Excursions by Amit Gawande

I wonder what the purists think of the recent computational photography trend.

Google started it with its all-in-cloud touch up of the photos. And then they moved it on-device in the camera app. Every photo one took was stitched together from multiple shots with different settings. And eventually each OEM made their cameras smarter, AI-driven”.

Latest iPhone 11 stitches a single photo from 4 under exposed frames taken before the shutter button is clicked, one normal picture and 1 over exposed frame. They call this process semantic rendering. What follows is some heavy processing. Here’s snippet from the The Verge’s review of iPhone 11 Pro review.

Smart HDR looks for things in the photos it understands: the sky, faces, hair, facial hair, things like that. Then it uses the additional detail from the underexposed and overexposed frames to selectively process those areas of the image: hair gets sharpened, the sky gets de-noised but not sharpened, faces get relighted to make them look more even, and facial hair gets sharpened up. Smart HDR is also now less aggressive with highlights and shadows. Highlights on faces aren’t corrected as aggressively as before because those highlights make photos look more natural, but other highlights and shadows are corrected to regain detail.

What you get as a result is an extremely clear picture with each object in the photo appropriately visible.

But with so much processing of each image, should this even be called photography any more? Here’s Wikipedia introducing the term.

Photography is the art, application and practice of creating durable images by recording light or other electromagnetic radiation, either electronically by means of an image sensor, or chemically by means of a light-sensitive material such as photographic film.

What we do with our smartphones is neither an art nor is it creating a single image.

All parts of the photos are independently captured (and even pre-captured) with the best suited settings, processed post-capture, with even some live sections including audio recorded. This is not creating an image” any more.

Someone might say it all started when the digital photography became mainstream - when the physical limitations of the analog methods did not constrain the person with a camera in his hand. However, what we capture is no longer a single image anymore. A more apt term for these might be visual memories”. Common people are interested in doing just that, they don’t care if they are called photographers.

Let Photography stay an art.

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