's got these dark edge lines around his legs, they are not visible around his arm.

I don't know exactly what to do with this information other than to say that I now know about it, and can maybe look out for it in the future on my own images.

Thanks to David B. for starting me thinking about it in the first place and here's to Sister Coincidence for bringing everything together.

Does anyone here have their own experiences with this sort of phenomena?




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